305 Days: thoughts from the 3%


1 in 10 American students study abroad while pursuing their undergraduate degrees.  Of these students, 3% study for what is considered to be “long term” (an academic year or longer).

Thoughts from the three percent.

 

If you’re reading for the first time, welcome to the waffling zone.

People call me Shelbs. I’m tall and I’m talkative. I drink too much coffee. I’m from Saint Louis, but occasionally let “y’all” slip into my vocabulary.

 I am a member of the three percent. 

I’ve lived, worked, and studied in the UK for exactly 305 days; close to a year. A few days ago, I boarded a plane to return to the United States, where I’ll complete my final semester as an undergraduate student at the University of Arkansas. While I will continue to update this blog domain, this is the last post I’ll pen in relation to living in England…for a while, at least.


If we move too fast, we’ll break things. If we move too slow, we’ll miss things. And if we don’t move at all…we won’t see things for how beautiful they truly are.
-R.M Drake

 On the daunting, but desirable. 

 

It was a rare sunny afternoon in England as I sat in a car, in transit on the opposite side of the road, staring at the pavement ahead from a position I’d previously known  to be the driver’s seat.

“It seemed like you adjusted pretty easily to English culture.”

My stomach dropped at the phrase; a casual, off-the-cuff statement that meant very little to this person, but a great deal to me….much more than they probably realized.

Starting over can be daunting.

….even when it appears otherwise.

This is not to discount or disregard the privilege that is new opportunity. But, it’s worth noting that confidence and self-assurance do not merit simplicity in life experience. This person didn’t know how tricky the initial process had been for me. In fact, no one in England really did. Everyday routine and activity had suddenly become foreign to me; little tasks I previously conducted out of habit a learning experience.  At one point, I recall staring at a washing machine for nearly 15 minutes attempting to figure out the controls. I refused to ask for help from the reception desk around the corner. (Maybe because I’m stubborn…maybe because I’m stupid….maybe a little bit of both.) Without a doubt, there were moments of unexplained confusion as I eased into a new lifestyle.

I’m cannot put my finger on the exact point I made the transition from an “international student” to a “student who is also international.”

But, there came a moment of comfortability where I no longer felt as though I was staying in the UK, and came to the beautiful realization I was actually living here. Temporarily, of course, and hardly in a manner comparable to British natives. But, with a new sense of comfort, nonetheless.

As we speak, I am a member of the three percent.

…..Three is a pretty small number.

My hope that this statistic will not remain static. 

Most European countries, including England, strongly encourage those who pursue educational programs abroad to commit to a full year. They call it a “placement year.”

Everyone should experience the world, in any way they can, regardless of time frame or context. However, my hope is that, as a nation, our numbers associated with “long term” programs will rise over time. The optimism inside of me begs that, together, we’ll continue to embrace the possibility that lies in promoting and encouraging involvement in “long term” programs abroad.

 


 A mind that is stretched by new experience can never go back to it’s old dimensions. 
-Oliver Wendell Holmes

 On lessons: the helpful and the humorous

 

I try to practice what I preach; more often than not, I fall short. Nonetheless, a few takeaways from the year…..

 

The helpful

1. Learning to say nO is important, but Learning to say yes is crucial.

Prior to moving to the UK, I received a recruitment message from a local PR and promotions company. I knew nothing of the country or the culture, and this uncertainty loomed in the back of my mind. Originally, I  didn’t follow through on the opportunity.

For fear of the unknown, I said “no.”

If I hadn’t backtracked on these plans once I arrived, and turned my initial “no” into a “yes,” my time in England would have been very, very different. It was a little decision that made a lot of difference.

Fast forward to a year later- I met some incredible people, including some of my close girlfriends, through the outlet. I gained cross-cultural sales and marketing experience, to which I largely credit new professional opportunities in major markets like  NYC and Los Angeles. I said “yes,” and in turn, unexpected opportunity unveiled itself.

Say “yes,” even when you may feel unsure.  Personally, professionally, and everywhere in between. The worst that can happen is you change your mind- in which case you pick up, walk away, and say “yes” to something new.  

 

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2. You can teach an old dog new tricks.

So you’re a 5’11 singer + pianist, who’s had dance training while working as an entertainer, but has no cheerleading/ tumbling experience?

Try out for the British cheer team, anyways.

Watch, learn, and take in what those who are experienced have to say. It’s humbling, and it’s helpful. 

 

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3. One Month doesn’t make you “like the locals.” Six months Doesn’t make you “like the locals.” One Year doesn’t Make you “Like the Locals.” It will take all of that time, if not more, to even determine what it means to be local.

In a year, I took in much of what it meant to be British, courtesy of personal relationships; slang, customs, and random quirks.  For this, I am thankful. I hold a greater understanding of the authentic substance of this cultural, in ways I do not think I could have achieved in a different context.

That being said, I could spend the rest of my life in England and STILL learn something new, everyday.

A year in, I still occasionally made the mistake of assuming the driver’s side was instead, shotgun. “Wrong side, Shelbs.” was said more often than I would like to admit. I tried desperately to refer to braids and bandaids by their English reference (“plaits” and “plasters,”) simply for the sake of communicative clarity (if you ask the front desk at the gym for a bandaid, they’ll look at you like you’re missing a limb)  but simply couldn’t kick the habit.

Point being: your cultural roots are innately, and significantly, a part of your identity. Practice adaptability and flexibility with an open mind and an open heart, while still recognizing that no amount of time, relationship, experience, or setting can alter your roots.

And to those who have inquired as to whether I struggled to get back behind the wheel and on the right side of road when I returned to the States….

…..I was a bad driver longggg before I moved to England….

There was really nowhere to go but up in that department.

4. Work Hard, Play HArd is Totally a thing. it can absolutely be done.

Embrace leisure (in whatever format you fancy) when you can and if you can, especially if you’re a workaholic like myself….you’ll go insane otherwise. Give yourself a break here and there- it’ll pay off in the long run.

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And if they play your favorite song, sing at the top of your lungs. It’s good for the soul.

4. Objectivity

So, you care about someone…something….anything, in any context.

Take a step back. Remove yourself from any personal opinion, need, and want. Replace any selfish personal desire with selflessness (to the best of your ability, anyway…we’re only human)  and ask yourself: what is the best thing I can do for this person I care for?

Then, go out and do it.

Step in with commitment if the timing is right, and step aside gracefully if it is not.

You could argue that if you forget about your own needs and your own wants….you’ll get walked all over. You could argue that you must care for yourself before you care for others. You could argue that if you only focus on what other people need….you’ll never get what you need.

I suppose, in some ways, this is true.

So, do some things for yourself.

But first, do things for other people. 

5. Your true friends are your true friends- point blank.

Distance  cannot not change that. In fact, some of them may even come to you from afar.

True friends will show up for you; if not in person, then by any means available.

 

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The Humorous

 

1. Halloween can hold a very different meaning for different people.

Dressed to the nines as a Greek Goddess in a white dress, heels, and headband, I arrived on Halloween in true American fashion…..in a cutsey, dressy costume.

….I didn’t get the memo about the blood…..or the gore…..or the black….

Fortunately, a friendly face carried some fake blood and I made a quick recovery.

It’s fun, games, and fear for these guys. Nearly everyone dresses to scare.

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2. Bikes are, more often than not, a bad idea.

No seriously, those things are only good for an Instagram post.

I have the scars on my knees to prove it.

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The scene of my fall from greatness- Amsterdam, Netherlands.

 

3. When the Brits say “You alright?” They’re not expressing legitimate concern.

“yeah, of course I am….why, do I look upset?” isn’t an ideal response.

Chill.

It’s just a standard greeting.

 

4. ….and tea and biscuits? One of few stereotypes That hold true.

Picture this:

The scene is a cross cultural one… a messy  bachelor pad.

There’s trash on the floor. Cups, dishes, and other unidentifiable objects consume the coffee table. The residue coating the glass could be tobacco, but it could also be dirt. More than likely, it’s a mixture of both.

Naturally, like all clever 20-something men, these guys have an adorable, tiny pet running around the place as bait (admittedly, the sole reason you’ve disregarded your common sense, and returned to a space you already knew resembled a life-size trash bag.) As the small animal plays inside of a used plastic bag, you’re genuinely concerned for it’s welfare.  You bite your tongue, and coax the animal to safety (i.e. a Snapchat selfie. Or ten. )

FIFA plays in the background. Many- and by that I mean….every– man in the room is fixated on the game. Banter, coupled with the sound of buttons clicking on Xbox controllers, is the soundscape that fills the space.

“Does anyone want a cup of tea?” one of the guys asks nonchalantly, as he ads some custard creme biscuits to the coffee table clutter. His eyes do not waver from the television.

Don’t ask questions.

Just tell him how many sugars you take.

 

5. Student Government calls for more comittment, but less campaign material.

While American student government candidates launch borderline pre-professional campaigns for office positions, photoshoots and all…..the English aren’t about that kind of unnecessary stress. It’s about the substance, not the sparkle.

Their elected candidates have more say on campus than here in the States.

 

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Still better than Donald Trump’s.

 

6. Brighton: A Big City with a Small Town social scene….amiright?

They say the first few faces you come across when you arrive, in a sea of people, you’ll likely never encounter again.

Wrong.

….wrong.

SO. WRONG.

Assume that everybody knows everybody.

 

7. Men’s Skinny jeans are the way of the future.

So, maybe I’ve beat this joke into the ground.

But, Europeans are historically 3-5 years ahead in relation to global fashion trends.

 

 


“She was a little all over the place, that was for sure. But the good news is when she loved, she loved big. And if she loved you, you knew she loved you. you never had to wonder. 
-unknown

On goodbyes.

Complacency makes for a weak cocktail.

I much prefer life in strong doses. 

England wasn’t the first occasion in my life that I picked up, packed up, and moved somewhere new in pursuit of new experience and growth. It probably won’t be the last.

That being said, the goodbyes don’t get easier with time.

If anything, with each change of setting, they get harder; in all the best ways.

Leaving my friends and family in  in America was surely difficult, but there was a kind of unexplained solace in knowing exactly when I’d return. I left knowing, with clarity, I’d see them again in July.

As I leave England, this “goodbye” is unlike anything I’ve previously experienced. 

It’s difficult to put into words the way it felt walking away from those I’ve come to hold dear to me this year with confidence that I’ll see them again in time, but uncertainty as to when. While I know I will be back, I do not know when. It could be this year for a visit; next Fall for a Master’s Program at Sussex; in a few years, to build a career. In the midst of a number of opportunities and possibilities, my return date is unknown.

In fact, I made a concious effort to avoid using the word “goodbye” in it’s entirety. 

There was a shift in behavior and dialogue as my departure date loomed, of course . I hugged everyone a little bit tighter than usual. I put together small going-away sentiments, signing them with extra “xoxo’s” and overusing the words “love” and “always.” But, I refused to use the word goodbye. 

Because while I may leave, rarely do I leave behind.

I have roots in a number of places, and can say with transparency that I carry the people I’ve met and who matter to me on my shoulders and in my heart with each and every step. While a bit cheesy to the eye, these words are not embellished.

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Until next time, England. ❤

xx,

Shelbs

 

Talk Tinder to Me

“You’re the American girl…we matched on Tinder!”

….he shouted in my ear over the sound of the DJ’s bass, clad in a bowtie that didn’t match his ensemble and grinning ear to ear. Landlocked by a girl in braces smoking a cigarette and a guy arguing with his girlfriend, there was no escaping the encounter.  I smiled and greeted him with a hug and customary kiss on the cheek.

Maybe it’s because my bio notes my nationality. 

Maybe it’s because I’m too tall for my own good ( 5’11…roughly 6’2 in a pair of heels.)

Maybe it’s because, despite residence in a seaside city of more than 150,000 people boasting three major universities (University of Sussex, University of Brighton, and BIMM School of Music) amongst others , the social scene in Brighton can be much, much smaller than it appears. Never mind that I work in the entertainment marketing industry, in relation to the student clubbing scene, which continues to narrow the field.

While it’s hard to pin point the specific origin of these encounters, one thing is for certain:

….living abroad, Tinder is an experience in itself. 

For those who may not be familiar, Tinder is an application frequented by millennials, specifically university students and 20-somethings. The app has an estimated 50 million users worldwide. You have the option of “swiping right” in favor of a profile, or “swiping left” in denial. Should you and the future love of your life both “swipe right” and “match” [ note the deep, deep sarcasm….] you have the option of opening conversation. The application allows you to view mutual Facebook friends, and which university the individual attends. Some use Tinder as a joke, others with genuine interest in meeting a significant other. Some, like myself, use the app more or less out of boredom….AKA,  while I’m waiting on the train to arrive. 

I am simultaneously amused, intrigued, and annoyed by these unwarranted public encounters with Tinder matches. Grocery shopping, ordering a coffee at Starbucks, working a night shift, and out with friends are just a few occasions in which I’ve been, for lack of better term, ambushed by Tinder suitors. I could delete my account and eliminate this all together….but where’s the fun in that?

Let it be known: I make a conscious effort not to view different cultures in a comparative light.

When asked the usual ” How is _____ here compared to the USA?” I put on my politician pants, and purposefully advert the question. While I am proud of my heritage, and adore the country I call home, using American culture as a means for measuring the rest of the developed world’s appeal only perpetuates a sense of off-putting superiority, and creates an atmosphere that can often act as a roadblock in matters of cross-cultural relation. Different cultures each boast a way of life unique to their location. I try to take it as so.

But, in a lighthearted context,  I’ll make a rare exception to these personal standards.

British Tinder VS. American Tinder

The good, the bad, and everything in between


 

American Tinder culture boasts striking contrast to british tinder  culture.

In a favorable light, I might add. I recognize, from the perspective of the British, this is a laughable claim. But,  in comparison to Tinder culture in the U S of A, England is a forerunner for genuine encounters. Personally, I wouldn’t be caught dead using the app on American soil. I logged on once in my time as a university student in the States- solely to check out the what the hype was about- and promptly logged off.

It was a Tuesday Night, and I was ticking away at a piece to submit to some alternative outlets, beyond my personal blog.

I’d reached the section I intended to use to discuss cross-cultural dating. As I contemplated the words and my time in England, I came to a self realization:

I have a “type.”

I say this loosely, but directly in regards to personality. 

So, in an effort to broaden my perspective, I did what any mind as sporadic as mine would do.

I agreed to go on a series of random Tinder dates.

I accepted these offers based on character, not appearance, (still savage, but not entirely inhumane) making plans with several seemingly diverse personalities. Some appeared to be right up my alley, while others I probably wouldn’t have considered previously. All candidates were a shot in the dark; literal “Brightonians.”

Call it a social experiment in the spirit of candid, cross cultural communication,  if you will. After all, when else in your life can you go on a series of fun, casual first dates….just because? What a time to be alive.

Disclaimer:

It was the weekend. If they weren’t buying me a drink, someone else in Brighton likely would have finessed these guys for the same. Tomato, Tomatoh. 

The only catch? We had to talk for and hour or two.  I could have conversation with a rock, if I really had to. It’s both an element related to my cultural identity as an American, and my personality as an individual. So, whether good, bad, or somewhere in between, I felt prepared to handle the outcome of these encounters.

…..I was not prepared. 

Amidst some friendly and genuine encounters were a few unexpected ones.

I could highlight the good, but the bad is far more entertaining.

Unexpected lines and awkward moments ensued.

 

The Dialogue of Bad Blind Tinder Date

ft. genuine lines and unspoken responses 


 

“A Fosters? Really? I could never drink that. I guess I just have expensive taste.”

Forget the courteous move towards the happy hour specials then, next one will be a glass of Dom Perignon…..I hear entry level, post graduate  jobs pay very well. 

“I’ve told my mom all about you. She likes to hear about this kind of stuff, you know.”

…..what.

“I had no idea how you were going to sound when you talked, you know, with the accent and all.”

Have a few too many drinks, then try talking through your nose.

There you have it: The American Accent. 

“Are your eyelashes real?”

If you have the receipt, it is yours. 

“Your hair looked shorter in the pictures.”

…..see above. 

“You’re too good to be working for clubs.”

You are never above a learning opportunity, or too good for a job. Boots on the ground, cold-sales training is hardly to be taken for granted. Never mind my co-workers (all university students pursuing degrees, might I add) could sell you a PEN if they really had to…these guys are good. Really, really good.

No free shots for you, sir.

 

*20 minutes into date*

“So, tell me about your relationship history.”

In a genuine stroke of luck, a member of the football team appeared out of nowhere in this very moment, and sparred me a conversation far too personal for a first date….like an angel in disguise, he rose from the crowd, holding a shot of bacon flavored Smirnoff ( It’s a thing guys!!!!! And tastes as disgusting as you’d imagine it would….) and proceeded to soften this conversational blow. Standing at least a head taller than my date, with a laugh that warms a space, he joked about recent messages in a group chat we were both a part of. 

My date was shell-shocked. 

It was great.

…..and I never actually answered the question. 

“How’s your dog? He’s so cute!”

The golden retriever featured on my Tinder profile is 100% a catfish.  I don’t even know his name. 

“You really should list your height in your bio, ya know.”

And you really should have eaten your veggies as a kid….but we can’t turn back time, now can we?

 

The VERDICT

My experience using British Tinder, in summary


In my time trolling Tinder, I :

  • Answered the question “wherebouts in America are you from?”  at least 30 times
  • ….and was offered a “tour of Brighton” more times than I can count
  • Went on a few terrible dates 
  • Went on a few decent dates
  • Matched with a few friends, and served them a proper roast.
  • Had one genuine, worthwhile introduction to a fellow student who, in retrospect, I probably would have rubbed shoulders with eventually….with, or without, the assistance of the app.
  • Consistently came across diverse personalities, and English men who all happened to dawn their best pair of skinny jeans for the occasion. A look I’ve not only become accustom to overtime, but arguably have come to favor.

 

My conclusion is a rather simple one.

I’m not suggesting anything bad comes of Tinder.

….but, I’m not suggesting anything good comes of it, either.

In America and UK alike, there are surely cases where healthy, happy relationships blossom with the swipe of the right.

In the UK, I’d argue this is more likely.

Still unlikely, but slightly less unlikely.

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Tinder: where you can, in fact, have too many options. [Note: individuals pictured are not Tinder trollers]

xx,

Shelbs

A Debate That Gives: Volunteerism VS. Voluntourism

“I want to be American…just like you, Miss Shelby. “

The 8 year old girl I tutored looked up at me, eyes wide, and proceeded to imitate my accent.

“I want to talk like you. I wish I was from America,” she continued. “I told my Mum I want to move to America….will you teach me to be American?”

My stomach dropped. I searched for the right words to respond as the young girl continued to beg the phrase, “….I wish I was American…”

“Well, I like the way you talk best. No one else in the whole world has a voice like yours, it’s really special. ” I said casually, as I flipped to the next page of the workbook.  Gently, I took control of the conversation, changed the topic, and proceeded to redirect my student towards the English coursework at hand.

During the Fall term, I volunteered at a local church’s community center. The after school program I played a minor role in supporting was on a drop-in basis; kids 7-18 yrs old received a hot meal, tutoring support services, and opportunity for recreational activity free of charge.

As an American abroad, volunteering with children is a balancing act.

In a short matter of time, I’ve received a crash course in maneuvering this balance. While my experience as an international volunteer is stark in comparison to friends and acquaintances who serve as full time, certified teachers across the world, most can likely attest to the claim that children watch and learn. Impressionable and often enthusiastic, kids envision a future through visual means, cultivating ambition embodied by those who stand before them.

It is in this setting that I’ve come face to face with a long running debate that exists in the service world:

“Volunteering VS. Voluntourism”

I’m not entirely sure who spearheaded the great debate of the “how to give,” as to somehow suggest there is a “right” or “wrong” means of serving others.  Nonetheless, behind computer screens and spitefully strung words lie critics of good intent,  whom argue  Americans abroad do more harm than good, often embodying imperialistic ways as volunteers. Some suggest we act as “white savior barbies” who package self interest as selflessness, interested only in building a CV. Full blown, academic research has been dedicated to the analysis of “voluntourism” and it’s impact on communities, particularly those in the 3rd world.

Talk is the only verb I know which doesn’t boast direct correlation to action. It’s much easier to criticize something than it is to actually do something. Whether these critics of global volunteerism have any experience serving abroad themselves is a question in itself, often unveiled in the depth of the individual claims at stake….

Nonetheless, these critical stereotypes continue to circulate with gusto. And on a small scale, the repercussion is my lived reality. 

As I applied for volunteer positions in the UK, and proceeded to charter the waters of working with British youth,  underlying perceptions of “voluntourism” came to light. While I recognize where rationality can lie within the argument (“white savior barbie” critic has a point when she notes we need not refer to Africa as though it’s a country, whilst waving our smartphones in the faces of 3rd world children to capture a selfie….fair play to the Instagram hater….) I often find myself actively attempting to convince the charity organizations I pursue that I’m not just another American here for the semester, clocking  a few volunteer hours in between weekend getaways. I’ve found that email response is more likely when I list myself as a student at the University of Sussex, rather than an American on international exchange.

The “Volunteerism VS. Voluntourism” debate indirectly functions as “Voluntourism VS. Shelbs.” And as this uphill battle against pre-conceived notions of “voluntourism” wages, I’ve come to find that the on-going debate is nothing more than an attempt define something that a doesn’t actually exist. We’ve bent over backwards trying to shape a phrase that lacks tangible foundation.

The “voluntourist” is non-existant.

Simply put, it’s a volunteer whom hasn’t received comprehensive, cross-cultural training.

My training? Still pending, I must admit. It’s continuous observation, and the product of relationships; friends, course mates, co-workers, and teammates of English decent who serve as primary, constant examples of British custom and culture in my everyday life. I did not arrive here with a large group of Americans, and in turn, most the company I keep is English. The unique quirks and ins-and outs of British culture have grown on me. While I’m still very much American, I now identify with these customs in new light. Nowhere else in the world lives, works, and breathes the way the Brits do.

A year ago, I likely would have entertained my wide-eyed students with tales of American culture and dialect. And while I still share these experiences with youth, due to my experiences with British culture, it’s in a different fashion. Tell me your story, and I’ll tell you mine, I challenge my young students once their coursework is completed. I choose to counteract each question youth ask about American culture with a question about the English culture (even if I already know the answer 😉 )  As American volunteers, we walk a fine line between sharing cross-cultural perspective, and allowing youth to cultivate authentic national identity. Personally, my aim is to inform and inspire my students to learn more about the world around them, while also encouraging personal growth.

America has the resources, educational tools, and task force to produce significant impact on a global scale. In developed and under developed countries, alike.

It would be static, arguably ignorant, to disregard this window of opportunity. We undoubtedly have something to bring to the global table; the international impact the US government program, “Let Girls Learn,” has had in just one year is one example of many testimonies to this claim.

But in my limited experience, I’ve found that the extent to which this impact is made lies not in motivation, but methodology.

The wide-eyed, 8 year old girl eager to engage in American culture is simultaneously exploring and forming her own British identity. Recognizing this was the first of many small steps taken to squander pre-conceived notions of “voluntourism,” and address a debate which highlights the vital role volunteer training and education plays in service abroad.

While it may occupy an Instagram caption at times, an act of love have no label.

Service is seldom free from positive impact, subjectivity aside.

 

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05.16.16 // Brighton Beach, UK

 

xx,

Shelbs

 

Gambe Lunghe // Long Legs

Solidarity is not my forte.

With the exception of an afternoon spent studying for an exam, completing coursework, or writing….I’m rarely alone.

Traveling alone? Needless to say, this is out of character.

….which is exactly why taking a holiday, solo, was a specific intent I set out to fulfill when I arrived in Europe.  

It’s something I would never do, therefore, something I felt I must do in the time I have left abroad.

I’d like to tell you I methodically selected specific destinations and travel locations prior to moving halfway across the world. I’d like to tell you I strategically booked plane tickets and accommodations. I’d like to paint the picture of a planner who mapped their journey. But realistically, there is no method to my madness. Essentially, it’s organized chaos. 

Thus, having yet to fulfill this personal goal, I booked a last minute ticket to Rome, Italy to celebrate Easter weekend.

And, for the first time in my short life, I spent more than a day in my own company. This was both rewarding and really, really challenging; an experience laced with quirky occurrences and rare, meaningful moments of clarity.

With that, I give you Three takeaways from this eye opening experience:

  • GAMBE LUNGE // Long Legs [tips for American women traveling alone in Rome, Italy]
  • FUORI DALLA GRIGLIA // Off the Grid [destinations beyond the tourist eye]
  • I RAGAZZI IN VERDE //  The Boys in Green [ On visiting a city of romance, alone ]

“Gambe Lunge” 

Tips for American women traveling alone in Rome, Italy

 

“Gambe lunge,” (which translates to “long legs” in English) was the cat-call adjective of choice in my five days spent in Rome.

There’s a stigma  associated with women traveling solo; particularly in Western culture. All too often, the concept is wrongfully deemed as a safety risk. And while some of this alarm is rational, in my experience, the majority is simply a matter of sensationalist media tactics. Vigilance and awareness squanders much of the risk generally associated with traveling alone in Europe.

Random stuff happens to me, on the reg.

I am a radar for out of the ordinary occurrences. I didn’t ask for this (although it makes for some good stories.) I spent close to a week in Rome, and in that time, found myself in a number of settings and situations. From this stems my advice to women traveling alone in Rome, Italy.

1) Adjust your vocal tone, volume, and clarity.

I’ll say it, so you don’t have to:

AMericans are loud.

….very, very Loud. At least, in comparison to many cultures.

The American accent and vocal tone can, at times, be overwhelming. While holding fast to authentic identity, it’s important to size up the individual you are speaking to and address them accordingly.

Chatting up a rowdy British Lad? The nasal-undertones and over exaggerated vocality that is typical of an American woman will surely do. If anything, I’d argue it may be to your advantage. They have Netflix, too….you’re in the clear.

Lost? Need directions from an elderly Italian woman? Soften your tone. Speak lighter. Approach with confidence, but compassionate caution.

In an unfamiliar,questionably safe area? Silence is golden. When you speak, you immediately draw attention to yourself. That WhatsApp call can wait.

Making a personal connection with an individual of another culture is an act rooted in self-awareness and situational observation. 

2) Look the part.

90 % of travel safety, while solo, lies in appearance.

Ditch the selfie stick. It’s the solo-travelers equivalent of taping a sign on your back that says: “Here, take my wallet. I didn’t need it anyway.”

Put on real pants. Leggings are a lovely innovation, and a trend I readily embrace while on American soil (….and in Brighton. I’m quite positive you could step into the streets here wearing a morph suit, and no one would do a double-take.) However, the oversized sorority t-shirt, Nike tennis shoes, and stretchy fabric typical of my culture is a look that’s strictly reserved for exercise in most of Western Europe. A simple pair of black pants, turtle neck, and boots are a comfortable alternative that allows for wardrobe immersion. Dark tinted sunglasses are a personal favorite, as well.

Invest in some international cell data. International cell service, contrary to popular belief, doesn’t have to be costly. Vodafone, a cell phone carrier available throughout Europe, offers temporary international data for the equivalent of 5 USD per day. For the solo traveler, this adds up to roughly the price of one cab ride. Carrying a physical map draws attention to uncertainty. Using a GPS is a reasonable, effective alternative. Furthermore, the tool allows you to walk  to many locations, saving funds that otherwise would be spent on transport.

3) Learn A Few Phrases in the native language

Today, a large part of the developed world speaks English as a second language. That being said, learning key phrases in a country’s native language is not only beneficial, but a gesture of respect.

“Grazie, non sono interessata.” (Thanks, I’m not interested) and “Aspetto mio fidanzato” (I’m waiting for my boyfriend) can serve a woman traveling solo well.

Italian men, in my experience, are all bark and no bite. While they’re rather vocal and expressive in their advancements, they’re quick to respectfully retract when rejected.

FUORI DALLA GRIGLIA

Off the Grid

While in Rome, I visited ten churches,  nine landmarks, and two museums.

I attended Ash Wednesday mass, Holy Thursday mass, a church service led in German??? (still not entirely sure how, it in a city 900 +  Italian parishes I ended up there….but I wouldn’t have understood the language either way, so I went with it.) and a Sunday Easter Service. 

Furthermore, I stumbled across a number of parks, open markets, architecture, street performers in Trastevere Square, and fab food.

There’s a catch, though. Like many destinations, Central Rome is laced with tourist traps. It’s Marketing-101, if you will; appeal to the target market. Vendors and businesses, in every country, recognize the visitor demographic that frequent popular regions. Many locations, specific to major landmarks, may compromise authenticity in favor of tailoring their food, products, and atmosphere to tourists.

Here, you’ll find a few my favorite locations “off the grid.” Pack some cash, plan to trek slightly off track, and pursue cultural authenticity.

Outdoor dining, by Rome standards, is rarely tranquil. I stumbled upon this family owned establishment on a side street relative in location to the Trevi Fountain. The traditional Roman menu was fresh and simple and the setting truly one of a kind. Finding a restaurant of this caliber in Rome that not only allows- but welcomes- a solo traveler to spend the afternoon reading at a table outside is a rarity,

al Piccolo Arancia di Carlo e Mara: Outdoor dining, by Rome standards, is rarely tranquil. I stumbled upon this family owned establishment on a side street relative in location to the Trevi Fountain. The traditional Roman menu was fresh and simple and the setting truly one of a kind. Finding a restaurant of this caliber in Rome that not only allows- but welcomes- a solo traveler to spend the afternoon reading at a table outside is a rarity,

The space represents the connections between faith, nature, and our duty to preserve the planet.

Sant’Iganzio Parish: The space represents the connections between faith, nature, and our duty to preserve the planet.

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Relative in location to the Colosseum, this tranquil haven is a prime location for a gelato break.

Parco del Colle Oppio: Relative in location to the Colosseum, this tranquil haven is a prime location for a gelato break.

Without a doubt, this marks as my favorite destination during my visit. Located in a residential neighborhood in the hills, this basilica is a relatively unknown wonder. While it did not boast the elaborate architecture many other locations did, the environment was worth the trek. Ring a doorbell, and the local nuns will give you access to a garden space unlike any other. You'll likely be the only one there- it's a hidden gem.

Basilica of Santi Quattro Coronati: Without a doubt, this marks as my favorite destination during my visit. Located in a residential neighborhood in the hills, this basilica is a relatively unknown wonder. While it did not boast the elaborate architecture many other locations did, the environment was worth the trek. Ring a doorbell, and the local nuns will give you access to a garden space unlike any other. You’ll likely be the only one there- it’s a hidden gem.

 

I Rigazzi En Verde

The Boys in Green

Put simply, Rome is a rather romantic location.

This didn’t occur to me when I spontaneously booked this trip. It wasn’t until I settled into a seat nestled on a quiet street side, ordered a glass of house red, and looked around that I came this inevitable realization. Couples regularly passed by, holding hands and pausing for the occasional peck on the lips. The expressive, affectionate tone that the Italian language carries echoed through the streets.

ON a surface level, this situation sounds lonely…depressing, even.

At 18, I would have agreed.

At 19, I would have obliged.

At 20, I would have stood in favor of this claim.

IT took 21 years to come Full Semi-circle.

I refuse to call it “full circle.” I don’t believe in the phrase. My hope is to grow, learn, and evolve with a continuity that is never ending. If there’s anything I do know, it’s that no one really knows what they’re doing. We’re all learning as we go, in every stage of life.

However, as a self proclaimed extrovert having had the experience of a holiday alone, I can say this with confidence and transparency:

Loneliness is a state of mind, not a state of being. 

It took 21 years to recognize that-while difficult at times- occasional solidarity and reflection is essential in learning to be content in your own silence, and ultimately, better loving those around you. To this new perspective, I credit my time spent living in Europe.

you see, On the evening of Good Friday, I attended Stations of the Cross.

Pope Francis led the traditional Catholic ceremony outside the historic Colosseum, illuminated by the glow of a wooden cross set entirely on fire. A four hour que, two pat downs, and an ID check later, I found myself just below the Pope’s elevated presentation space; close enough to nearly make out his facial expression. The ceremony was rustic and simple. While Rome is recognized worldwide as an Easter destination, and draws thousands during the holiday weekend, the celebration was not eccentric; there was direct emphasis placed on a specific, centralized focus. I feel very fortunate to have heard Pope Francis speak in person….religious affiliation aside, the Pope is undoubtedly a powerful figure in today’s world policy.

 

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The pope is also a pretty witty guy…Man’s got a few puns up his sleeve. But I digress….

The crowd was shoulder to shoulder, and to my left stood an Italian family. Their two young boys, bundled in matching green coats, clapped vigorously along to the hymns played leading up to the ceremony. “Papa Francisco!!!” the little boys shouted, oblivious to the atmosphere the tunes were meant to establish. Those around us grinned ear to ear, unfazed. As time passed and the evening grew later, the little boys began to grow tired.

As one brother quietly flipped through the pages of a booklet illustrating each Station of the Cross, the other casually laid his head down in my lap, closed his eyes, and snuggled up for a rest.

He didn’t care where I was from.

He didn’t care where I’ve been.

He didn’t care where I’m going.

And in that brief, casual moment, these things were secondary to a childlike affection; innocent affection that existed without hesitation or judgement.

As 20-something millennial women, we’re regularly fed a common phrase:

“YOu have to learn to love yourself, before you can really love someone else.”

I see the words quite often; in writing and in conversation alike. And while there is much truth in this statement, it also leaves much to be desired. Because if you choose to look at love through lenses that solely view it as a matter of romantic pursuit, you bypass so many incredible moments that add substance to the definition; moments that ultimately, can add strength to relationships in a romantic context.

Romance is the delicate balance of meeting your own needs and desires, while still recognizing that  love  is so, so much bigger than our personal pursuits. 

EVEN IN SETTINGS WHERE IT’S ABOUT US, IT’S STILL ABOUT SOMETHING BIGGER.

Love has many faces.

And in the eyes of an Italian child during Stations of the Cross, of this I was reminded.

 

xx,

Shelbs

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Happens on Tour, Stays on Tour: A British Spring Break

….they call it “Sports Tour.”

Each year in the Spring, sports teams from across the UK flock to Western European destinations to partake in an oh-so-infamous week known as Tour. My situation was unique, as my cheer and dance team- the Brighton and Sussex Waves- do all social activities with the Brighton Tsunami American Football Team (the irony, I know.)

Let it be known: two teams are better than one. 

So, as April crept upon the calendar and the weather began to tediously thaw, Wavenami boarded a coach en route to the beachside city of Salou, Spain- full sized speaker in tow. Many capri-sun beverages and 28 hours later, sixty of us reached the British spring break mecca: Saloufest 2016.

 

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I’ll give it to you straight, no chaser:

….I thought I’d seen it all.

Having spent my freshmen year on spring break in Panama City Beach, Florida, I embarked on this journey considering myself a spring break veteran, blissfully unaware of the madness that would soon ensue.  Tour exceeded all expectations, and set the bar in ways I simply cannot put into words for the world-wide web.

Picture a Week long sorority/fraternity function…on steroids.

 

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Sewing myself into an Oktoberfest costume, in the middle of March, while in Spain was hardly a position I anticipated I’d find myself in upon my arrival in England. Clubbing in full orange body paint, with green hair,  dressed as a carrot? Not on my radar, either. Each night summoned an eccentric theme, shenanigans that shall never be put into print, and memories I’ll carry with me for years to come.

 ….I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

I cannot, in good character, boast as though I’ve experienced Spanish culture. That would be a gross exaggeration. I stand by the claim I made when this blog was born: traveling is not synonymous with cultural immersion. While I did spend time on a beautiful Spanish beach, I’d argue what I experienced was more or less an authentic British spring break. This was equally- if not more- rewarding.

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For additional photos, check out the slowly developing “Media” tab above.

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A few months ago, I was asked to speak on a panel at a welcome orientation for several hundred incoming international students attending the University of Sussex for the Spring semester. The majority  were Americans.

One member of the panel suggested they visit an all-you-can-eat buffet. Others told them to stop by well known attractions such as the Brighton Eye and Royal Pavilion.

“Stay put,” I said. “And get to know the people. They’ll teach you more about this place, and about yourself, than anything else.”

Suppress the natural inclement to hop on a plane and jet set across Europe, I suggested. Shed pre-conceived notions, and let go of the comfort that lies in socializing with only those of your native culture.  You see, my experience living internationally is almost wholly defined by the people I’ve met and the friendships I’ve made.

Sports Tour is one testimony to this claim.

While the food, photos, postcards, and stamps in my passport are lovely souvenirs, it’s the relationships I have here in England- both through Wavenami and various other social circles alike- that add substance to this time and place in my life.

The people I’ve met are the reason I can now register [some] British slang. 

The people I’ve met are the reason I better understand and comprehend the British culture and custom. 

The people I’ve met are the reason I’ve fallen in love with Brighton…. the reason, in just a few months, it will be so bittersweet to leave this incredible place.

Some will remain friends for a lifetime; friendships I can say, with absolute certainty, will yield a mutual effort to maintain contact and connection for years to come. Friends I will make a conscious effort to share and celebrate life milestones with, despite the distance. It’s a bit dreamy when laid out in text, but those who truly know me know I can-and absolutely will- commit to this effort. Y’all know who you are…..and if you don’t meet my kids one day, I assure you, you’ll at least meet my cat. 

Some will stay in touch. A friendly face or bearer of meaningful encouragement. We are a technological generation and it’s a beautiful, beautiful thing.  The opportunities for cross-cultural communication and connection are endless.

Some will remain frozen in time. Exactly as they were in the moment we briefly crossed paths, a static memory.

Everyone I’ve met, in each and every social setting, sports team, society, and context will hold a place in my memory; responsible for shaping my time in England thus far, and my time to come.

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So…..As the brits would say, “big up” to my Wavenami Fam for a “Mad” spring break.

 

xx,

Shelbs

 

 

Grace While Global

“Faith has brought you to where you are, but grace sustains you.”

 

I was 18 when I wrote this quote in the margin of a notebook; shotty cursive, with a date written next to it. I didn’t identify who wrote it, or note why it was of importance at the time, but the words stuck with me. As an opener, this phrase can (and probably will) turn some away. I’m okay with that.

“….another wannabe blogger ranting about religion, trying to convert the masses… ugh…. “

Not quite. I’m  hardly one to preach. I make mistakes, every single day, and I am certainly not a beacon of perfection or example to mirror. Nelson Mandala put it well when he said “I am not a saint- unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”

That being said, there are two types of people in this world:

Those who slide into your DM’s, and those who crash into your DM’s.

…..I crash. Forget “hey, what’s up?” Let’s skip straight to the substance. 

 It’s easier not to talk about it.

It is far easier to submit to passive silence than engage in open dialogue. Faith….relationships….politics….the list of topics that yield vulnerability is a lengthly one.

But, here’s the thing:

…it was never supposed to be easy.

If our opinions, beliefs, thoughts, and feelings were never tested and tried, would we fully understand them? Would we fully understand ourselves? The answer, I believe, is no.

So, let’s talk. Shall we?

Grace is a term- an action, if you will- that’s always been in my realm of thought. However, living abroad has challenged me to explore the concept in new depth.  While  America is often described as a “melting pot,” the UK presents diversity in the contains of much closer proximity.  The University of Sussex alone boasts a prayer room specifically for Muslim women, Catholic mass every Sunday, a Buddhist “Mindfulness and Meditation” society, and a CoExist Society….to name a few. There is an outlet for every perspective and practice. In my experience, British university places genuine emphasis on religious diversity and inclusion in a way that I cannot truthfully say I’ve previously experienced- at least, in an educational setting. This is ironic, because the country does not have separation of church and state. America does (or at least, we think we do…..the line is a blurry one.)

I’ve always identified as a Christian. However, the ways in which I practice my faith have varied overtime. I grew up and received confirmation as a Catholic. As a teenager, I identified as a non-denominational Christian. When I went away to university, I attended a contemporary baptist church. This weekend, I’ll return to the Catholic parish to attend stations of the cross in honor of Good Friday.  Traditionalists might argue that this is a track record of confusion; the path of an individual who doesn’t really know what they want, or really know their God. But, I beg to differ. For me, it’s been a track record of growth. With every experience, I’ve met unique individuals whom have brought me closer to Him. I’ve witnessed- first hand- different ways of worshiping the same Lord, and come to find we’re not all that different. In moving to England, my beliefs have continued to evolve. My time living internationally has introduced me to a new way of practice.

I suppose you could call it cross-cultural Christianity.

In some settings, and when reasonable, the cross-cultural Christian can (and absolutely should) speak freely.

Picture this:

You’re in a small group seminar discussion. The majority of your classmates are Buddhist Chinese  students whom, while they can write in English well, often struggle to verbally speak it in the classroom setting. To your left is a classmate whom regularly wears a traditional Muslim hijab. To your right is a fellow American who probably could offer something up in the discussion, but rarely does. Your professor assigns a feature piece written by him (nothing academics love more than the sound of their own words, lemme tell yah), addressing the relationship between silence and religion. It’s an insightful piece. His portion of the column is from the perspective of an Atheist, challenging the Christian point of view. You read it with an open mind and an open heart.

“Why do religious people crave silence? What is it about it that appeals to this demographic, do you think?”  The professor asks. No one speaks. He looks you straight in the eye.

“Well….when it comes to sounds, we all have pre-conceived notions, even if we don’t intend to. We’ve been innately conditioned to associate certain sounds with certain ideas, people, or places….and silence? Silence is like a blank canvas. It’s entirely what you choose to make it, and I think that’s why it’s so appealing to the religious. Faith is a personal thing, and so is silence. For me,  that’s the connection. It’s an opportunity to reflect without being influenced by anything or anyone else. Just you and the God you worship. ” You respond.

“But religion isn’t personal. It’s collective.” He fires back, instantly.

You look around the classroom, waiting for someone else to chime in.  Feel free to speak anytime now, guys, you think to yourself nervously. The room falls silent, ironic, considering it’s the discussion topic at hand. Your professor doesn’t break his gaze, and waits for you to respond. It’s clear that this is not just about academia; for lack of better term, there’s beef.  This guy sees the discussion as something much bigger. He knows you identify as a Christian, and he’s now put you in the hot seat.

“In ways, yes. Community always has an element of collectivity to it, that’s natural. But religion can very much be individualistic. The relationship that I have with my God is very, very much a personal thing. I don’t think anyone else could wholly define it but I. We don’t all believe the same things, and even if we do, it’s not always in the same light. That’s what makes it personal. That’s the variety of the human experience. That’s what makes humanity so incredible. ”  You then attempt to crack a rather awkward, untimely joke in a desperate attempt to thaw the tension.

….I was the student the professor challenged.

And in this particular setting, it was all about dialogue. A spirited debate later, we both left the classroom with mutual respect, and a greater understanding of one and other. He proceeded to give me first marks on a 2000 word mid-term paper I wrote the day of submission….with limited sleep….nursing a cup of coffee a barista gave me for free because I looked a hot mess when I walked in with my backpack {…I don’t always gamble, but when I do, I go all in?} So, I like to think we’re cool with each other. In this situation,  dialogue was both appropriate and necessary. However,  this is not always the case.

In my first 20 years as a Christian, my efforts to talk the talk outweighed the importance of walking the walk. It wasn’t until I made the move to the UK that the tables turned.

Here, I am surrounded by individuals of diverse faith and background. The cross-cultural Christian recognizes that, in an international setting, actions can sometimes speak louder than words. While it may not always the right time to speak, it is always the right time to act. It’s always the right time to give and love unconditionally, regardless of difference in opinion or lifestyle. I’ve come to find that living with intent, love, and light can be a powerful method for spreading the word of God, without ever speaking a word.

Heightened understanding and acceptance of other faiths, cultures, and opinions is a staple in my practice as a Christian….living abroad has only affirmed to me that cultural awareness and tolerance is everything in a world that is dying for more of it; literally and metaphorically.

I spend an hour each week reading up on different Sub-Saharan regions of Africa, in preparation for a hopeful Peace Corps interview in the Fall. There are many outlets where smoke and mirrors can get you by; essays, auditions….Tinder. [plot twist: I took those pictures when I was 16 years old…..]  However, it is my understanding that this is not a setting where one can, or should for the matter, play pretend. The topic of this post has been on my mind for some time, so this afternoon I chose to do my weekly research on genocide associated with religious conflict. As we speak, religiously motivated conflict occurs regularly in Central Africa Republic, amongst many other locations throughout the world. My heart aches reading these stories. This hate- this blatant intolerance for diversity on an international scale-  is not a reflection of the God that I know. Knowledge of these crisis’, coupled with my experiences living in England, fuel a fire; a desire to radiate love in the way He would, even if only on a small scale.  I fall short more than I’d like to admit, and I sin every single day, but I do try.

The cross-cultural Christian recognizes that respecting and accepting others opinions and beliefs is not synonymous with denying God’s grace. If anything, it’s a method for emulating it.

 When you step out of your comfort zone and into an environment rich in diversity, and strip away the fear and hesitancy, it all comes down to one thing:

Grace.

It’s not always realistic or reasonable to walk into a room and start spitting bible verses at the crowd, but it is always appropriate to walk into a room and greet others with a smile and a hug. If it’s appropriate to speak, lovely. However, gestures of kindness can be equally as powerful and words. Wherever you are in the world, whomever your with, and whatever you’re doing….all roads lead to grace.

Of the 7 months I’ve spent in England, this is the most valuable lesson I’ve taken away thus far.  As we celebrate the Holy Week in preparation for the Easter holiday, I am thankful for the opportunity to live abroad, the ways in which it’s added strength to my faith, and the lessons I have and will continue to learn.

 

 

xx,

Shelbs

 

"But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace." Romans 11:6

“But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.” Romans 11:6

 

Things British People Say [with translations]

Six months ago, I created this blog. Initially, the aim was to use the domain as a platform for connecting and communicating with those back home.

Yesterday, I skimmed the geographic stats.

This is a rarity, as I don’t write for the sake of recognition or in an attempt to “go viral.” Frankly, the phrase leaves a rather bitter taste in my mouth. I’ve been writing for most of my short life, and generally, my work is quite personal. What I post online for the world to see is just a brief, sarcastic fraction; a taste of many words I’ve penned whilst living abroad.

USA. UK. Philippines. Hungary.  Miscellaneous countries throughout Europe.

In this innocent skim of the numbers, I came to find that my readers across the pond rival those in the USA.  On one hand, this is slightly alarming, because this blog is essentially the equivalent of one massive sub-tweet. But, it was also meaningful. I never anticipated these works to appeal to the Brits.

I wouldn’t call myself the betting type of girl…I much prefer security…in life, in love, in friendships, and everything in between. But with this newly found knowledge, I raise you all this:

If you guess where some of these quotes originated, the next brew is on me.

All in good humor, of course.

Game on.

“Nice weather today!”

Translation: It’s partly cloudy with a chance of rain. Consider packing an umbrella.

 

“Fit”

Translation: beautiful (if you’re speaking to a gentleman) // HOT (everyone else)

 

“You alright?”

Translation: How are you? // What’s up?

A standard greeting in the UK, not to be confused with legitimate concern….

 

“I’m just trying to make the most of my 3rd year.”

Translation: I’ve got a thing for freshmen girls, and I’ve come too far in this game to admit to it now.

 

“Cheers mate!”

Translation: Thanks, my friend!

 

“To be fair”

Translation: to be honest, to be frank

Often used to justify a statement that probably [definitely] is unnecessary. As you can probably imagine, I have come to adopt this phrase overtime.

 

“Housemates// Flatmates”

Translation: roommates.

When used in a sentence:

“You can tell me anything, I won’t tell my housemates.”

Translation: I’m going to tell my housemates everything you say… verbatim. No where is safe.

 

“….cheeky Nandos?”

Translation: A rather ambiguous offer to dine at a grilled chicken, chain restaurant.

 

“FFS: For F#$%S Sake”

Translation: FML, OMG

 

“….what’s the que like?”

Translation: Is there a line or a waiting period?

Synonym: Am I willing to wait to get into this club?

 

“Safe.”

Translation: cool / sweet / alright / good deal

 

“I quite fancy him.”

Translation: I’ve had too many vodka doubles, and I am currently conducting a deep creep on his instagram account. For the love of allthings good, please don’t let me accidentally like a post from 2012.

 

“Ting.

Translation: It’s my understanding this is South London lingo…..but I actually, still, have no clue what it actually means.

When used in a sentence:

“That’s why you’re the tinggggg, Shelbs.”

Translation: Again, I  honestly couldn’t tell yah. I like to think it’s a compliment, but it could go both ways.

 

“When am I going to get a shoutout on the blog? Waiting for my shoutout.”

Translation: @Elijah_King

 

 

 

I’ll be the first to admit: I’m notorious for talking too much.

Not sure if I understand what you’ve just said? It’s an easy code to crack.

I’ll be silent. 😉 

xx,

Shelbs

Finals + February Feels

February is a challenge. 

The month is a grand oxymoron. It’s a time that’s simultaneously both bleak and bright.

February, while challenging, is my favorite time of the year.

Amidst this contradictory season lies reflection, refocus, and yet another alliteration you probably could have done without.

 

FINALS

When I mention I’m from Saint Louis, Missouri, I’m generally greeted with one of two responses:

“Where Nelly is from, right?” [the dude has quite the fan base in the UK. ]

OR

“Oh….so like… what do you think about Ferguson?” […or various hybrids of the sort.]

The latter is rare-a bit heavy for small talk- but present nonetheless. There’s much to be taken from the conversations I’ve had regarding my hometown while living in England.

Rest assure, this is not another white, middle class rant about race. There are enough dim-wits like this chick going viral and frankly, we don’t need any more Tomi Lahren’s in the world. Acknowledging where white privilege exists in society is not synonymous with condoning white privilege, and I fully recognize where I lack some of the experience necessary to comprehend certain matters in a way that extends beyond empathy.

That being said, in a matter of a few short weeks abroad, I quickly came to realize how very differently media outlets in the UK covered the events that unfolded in Ferguson, in comparison to media outlets in the USA. Having worked directly with children and families in the Ferguson community-and closely related, surrounding at risk areas- prior to the death of Michael Brown, I’m equally critical of both national, and international news coverage of  Saint Louis and the beginnings of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. If you closely examine the news coverage of the events that unfolded in Ferguson and thereafter, you’ll find it wasn’t until the death of Freddie Gray and the 2015 Baltimore riots [nearly a year after Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown ] that many media outlets began to draw a parallel between the violent protests occurring and socio-economic divide. But, I digress….

Fast forward to living England; several seminar discussions and numerous conversations later, I’ve absorbed a number of opinions and feedback. I will not generalize a majority based the opinions of a few….after all, if all of America was just like me……well, I’m not sure what my country would look like. It would likely include one too many jokes told at inappropriate times. Needless to say, generalizations-while inevitable- are weak in the grand scheme of things.  

As the Autumn semester came to a close, I had the opportunity to reflect on some of these conversations I’ve had surrounding the topic. Media and Communications courses at Sussex boast a rather ambiguous final examination process. Both modules I enrolled in during the Autumn Term called for final research papers worth 70 percent of the mark. In November, I was presented with a series of prompts.

“Make it personal,” a professor challenged us. “I want academia, but I also want some individuality. “

So, I wrote about Ferguson.

It was a hit or miss decision, really. I established the events as an underlying theme throughout the essay,  sharing stories from my experiences in the community, journals excerpts and momentos taken from the evening the verdict was announced, etc.  while addressing the prompt at hand. I knew the streets that made international headlines, in a different light than those who lived there, of course, but in a personal way nonetheless.

I’m not one for posting feedback or grades online. This is my first and last exception, solely because writing, revising, and submitting this deeply personal work served as a vivid reminder of the unique opportunity living abroad presents to connect cross-culturally.

 

All too often, as students abroad, we forget.  Caught up in social media posts, food, drinks, hot accents (seriously, still so hot ), and tourist attractions, it’s easy to lose sight of the important things. My hands certainly aren’t clean- I don’t always practice what I preach. Amidst what could be considered a rather self indulgent experience, we  often forget. We forget that we hold the potential to communicate what media sources simply cannot; it’s a powerful position to connect, relate, and promote greater understanding in an inherently personal light. Perhaps on a small scale, but with a vigilance that cannot, and should not, be ignored.  A person can tell you far more than a headline can. Whether it be with through close friendships, a conversation with a stranger in a coffee shop, or with a professor via an academic essay, the opportunity living abroad presents to connect cross culturally goes untapped. 

Tap into the fight.

Challenge other’s opinion. Let them challenge yours as well.

Speaking with intent is a craft. Learning when it’s worthwhile to engage in dialogue, and recognizing when it’s better to pull back, is a slippery slope….. one that, admittedly, I’m still maneuvering myself. 

But this much I know for certain: honest, unbiased perspective is something we can all take part in shaping.

 

February Feels

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day.

Anyone who is an Instagram user ought to already know this. So many filtered pictures of flowers……so…..many…..

Personally, I’m rather keen for this holiday season [shock!].  Valentine’s Day has taken on a number of meanings in my short 21 years.

As a child, my Dad regularly took me on “Daddy-Daughter Date Nights.” Contrary to how it may appear, this wasn’t always a means of spoiling his little girl. I still recall a particular Valentine’s Day in grade school, where he took me to volunteer at a local children’s crisis nursery. My parents showed me what love and empathy should look like long before falling in love was ever in my realm of thought….for this, I am endlessly grateful.

As a teenager,  I once had the great fortunate of reliving these childhood Daddy-Daughter Date nights,  during a brief rebellious phase where my father refused to give in to my over dramatic effort to spend the holiday with an older guy from my math class [ he was repeating the course for the second time, having failed it the first ]. My dad took me out to dinner. He also took my cell phone…..for a week. #NeverForget

As a young adult I’ve spent the holiday in a number of ways. With boyfriends, organizing service projects, with my sorority sisters, in restaurants and movie theaters alike.

Recently, I had the opportunity to walk through the infamous English department store, Harrods, during the Valentine’s Day season. Visiting the London department store was dreamy, to say the least. I’m not sure what kind of person buys a 600 quid ball point pen, but I’ll bet their writing rivals Shakespeare’s. For that price, you best be writing some serious fire.

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Far more enticing, however, was the atmosphere. It was a busy Saturday afternoon, and as patrons shopped for the “perfect gift” to express their love, I couldn’t help but draw a cultural parallel between the holiday celebrations.

You see, when it comes to the topic of men and relationships, I’ve found that Americans and Europeans typically offer up commentary that is stark in contrast.

“Omg, are dating anyone yet?! Please tell me you found a hot guy with an accent.”  –Americans

“I mean, if you find someone it would suck. Because you’re leaving in July.”  -Europeans

Both sides speak with good intent.

However, neither example is an accurate depiction of my outlook on relationships.

I love watching “Eat, Pray, Love” as much as the next girl. But life, while very beautiful, doesn’t necessarily work in the way this chick flick depicts.

I didn’t move halfway across the world with the intent of finding a man. I didn’t move halfway across the world determined to be single, either.  I moved across the pond to live, without any particular expectations.

And as I tick away at an application for the Peace Corps, graduate school applications (including Sussex and Brighton Uni ayyyyy), and finalizing early undergrad graduation from the University of Arkansas in December of this year, the cards are up in the air. This time next year, I might be in Africa. Or England. Or America. I could be working professionally, pursuing a graduate degree, or potentially living without running water and electricity.  If the the concept of change, and the thought of moving around, dictated my ability to embrace new relationships….trust me, I’d at least adopt a cat……or a dog….maybe a fish? Something to fill the void in what would surely be a long and lonely future.  On the flip side; if studying abroad was my only opportunity to have an all consuming love affair….it might be time to start working on an audition video for The Bachelor. Because if this is the case, I’m holding a ticking time bomb that may or may not explode in grasp.

If I’ve taken anything away from my first international Valentine’s Day, it’s this:

People are people. 

There are many cultural differences between the country I’m from, and the country I live in currently. And while love can certainly be defined on a cultural level, more often, it’s a matter of humanity. We all want the same things, from the USA to the UK, and back. We all want to feel wanted. 

You see, we are members of what I like to refer to as the culture of control.  The UK and the USA have this quality in common. Don’t like your grades? Study harder. Not happy with your performance on the field? Train harder. Want a better job? Work harder. 

In these aspects in life, this ideology can certainly be beneficial. But when it comes to relationships, this culture of control is our demise. We do not control who stays, and who goes. We do not decide how we feel, or who we’ll feel for. For lack of better term….it just kinda happens…..and the only thing we decide is whether to roll with it, or hit pass-go.

While Brits and Americans boast different cultures, in some ways, we’re not all that different.

 

Standing a head taller than most men, 

Shelbs

 

5 Times I Was Totally Wrong

 

“But that’s the glory of foreign travel…I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than being in a country where you are ignorant to almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again…you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.” – Bill Bryson

I like to compare my arrival in England to diving head first into the ocean without a life vest, praying the water below wasn’t shallow. With nothing unpacked, all of a frozen pizza to fill my refrigerator, and a fist full of coins I had yet to actually learn to identify, I stepped off the plane and into a free fall.

Furthermore, those who know me recognize that I hold the habit of occasionally speaking before I’ve fully formed my thoughts. In the attempt to recover, generally my approach is to continue to talk until I find a way to make my point….or dig myself deeper. It’s a double edged sword.

Enthusiastic, excited, a bit overwhelmed, and intrigued by a new environment, my arrival in England was no exception to this self-observation. In my first few weeks abroad, I spoke rather prematurely. Not in a judgmental light, but rather, with a confidence that left much to be experienced- the product of years working in entertainment and marketing industries (I’ll pin it on professionalism?)

Three months later, I’ve come to find some initial observations to be accurate. Many of these statements, however, were severely off base.

….arguably comical.

 

5 Times I Was Totally Wrong

1) “I love the rain.”

“It’s really reflective.” I gushed to all I met upon my arrival. The pitter-patter on my window was ideal weather for sleeping, writing, and rather romantic, I insisted with wide eyes.

If I were smarter, I would have taken the time to register the looks of utter disbelief that flashed across the faces of all who were met with this infamous statement. But alas, English beer has a higher alcohol content.

So, I stood my ground: I loved the rain.

….until I found myself caught without an umbrella.

Out on the seafront in what appeared to be seemingly clear weather, I was enjoying  a typical night out when the equivalent of a low-key monsoon erupted without warning. We’re talking torrential downpour with no where within distance to seek shelter. Fortunately, someone offered me their jacket. However, it wasn’t enough to combat the downpour. Hair suddenly triple it’s volume and eyeliner smeared across my face, I  spent the remainder of the evening with a striking resemblance to a post-breakup 16 year old girl. Add a carton of Ben and Jerry’s and the look would have been spot on.

Needless to say, I now carry an umbrella.

Everywhere…..I carry an umbrella everywhere.

 

2) “Different guys, same games.”

Ahhhh, university dating culture.

Laced with contradiction, our generation has managed to craft a culture that isn’t easily described. However, with two years of uni under my belt, I arrived with the  belief that I’d seen it all…..I’d heard every line in the book, right?

Wrong.

 

Sorry, American Frat Bro…I’ve met your match. I affectionately call him:

THE BRITISH LAD.

True Lads deserve an Academy Award for their acting abilities. We’re talking Leo DiCaprio’s performance in Titanic quality…some of the charismatic efforts I’ve witnessed go unparalleled. Sensitive and sweet, laced with an accent that is admittedly to die for, a Lad is armed and ready with a plethora of quality lines at his disposal.

A Lad is  well calculated. He’ll size you up and adjust his pickup lines accordingly. Similar, in ways, to  the American Frat Bro….but without the handle of Tropical Fruit Burnettes and mediocre rendition of Kanye West’s “Gold Digger.”

A quality Lad will do what it takes to appeal to your interests. The most elaborate concoction to date?  “Did you know I’m captain of the dance team AND on the football team? Kinda like Troy Bolton!” While it has not been confirmed at the source, it’s my understanding this line was entirely fabricated. ( For the record, I never was much for Zac Efron circa 2006….I quite prefer his 2012 grunge phase.)

****It is worth noting, however,  that nothing I’ve heard here compares to the “do you watch Harry Potter!? Can you say, ‘Harry Potter’ for me!?” generalization American women tend to throw into the game when they meet a Brit…..I’d imagine these guys are equally- if not more-  exhausted by this reference. ****

In most cases, I’m rather entertained by the substance that accompanies the Lad’s game. I appreciate a good show. So long as it’s not at her expense, I’d give the performance a standing ovation. Because if you have the option to laugh and make light- take it. Take it, and hold on to it for everything that it’s worth. Laugh until your stomach hurts…crack a joke…then laugh some more. Never trust someone who says “trust me,” but trust me when I say: it is the motto I live by, and it hasn’t let me down yet.

While these observations are by no means a reflection of my personal life, and merely in the spirit of good humor, I’ve come to find that Lads do have one defining characteristic. In a paradoxical way, it’s endearing: The Lad is always a gentleman to those who cross his path. There are surely men out there who could give this [admittedly bold]statement a run for it’s money. However, my general consensus is a positive one. In theory, you could go full Brittney Spears Circa 2007 meltdown on a Lad, and he’d still greet you with a customary kiss on the cheek.* Not because these guys are fake; no, this is not the case. Because, even in the midst university dating culture, Lads have character. A Lad usually harbours a kind heart.  This, however naive it may read to the eye,  I do believe. 

*I won’t be testing this theory anytime soon

 

3) “Americans don’t eat that much more than Europeans.”

The one (and only) time I consumed 12 inches of cheesy goodness wasn’t worth the price I’ve paid since; those who witnessed this act may never let me forget the infamous moment in time.

I still stand by my claim that any size pizza is a personal pizza….if you want it to be.

 

4) “We speak the same language!”

The English dialect includes a number of phrases and vocabulary words that were [shock!] not included in any Hugh Grant films. While I’ve come to adopt a few phrases with time, I regularly learn something new.

To be fair, I think they’ve got a way with words.

 

5) “This just doesn’t feel like home.”

A bit somber; but, for what it’s worth, honest.

For many international students, the first few weeks serve as a transitional period. Most participants in study abroad programs will second this claim. While each individual has their own unique, inherently personal experience, the majority can agree that cultural immersion and adjustment take time. It doesn’t happen overnight.

My first few weeks in England were a series of holding on and letting go; reflecting on the things I loved in America, while simultaneously falling in love with the new culture in front of me.

In blogs, on television, and in conversation alike, I often hear moving to a new country equated with “starting fresh,” deemed a “new life.” It’s marketed as an opportunity to become “whoever you want to be,” your past suddenly obsolete.  This is troublesome, and in more ways than one. 

Around this time last year, I finalized the paperwork to make the move to England. I did so with the support of dear friends and sorority sisters in America- friends who often know me better than I know myself. At the time, I’d just returned from a holiday vacation with my family. I was in a healthy relationship, had an internship with a non-profit for the performing arts, and worked as the Marketing and Promotions Director for a radio station. I don’t say these things in an effort to paint a “picture perfect” image…that’s hardly realistic, and my life is anything but.  That being said, things were good. I was happy; with the good, the bad, and everything in between.

I didn’t move to England to start over,  I moved to England to continue. I wasn’t looking for a “new life” when I made this decision, rather, an extension of the flawed, but fulfilling, life I was already living.  

Studying abroad should never serve as a means for running away, if anything, it should serve as a means of running towardsTowards new experience, people, places, and feelings….change is healthy, if not necessary, in life’s journey. It is this perspective that shaped my unorthodox “transitional period” as a student abroad.

And while at first I was uncertain, with time, the feeling passed.  I met my people; friends from all over the world, who mean the world. As I gained a sense of direction in Brighton, what was once a 45 minute search for the bus stop became a 5 minute walk around the corner. Uncertainty was replaced with understanding, and love for a country I’m thrilled to return to. I found my place. And with time, it was no longer in  question….Brighton doesn’t just feel like home. It is home.

Someone once said, “there is something beautiful about being flawed, and seen, and hopeful.”

It’s true.

 

 

xx,

Shelbs

 

 

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Food for Thought

It started with casually sampling food off my father’s plate at while out at restaurants…..by the time I reached 7 years old, the children’s menu was no more than a glorified coloring book. If you weren’t talkin the chef’s house special, baby Shelbs didn’t wanna talk.

In short, I outgrew the chicken nuggets//picky eating phase a solid 10 years before my peers. I was doomed from the start……a foodie from the very beginning, in the all best and worst ways.

Fast forward to present-day, where “how about dinner?” is a pickup line that works [almost] every time.

The moral of the story? I really like to eat.

….and Brighton is the place to do it. The city could be considered the restaurant capital of England, as it’s home to more restaurants than anywhere else in the country. One restaurant to every 250 people, to be exact 😉 I’m not entirely sure who gathered this statistic, but I’d imagine we’d get along well.

So with that, I bring you a  taste of some of the English cuisine I’ve experienced in my time thus far; both commercialized and local.

 

Tea & Scones//Cakes

Stereotypical Brit stuff, but  deserves a nod. My attempt at a low-carb lifestyle lasted all of two days here courtesy of this traditional tasting.

The selling point? Clotted cream. A rich, velvety cross between whipped cream and butter. Not too thick, but not too airy, and absolutely delicious. Accompanied with fresh jam, the combination is to die for.

Cakes also serve as a sweet substitute. To be frank, I’ve yet to have a mediocre baked good in my time with the English. Betty Crocker best step aside, because these guys can bake.

strawberry jam, clotted cream, and a toasted scone @ The Red Roaster, an independent coffee shop near the Brighton seafront.

strawberry jam, clotted cream, and a toasted scone @ The Red Roaster, an independent coffee shop near the Brighton seafront.

Vegan lemon and pistachio cake @ the Redwood Cafe

Vegan lemon and pistachio cake @ the Redwood Cafe

Coffee 

Ahhh, tea’s friendly neighbor.

While the tea is a hit, the coffee is a miss.

I firmly believe the “red cup” debacle surrounding Starbucks could be solved simply by relocating the misguided critics to England. My theory is, in a desperate attempt to uncover something other than a watered down local brew, the crazies would inevitably cave to Starbs and their very-commercialized roast. With, or without, snowflakes drawn on the cup 😉

Shelby isn't a name the baristas frequently encounter. The silent "e"is pretty hipster, though.

Shelby isn’t a name the baristas frequently encounter. The silent “e”is pretty hipster, though.

Curry

In my first week in England, I couldn’t help but observe a trend. Every other guy who leaned in to say a customary hello with a hug & kiss on the cheek had the faint aroma of curry on his breath. At first, admittedly, I found it repulsive.

Curry sauce.

Curry Chips.

Chicken Curry.

All curry errrrrythang. 

After sampling these dishes and more, I can entirely understand why the Brits run the risk of curry-breathe. I’m (not)so ashamed to admit that I, too, have joined the likes.  At this point I think I’m immune to the smell.

Of the many curried cuisines available, the Indian fare in the UK reigns supreme. After the United States, Britain is home to the second largest Indian population in the Western World.  My love for curry runs deep, and while in NYC over Summer Restaurant Week, I had the opportunity to sample some of the city’s featured Indian dining. And with that knowledge I can say confidently: the worst curry in the UK is still probably better than some of the best curries in the USA.

If you’re searching for authentic Indian cuisine outside of India, the UK is the mecca. While we certainly have our fair share of signature specialities in the United States, the Brits have curry down to a science.

British McDonald’s

“What size? Large? ” the cashier asked me

“Uhm yeah, I guess I mean whatever your normal meal size is, please.” I smiled.

Maybe I wasn’t clear with my order. Maybe it was the blatantly obvious American accent. Maybe the staff at “Maccy’s” was looking for a 4am chuckle after a long night of work.

Whatever to reason may be, my meal arrived…..double the size of everyone else’s. Somehow, someway, I mistakenly ordered a super-size meal.

I’ve had finer moments as an American abroad, to say the least. 😉

And while I did not finish the meal, I did come to find that the “you must try McDonalds while in Europe, just because….” advice many offered up prior to my departure was a bit overrated.

McDonald’s is still what it was to me in the States: appealing only after a few drinks.

 

Fish & Chips

Brighton is situated on the South-East Coast of England alongside the sea. So needless to say, this greasy English comfort food is particularly tasty from where I stand.

However, first you must understand:

Chips = French Fries

Crisps = Chips

It’s a tongue twister.

Do not be deceived, though. “Cheesy Chips” are nothing more than french fries topped with cold shredded cheese. Queso//cheese dip is virtually nonexistent in the United Kingdom. It’s substitute is curry sauce….(see above). Not quite the same, but satisfying none the less.

Anyone who says "food is the way to a man's heart" has clearly never met me.

Anyone who says “food is the way to a man’s heart” has clearly never met me.

English Breakfast

Needs salt.

Desperately needs salt.

And pepper…..and hot sauce….and flavor in general.

That being said, everyone should try black pudding (a customary dish included in most traditional English breakfast assortments), if anything, for a unique culinary experience.

The special ingredient? Blood. 

I’ll try anything once…..however, black pudding was a one-and-done kinda deal.

Mince Pie

I’ve been told this is traditionally a German dish (s/o to the ancestors), however, it’s ever present in England during the holiday season.

You see, less than 24 hours after Halloween, Brighton began preparing for Christmas. Festive lights went up on the streets, restaurants began advertising for Christmas meals, and holiday tunes played softly in every retail store I entered. Thanksgiving isn’t a thing here, for obvious reasons, so they skip straight to the Christmas carols.

It’s a holiday-haters worst nightmare, and a holiday-lovers dream. As you can likely infer, I fall under the latter. Christmas time is the best time, and the food that accompanies the occasion is no exception.

Buttery, dense pastries filled with a sweet mixture of dates and other seasonal dried winter fruits make for a filling treat during the colder months. Topped with a sprinkle of sugar and baked to feature a star atop the pie, mince pies are like Christmas in your mouth.

festive foods for the win

festive foods for the win

Halloumi Cheese

A mixture of goat and sheep’s milk, halloumi cheese is frequently offered on the menu as a vegetarian option. While it’s surely available in specialty shops back home, it’s not nearly as popular in the United States.

Fried, raw, or melted…..halloumi is heaven.

Grilled halloumi, roasted red pepper, shredded cabbage, spinach, and chilli jam toasted sandwich @ the Bread & Milk Cafe

Grilled halloumi, roasted red pepper, shredded cabbage, spinach, and chilli jam toasted sandwich @ the Bread & Milk Cafe

Mulled Cider

Spiked apple juice….need I say more? A grown-up hybrid of my childhood drink of choice. Served warm and always made in-house, it’s my go-to on cold nights out at the pub.

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Orange Spiced Mulled Cider

 

Stay humble. Stay happy. Stay hungry.

xx,

Shelbs