Spain: an Afterward

I’ve spent the three weeks since returning from Spain trying to explain what I feel and how I’ve changed. And after all this time I’m not much closer to an answer. I was warned repeatedly that reverse culture shock coming back can be worse than when you enter a new country. I guess I didn’t believe it.. Missouri has been home for 21 years, how could it hurt me? now I think I understand, because strangely it doesn’t feel like home. These surroundings are familiar perhaps, though certainly not normal.

When I went to Spain the shock I encountered could be attributed to fear of the unknown. Here I can’t do that, there’s nothing new to blame. The result is that I feel absolutely lost. It’s like reaching for something you routinely use and it being out of place; what’s more, you’re not sure exactly where you expected it to be. my whole life is here, yet something is not quite right. Like it’s shifted out of place, and I don’t know how it should be.

I made a mistake. I returned and expected to pick up my life right where I left it in January. The truth is that I can’t because I’m just not the same person. I’ve grown in both perspective and experience. Those are now parts of me that cannot be packed away. Yet these gains have not been without loss. Somewhere outside my comfort zone I surrendered my sense of home. In the long run that will likely be a good thing, for now it’s enough to know that it’s okay.

There’s two things I learned from my short time studying abroad that I will carry forward. The first is that home is a fluid concept. Anywhere can be home if we make it so, it is something we constantly recreate. The other is how concrete our sense of belonging can become. You see, belonging is not tied to a place, rather to the people with which we surround ourselves.

Enough of my rambling writing. I guess what I’m trying to say is that my life is an uncertain balance. I can’t tell you exactly how I’ve changed. I definitely don’t have a grasp of my emotions. What I do know is that I’m capable of making anywhere home; and that if I surround myself with the right people, I can face any uncertainty that each day brings.

Peace, Love, and Happiness…

–Joe

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…para llevar

Sometimes all you need is

to be in strange places

with strange people.

to go beyond yourself

and discover what comes next.

*

Out there is big, bad world.

one that will inevitably break you.

you’ll find yourself at the bottom

there you’ll also find your demons waiting

But I beg you not to lose hope,

Those strange people

the ones that are always there

will know to stretch out a friendly hand.

*

“Be not afraid” and just go.

See the unimaginable

experience it all

and gain a broader perspective

because in the end

It’s all an adventure

So laugh at everything

Sing like an idiot

and make some mac+cheese “para llevar”


Peace, Love, and Happiness…

–Joe

an Eventful day in Madrid

Check out the story I just posted over on TalesofSpain, while you’re there take a look at what my classmates and I are experiencing here in Spain…

Tales of Spain

Woke up late Saturday morning excited for a day in Madrid. The plan was to meet up with some friends at their hotel and then go see the Palacio Real. A simple enough plan that left plenty of room for error. The first step was the commuter train from Alcalá to Atocha station in Madrid. An easy trip that I can quite literally do in my sleep. From Atocha I switched to the metro system. With map in hand I successfully made my two connections and was just looking for my final stop. Unfortunately I had misread the directions that I’d been given and ended near Coslada almost halfway back to Alcalá. Of course, leaving the metro to look for the hotel, I didn’t realize right away. Finally after walking around for a good half hour, I finally found the street I thought I needed only for it to dead…

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Spain: a new Self

I’ve been living in Spain for nearly four weeks now. And it has been a rollercoaster of an experience so far. I have seen more fascinating sights than I could’ve expected, and I’m nowhere near done. These ups have not been without their downs. Seemingly everything is different than life in my small midwest town. My senses constantly overwhelmed. As of yet, there have been a few really bad episodes of culture shock. At a certain point you become physically done with the novelty. For me, it usually centers around my lack of language skills and the necessity to rely on other people. The reality of vulnerability. It has been painful at times.

One thought that is comforting is the vast new perspective I’m gaining of myself. It reminds me of a quote from Doctor Who,

“We all change when you think about it. We’re all different people all throughout our lives. And that’s ok; that’s good. You gotta keep moving so long as you remember all the people you used to be.” –The Doctor

There’s no doubt in my mind that I’m leaving bits and pieces of who I was all over Spain. This semester is taking from me, and that is the best situation I can hope for. It allows for a new mindset, gives me a chance to fill in those holes with what I need to carry me forward.

Soon I’ll find myself back at that beautiful, familiar farm where I grew up. Will it recognize me? I know that I’ll be a different person. I know that everyday here, all the way to the end, will be a struggle. When I return to Missouri it will also be a struggle. I’ve learned there is no such thing as normal, and that is what I wake up every morning to face. Knowing that I am constantly recreating myself for the better.

Peace, Love, and Happiness… blogdoctorwho

–Joe

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a short note to self

Beyond what you know lies a whole new world. Beyond one’s comfort zone is the realm of infinite possibility. It is ours for the taking, all that is required is that we agree to take each step anew.

Comfort is an illusion. What is there if we do not push the boundaries? Where we sit offers nothing but decay and more of the same. Now full disclosure, pushing the envelope will hurt. It’ll push back, and you’ll discover pain. Always the best we can do is simply keep trying.

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Your journeys will earn you scars. Pieces of you left behind, and experiences carried onward. Sometimes it’ll be tangible changes; a face worn by the sun, or a tongue with a hint of another language. Often they are less apparent and yet more powerful. Perhaps you’ll have a new perspective, or maybe you’ll encounter an entire paradigm shift. With certainty, travel makes you a different person.

Change is important. It helps us understand better who we are. Change allows us to discard that which pollutes us, and is the lens through which we may focus on that which remains important. It is easy to become dismayed by the anxiety and hurt we feel, exposed as we are. It’s in these moments that I strive to remember why I do this. It is not for myself now, rather I continue to Bemore for the person I will be tomorrow. Always tomorrow.

Peace, Love, and Happiness…

–Joe

Spain: beforehand

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Occasionally life throws you a curve ball that you’re just not quite sure what you did to deserve. Often they can be amazing opportunities, and sometimes the hardest part is simply to say yes. It’s so easy to remain skeptical and watch a chance pass you by.

Back in September I was walking through the student union; earbuds in, ignoring the world. Fortunately there was a professor intent on making sure I knew about a certain study abroad program. I tried all the excuses, and he shot them all down. The cost, the language barrier, too late in my academic career, etc., etc. He countered it all. So I took a flyer and agreed to speak with my advisor about it.

Short version of this story is that I’m going to Spain next semester. I’ll be studying for three months at the Instituto Franklin UAH just outside Madrid. The decision came after a good long bout of personal turmoil, discussions with some people I trust for advice, and great deal of prayer. You see I had ruled out the possibility of studying abroad early in my collegiate studies. Of course, one of my more immediate faults is that once my mind is made up I have trouble going a different way. Yet here I am.

Fast forward to now. It’s December, I’ve finished my fall semester and the full notion that shortly I’ll be living in another country has really sunk in. Everyone keeps asking if I’m ready for my trip, the answer is always no but I am excited. Scared shitless is a more proper description of my state of mind. But I guess that’s okay. Being a little uncomfortable is how we grow. This will be so many things, I just hope that I can find the words to tell the story.

Peace, Love, and Happiness…

–Joe

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be more Poetic

nowadays we all talk about loving yourself. That’s good and great and all, though it’s an incomplete idea. Often we choose to overlook our flaws and problems as part of a beautiful whole. It is a betrayal of what has shaped us into who we are. The reality is that it is entirely possible to follow the popular sentiment of “loving yourself” and still acknowledge the rough parts that got you where you are. For myself, I appreciate everything that comprises who I am, but I also recognize that some of it is not so great. Some of it is down right awful and needs to be done away with.

So long as we’re going to be spend all this time being introspective we might as well consider ourselves in the future tense. There lies all our hopes, dreams, and visions. It is there that we can go beyond who we are now because future us contains all possibilities. I encourage you to try this. I encourage you to dream. You’ll find it makes you poetic about yourself. In turn that helps you be poetic about your past and present also. And just maybe you’ll discover there’s beauty in the light and the dark.

Peace, Love, and Happiness…

–Joe

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the “almost” hiatus

I almost quit writing. I almost sat down and typed out a post that entailed a hiatus I planned to take. Almost. My reasoning was that my writing had gone to crap. That I had failed in both quality and frequency. In recent months the decline has been noticeable and it was mirrored by a lack of reading. My plan was to leave you until after the new year. To read intensively and purposefully, only writing if I simply could not contain the thought. I don’t know what changed but the words began to flow again. I still lack the quality, but the passion for this art has returned. I realized that to not write would be a betrayal to the person who I was when I began. To not write would allow a poison to creep into my heart. The corruption that comes from the path of least resistance. So I will continue to write, I will make time for literature again, and I will not quit. And though I will never write for you, my audience, know that I appreciate you being here.

Peace, Love, and Happiness…

–Joe

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a Call to Leadership

“A good leader has a compass in their head, and a magnet in their heart.”

-Howard G. Hendricks

A quality leader tends to be an enigma, but that shouldn’t have to be the case. Consider the authority figures in your life. Teachers, pastors, friends, politicians, family, employers these are the people who shape our lives. Now how many of those authority figures do you look up to for guidance? A leader evokes that from you with ease. Far too often we force ourselves to follow authority figures that we simply don’t trust. We do this because we know that they should be creating these feelings in us. We do this because we desire leadership. We are social beings, and the very act of our humanity causes us to seek out a leader that can keep us safe. When our authority figures fail to lead us they are denying us a natural craving. Only chaos can come from that.

I’m quite public with my disdain for the term “millennials.” The label that simultaneously categorizes an entire generation and assigns blame for problems that should belong to us all. My argument is that the disarray of my generation, both real and perceived, spurs from a lack of leadership; from that violation of the natural order. I hate to sound like a cynic, but it is too late for the older generations to do anything. They can attempt to explain away the problems with their labels and theories, yet their time to lead has come and gone. The issues that face us will be overcome by my generation.

We “millennials” are often accused of being narcissists who demand that everything in life be handed to us. The truth is found to be a little different. Perhaps it’s not that we demand too much, rather that we fail to demand enough of what we really need. Our entire lives we have been told that we can be anything. That is an idea we hold sacred in our society, and rightly so. Though somewhere along the way a lie crept in. A lie that says because we all have infinite possibility, than we must all be equal. The result is that we did away with the notion of leaders, and consensus became the dictator of our every action. Don’t get me wrong, I know that every person is of equal value and that a consensus of the whole is a useful tool for understanding. The problem is that it fails to accomplish anything. We are a diverse people so there will always be dissent. Only a leader, with that compass in their mind, will pick out the best course of action and make it happen. What’s more is that a leader, with that magnet in their heart, is able to unite a group in order to accomplish a goal.Because of our diversity, a group could never unify itself without a leader.

We must not allow leadership to remain a mysterious quality. It belongs in the natural order as much as seeking shelter or some other basic need. Every person is of equal value, though thankfully we are not all equally the same. Within our social groups everyone of us possesses a different set of strengths and abilities. The beauty is that through a little effort each of these talents can be refined into a specific type of leadership. Every moment of our lives is a chance to lead and to follow. A good leader is an excellent follower, and vice versa. Every moment we must choose to be more, the status quo only hampers solutions. We need to become a people of character that demands the best of each other and of ourselves.

I’ll leave you with this. Our way of life requires leaders. Only a leader can put the chaos to rest. So demand that authorities be quality leaders. In return give them the trust and respect they deserve. And should they break your trust, put your abilities to work. Demand of yourself the leadership necessary. Each of us has that ability, that will, and that responsibility.

Peace, Love, and Happiness…

–Joe

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a consensus wouldn’t have built the car

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a discourse in experiential learning

I’m graduating with an associate’s degree next week. I can’t begin to express how awesome that feels. And even though it means  I’m only a little over halfway to my bachelor’s, it’s still very important to me. It is a tangible accomplishment that can never be taken away.

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But what does it really mean? Physically it is a piece of paper that declares my successful completion of enough credit hours in the requisite categories. But it is really much more than that. It’s laughing in the hallways with my Phi Theta Kappa friends. It’s countless hours spent commuting. It’s the anxiety of balancing work and school. It’s the bond I formed with classmates while suffering through the lectures of a terrible instructor. It will forever be an experience that means more to me than what I learned in my classes. My perspective is based on more than the credentials, and so society will always put a different meaning to my degree than I do.

I’m a strong proponent of experiential learning. I hold faithfully to the notion that many concepts cannot be taught in a classroom. Wisdom is decidedly different than knowledge. As a society we put a great emphasis on learning through exposure, especially with increasing numbers of college graduates. In our obsession of experiencing things, we’ve forgotten their value. Too often we pursue experience solely for the sake of building a resume. We must return to accomplishing tasks with the intention of living in those moments.

So yeah, I’m excited to receive my degree. Excited because it marks what I’ve been living the past two years. Though I’m far more interested in what I will experience moving forward.

Peace, Love, and Happiness…

–Joe