Wednesday, September 4, 2013

One Year

A year ago, at this exact moment I was curled up on our couch, trying to focus on The Nightmare Before Christmas buzzing before my eyes.  My suitcase laying languid on the staircase, stuffed to the brim with clothes, gifts, and toiletries to last me the year.  My mom scribbled away at a letter, which I would open up in a entirely different world a few days later.  My going away party had come and gone.  I stared at every detail, absorbed the smell of my sheets, the warmth of a hug.  I ran my fingers through the grass, and before I slunk into the car the next morning, I plucked a leaf off of our tree, and pressed it between the glossy pages of the Colorado photography book I gave to my host family as a gift.

That night, in an almost childlike fashion, I pulled my mom into the spare bedroom and curled up in her arms, emotion caught in my throat like a piece of un-chewed meat.  I felt numb.  Tomorrow I would wake up, and everything would go on as normal, right?  If I stay awake a little longer, I can prolong my time with my family.  And then I passed out.

With a gasp, I woke up to the phone alarm sounding out in the dark room.  The house rumbled to life.  I had to sit on my suitcase, while my mom put every ounce of her body weight into closing it.  I scrambled to double check my life as I zipped it away.  All 45 pounds of it, and my backpack.  I kissed my cat on the nose, momentarily used his body to pillow my head, and walked out the door, into the car, and watched my house until no remnant of it remained.  My mom sat in the back with me, and we clutched each other's hands so tight I lost feeling in my fingers.  When we got to the airport and tried to check my bag, it was overweight, and without much thought, I began to fling any items that weren't immediately necessary.  Coats.  Shoes.  Books.  My dad and little sister came as well, and handed me a letter each.

And finally, it was time to say goodbye.  Finally, it hit me.  I was leaving.  I was going to be gone from the only place I have ever known as home, from the people I loved.  So what did I do?  I cried.  Like a freaking baby.  I gave everyone a thousand hugs, said "I love you" more than I can count.  And when I couldn't hold up the line any longer, I took one last look, and marched forward without looking back.

I met with the others at the gate.  We were all going to New York for orientation.  Everyone was peppy and bubbly, and yet tears were still rolling down my face, and continued to do so well into the flight.  As we began to fly down the runway, I hiccuped and took deep shuddering breaths as I watched the mountains fade, and eventually the grassy plains of eastern Colorado twist and morph into the towering skyline and boggy terrain of New York.  Orientation was full of energy.  Italy was the party group, hooting and hollering, followed closely by Spain and France.  The Turkey group was a mere 10 (only 3 were non-scholarship), and we all were filled with nerves.  These people were going to Europe, to lands somewhat known to us.  With languages taught in nearly every high school, and English on almost every corner.  We were going somewhere so deep it nearly hits the middle east, and to be honest, it practically was.  To a language we didn't know, thrown headfirst into a culture and religion we knew nothing about.

The next day, we were the first to leave for the airport after Egypt.  Everyone clapped and shouted encouragement, "Yeah Turkey!  Good luck Turkey, fly safe!"  We checked in, made ourselves comfortable at the gate, and I made one last phone call.  To my mom, during which I slid down the terminal wall and cried so hard I scared a few passerby.  I couldn't do this.  I couldn't get on the plane.  But I did, and the moment I sat down in my seat (by the window, thank god), I was able to breathe.  The group giggled and tittered, mumbling broken Turkish phrases and looking at guidebooks. As I once again heard the roar of the engine as the massive plane clawed its way into the sky, any thought of crying was gone.  9 hours wore on.  Sleep was not even an option, even though we departed at 5 pm.  Night cloaked the plane as people snoozed in their seats.  Meanwhile, Rya, Hana, and I clustered by the bathrooms, talking about life and our impending exchange for a good 30 minutes.  
Finally, with an announcement rattled off in rapid-fire Turkish, we touched down in Istanbul, Turkey. 

The Turkish flag waved proudly in every direction, the first indication that we definitely weren't in Kansas anymore.  As we moved through customs, got our bags, everything was numb, until we stepped outside.  Immediately I was assaulted by the heat, heavy and oppressive.  The traffic was a roar, cigarette smoke wrapped its way around my body and the sharp, yet somehow fluid, new language ran in one ear and out the other.  We were driven to the AFS office, given our first meal, first tea, first briefing, then we were brought to our first hotel.  A slightly run down, interesting little place in the middle of the rolling Turkish countryside.  The only guests were a large group of 20 or so from Kuwait.  The sweet and pungent scent of hookah perfumed everything.  In the "lobby" ( a small room with a couch, computer, and tv) the men roared as a football game played on.  Everything was new, nothing familiar.  As far as a honeymoon phase, I didn't have one.  The next day we moved to our next hotel.  A disjointed, sprawling space that looked like this, with what looked like an older house tacked onto the side, where we stayed.

Each day we took 4, then 6, then 8 hours of Turkish lessons.  We barreled out of our rooms and onto the rooftop when we heard the call to prayer for the first time.  Mouths agap, listening as the haunting chant echoed across the miles, a slight delay heard at the end of each pause, as dozens of mosques echoed the call.  We dragged giant beanbags onto the roof one night after a swim, and cuddled together with blankets as we laughed about anything and everything, about the craziness of the past week.  For those few days, I was ridiculously happy.  I loved my friends, I loved the country, the time was magical, if not taxing.

And then after almost a week of intensive Turkish lessons, we took a bus to Ankara, a rather extensive road trip.  We only spent a night or so there, as we only visited the embassy and to an American ambassador's house for dinner.  To be blunt, the Americanized apartment was refreshing.  A 6-year old boy ran around with his toys, showed me the family cat.  A Disney movie hummed in the background.  The next day, we visited Atatürk's Mausoleum, and said our goodbyes to each other, before each group (Kayseri and Gaziantep) got on their separate busses, and to the airport to meet our host families.  Once again, I was hit by the fact that I had to say goodbye again, to the people I had come to know and love over the past few days.  But onto the next one.  It was finally time to start my exchange.  And as the colorful apartment buildings and craggy desert passed me by, I felt like I was going in the right direction.

(watch the video, it has visuals to everything I just told you about)


Thank you for sticking with me through this post, it was long, but doesn't nearly go into everything that happened those first 9 or 10 days.  Soon I'll make another one, talking about meeting my family, and everyday life , up until my last day in Turkey.

I'm also not sure why one part of this is highlighted.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The way we choose to live

12,000 views.  Almost two years.  Multiple countries.  I had no idea I would end up where I am now, done the things I have.  It's been months since my last post, but I suppose that's the way things go now.  Life goes on.

After I got back from Turkey, I struggled with an inner battle that still haunts me to this day.  The decision to leave was the hardest thing I've ever had to choose to do in my life, and is one of my biggest regrets.  There's nothing I can do, nothing I can beg for that will let me re-do that experience.  But what is past, is past.  It will forever be a bittersweet experience for me, but one that I value deeply.  Bittersweet because I see the new YESers about to live the life that I thought I would.  Bittersweet to know that a year ago today, I was six days away from leaving.  Time does fly.

Now what?  I told myself I would travel the world.  I had dazzling dreams of suddenly becoming a rockstar, and inspiring the lives of millions.  I tried my damnedest to get into a local circus school, and follow my dreams of running away to the circus.  And yet, they all fell through.  My friends are off to college, off to boarding schools, off to live their lives.  I'm left at square one, at the place I've known for months I'd eventually come to.  Most likely, I'll be starting at the Aveda Institute for cosmetology in October.  I've had to think long and hard about what I want to do with my life, and to be honest, I don't have a damn clue.  I'll do hair for a while.  I'm good at it.  I'll make money, but I wouldn't say it sounds like the most fulfilling thing in the world.  But at this point, what else can I do?  I've never been able to conform to the mold.  Nothing about college sounds appealing, and to be frank with my high school GPA I wouldn't get into much.  I love my blue hair.  I adore my piercings and my tattoos, my studded boots and rocker wardrobe.  But I also love seeing the world.  Tasting new foods and feeling the unfamiliar roll of a new language get stuck on my tongue.  I love music, and feeling the lights hot on my face, performance and steady thrum of adrenaline as I step on stage.  I'm a performer at heart, an artist in a way, with a definite case of wanderlust.

So what do I do?  I'll do what I always do.  Stumble along a path until something pops up that I just can't resist.  I fly by the seat of my pants.  Being an exchange student is a perfect example of that.  Dying my hair for the first time.  Deciding I want to take circus classes.  None of these things were given a huge amount of thought before I tried them, it just felt right.  And you know what, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but that's what makes life interesting.  I don't know where I'll go.  I don't have a set path like most my age do.  There's no college-job-family blueprint that I'm going to follow.  When the time inevitably comes that I get hopelessly lost, I'll remember that I've done some pretty cool things with my life.  And you know what?  There's still a lot of things that I want to do.  I may not be the most logical person, but I know when something will make me happy.  And I'm going to go after it, no matter how small or large those dreams may be.  It may be as simple as dragging myself out of bed in the morning, or as big as becoming a performer in Cirque Du Soleil.

We all have something we're meant to do, and I don't really know where I fit yet.  So until then, I will do my best to make the most of what I have.  Coming from someone who struggles with a multitude of inner demons on a daily basis, this is a good goal indeed.


"Do you believe you're missin' out, that everything good is happening somewhere else?"

P.S. An actual update post will come soon, but I was feeling a bit nostalgic and typed all this up literally without thinking about what I was writing.  So ta-da, the results of my un-edited brain.

Friday, May 24, 2013


"A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step."
-Lao Tzu

I graduated high school on Wednesday.  The ceremony was hot and sweaty, and thousands of people peered down at each of us as we walked across the lumpy stage to grab our diplomas.  I made sure to flash on honorary "rock on" symbol as my name was called.  It was far less dramatic than I would have expected.  It was a relief all the same.

I struggled through high school.  It was never something I enjoyed.  I was always the odd one out.  The weird kid without a partner.  I will admit to having rather severe social awkwardness at times, but it seems to be a trait I won't grow out of.  Speaking is something I have difficulty with, and I really don't enjoy it, unless it's a conversation that really sparks an interesting in me.  My brain moves too fast for my mouth, and I stutter.  So I usually relied on silence to keep me from being noticed more than I needed to be.

Freshman year I tried to fit in.  I wore the clothes and halfheartedly attempted makeup.  I listened to top-20 radio music and felt like maybe I could make the normal thing work out.

I laugh at my stupidity.  Around two weeks before sophomore year, I dyed my hair a vibrant blue, switched up my wardrobe, and found the music that has shaped me to be who I am today.  As for the hair, well, it's kind of my trademark.  As much as I'd like to avoid narcissism, most people at school by this year seemed to know who I was, if only as "the blue-haired girl".  

Anyway.  As the years rolled by, I endured some crap-tastic friend fallouts, depression, anxiety, way below average grades, and the occasional bullying.  It was rarely to my face, but it happened.  If I wore my tail, people would giggle, and I grew quite used to idiots meowing at me as I walked past.  I've heard people comment on my outfits.  On me in general.  I know it happened.  But it certainly could have been worse.

But now it's over.  I have fond memories.  Mostly from the theatre, which simultaneously kept me sane and drove me bat-shit crazy at the same time.  It happens.  Now it's time for real life, what I've been working towards for 12 long years.  

But then the question begs to be asked, "Olivia, what are you going to do?"  

Well...I don't know.  I know what I love.  I know what I should do.  I get told on a daily basis that I should go into hair.  I can do a mad dye job, but somehow, that doesn't seem fulfilling.  So let me tell you a little story.

I have yet to open up about this story before I left due to the fact that I was still in school, but now that I'm done, I have no qualms with publishing it on the internet.  Before I left for Turkey, I had a meeting with the school principal about my plans for exchange, how I was going to graduate, and the whole "credit requirement" issue.  My lovely counselor, who has been incredibly supportive through all of my exchange dilemmas, had figured everything out and had a credit plan all drawn up.  We were sure everything was looking good, and I was all set to leave and graduate on time.  The principal however, wasn't too pleased.  Especially considering my less than stellar academic record.  Long story short, she asked about my plans after high school.  I still wasn't sure at the time, but my default answer is usually cosmetology.  She nodded, looked at my transcript, and bluntly said, "Well that's good.  You wouldn't get into anything else anyway."

I was floored.  No one, NO ONE, tells me I can't do something because I didn't meet certain standards. ESPECIALLY someone who is supposed to build someone up as an educator.  I may not be a genius, but I'm no dropout either.  I've participated in school activities all four years, and really only truly struggled in math classes.  Nothing motivates me more than being told I'm not good enough.  So to put it bluntly, I don't want to do hair.  Not to put anyone down, because it's a profession that I very well could have gone into happily enough, but you know what, I CAN do something incredible.  I WILL prove that even though I was never good enough for your ridiculous school, I can still change the world.  I can still do some amazing with my life.  No matter what that may be.  In ten years, maybe they'll look back and think, "Well fuck.  I didn't see that coming."  

So there you have it.  This upcoming year is still a mystery, but it all starts with a single step.  I have had immense support for my travel plans, and I am currently debating between volunteering for a bit, backpacking around, or doing a spring departure semester/year exchange anywhere they'll let me really.  So we'll see.  I don't know where I'll end up, but I know it'll be interesting.  

- Olivia

I throw my hat up in the air sometimes, saying ayooo

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Let go and let live

Six months ago I left the confusing, vibrant, and wonderful country of Turkey.  I've had six months to think.  Six months to regret.  Six months to miss the idea of what I had missed out on.  I've had six months to meet my idols, think about life, and spend a bit too much money on concert tickets.

As many of you already know, I left Gaziantep early for reasons that I kept rather vague.  Health issues, physically and mentally.  Severe homesickness that spiraled into depression.  Something I already battled before I left.  All things that I know I could have dealt with, but perhaps wasn't emotionally ready for.  Exchange isn't easy.  It's a kick to the stomach, the senses, your sense of reality.  Everything is new.  Very few things are familiar.  For someone like myself who is incredibly attached to my family, being away for so long was heart wrenchingly painful.  But it's possible.  For someone with a sensitive stomach and digestive system, it was agonizing.  I found out only 2 months ago that I have gluten, soy, dairy, and egg allergies, which is the reason I was having so many issues while in the country.  The basis of Turkish food is bread and yogurt.

I thought I was making the best possible choice for myself when I came home.  But I never fully thought about the repercussions of leaving something so incredible behind.  I miss my host family.  The food, however much it hurt me.  The fellow YESers that I became so close with.  Going to the store with Linnie (another YES girl), buying 30 lira (around $15) worth of junk food, and recording our reactions while eating it.  Running around the backyard on sundays with my host cousins and sisters, playing a weird form of dodgeball.  But coming home, I was able to meet 2 of my idols, I'm able to walk at graduation and dive headfirst into music, a huge passion of mine.

So here's the question:  do I regret coming home?  Yes.  I wish I was still there.  It's painful seeing all the other YES Abroad students having incredible years and I'm now sitting at home on tumblr because I gave up one of the best opportunities ever given to me.  However, I know it would have been detrimental to my health.  Both mentally and physically.  Could I have done it?  Yes.  But I didn't, and that chapter of my life is over.  So in all reality, I don't regret it.  There are moments where homesickness for Turkey and exchange and everything I had there is so great it's crushing, but most of the time, I try to revel in what I have now.  And that's all anyone can do.

So, to all the lovely 2013-2014 YES recipients, absorb everything.  Take everything in.  Take advantage in every opportunity.  Just know that this year will be the most challenging and rewarding year of your life.  I can't say that enough.  And if you ever have doubts, just realize that it's one year of your life.  A once in a lifetime opportunity, and no matter how hard it is, you are learning so incredibly much from it.  If you have difficulties, take it day by day.  Keep a journal.  Take thousands of pictures.  And most importantly, enjoy yourself.

I don't know what I'm going to do with my life, but I dearly hope that I can live my passion through music and travel.  I'll figure something out eventually.  But I'll be sure to keep this blog updated.  Apparently people like what I write, seeing as I have almost 10,000 views.  It's baffling.  Most of the time I just sound like a bumbling idiot.  But thank you, so very much.  For reading everything every step of the way.