A World of Experience, Literally

I’ve started writing this blog about 138 different times because I can never seem to capture in a few paragraphs what being abroad has meant to me. It’s been a year now, and I still can’t find the words.  Here are all of my leads and attempts, which I’ve decided to meld into one, official, final blog post.

I knew this semester was going to be life-changing; but what I didn’t expect was for me to come back a changed person. When I said goodbye to my parents I didn’t realize I was also saying goodbye to myself.

I had so many firsts. I left the country without either of my parents, I flew on a plane by myself, I ate foods I never thought I’d even touch, I traveled to Africa solo, gave a speech at a retreat, and discovered a love for life outside my comfort zone. 

Madrid is 4,426 miles from St. Louis. And I was 4,426 miles outside of my comfort zone when I left on September 1st. Here I am almost 4 months later, a new woman. It took 3 continents, 9 countries, and 8 Spanish cities for me to find myself. In these past 4 months I’ve done more than I ever thought would’ve been possible at my age. I hiked in the Swiss Alps, rode a camel in Morocco, got some luck when I kissed the Blarney stone, was blessed by the pope in the Vatican, and admired the twinkling lights of the Eiffel Tower. It’s been quite the life-changing semester.

Throughout the semester, the lines of my comfort zone faded. Between standing up and giving a speech at the Ignation Retreat, traveling solo to Morocco, and eating Madre’s meals I escaped the mindset that once held me back. My Spanish improved and so did my directional skills. I navigated my way through countries where I didn’t know the language. By the end of the semester, I held a conversation on the phone with a Spaniard.

Leaving Madrid was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place. Like, you’re not only going to miss the people you love, but you’re going to miss the person you’ve become because you’ll never be the same as you were in those moments. I found a part of myself in Europe, but I’m also leaving a part of myself here too. I called Madrid home for 4 months. It’s hard to leave a place when you have a relationship like that. Not only was it hard to leave the city, but also my host family. I think Madre and Padre really grew to like Jess, Rachael, and me. I was stuffed into an elevator with all of my luggage. The doors were closing and my last image is Madre yelling, “Don’t forget me!”

 How could I forget that woman? It’s hard to leave people that changed your life.

Coming home is hard because you’re expected to pick up where you left off, when in reality you’re miles away from that spot.  But coming home is worth it. (http://thoughtcatalog.com/2013/why-coming-home-is-hard/)  

 You can’t fully comprehend all that I learned, saw, and experienced abroad in these fragmented statements, but a picture is worth a 1000 words and it seems that I have one today that might capture my feelings:

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My tattoo. It’s brand new, just a day. I got it yesterday on September 1st, the year anniversary of the day I left for Madrid. I had been planning it for over 6 months. I gave myself time to make sure it was what I really wanted. It was late in February when the idea of getting the passport stamp tattooed on my body came to me. That night I couldn’t sleep because I was so excited. I had texted all my friends about my original idea and vowed I would wait 6 months to make sure I was ready for this permanent decision. When I realized that 6 months would be up at the end of August, I thought the perfect time to get it was on the year anniversary.

A lot of people don’t like tattoos (my parents included). I think there’s something truly remarkable about its permanence. I hear people say, “You’re not going to like that when you’re older and it’s faded.” When I’m older and looking at the ink etched into my side, I know I’ll experience nothing other than happiness and gratitude. Happiness for all the adventures and memories I had abroad and gratitude for the people who helped me get there, for those there with me, and for God who created all the beautiful things I saw in the world.

 I originally wanted to put the tattoo on my foot, but feared that would be too visible for picky future employers. For me, I personally didn’t want it showing on my wedding day and for professionalism’s sake, it had to be covered for work. Thus, I chose my ribs. In the beginning I was worried about this placement for fear of people asking to see my tattoo in public. I wasn’t sure that I was comfortable enough with my body to partially lift my shirt to show them. During my 6 month thought process, I was more and more drawn to this placement because in being abroad, I found myself and became more comfortable with Molly (or Madrid Molly as many people have come to call me).

 I had a completely meaningful tattoo.  The date: September 1, 2013; exactly 1 year after I departed on the greatest journey of my life. The image: a copy of the passport stamp I received when I entered Madrid for the first time. The placement: a way to prove to myself and others that I have changed for the better and am comfortable in my own skin, inked and all.

 With my new ink came so many emotions. Laying on the table while Iron Age artist, Caleb permanently scratched the image into my skin was a rush. I was so relaxed, so ready.  I almost didn’t even realize he started working. I had to ask Bridget if he had. I shallowly breathed for the next 20 min hoping I wouldn’t move and mess up a line. Halfway through Caleb asks me, “Are you sure you’ve never gotten a tattoo before?” I was absolutely sure. “You’re a pro, great job, you haven’t moved at all!” he continued. 

My shallow breathing paid off and I walked out with the perfect reminder of the best four months of my life.

Pre tattoo pic:

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Determining size:Image

Terrified/Nervous/ExcitedImage

Stencil:Image

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Thank you, Caleb for giving me this permanent reminder. Image

And the final product:Image

 

 

I know it’s been a year, Madrid. But I’ll be back. This is my promise.

What a year.

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