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Sarah Greenlee: It's not always glamorous...

Expressing my emotions has never been a problem for me... Mostly because I can't control them, but I tend to think of myself as just expressive... lol. When my day is happy, it is incredibly happy: my jaw is pulsing, my eyes squinting, and my stomach aching from all those belly laughs. Whenever I'm sad, it's like watching a melancholy music video of someone who moved away from home.

For me, my time abroad was marked by happy days. I studied abroad in Sevilla, Spain and it is the easiest period to define: the best four months of my life. Nevertheless, there were moments during my time abroad that are hard to define, unable to be categorized as good or bad, happy or sad. That happened to be the case on October 28th.


I awoke ecstatic in Sevilla; in just hours I would be visiting Ireland for the first time! I had never been to Europe before my semester abroad, so visiting other countries was a major priority for me while I was there. However, this trip was not my usual Pinterest board filled with restaurant reviews, Instagram-worthy artwork, and transportation tips; it was messy, chaotic, last minute, and expensive. As soon as it was discovered that Halloween originated in Dublin... how could I resist? There I was, 500 dollars in the hole, alone, and due to the cost of the direct flight, I was going to spend an afternoon in Mallorca. But my day was happy, who cares?

My emotions feel like an autonomous entity that simply lives on my face. And when shit hits the fan, you may hypothesize how that looks. In Seville, after sitting for two hours on the tarmac, I realized I may miss my second flight to Dublin, so I sprang into action when I realized Halloween in Dublin might not happen. My first flight and two-hour delay were filled with tears.

Through my arguable obnoxious public meltdown on an hour-long Iberia flight, a fairy godmother-like figure appears: a short and stocky 42-year-old man from Latvia named Alex. The flight attendant explained my sobs to him as he too was missing his flight to Dublin, and he understood my desperation for the perfect Halloween party. Unfortunately, it also became apparent very quickly that the cost of traveling directly from the small Spanish island to Dublin would exceed $800. **cue the tears** But Alex had another solution: Belfast.

As I called my mother on her 8am commute to work, I tried to explain to her that I missed my flight, but had befriended a Latvian guy whose mother lives in Dublin, and he would take me over the border three hours, dropping me off at the bus stop before midnight once we landed in Belfast. It sounds questionable. I questioned it. But we landed. I met Indra and Felix: Alex’s mother and 10-year-old son.


Eventually, I reached Dublin, my jaw pulsing, my eyes squinting, and my stomach churning. I didn’t know exactly how to thank him or what to say, “thanks for not killing me and being so kind?” It simply seemed inadequate. Nevertheless, he told me there was no need to thank him, that is what friends are for. He added, "And road trips are always better with friends.". After we laughed at my crazy yet confident meltdown in Spain one last time, he helped me figure out public transport, and we said goodbye tearfully.

When I reflect on abroad (something I do quite often), I previously planned for it to be a snapshot of every large landmark, an encapsulating panorama of “EVERY PLACE YOU MUST SEE IN EUROPE BEFORE YOU DIE” or whatever those millions of travel blogs say to do.

While I had my fair share of touristy moments, and I would still give anything to be at a large landmark full of selfie sticks, when I reflect back on abroad it is different than I ever pictured. But that’s one of the biggest reasons it was the best damn four months of my life.

As soon as I stopped pre-planning every picturesque moment, a whole new world opened up to me. The moment I stopped defining every moment in terms of happy or sad, I was defined by uncertainty, and uncertainty proved to be the best thing for me. Uncertainty abroad gave me a confidence I didn't have before. A confidence that allowed me to speak in my broken Spanish every day. A confidence that gave me new friends like Alex (and the confidence I could fight him off if I was the next plot for Taken 4). A confidence that I don’t have to define everything, as moments that can simultaneously make you laugh and cry are the ones you will probably remember the most.

I’ll leave you with this: whether you are going abroad, or your farthest travel is to the coffee shops off campus, do some research but don’t let that define your path. I used to wish answers to life or even answers to the ‘best’ itinerary were easy to find, but I think if they were, would any of us travel? Would any of us experience Onism, a thirst that keeps us searching for more? Your life’s greatest moments are yours, so they most likely won’t be laid out for you in a viral tik tok or a blog post that just blew up, it is up to you to define them… which is the scariest and coolest part.

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Oh, and one last thing, if you are like me and think some of these answers may be found in far-off places like Dublin or in experiences like being stranded on a small Spanish island… give me a call... I have a friend that could help.

- Sarah Greenlee




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