Sunday, May 18, 2014

Post Grad Life Crisis

I’m 22, a college graduate, and I have no idea what I want to do with my life. I’m broke and broken down.  And not to be a cliché and quote some T-Swift song that has an immense correlation with my life, but, “I’m happy, free, confused and lonely at the same time. It’s miserable and magical ohhhh yeaaaaaa.” Well if this is what “feelin’ 22” is like, I’ll gladly pass.  I know it’s not like I’m 42 having a mid-life crisis because I’m stuck in a loveless marriage and a dead end job, but still, it’s stressful. I mean what if I picked the wrong career. What if it’s not what I want to do? What if it’s not what I’m supposed to do? What if I suck and the kids don’t learn a single thing? The rest of my life is a big decision. So many people already have jobs lined up and I haven’t even finished a single job application. Basically I feel like I’ve failed already, and I haven’t even started. I don’t know why it is I can’t bring myself to finish an application, I mean I’m three fourths of the way done with most of them anyway, but something about it just doesn’t feel right. Maybe I’m wrong comparing a job to love, but I think there should be a spark. That feeling you get when you know it’s right and you’re so happy you smile from ear to ear just thinking about it. I used to think about teaching in that way. After senior block I was ready to go out and change the world one classroom at a time, but somehow student teaching changed all of that. I went out and saw the world and fell in love with one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to in my life. I don’t know if it was the sense of adventure, the free spirits of the people, or the beauty of the land, but regardless I was amazed that I was capable of loving a place that much. Leaving South Africa left a huge hole I still feel like I need to fill. My seven weeks there was hands down the best seven of my life and I spent most of the trip feeling like I was never going to do anything in my life that would ever compare to how wonderstruck and how right everything there felt, and after graduation I’m starting to feel like I was right. So maybe I won’t apply for a big girl teaching job I just paid thousands and thousands of dollars and countless sleepless nights studying to be able to qualify for right off the bat. Maybe I’ll sleep on it until it feels right or something else that does comes along. In the meantime, as long as I’m happy and making enough money to survive, that’s all that matters to me.  

Monday, April 7, 2014

Life in the Sunshine State

The Numbers Game
March 30th

Ten, four, six. Right now these are the defining numbers in my life. Ten weeks of student teaching completed, four weeks left in Florida, six weeks left until I graduate into the real world. That last number though, six, has been the one weighing on my mind the most lately. Although I've waited for the day of graduation since the first time I stepped foot on Ashland's campus, I feel like bait being thrown into a shark tank whenever I think about officially being a graduate. It's an intimidating thought knowing the world is wide open, just out there waiting for me. I can go anywhere I want and essentially do whatever I want. Throw job applications and interviews into the mix and you've got a great recipe for an overwhelming amount of anxiety. Then there's the dreaded, "So what are you going to do with your life after after graduation?" question. It's stressful enough trying to plan the next step of my life without being asked on a daily basis what my plans are and being interrogated by job application questions.

On the flip side, teaching is going great here! At the end of the day Thursday I stepped back and realized I had taught everything the entire day, definitely an amazing feeling. On Friday morning the kids didn't have school so the staff could have a meeting and work on report card grades, so I went to my first all staff meeting! They do this really cool thing where any member of the staff can recognize another member of the staff for something positive they did by giving them a package of candy. I was so excited to be recognized for volunteering at Family Fitness night the night before. My teacher was recognized a little more formally for doing such a great job in the classroom so far this year, so now it's official that I'm learning from the best of the best.

The Struggle is Real
April 7th

Florida has been great and all.... but I'm still spending most of my time missing South Africa a terribly large amount or wishing I was home already. Maybe I haven't given Sarasota enough of a chance. But then again maybe my hearts not in it. It's crazy because I feel like a teenage girl wallowing over a break up... Only mine was with a country and not a person. And even though this great new thing has come along, it just can't compare. Don't get me wrong there are SO many things I am grateful to have here, but I think I'm still so stuck in South Africa that it's hard for me to think about the positives all the time. Not a day goes by that I don't think about and miss my 25 favorite grade 1s back at Summerwood Primary. It's also hard knowing I'm so close to home (okay well not really that close but a heck of a lot closer than an 18+ hour plane ride) but I can't go home.I'm trapped in such a weird place.

Anyways, I'm determined to love Sarasota so these are things I already love here and I'm so grateful for : 

1. My amazing host mom. How lucky am I to have this woman take me into her home who is always checking up on me to make sure I have everything I need and I'm okay. Her family is just as amazing as she is and it's been so nice to get to know them as well. This week grandma and uncle bob are in town and I get to spend some time with them. Friday night they took me to Spanish point with them and it was beautiful! It was so comforting to be on the water again.

2. My bike. Okay well it's not my bike, but with the amount of miles I've put on it in the last few weeks you'd think it was. Last week I found legacy trail which isn't far from my house at all. I've spent so many afternoons exploring and I've made it a goal to go a little farther every time.  When my feet are moving, my mind stops. I'm at peace. I think that's why I like biking so much, that and I can't bear to be inside on beautiful days so it gives me a reason to be outside.

3. My mentor teacher and classroom. I am so lucky to be placed with Toni! I think I got one of the best teachers in the school. Not only have I learned so much from her, but I love just hanging out and chatting with her in the classroom when the kids are away at specials. She's such a great person and a wonderful teacher and has welcomed me fully into her classroom from day one. Last Monday I had the opportunity to go on a field trip to Myakka State Park with my kids. It was such a beautiful place... filled with lots of gators. We lucked out and had perfect weather for the trip, and the teachers lucked out and half the kids fell asleep on the bus ride back to school.

The Canopy Walk!

4. Ashton Elementary School and the other staff. Everyone has been so welcoming and friendly and the school is as close to perfect as I've ever seen. Such a special place. One of the other kindergarten teachers has been so great and invited me out to my first Run or Dye race with her and her family which was everything I thought it would be! Later that night we ventured out to the Amish Country of Florida (nothing like it is back home) so I could get some pie and take a picture to prove to people back home that the Amish live down here in sunny Florida. 

5. 24/7 phone service. Not relying on wifi to send a text or make a call is wonderful. It's nice to be able to contact people whenever I want, talk about first world probs. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

God Bless America

March 20th

I’ve been here for two weeks, and I can already say I’m definitely going to like it here in Sarasota. The first week I was here was Spring Break for my kiddos, which meant I was on Spring Break too. Having my first week in a new place where I knew no one didn’t really sound like a fun time to me, but it ended up being an awesome week! I really hit the jackpot with my host mom and her family! They’re all so welcoming and friendly. My second night there I wasn’t invited to family dinner at her son’s house and after 7 weeks of being away from home, it was so nice to be in a family environment, even if it wasn’t my own. My host mom (Chris) is also a teacher at the school I’m at so on the days I feel lazy and don’t want to bike to school, we can carpool. On another note, I went to a book signing with her and her family and met Stephen King!!! I’ve never read any of his books or seen any of the movies, but it was still really cool to meet someone that famous. Even though I’m not going on trips like I was in South Africa, I’m still finding all these little, entertaining things here (I guess it helps that I’m so easily amused). One of the grocery stores here has a separate escalator for your shopping cart, it took a lot of self control not to go down multiple times.

A friend from home took a road trip down to see old friends (and me of course) and brought me a suitcase full of clothes I wished I would have packed the entire time I was in South Africa (I already know I’m going to be doing laundry a lot less frequently here). She used to live here, so she took me to a ton of cool places! We spent a day at Clearwater Beach which was absolutely beautiful! I also got to hold some random snake on the beach, and I thought I wouldn’t see anymore cool animals after I left South Africa. We spent the next day at Busch Gardens and even though it didn’t have as many roller coasters as Cedar Point, it was still a really fun day. It was so comforting to be with someone from home who just gets me and gets where I’m from.
By random chance, another friend from home on leave from a Naval base in Italy ended up being in Sarasota for the week with her family. We grew up together and I haven’t seen her over a year so I was ecstatic to spend some time with her! Her family took me to the beach with them where I saw my first real Florida sunset.

Now onto the important part, why I’m here. School has been so amazing and I haven’t even been there for a full week yet! All of the staff has been so welcoming, especially my host mom, mentor teacher, and the rest of the kindergarten team. I’ve already started leading some classroom transitions, teaching a few lessons, and sat in on some meetings! Everyone has definitely been going out of their way to make me feel welcome. My mentor teacher invited me to the fair with her and her family to watch the Steer show her nephews were showing in this past week. I went a little overboard on fair food, but I felt so at home being at a fair, and seeing some Amish hanging out everywhere. Another teacher invited me to join her and her daughter at the Run or Dye race this weekend. I’m so thankful I was placed at a school that’s so amazing and has such a welcoming staff because it’s definitely helping to make my transition here so much better. I can’t wait to really get into teaching and become more of a part of the school.  I still miss my South African students and think about them every day, but my new kiddos are growing on me and I think I might even like them ;)

I'm Not Ready Yet

March 9th

My last week was definitely my hardest week yet. Even though I knew I had five more days with my kiddos, it was still really hard picturing saying goodbye to those 25 adorable faces I have grown to love. It was especially hard to think about leaving when the kids would tell me things like, “Do you what my favorite thing to draw is Miss Zeleznik? It’s me spending time with you!” If that doesn’t melt your heart then I don’t know what will. My last day of school I found a Summerwood polo in the school vault and wore it at the swim Gala all day. It was nice to hang out at the pool all day instead of in the classroom because I think being in the same routine we did every day would have made it even harder to say goodbye. The point of this Gala is so that the grade 1 and 2 students can get used to how a Gala works for when they participate in the coming years. It’s all for fun, so all the students get to swim at least once (even if it’s just walking from one side of the shallow end to the other) so I was able to cheer on every one of my students.

Since we couldn’t really plan a big trip because my flight was Sunday morning, we found little ways to make my last weekend fun. We always get splashed from the second floor pool in the Radisson Blu, so we decided to sneak up there and hang out at the pool like we were staying there. Little did we know, apparently all the locals go hang out there too for cocktail hour, so we didn’t even need to be sneaky about it.

Saturday we hiked the Pink Lady Slipper, which was pretty local, but still pretty cool. It was such a beautiful climb. On the way back into town we stopped at the cutest little farm stall restaurant for some lunch. It was delicious, but it was also sad thinking it would be my last restaurant like that in the country.

As One Journey Ends, Another Begins

March 10th

I can still remember it like it was yesterday. The city seemed so big and I felt so small. Everything was cold and uninviting. Four strangers stared at me as I sat nervously on my bed in the living room  thinking to myself that all I wanted was for this to be over so I could go to Florida. Flash forward seven weeks. This city seems so small, but not in a bad way. I know its ins and outs, the good parts the bad parts, the cool parts and the eh nothing to see there parts. This is home. I've never been to a place that's become such a part of me, especially in this short of a time. The strangers I met on the first day are way more than that to me now. They're friends, roommates, and my family away from home. I would give anything to stay here with them longer (and I even looked into it but holy moly was changing my flight expensive!). Even though I am starting a new adventure in Florida, it's hard to be excited when I'm so heartbroken about leaving this amazing country that now means so much to me. It's hard to imagine anything ever comparing to this beautiful place and all the amazing experiences I've had here. "How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard" as hard as it is to move on from this chapter in my life, there's no way around it, but it's nice knowing that when I go a piece of my heart will always be here in South Africa.

It was really hard to come to terms with the fact that I had been able to do so many cool things while I was in the country, and there were still so many that I wouldn’t be able to do if I left. I'm sitting here terrified thinking that nothing I ever do will be as amazing as this experience or top it, and if I continue to have that attitude, then nothing will. Life is all about what you make it. There's beauty in everything, you just have to choose to see it. Sometimes you might have to look harder for adventure than others, but it's always there. I think that’s definitely something that this trip has taught me, that no matter where you are you can find something cool to do if you actually put the effort into finding it and making it fun. Growing up I always used to think Ohio was such a lame place, and now after being gone for so long, I have this weird newfound pride for all things Ohio.

I mean what is home when you really think about it? The place you grew up? Your current place of residence? If there's anything college and especially these last 7 weeks has helped me figure out is that home to me means more of a level of comfort than a physical place. Home is somewhere you're comfortable. Where you fit. Where you're happy. When you're having a bad day the place and the people that will in a sense hold you and make it better. Home isn't a building, it's a mindset.

I have this fear. This growing anxiety that there's so much out there to see and experience and I won't reach enough  of it. A fear that I'll stay in one place too long, settle in too much to ever bring myself to say goodbye and see what else is out there waiting. I like The idea of living on impulse, just picking up and leaving when it feels right, not when a job or the world dictates i have too. Life is way too short to not make the most of every second. Too short to sit by and just exist, just survive. Routine is a scary thing. It's addicting in the level of comfort it provides. Think about it, you're trained to think you need to graduate high school, get a degree, get a job, make it a career, have a family because thats how everyone else does it. Wake up go to work come home eat sleep and repeat... Every day for the rest of your life. I'm so terrified of falling into that trap. I need to know I have the freedom to change my mind any second. If I'm not happy i want to go find something that will make me happy. Can it really be that easy though?  Of course I want to work with kids, but I'm starting to question if teaching is the way I want to do it, or the way I'm meant to do it. What if there's some greater plan out there for me? And I'll never know unless I try to go find it. There's this quote about how you'll never know where you belong if you sit around and stay in the same place or something like that. What if this is like that? What if I get a teaching job, settle into a career, a routine, and I never break the cycle and there was this whole other great thing out there waiting for me I never knew about. I refuse to sit around and let life pass me by. Who knows what that means for me yet, and who knows if that will all change by the time Florida is done with me. Isn't it interesting to think about how a place can change you? Sure you might go trying to make an impact and you might succeed, but in the end you always leave changed. A place has the capability to gobble you up, swallow you whole and spit you out shiny and new. To take what you are and tweak it just a bit to make it that much better. And you always seem to leave a piece of you behind. A piece of your heart that will never stop loving that place for everything it was and for every little way it impacted you. You love it with such an ache to return that you can almost feel the hole leaving has left. That's what South Africa did to me. It Knocked me off my feet and left me breathless and craving more. sure it was hard sometimes, but no matter where you are or what you're doing that happens. I just cant help but wondering What if that's my place? What if that's where I belong? I never imagined a place could captivate every part of me like that, and I have this burning feeling that no  place will ever do that again.

I'm on Top of the World!

March 2nd

The drive to Cape Town was a long one, but definitely worth the scenery. We took the Garden Route which was absolutely beautiful! I was so tired, but didn’t want to risk falling asleep and missing a second of the beauty around me. Oddly enough, my first time in Cape Town was also Eminem’s first time in Cape Town, so what better way to start off our trip than with tickets to his concert!

Thursday was a pretty chill day. We got an early start so we could drive down to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope to spend most of our day there. It was so cool to actually be on the most Southern tip of Africa and the views were absolutely amazing! We also took a longer drive back to our hostel so that we could stop and see some different beaches, which also had some amazing views. Thinking back to my trip in general, it was almost impossible to be anywhere in South Africa that didn’t have an amazing view.

Friday was also a pretty relaxed day. We had the best all you can eat buffet at the hostel for only $5. We were going to hike Table Mountain, but it was completely covered in clouds making it too dangerous. Instead, we went to the Waterfront. It was such a nice area with a lot of shops and a few museums. We went to the Oceanarium to see penguins and also went to a few local museums. I was a little disappointed with the museums, but it was still cool to walk around and look at the history of another culture. That night we went to a few different restaurants on Long Street which is basically just this huge street that is really popular because it’s just filled with all kinds of restaurants and bars.

Saturday was by far my favorite day in Cape Town. The conditions were just right, so immediately after breakfast we started our two hour hike up to the top of Table Mountain. Once upon a time I thought I was fairly in shape…... and then we started the climb. It was by far one of the most physically challenging things I've ever done, especially when we got close to the top because the last stretch was pretty steep, but every second of spaghetti legs was all the worth the feeling of triumph I felt when I got to the top. There's is no way a picture could ever capture the beauty I saw as I looked down from the top.  And  now no one will ever have to listen to me complain about climbing another set of stairs again in my life.

Climbing that mountain was a lot like everything in life... There are hard times, times when you don't want to keep going and you don't think it'll ever get easier. times when reaching the top is out of sight. But that moment when it's in sight it's like a sudden burst of motivation. And the second you actually get there it's the best feeling in the world knowing what you accomplished. 

After hiking, I made a last minute decision that I wanted to go paragliding and within a matter of minutes I was rushed off to the take off site and being strapped in. It all happened so fast. One second I was standing there getting strapped in and the next my feet were off the ground... I was flying! That morning I didn’t think I could see views any better than what I saw on the top of the mountain, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was so amazing to be flying around just above the city.

Just before sunset, we hiked up to the top of Lion’s Head. It was not as extreme as Table Mountain which was nice because you could enjoy more of the view as you hiked instead of paying attention to where you’re putting your feet. Unfortunately the clouds rolled in so we couldn’t see the sunset, but the view from the top was still beautiful. I also met two Americans at the top, I can sniff them out from a mile away. Not many Americans travel here, so it’s always nice to run into fellow Americans, it’s like finding a little piece of home. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

I Don't Know About You...

Febuary 15th.
Kwantu day! The elephants are here! We went to a place called Kwantu with Freewalkers to visit some ellies. IT WAS SO COOL! Not only did we get to ride them, and by ride I mean ride them around the bush just like they were horses, but we were able to feed them too! My entire hand was in the mouth of an elephant, how many people can say they’ve done that?! It was also really awesome to learn about the elephants too. My guide shared information with me as we casually rode around on an elephant (he even pulled out his phone to send a quick text at one point, but seriously, who texts on an elephant like it’s completely normal) and the ‘ring leader’ I guess you would call him told us even more information while we waiting for the other riders to come back once our ride was finished. I was blown away by how amazing these creatures were.

Next stop was a restaurant called Nanaga Farm Stall for lunch . They have the best bread I’ve ever tasted in my life (and if you know me well, you know that’s a lot of bread) and it was only 4 Rand… which means it was 40cents!!!!!). We ate our lunch out on a patio as chickens walked around freely. At one point, one jumped onto the empty table next to us and started eating the leftover chips from the last guest. As with all the other restaurants here, the food was phenomenal. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to enjoy food from a restaurant back home ever again because of the high standards this country has set for my taste buds. When we went to pay, I dropped a rand, and like lightening a chicken came out of nowhere to snatch it up. I guess they have a diet filled with variety.

After our lunch, we headed to a private game park called Schotia for our game drive. We were paired up with a really awesome German couple and our driver named Andrew for the night/afternoon. We started out like the little engine that could, when we couldn’t get up the first hill no matter how many times we tried. We found a different route, but continued to run into the same problem most of the afternoon/night. Despite our difficulty with that, it was an amazing drive! The scenery was so beautiful that I wouldn’t have minded sitting in one spot the entire afternoon. We saw animals like zebras, elephants, rhinos, hippos, crocodiles, and LIONS! They were so close I could have reached out and touched them, but my better judgment told me I better not do that. We also ate at this super cool outdoor/tiki-like/bonfire restaurant.

Random note of excitement: Last week I gave directions to two different groups of people like I was a local and this week I got mistaken for looking like someone who speaks Afrikaans in the passages! It’s official, some people think I look like a real local!!!!!Scatterbrained. Anxious. Sad. Embrace. Those are just a few of the millions of billions of words all jumbled up in my head right now that I can make any sense of. The thought of leaving so soon has me so scatterbrained. As excited as I am to go back to America, I am so sad to be leaving a country that in a such a short time has managed to steal my heart. I am so anxious about what my time in Florida will hold for me, and that I will never find a place that I love as much as I love being in this country. I’m trying my best to embrace all of my time here, and remind myself that not everyone gets this opportunity to see this amazing country, but it’s so hard not to think about all of the things I will miss once I leave here. I haven’t even left yet, and I am already trying to devise a way to come back and spend more time here. As amazing as some of the big adventures like bungy jumping have been here, I think it’s the small, routine things I’ll miss the most. Walking to the grocery store. Hanging out at Kaffine to enjoy some good food and free wifi. Watching the sunrise over the water every morning. Being able to walk less than five minutes to the beach. Waving hello and goodbye the adorable little girl who lives in the apartment across from us and the cute little boy who lives below us. The way people talk here, not just their accents, but the way everything sounds more proper. And I’ll especially miss my end of the end of the day routine: “Good afternoon boys and girls” “Good aftanoon Miss Brough and Miss Zeleznik. And have a SUPA DUPA AFTANOON!!!!!!” Those cute little accents melt my heart every time! 

I don’t know about you…..BUT I’M FEELING 22!!!! What a great day! I went for my usual morning run, and even though I couldn’t see the sun through the overcast morning, I just knew it was going to be a good day. I passed my roomies on my way in to get ready for school and they started off my day with some happy birthday singing. Then I got into my apartment and found a wonderful table of all my favorite treats from my girl Sarah, I couldn’t have been happier! I got to school and was surprised with my favorite chai tea latte from Caroline and the news that my teacher wasn’t coming in so I got the kids all to myself for the day! It was such a fun day hanging out with the kids. I just love every single one of them to pieces. I’m currently trying to figure out how to bring them all home with me, or stay here with them forever. Being apart from them just isn’t an option I want to consider. For dinner, I went to Angelos with my roomies and finally had some pasta, I’d been looking forward to it all week.

Thursday and Friday I was lucky enough to get to spend the day with Teacher Kelsey and her grade R kids (our preschool/kindergarten age) at Beachwood. From the second Kelsey introduced me, I knew I’d get along great with them when little Andrew immediately stood up to yell, “I love her,” and then sat back down to look me in the eyes and tell me he loved me again. Apparently love at first sight is a real thing! Thursday I just took the back seat and tried to learn their names and get down the routine, but Friday I was on my own with them. It was awesome to be able to see how a classroom at that age worked, and of course the kids were so cute!

Friday night was a lot of fun! We took a trip to Stanely Street in town. It was like a really trendy street you’d find somewhere in America. We wanted to experience as much of it as we could, so we got drinks and a bread platter at a wine bar, ate fajitas at place called Buenos, and then ate the best brownie in the world at another restaurant. It was such a lovely evening!

Saturday morning I woke up early and walked down to the beach to read for a little bit. The sun reflecting off the water was the prettiest I’ve ever seen it. Just when I think I’ve seen everything here, I see it in a new and different way, so breathtaking! Sarah and I went to Kaffine and ordered breakfast sandwiches to go to eat on the beach and then we got ready to go attempt to tan, but the wind was so crazy, we were getting attacked by the sand. Once all of us met back up, we got ready and headed out to see the Donkin Memorial in town and city hall. It was really incredible, but there wasn’t much to do, so we didn’t stay long before we headed to Bridge Street Brewery for dinner.

Monday it was SO nice to be back with my kiddos. I have never been so attached to a group of kids before and I missed them like crazy Thursday and Friday (even though I still ate lunch with one third of them). I’m starting to get the feeling they’re just as attached because Thursday Matteo demanded me to tell him where I was all day because he was so worried about me all day long. Today he told me that when I leave he’s going to “miss me until he dies,” and yes ladies and gentlemen that is a direct quote. All my aftercare kids ask everyday in the middle of homework when I’m leaving and tell me that I’m not allowed and I have to stay forever. They’re just perfect; there aren’t enough words in the world to describe how much I love each and every one of these kids. 

p.s. I still can't figure out this whole rotating pictures thing, so if anyone could help me that would be AWESOME! :) Cheers!