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.