Outside of My Comfort Zone

I’ve been feeling a lot lately. Happy, frustrated, lonely, depressed, curious, amused, hopeful. I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching and stepping out of my comfort zone recently. Traveling will do that; especially when you’re traveling alone. It will force you to do things you never thought you were capable of doing. Like going to a Spa Party in Budapest by yourself or meeting up with a language exchange group you’ve never met before. There’s adrenaline and hope that everything will be alright, but also anxiety and fear: what if no one likes me? What if they think I’m weird? What if they’re weird? And somehow, I am able to move past the “what if” questions and dive in, head first.

My most recent adrenaline and anxiety fueled experience was a language exchange meet-up. When I first showed up it was a bit awkward. But maybe that’s because I’m awkward. What should I say? How should I act? It is in these moments that it is clear how my personality flips from being extroverted to introverted. The extrovert got me to the bar, it got me to sit down and introduce myself. But then the introvert tells me to not talk so much, to observe and listen, and only speak when spoken to. So I’m quiet, I listen to others tell their stories. But then they become curious of the quiet new-comer. As they ask me questions and I give simple answers, their curiosity grows and some become somewhat fascinated. “It’s so rare to find a Native English speaker from the USA in Bielsko,” someone says. I hear this all the time. “You’re from NYC? Why would you ever move here?!” another person questions. I hear this all the time too. I simply smile and explain my reasons for traveling. Social Justice. Knowledge. Growth. UNICEF. The Peace Corps. Once again, people are fascinated. As if the thought of working with a for other humans and their rights is just as foreign as the American living in the small city in Poland. And maybe it is. So more questions. My introvert role of sitting on the sidelines observing now switches back to my extrovert, answering questions about travels, telling stories of poverty and hope, and confessing truths about the conservative country of which we all currently live in. These are the moments I live for. These are the reasons I travel. To connect. To discuss. To meet people living within their reality and for people to meet me living within mine. To talk, to learn, to understand.

At some point my introvert kicks in again. I sit. I observe. I listen. I reflect. How fortunate am I to have been born in a country that speaks English. Because of this truth, I am able to travel the world and take part in groups where English is the common language. I’m surrounded by people speaking my first language as their second language. I am bewildered and humbled. At some point I begin to talk to 2 members in Spanish. The 3 of us, meeting in Poland, speaking a second language (or 3rd for them), and I finally feel a part of the magic and mystery of conversing with strangers in a language you’ve studied and worked so hard to master. My heart was filled with pure happiness.

I’ve been reflecting a lot lately and it’s mostly been about this: people make or break experiences; we need other people. My best travel experiences have been because of other people. Every time I step out of my comfort zone and force myself into social situations, they end up being great and they are memories that stand out among the rest. People need other people. I need other people. And that’s okay.

I moved to Poland by myself, with the idea that I needed to learn how to be happy and satisfied with myself. That I shouldn’t depend on other people for happiness. And part of this is true. But after 6 months of focusing on myself, I’ve realized just how much I miss deep conversations, deep connections, and most importantly feeling and experiencing raw and deep emotions. So here’s to being happy and satisfied not just with myself, but with the relationships I hope to maintain, create, and foster with those I meet outside of my comfort zone.

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The Road to Poland

As a person from the United States living in Poland, the question I get asked the most is, “Why Poland?” And the answer is very simple, “I wanted to live in Europe.”

Last year I volunteered in San Antonio, Texas serving at a community center assisting people and families receive basic human needs (food, clothes, housing, utility assistance, therapy, etc.) I also served in the community center’s after school program which provided a safe, fun, and educational environment for children living in the poorest area code of San Antonio; and I fell in love.

Throughout my year in Texas I was in a constant battle with my heart and brain as to what my next step was once my year of volunteering was over. At one point I was set on going to graduate school to receive an MSW, but then things began to happen in the non-profit that I served with that I didn’t like. So then I thought maybe I should go to graduate school for Public Policy. But then I thought about my undergraduate degree which is in Psychology and I thought maybe I should go to graduate school for counseling. All these options played in my head and I was unable to choose just one. Therefore, the idea of traveling the world and teaching English as a second language came to the forefront because throughout this entire graduate school idea, traveling has been like a pesky mosquito that flies by your ear, you hear the high-pitched buzz next to your ear and you swat it away, but a few minutes later you hear the high-pitched buzz again.

I loved volunteering and working with and for the people, families and especially the children I was serving with. But, I didn’t like the non-profit I was working with, I was growing frustrated with the United States Social Systems and how they’re the failing the people they’re suppose to be helping, and I didn’t want to spend money I don’t have on a graduate school program I wasn’t 100% sure I really wanted to do. Thus, I chose to travel.

After my year of volunteering, I moved back to New Jersey and a month later was taking a course to get certified in teaching English as a second language. The course was in New York City, 5 days a week, and extremely intense. To be able to afford my commute in and out of the City every day and plan for the traveling I was going to do in the near future, I got a job at the Gap on the weekends. I finished the course within a month and instantly began looking for jobs (I finished near the end of October 2016).

Ideally I wanted to work in Central or South America because I speak Spanish and I have traveled there before and that is truly where my heart is. Unfortunately, most teaching programs in those regions are volunteer or very low paying since the cost of living is so low down there. (I have a ridiculous amount of student loans from my undergraduate that I still need to pay back). So I began to look for jobs in Spain. I have been to Spain twice before and I wanted to live in a Spanish speaking country, so I thought it was a substitute for not working in Central or South America. However, I discovered that it’s actually very difficult for a person from the United States to be hired legally as an ESL teacher in Spain and they prefer to hire EU citizens (for Visa reasons). This frustration with not being able to find a job in Spain led me to look into other countries in Europe and I came across Poland. I have a Polish last name, I have friends and 1 aunt who are from Poland, and I have always wanted to go to Poland, so I thought, “why not?”

I applied to 2 jobs in Poland, interviewed for both, and received job offers from both. I chose one of the jobs, went to the Polish Consultant in NYC and applied for a Polish Work Visa, and was in Poland before the New Year.

I know this post is quite broad in places and I will go into more details later about certain things, but as with every adventure, there’s always a back story of how it began. So how did I end up in Poland? I didn’t know what to go to grad. school for, I was frustrated with the US’s social systems, I couldn’t find a job in Spain, and Poland is one of the few countries in Europe who employ people from the US as ESL teachers. Also, I love mountains, and I’m currently looking outside my window at a beautiful view of the Beskid Mountains.

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Conflicting Dreams

A little over a month ago I moved to Poland. I have always wanted to live in a different country and I have traveled a bunch in the past so you can say I have a bit of the travel-bug and a serious case of wanderlust.

However, I moved to Poland from the USA. This is important. In addition to moving to Poland from the USA, I spent the past year (August 2015-August 2016) serving as a Jesuit Volunteer in San Antonio, Texas. I was a caseworker at a local non-profit, walking with individuals and families in need of food, clothes, and other basic necessitates. I also worked as an assistant with our After School Program, providing a safe space for “at-risk” children and teenagers. Furthermore, I chose my university based on their commitment to serving with and for others, thus I dedicated 4 years of my life serving the community of Philadelphia and learning as much as I could about social justice, activism, and how to “better”the world.

Flash forward to now. I teach English as a second language in a private primary school school here in Poland. President Donald Trump has been elected and is trying to burn the USA to the ground. I am completely and utterly torn to shreds, right down the middle. My passion to learn, travel, and explore the world versus my passion to fight for what is right, to walk with those whose rights are being targeted, and to work towards a better USA.

So this is my current reality. I am a social justice activist living abroad while the United States undergoes its first major re-awakening as a nation. The causes and freedoms and people’s lives I have been fighting for, for the past 6 years, are now being recognized and fought for on a national level. I am so proud and hopeful that these compassionate, determined and resilient individuals have finally come together and will continue to resist President Trump. However, I am also extremely devastated that I cannot be there to show my support and do my part as a member of the resistance. This is my reality until the end of the school year (June 2017). Then, I will have to make a decision. Continue my dream of living in a different country and learning about other governments and cultures, or continue my dream to make the world a better place and return to the USA to resist President Trump.

Until then, I would like to keep a blog about my travels, thoughts and experiences here in Poland, and maybe some additional things.

The world is a strange place and the way life pans out isn’t always how we wanted it to, I’m just trying to make sense of it all.