Mi Cuento [My story]

I am from the definition of a small town in the Adirondack Park, a region of upstate New York, USA. Growing up I had a blessed but secluded childhood with five kids in my kindergarten class. I seldom left the boundaries of NY state, as my family was not well off but my father ensured that we always ate and lived heartily. I often spent whole afternoons outside in the woods or by the lake at our family camp collecting salamanders and fungi. My parents ensured that I had a whole hearted connection with and respect for the nature surrounding us, and for that I am forever grateful. As a result I always felt that that I was missing something, that I wanted to know more about what the world had to offer. I can remember many times where I would open a National Geographic magazine and pull out an expandable world map to examine. The historical information accompanied with the geographical details were astounding to me as a kid! My curiosity always left me wanting to know more and I often told my parents that I wanted to travel the world, to explore, and then explore some more!

When I began high school I became very fascinated with the idea of becoming a journalist, and soon enough I found myself applying to schools to study journalism. My senior year I did an internship with my local newspapers’ editor, whom enlightened me with the various possibilities within the field. Upon graduation in 2015, I was accepted to begin my bachelors degree at St. Lawrence University (SLU), a small liberal arts school near the Canadian border in upstate NY. This was perhaps the most drastic but positive event that could’ve happened to me. In this moment there were also many negative things impacting my life as a result of my parents divorce, a battle that would persist for many years, and made positive outlooks on life bleak for me.

Quite literally overnight, I was enlightened to many intercultural perspectives and the channels through which I could explore them on campus or abroad. With this transition I found myself asking all sorts of questions: Who am I? Where do I want to go in life? What will happen next? It was as if I finally had the means to be who I wanted to be, and become who I wanted to become. I knew upon arrival that I wanted to continue studying Spanish, as it had become a passion of mine since taking every available class in high school.

To me, learning the Spanish language was an outlet, through which I could express myself uniquely and expand my horizons constantly. I found joy and excitement in learning its history, as well as the international evolution of its’ speakers. Thus, when the opportunity arose for me to go to Nicaragua for the travel component for my Advanced Spanish class in January of 2017 I took it immediately. About this time, I decided to change my career path, and instead began studying International Economics and Spanish, with a minor in Caribbean & Latin American Studies. I cannot say what exactly made me change my mind, but I loved the economics classes I was in and so it seemed like a good fit for me.

Shortly after returning for my spring semester, I instantly knew that I needed to study abroad the first chance I could, for my time in Nicaragua left me wanting more. So I applied for the Spring 2018 Spain Semester abroad. Albeit I was nervous about getting accepted but was overjoyed when I got in, for I knew that this would be the best route to finding myself and coming out of the darkness which had settled around me for the past couple of years. As I prepared to leave during the first week of January, I wondered if I would be the same person when I returned in May. Upon arrival I was almost instantly lost in the Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport and was overwhelmed trying to find the meeting spot for my program. Eventually after many wrong exits and several pauses to ask for directions, I found my program coordinators. After surmounting my first major hurdle we were soon in a bus on our way to the northern city of Salamanca for a 3 week stay.

My time in Salamanca was all I needed to decide that I absolutely loved Spain, and that I would be wonderfully transformed from the inside out by my time there. When we returned to Madrid in the first week of February I felt eager to live in such a big city but unsure about how well I would adapt to this lifestyle. As we arrived at the Colegio Isabel de España in the Universidad Complutense de Madrid I could see all of the host families waiting to meet us. This was an especially rewarding yet unexpected evening, as my host family and I no sooner started off in the van when it broke down in the middle of an intersection. Let me just say this was probably the most hectic scene you can imagine, between all my suitcases, my host family of 5, and myself trying to cross the street to get on the metro, I am not sure how it didn’t lead to an accident!

Within a couple weeks of taking the metro to class, walking the bustling little streets of Madrid, and forming half broken sentences with my host family over our nightly meals, I decided that there was no place I’d rather be. I felt truly at home. Almost simultaneously, I met my best friend Emily, who was doing the year long Spain program. This would prove to be the friendship of a lifetime and she is the most important person that I have ever met. I think it was only after a week of knowing each other that she asked me if I wanted to go with her to Porto, Portugal and Athens, Greece. Without any hesitation I said “YES!,” and it was just like that that we became close. Our first adventure was to Barcelona, Spain that same month that we met. From then on everyday was an incredible journey, and she and I were nearly inseparable. It is because of her that I accredit finding my courage, sense of adventure, and above all my sense of self construction. She inspired me to challenge every moment, to make the small things count, and to explore any/everything that life presented to us.

As our time came to a close in Spain that May, there was no doubt in my mind that we had made the most out of every minute of our time there. My semester abroad had allowed me to cultivate self growth, gave me the chance to challenge who I really was , and then enabled a desire within me to traverse the unknown. My Spanish fluency had greatly improved to a strong intermediate level over the 4 months I was in Spain. Thus, when I returned to campus in the fall for my senior year at SLU, I felt empowered to dive into an independent research project in Spanish as my Senior Thesis. This research, though intimidating and very daunting in the beginning, ended up being my salvation and the pride of my last semester. It was during my fall semester that I knew I needed to figure out my plan for after graduation in May 2019.

My research gave me the needed inspiration to examine possible paths. I think that one part of me felt extremely committed to getting my Spanish fluency level up to par and the other part of me decided that I had nothing to lose by heading back to Spain for a year. So, I applied to several different programs to Teach English to high school students in the public school system in Madrid. To my elation I was accepted by CIEE, and I received a placement in the city center. This was it I decided. This would be my trajectory to living and supporting myself overseas, and finally being able to relish in all of the excitement and hard work of my four years at SLU. I was beginning to live what I had only dreamed about for years. I had only the means of my small savings to sustain myself while abroad, but I had more than enough determination to see it through.

Fast forwarding to my return to Spain in September of 2019, I knew that I needed to to pack as minimally as possible, for I needed to put a years worth of belongings in 2 suitcases and a backpack! This proved to be one of the singularly most challenging tasks that I have ever experienced haha. But never the less, I made it happen and I was quite proud! After I finally found a room in a shared flat, I was settled in and began living my dream European life. I then met an amazing person, who became a great friend. She and I did many things together, as she was also Teaching English. Teaching was going to be challenging given the fact that I had no prior teaching experience but I was ready to give it my all!

Being in Madrid from September to June would’ve given me ample time to solo travel to several countries, all over Spain where I hadn’t already been, and soak up as much of the Spanish language as humanly possible. While there I first went on a lovely journey to Valencia, Spain, then I went to north to Vigo and Ourense, and I came home for Christmas 2019. Upon returning, I planned 2 amazing trips: one was a 4 day trip to the Netherlands and Belgium in late February, and two was my absolute dream trip to Italy for 10 days for spring break in April. My friend and I also planned a long weekend to visit her dad in the Scottish Highlands for the second week of March.

When February arrived, I was jumping for joy to go to another country! I packed only a regular backpack and my small crossbody for the adventure to the Netherlands and Belgium. I can honestly say that those 4 days were absolutely incredible and truly invigorating. However, shortly after my return, around the first week of March 2020, a strange phenomenon hit the world and came from China, it would later be called the COVID-19 or Coronavirus Pandemic. At first it seemed contained to only a few countries, but soon it struck Spain and Italy very intensely, and I realized that my dream trip had to be put off. At the same time, the Spanish Educational Ministry decided that all schools would be shut down for a month. Then during the night before my friend and I were supposed to leave for Scotland, the United States announced that it would be closing its borders to all international travellers the next day. Frantic as I woke during the middle of the night and saw the news, I realized that I had to exit the country immediately!

So I swiftly bought a plane ticket to leave that morning, and I threw everything in my suitcases. Upon arrival home, back in NY, the serious nature of the Pandemic began to arise. In April 2020, it became abundantly clear that this virus would shut down the whole world indefinitely. I then applied to and received a job at as a Business Development Representative with a company in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, though they told me that I would not begin until after the Pandemic subsided. So with everything seemingly on hold I began working at the local grocery store where I had held a deli position for the past seven summers. The sad and uncertain pausing of the world economy led to many wondering if and when international travel would be allowed again. But as I knew that I had not had my fill of travel, I decided to begin looking again for career opportunities. This time I applied to two different local Spanish teacher positions, one being at the high school I attended. Unfortunately given that I do not possess a NY state teaching license, I did not pass either interview.

Although this was a huge disappointment at the time, I then came to the realisation that I am perhaps meant to leave my hometown, and instead pursue more international avenues. Therefore, in late July, I broke out my research skills again, and I applied to another CIEE program to Teach English in Santiago, Chile from February 2021 – December 2021. To my pleasure, I was accepted in late August and I then began prepping to take the 150hr Teach English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) Certification course, a requirement of the program. The opportunity to teach and live in South America would’ve given me an extremely diversified resume and critical international working experience, but the world wasn’t ready for such ventures. In September I received an email stating that Chile would not be hosting international work visas, and as a result the program would be cancelled until the following year. For me, to say I was disappointed was a complete understatement, I felt completely defeated and it was as if I had no available opportunities to travel.

I felt utterly and totally lost, I had lost my motivation and inspiration to continue building my sense of self. Although I had been fortunate to have been working throughout the entire Pandemic, unlike so many others, I knew that I needed to maintain my international course. My TEFL Certification was 12 weeks plus the Practicum, which made it 15 weeks, so in other words I was extremely limited on time from September to the end of December 2020. Still, I made the executive decision that I needed to go back to Spain to teach English, and so I transferred my application to do the 2021-2022 Teach in Spain program again with CIEE. By taking affirmative action, despite the many negative voices around me saying that I needed to forfeit my return to Spain and instead find a different job in the US, I was able to lay down a feasible and logical path for my return to Spain.

Through perseverance and strong personal goals I have maintained what I feel and know will lead to my longterm happiness, but personally and professionally. To say that the story of The_Traveling_Guapa is a short and sweet one isn’t only incorrect, but the trivialisation of a century. Even now, in January 2021 as I lay down the foundation for my brand, I know that I can achieve my personal and professional goals through courage, hard work, devotion, positivity, and an open mind. And ultimately so can YOU!

Travel is possible even without significant financial means, trust me, and let me tell you my story!    : )