Let The Adventure Begin…

ROAD TRIP – PART 1: CALIFORNIA

Five years in the making and finally the Smith family road trip was happening. I’d spent so long planning activities, dreaming of seeing so many places and plotting the perfect route that I felt like I was about to burst with excitement and anticipation! It truly was an amazing experience, one I will never forget because of the insane and ridiculous beauty I witnessed over those 16 days. So let’s start at the beginning…

Day 1 to 5: San Francisco

12 hours in the sky and we had landed stateside. We spent 4 days in the city so had to pack as much as possible. Day 2 (but our first full day) was spent walking along Golden Gate Park from the Panhandle all the way to the Pacific Ocean – my favourite place we visited, you have to stay near it or definitely visit it if you go to San Francisco. There are endless things to do, including a botanical garden, museum, lookout point, frisbee golf and a field of Bison. Yes actual real life Bison. Then we boarded our “sunset” cruise, that was a little bit more fog than sun but also included some unexpected visitors in the form of Humpback Whales, so my day was instantly made 200x better! Day 3 and we were in Oakland, by the way the BART system is insanely easy and literally took us all of 5 minutes to cross the bay, perfect! 10am isn’t too early for ice cream right? Seen as we made a quick pit stop at the Ben & Jerry’s store and I had my first taste of Tonight Dough, it was heavenly! We didn’t actually see much in Oakland but the waterfront is definitely worth a visit and Lake Merritt is the ideal place to sunbathe on a sunny day. The main reason  we crossed the bay in the first place was to see a Baseball game and boy was it worth it, as a Brit abroad it was entirely necessary for us to get a taste of a good ol’ US of A sport. Oakland A’s vs Chicago White Sox, not a particularly eventful game but I was bursting with excitement for the FIREWORKS!! I am very easily pleased, but especially when it comes to watching an insanely good firework show while sat on a Major League Baseball field, when will that ever happen to me again? Madness! Day 4, our last whole day in SF and it was Independence Day, Happy Bday ‘Murica! Typical sightseeing day – Lombard Street, FIsherman’s Wharf, Fort Mason, Palace of Fine Arts, Coit Tower and finally MORE FIREWORKS! This time they weren’t very successful, we’re talking way too much fog and not much to see as a result. But pretty memorable to be in the USA for Independence Day.

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Day 5, 6 and 7: Yosemite and Tahoe

Onwards and upwards (literally, to higher than I’ll probably ever be, other than on a plane). The drive into Mariposa County was, and I will keep repeating this word because it was, insane! Mountains for days, sunshine galore and the quaintest, more perfect little town. Just wandering around this historic town with independent shops, a museum and the oldest still functional courthouse in California, is well worth a visit on your way into Yosemite. Day 6 and a 6am start to make the most of our day in the Yosemite National Park. I’m not a morning person, but it had to be done. Driving down into Yosemite Valley, surrounded by cliff edges, rivers and trees, was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. And the waterfalls, my goodness, they are of epic proportions! Especially Yosemite Falls, nearly 3000ft tall and split into 3 parts. It’s madness. Just standing under Lower Yosemite Falls at only 300ft was impressive (and very wet, but again very much worth it). Wandering along the valley, surrounded by such beauty that I just could not stop staring at, I couldn’t believe it was real. And once we reached the end of the (short) valley trail, Half Dome was in sight. It looks over the entire valley and was framed perfectly by the sun and clouds.

Next up for the day’s journey was to follow Tioga Pass up and out of the east of the park with various stops along the way to marvel at the INSANE views. One $130 parking ticket later at Tuolumne Grove, all because we wanted to see some giant Sequoia’s and we were onwards again. I’d recommend not parking in bus only parking, despite there not being anywhere else and about 20 other cars having done the same thing. Next stop along the pass after reaching the peak of the road at about 9000ft, easiest mountain I’ll ever climb, was a short but sweet stop at Lake Tenaya. Bit too chilly for a swim, but good for a paddle and definitely an amazing view. Snow capped mountains reflected in the lake, you don’t get much of that in England. After venturing into Nevada, just because we could, we followed an impromptu cycling time trial (much to the delight of my brother) over the final peak before reaching Lake Tahoe and boy were we greeted by an amazing view of the setting sun over such a huge expanse of water. The next morning we drove up from South Lake Tahoe to Tahoe City and I could not stop gasping at the size and beauty of the lake …and the hills …and the bay’s …and the beaches …and the BOATS! My goodness I wish I owned a boat and lived around Lake Tahoe, that would be the dream! Having only spent the morning at Tahoe, and only half a day at Yosemite also, I’ve decided I NEED to go back, the lake life is calling for me.

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Day 8: Redwoods

Easily one of my favourite days was (finally) meeting up with Highway 1 and driving north up the many Redwood national and state parks. There was just something about being surrounded by nature in all its grandeur and beauty, that just made me feel at home. It made me feel small, insignificant, but appreciative of everything nature does to help us survive and thrive. We started Day 8 by driving from Redding to Highway 1 through some, at times very precarious, canyon roads which finally, after about 3 hours, led to the Avenue of Giants. Thankfully it lived up to its name. The size of these Redwoods is insane, and this time I truly mean it, I’ve never seen trees so big, I loved it. Onwards up Highway 1 and we stopped in Eureka to explore the Victorian houses, because I’m obsessed with architecture and buildings with character, so I was in heaven. Carson Mansion was so unbelievably pretty. Never before did I know the west coast had so many Lighthouses but we saw our first, and certainly not our last, one in Trinidad. Classic red and white, overlooking the bay, slightly foggy (much like every day), but the pacific ocean looked pretty despite all that.

Architecture spotting for the day done and we continued north. I was still shocked by the sheer size and vivid colour of the trees as we entered the National Park, and then we stopped at Elk Meadow. The amazingness of this day continued – fields, trees and apparently Elk for days – heaven exists, and it is the Redwoods. Next up on the agenda was Big Tree, and it didn’t disappoint, it really was a big arse tree. 70ft in circumference and suggested to be 1000 years old, it was ginormous and surrounded by equally huge trees. Once again I felt at home, I swear in another life I must’ve been a bird who lived in a nest at the top of the trees. One day I’ll own a treehouse, I’m just adding it to my life goals list now, a girl can dream right?!? We ended the day in Crescent City, so close to the Oregon border that we were ready to tick off all the beaches on our long list starting the next day, but we needed a well earned break after about 6 hours on the road in total and our longest day so far. One insanely tasty grilled cheese, with an equally insane view overlooking the pacific ocean (slightly blurred by the fog), and an amazing night’s sleep in our super kingsize beds later and we would be on the road to Oregon the following day!

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California you were a dream – an entire week spent in the state, road tripping and witnessing beauty unlike anything I ever thought was possible. I will be back, one trip just isn’t enough, there’s so much more for me to see, experience, fall in love with and tick off my bucket list!

adventure awaits,
Becca xo

6 Months Soul Searching

Yes, soul searching, you read it right. Most people would say I spent 6 months doing nothing, which to them not knowing what I’ve been debating and thinking through in my mind is probably correct. But to me, it was 6 months I needed. Time to think, clear my brain of everything and really truly decide where I want my life to go and how I’m going to get there. And now hopefully, I think I have finally figured out some form of life plan for myself (or at least for the next year or so).

Someone recently reminded me that this is the first time in 10 years that I haven’t had to do summer exams, and yes I keep repeating that fact, because it’s crazy. Sometimes, usually always, I just need to remind myself of how far I’ve come and what I’ve achieved just so I know I can do it all over again if I have to. For the first time in 10 years I’m not stressing or panicking over exams in which the outcome will affect my future or what I can do next. Yesterday, I read an article about the importance of not only taking sick days when you’re physically ill but also for your mental health, just taking a few days to regroup, relax and restore your brain up to full capacity. I feel like after all my brain has been through over the past 10 years, and especially the last 5, it also needed a break – 6 months worth of sick days to be precise. After graduation, I knew I just wanted to take time to myself and figure everything out (I didn’t realise it would take quite so long, but I needed it). So, it really is no surprise to me that I’m currently unemployed. Do I wish I could have figured everything out sooner, got an ‘adult’ job and started the rest of my life like all my friends, yeah I do, but it’s just not me and where I wanted to be right now. It’s not where my brain or my mental health priorities needed to be. But, here I am now getting my brain back to full capacity and ready to get my life back on track.

After returning from Nicaragua I struggled to settle back in, I just felt like nothing could ever be as amazing as the experience I had and that my life in England would never live up to what I’d achieved in the past 3 months. It was the most fulfilling and purpose-full time of my life, for the first time I felt like I was doing something good, something true, something important. It was as if I was living my best, fullest, most honest life – I’d found my purpose. That probably sounds ridiculously stupid and utterly sad, but it’s the truth. It’s taken me this long to say it out loud to anyone – that making a difference in the world, however small, means more to me than success, money or fame. People have outrightly said to me that there’s no money in your dream profession, I’m crazy for pursuing it and that I’m creating a pointless student debt that I’ll never pay off. And I listened to them for months. That whole wrestling with whether to go with your heart or your brain, yeah it’s true. My brain was like, money I need it to live and the people telling me I’m stupid for throwing that away must be correct. But my heart believes that finding my purpose and living according to what sets my soul on fire, that makes me impassioned and fills me with the most joy, is what’s most important. To me, that is striving to find my place in making a difference in the world.

I finally decided to go with my heart and see where it took me, and I am so happy I did. It meant applying for postgraduate study in International Development, despite it not being what everyone thought I should do and also something that I personally thought I wasn’t smart enough for. But I did it, got accepted and I now I can’t wait to prove to myself that I am smart enough and also good enough and strong enough to succeed if I really truly want to, and I do. This masters is the start of my adult life, listening to what I want instead of what others believe is best for me. Not worrying about whether I’ll be rich in monetary ways but whether I’ll be rich in happiness. What has come back tenfold since I started admitting this, is friends who understand and agree with what I’m doing, who themselves have had people tell them they are making the wrong career decisions and wasting their degree. But they persisted with what they believed anyway and they are happier for it now. Having these particular people around me, to guide me, to experience life with – well I must’ve been one hell of a person in a previous life to deserve them, thanks universe (again).

Who knows where I’ll be after I (hopefully) graduate in a year and a half, who knows if my dream profession and chosen career path is even attainable for me. But, at least I know that, for know, I’m trying and that’s all I can do.

The final note I want to leave this post on is that of a thank you to my parents, they might not agree with some of the choices I’ve made and will make in my life, but they are always by my side and will support me regardless. However, I especially want to thank them for what they’ve allowed me to do over the last 6 months and how they’ve allowed me to do it. I’ve been living rent free, provided with food and been taken on holiday, and believe me I realise how lucky I am for that and I honestly don’t know how I’ll ever repay them. So I guess I just need to go out into the world and find my fire, my purpose, that which makes me truly happy, to hopefully make them proud.

adventure awaits,
Becca xo

Ruthie Lindsey: Why You NEED To Know Her

Through pain, darkness and personal struggling comes truth, bravery and strength – Ruthie Lindsey is the epitome of this. I don’t know how I discovered this magical human but I thank whatever universal forces brought me to her, her honest, beautiful soul is something I admire and have learnt so much from in such a short time. So, in her own words “when you see something beautiful in someone, speak it”, here is why I believe you need to hear her story and learn from it.

When Ruthie was in high school she was involved in a car accident that left her with a 5% chance of living and 1% chance of walking again. Part of her hip bone was fused to her neck with a metal wire and a month after surgery she was able to walk out of hospital with only a neck brace. Miracle number 1. She graduated high school and college, got married and then a year into her marriage Ruthie started to feel the most debilitating pains. The x-rays showed nothing so doctors just prescribed her very strong pain medication. This was when everything changed. She withdrew from her life, from everything that made her herself. Four years later, countless doctor’s visits, the physical and mental toll it took on her and all it took was a $50 x-ray to change her life. One of the wires from her neck surgery had broken and pierced the brain stem, somehow Ruthie was still alive. Miracle number 2. During all this, and struggling to pay for an unfunded treatment to stop possible paralysis, Ruthie’s father sadly passed away. The nightmare kept getting worse. Until a medical fund was set up in her dad’s honour, the kindness Ruthie experienced at this time was unparalleled – humankind showing their true colours and helping save someone’s life.

The surgery was a success, no paralysis but major nerve damage. In Ruthie’s words “my right side feels like it’s on fire at all times”. Soon her marriage came to an end, she started suffering panic attacks and experienced a nervous breakdown, so she moved home to live with her family. It was only in her deepest darkness that she saw the light, Ruthie knew she had to change everything, she wanted to change everything, she wanted her life back. The first change was to tackle the pain medication addiction which took 4 months, she was also single for the first time in 10 years and bills were accumulating. This is when Ruthie found her love of design and never looked back. It took years for her to become comfortable enough telling her story and letting everyone know that you can lead a happy existence while also suffering from pain everyday. But, I for one am so glad Ruthie opened her heart and her life to us, because her strength is inspiring. She has turned a string of miracles, what could’ve beens and years of pain into ensuring she is surrounded by a community of strong, vulnerable, kind, loving, fearless humans who support each other through happiness, darkness and everything in between.

 

 

Regardless of whether you’ve experienced physical pain on the scale that Ruthie has or if you haven’t, you can still learn from her and her truth. Hers is a story of true mental resilience and inner strength that everyone can take something away from. For one, we should learn to appreciate the everyday things – sunsets, flowers, laughs, tears – it is all equally as important and is what makes up life so we need to start loving it a lot more. The most important lesson I’ve personally learnt from Ruthie is honesty and transparency in life. In this social media obsessed world we are constantly focused on showing everyone the best of us, our prettiest and most perfect selves possible. But it’s all a lie and why lie? The reason Ruthie opened up about her life despite her seemingly happy, adventurous and normal life on Instagram is because her followers didn’t know why her life was so happy. The world didn’t know the nightmares she had lived through and everything she had done to change that and truly experience the happiness and magic in the world once again. So she told the world, and with her vulnerability came an abundance of courage, people whose story resonated with hers and an online following who were drawn to her honesty and strength.

 

“You get what you put into the world … when people leave me I want them to feel seen, to feel cared, to feel known and cared for, for them to know they have space with me. And when you put that out that’s what comes back to you. It could feel really vulnerable at first, but it’s just a reciprocal life giving”

– Ruthie Lindsey, WeWork Creator Awards, June 2017

 

That’s what this blog is to me, my honesty, my life, my vulnerability. I am unabashedly free for the first time in my life and there is nothing more important to me right now than that. When I started to show everyone what I loved and who I was instead of worrying how people would react I started to become truly happy for the first time in years. The friends I gained because of it and the memories I have made with them, they’re the community of strong, vulnerable, kind, loving, fearless humans that I want around me. They may live in the same village as me or in a different city or even a different country, but they allow me to be me without judgement and always with love and support. I’m 22 and still trying to discover myself in this big wide world full of life decisions, but where I’m at right now and who I’m showing to the world, she’s the most honest and transparent version yet and I think she’s pretty awesome (by the way self love is pretty darn fantastic, so feel free to jump on the bandwagon with me).

I cannot thank Ruthie enough for putting out such beauty and positivity into this world, her story, her pain, her strength, it has all inspired me to become a better person and I cannot wait to continue learning from her for many years to come. I see the beauty in her and in this world, but the most important thing I’ve learnt is that for the first time in my life I also see the beauty in myself and I’m ready to speak it, live it and love it.

adventure awaits,
Becca xo

If you want to know more about Ruthie and read in her own words about her life you can find more at http://www.ruthielindsey.com . You can also follow her on Twitter (@lindseyruthie) and I cannot stress this enough, you MUST follow her on Instagram (@ruthielindsey). Her words are so important and her dedication to experiencing all of life’s beauty despite her pain is something I am more and more inspired by everyday, so please get to know her, you won’t be disappointed.

Regret-FULL

Over the past few weeks I’ve been struggling (to myself obviously, because people don’t like to openly discuss their feelings out of fear of seeming weak or being ridiculed). I’ve been worrying and panicking over certain decisions I’ve made and actions I’ve taken in some aspects of my life, ones that I cannot change or even alter in a small way now. It’s not been fun, it’s most definitely not been positive and the mental toll it’s taken on my self-belief and trust in my future decision making is the hardest part.

re·gret  (rĭ-grĕt′)
v. re·gret·ted, re·gret·ting, re·grets

To feel regret.
n.
1. A feeling of sorrow, disappointment, distress, or remorse about 
something that one wishes could be different.
2. A sense of loss and longing for someone or something gone or 
passed out of existence

Remorse, that’s the aspect of regret that my brain is stressing about lately. The idea that I have spent too much money on things that do not matter. Worrying that I have made the wrong decision about where to study my masters. Thinking that I’m a burden and that my indecisive nature has cost my parents too much. Doubting that going back to university is right for me, that I’m not smart enough and that my dream career path is just that, a dream and not reality. Worry, worry and more worry, thanks brain for being like this! But, don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking for sympathy, I’m just being honest. It’s nothing new to doubt yourself so I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. I guess I just wanted to write it all down to make sense of all these thoughts flying around in my mind.

I’m never entirely sure what triggers my brain to spiral, worry and over think everything, I’ve just come to accept that it happens every so often. However, I think the main contributing factor is the judgement or fear of judgement from other people. I have always, without fail, been someone who hates conflict, wants to please everyone and needs the approval or support of others for reassurance in making most, if not all, decisions in my life. It’s one of my least favourite traits, but one I just cannot seem to shake. I think everyone hopes in some way to be able to please everyone else and make everything the best it can be, but it’s really not possible and I know that but I can’t stop myself from also thinking otherwise. Thinking, as in wishing or longing that I could go back and make a different decision, be more persistent, believe that I am good enough for the job rather than doubting myself and just giving up. All of which cannot be changed now, but I worry about anyway.

I’m just lucky that throughout the past year I have met some truly amazing people with the kindest souls who are always there to support me. So I leave you with this, something a friend, who I have only really known for a month or two now, told me when we were reassuring each other that how we feel is not strange, it’s really very normal to have ups and downs. We just need to believe in our own strength to get through this and learn from it for the future…

“Making a decision isn’t always easy but you need to trust in yourself. Do what’s best for you. Even if in the end you realise that you should have made another decision, it’s okay. We can’t always make the best decisions but at least you can learn from them. …believe in yourself!”

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I actually wrote everything before this paragraph a few weeks ago, but the feeling of regret still hasn’t faded and I guess it won’t until I start trusting my decisions and believing in myself in a little bit more. But the main reason I wanted to add this kind of reflection section at the end is because I read something Sophia Bush wrote on her Instagram after I wrote this post and it truly resonated and started a real conversation in my mind of so many more things. So here it is, it may be long but it is well worth reading…

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This thought has been resonating with me so hard the last few days. On Tuesday night at the Creator Awards, once Ruthie Lindsey and I finished our masterclass, the room opened up for a Q&A. One woman asked such a thoughtful question, and to sum it up, basically wanted to know we each got to the point in our lives where we stopped being afraid. How we pushed past fear and came into confidence.
Now. Here’s where shit gets real. We didn’t. That whole “get past x and you’ll be onto y” thing? It doesn’t exist. No matter what you achieve, you’ll set a new goal that will be out in the distance. You will never “arrive”. No matter how much success you have – or in many cases the world perceives you to have had – it comes with a shit ton of failure too. But you definitely miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. So you’ve got to choose to take the first step. The big leap. The one that feels so scary that you shut your eyes and scream when it starts. Do that.
Whatever you’re afraid of – the questions usually look like this, right? “Can I do this? Who do I think I am to try to do this? Why would he/she pick me? Am I crazy to think this might be something? How do I ask? How can I tell them? How can I get my foot in the door? How can I get on that plane?” The list goes ON.
The fear won’t magically subside. You’ve got to pick it up and carry it i your pack with you. Roll it up and carry it in your pack with you. Roll it up next to your ambition and your tenacity. Tuck it in with the confident thread that runs up your spine. Right next to your big idea. Your big love. It’s part of you. The sooner you make yourself acquainted with it and quit trying to pretend like it’s not there, the sooner it becomes just another piece of you instead of a larger than life monster in your closet.
You’ll rack up successes and failures in your life. They’ll all be pieces of your puzzle. Regret will be a thing that keeps you awake at night. It’s the thing that makes you ask the unanswerable “what if?”. Next time you as “what if?” finish it up like this… “What if I AM as capable, smart, loveable and worthy as my best friend says I am?” Yup. Now leap. Fuck regret. Don’t let it own you. You’re worth so much more than that.

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Sophia’s words made me realise that it is not regret that I am struggling with, it’s fear. Fear of the future. Fear of not being the successful child my parent’s are hoping I’ll be. Fear of being unhappy. Fear of feeling like I’m not enough. Fear of failing. Fear of the unknown immensity of life. The list goes on. So, I guess this post should now be called Fear-FULL, because I’m definitely feeling a whole lot of it. But the same outcome still stands, I need to believe in myself more and trust the decisions I made and will make in the future. I won’t let regret, fear or even the fear of regret own me, I will fight it and believe that I am enough, even if it doesn’t feel like it sometimes, it’s the truth and I just need to remind myself of it.

adventure awaits,
Becca xo

There’s Only One Tree Hill

It’s fairly obvious what this post is about and if you know me you’ll know I’m slightly, very unhealthily obsessed with TV, most importantly One Tree Hill. For those of you that haven’t watched it, it’s an early 2000s teen angst drama – boy meets girl, boy has evil brother, evil brother loves boy’s best friend, boy gets in a love triangle, evil brother redeems himself, relationship drama, tears, weddings, car crashes, lots of basketball, more drama, etc., etc.. I highly recommend you to watch it, but I may be slightly biased.

I still remember the first time I ever watched the show, it was a snow day and I was watching random TV show repeats, and guess what came on… One Tree Hill. It really was love at first sight, mainly because I fell in love with the ballsy and badass Brooke Davies. It was Season 3 Episode 16, a B.Davies centric episode, her starting her own clothing line aged 17, Clothes Over Bros (listen up ladies, don’t forget it). Since then, I’ve been hooked. I think it took me about a month to catch up from Season 1 to Season 5, somehow I’d discovered a repeat of an episode right in the middle, so the binge began. That was 10 years ago now, just under half my life and I’ve never looked back.

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“That’s what I’m scared of. Not being enough, not good enough, not smart enough, not pretty enough, (…) People are going to label you. It’s how you overcome those labels, that’s what matters.”

– Brooke Davies, Season 4 Episode 13

I spent all of my teenage years watching One Tree Hill, learning from the characters, relating to some storylines and being inspired by the characters off screen selves as well. To me it wasn’t just a show, it was an escape, a place to immerse myself in someone else’s drama and to just disappear from my own life for a while. That’s really what tv and film is to me, a chance to escape, fall in love with a story and find similarities that can inspire me in my real life. That probably sounds crazy to some people, but just as exercise or music or art is a release for some people, this is my release. But don’t get me wrong music heals and art soothes, it’s just TV is my first choice, I am a couch potato after all. Since I was 12 One Tree Hill has been my escape, my family knows I’m obsessed, my mum loves it because I made her watch from start to finish and I’ve tried to convince all my friends to start watching just so I can fangirl with them. I find it ridiculously easy to dedicate my time to watching a show, but any small decision in my life or piece of work I have to do I struggle with. That’s just me. So deciding to visit the place where it all happened, and to meet my favourite people from the show was probably the easiest decision I ever made (…although my brain is really stressing now and overanalysing the money I spent to make it happen, but it happened, it was amazing and worth it to fulfil a dream).

So there I was, in the place where everything’s better and everything’s safe. Completely flawed by the fact that this was my real life currently. It didn’t feel real, I was spending a week in a town I’d fallen in love with on TV and meeting friends who I’d only talked to online. To many people, that sounds crazy and insane and stupid, but to me they’re the crazy ones. That weekend was unreal, I still can’t believe it happened and it’s been nearly two months, the friendships I formed in such a quick time and the kind, lovely, kindred spirits I met and fell in love with is what I will treasure forever. Especially the Little Coven, who invited me into their home to stay with them, who shared their hearts with me and whom I love so deeply now because of it all. I am eternally grateful I got to spend my first time in Wilmington, my first time in the USA and my first OTH Convention with you, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. We all learnt from and are inspired by the greatest and kindest human of them all, she’s how we all met, so it was no surprise to me how lovely you all were. But, the kindness and generosity you all showed me was more than I deserved and more than I ever could have expected. Friendship magic and free food (thanks Tyler Hilton) was the best way to spend a weekend. I’ll remember it forever, it honestly and truly was the best most magical and beautiful way to spend my first time in Tree Hill.

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To me, the biggest moment of the weekend was meeting the person who I have looked up to for 10 years, since the first episode of One Tree Hill I watched and every time after that. Sophia Anna Bush – actress, activist, storyteller, adventurer, foodie, designer, inspirer, lover, fighter, dreamer and all around badass. There are not enough words in the english language to fully comprehend all the ways she has motivated me over the years. Through her words of wisdom, inspiring speeches on education and transparency about her life, struggles, experiences and worries I have gained the most phenomenal woman as a role model. I could write an entire novel on what it meant to meet her and finally thank her in person, but that would bore a lot of people, so I’ll leave it with the words I somehow managed to speak while having an emotional breakdown in front of her… I’m constantly inspired by her want for a better world, it’s something I’m passionate about also and got to fulfil when I volunteered in Nicaragua for 3 months. And now I will continue to become involved in when I start my masters degree in International Development in September, I actually found out I’d got a place at my former University while in Wilmington but I’ve now decided to study elsewhere as I believe it’s a better fit for me. But still, I’m on my way to being the change and making a difference and I can’t wait to prove that smart really is sexy and to continue to be inspired by her for years to come. So, thank you Sophia from the bottom of my heart.

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Then as if that wasn’t enough crying for the weekend, I cried when my friends left, I cried when I left Wilmington and I cry a little bit more at the perfectness of it all when I look back on it. The memories I made, the experiences I had, the places I saw, the amount of food I ate, the friends I got to do it all with. It truly was a once in a lifetime trip and I can’t believe I was finally able to do it. Thank you will never be enough to say to the universe or forces or spirits or whatever kind of thing made this happen to me, but I’ll continue to say it anyway.

adventure awaits,
Becca xo

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“The greatest rewards come from doing the things that scare you the most. Maybe you’ll get everything you wished for, maybe you’ll get more than you ever could’ve imagined”

– Whitey Durham, Season 3 Episode 15

The Realities of Reverse Culture Shock

…Originally written February 21st 2017…

It’s been 74 days since I landed in England after living in Nicaragua for 90 days. It’s practically been the length of time I spent away since I’ve been home now, which is crazy to believe. Especially because I haven’t done anything to show for it since being back, but that’s a whole other reality I’m yet to deal with.

I knew things would be different once I arrived home, but I wasn’t quite sure how different and how much it would affect me. Most people would probably think that the culture shock of living in a rural Nicaraguan community, with no electricity, no flushing indoor toilet and no hot water would be the most challenging thing to adjust to. But that was a breeze in comparison. My host family and community of La Sandino were the most welcoming, kind and loving people I could’ve ever hoped to have met and lived with. So that made adjusting to living in Nicaragua much easier to say the least. It says a lot that virtually everyone, community members, us volunteers and people I had never even met before, were crying at our farewell party. Knowing how much everyone was loved and appreciated while we were there definitely made it harder to leave. But the reality of how much I would miss everyone and Nicaragua did not sink in until I was home and thrust straight back into my typical everyday English life.

For the past 12 weeks I’d been working alongside a group of people who became like family to me and living alongside a family who welcomed me with open arms as one of their own, so not seeing them everyday was by far the strangest part. I was back home and surrounded by people who didn’t understand the experience I’d had and wouldn’t unless they’d also done the same thing. The toughest part was that it seemed like not many people cared enough to ask in-depth questions about how it had been, they just cared about the superficial stuff like the toilet situation and whether there was any good looking guys. Both of which were things I had no real interest in explaining, yes, the toilets were basic and more often than not smelly and fly infested but that was expected, and no, nothing romantic happened, surprisingly romance is not what I flew 5000+ miles for.

It’s a huge part of my life, something I’ll never forget and an experience that has shaped the actions I’ll make for the rest of my life. It’s for that reason that I understand why my friends only want to know the juicy superficial stuff – because it’s too deep and personal to ask about the other stuff. When talking to other Raleigh volunteers from Tanzania, Nepal and also friends from Nicaragua, they mentioned that it might be because of jealousy. I had an experience of a lifetime while my friends were living their lives and becoming working adults. However, I’m the one that’s jealous, jealous of their ability to move on with their lives, earn a decent living and function like a ‘proper’ adult, unlike me who refuses to make any decision larger than what I’ll be eating for dinner. Understandably, they could be jealous as well, maybe of me travelling, seeing how happy I was, but I don’t know. I’m just glad I got the chance to talk to other volunteers about their experiences with their friends, it acted as major reassurance knowing that they also wondered why their friends seemed uninterested. Being given the opportunity to spend a day just talking and thinking through everything with people that understood it all, that was really what I needed. So I have to thank Raleigh for organising the Return Volunteer Day, not just to discuss the final part of completing the ICS programme, but for allowing us to talk, listen, support each other and for caring about how we’re settling back in.

At first I didn’t want to believe I was suffering from reverse culture shock, despite it being a totally natural thing to experience. I just thought I’d feel better after Christmas and then after New Years with my family at Disneyland, but it’s been 74 days and I’m probably still experiencing the aftershocks of returning home. I’ve never been one to talk about my feelings or seek help for any illnesses, I just like to power through it myself, but that turned out to be the worst thing I could’ve done in this situation. It was only after my return volunteer day at Raleigh with people who went through the same experience and were still 2 months later experiencing the weirdness of being home, that I understood that I wasn’t the only one still feeling this way.

There’s still so many things I’m confused about, remember that whole other reality I’m yet to deal with that I mentioned, well this is it. I’m still hanging onto my experience with Raleigh and wishing I was back in Nicaragua, back where I’m accepted, appreciated and loved, where I felt like I had a purpose. Now I’m back home doing nothing. I’ve applied for jobs but nothing substantial and long term. I’m contemplating applying for a masters but I’m worried I won’t enjoy it or do well. I’m still as confused about my future as I was before I left. Decisions are clearly not my strong point.

The only thing I’m certain of right now is that being home sucked at first, then sucked a bit more and still sucks a bit now – but I have a home, a family who love me, a bright future and a whole new open perspective on the world because of this experience. No matter how much I struggle living with so much after living without it for 3 months, I appreciate everything that I’ve got that little bit more now. Regardless of how out-of-place I feel while living in the country I have since birth, it is a reminder of how important my time in Nicaragua was to me and how much I have gained from my experience volunteering with Raleigh.

adventure awaits,
Becca xo

Challenge Yourself To Change Your World

…Originally written January 23rd 2017…

If you know me, you’ll know that I recently lived and volunteered in Nicaragua for 3 months and I won’t stop talking about it. If you don’t know me, I guess you’re lucky in some ways because I haven’t bored you with stories yet, but that’s about to change. I experienced so many amazing moments and made so many memories that I just needed somewhere to share them …mostly for my sanity so that all the thoughts in my brain don’t make it explode.

Let’s start at the beginning with how someone like me who has never even been outside Europe ended up living in Central America, in rural Nicaragua for 3 months. I’m a very very indecisive person and of course after graduating last summer had no clue what career path I wanted to take. In all honesty, I just wanted a break from everything, from education, from essays, from dissertation writing, from England. I wanted to go travelling, to escape it all. But that’s a very expensive dream. Somehow I discovered the International Citizen Service (ICS), whether it was from a random email or through an online advert I have no clue, but thank goodness I found it. Only £1500, living abroad for 3 months and gaining experience in development (something I need if I wish to work in International Development in the future). It sounded perfect and so I chose to volunteer with Raleigh International – they were the only organisation on ICS’ list I’d heard of before and they worked in sanitation and hygiene, in Africa, Asia and Central America which seemed like a good fit for me. The interview went well, I got placed on a WASH project in Nicaragua, the training event reaffirmed how perfect it sounded, I managed to fundraise the £1500 in 6 weeks and then I was off to Nicaragua. Madness.

WASH: Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

Before going I really had no idea what I’d be doing other than the obvious fact I’d be taking part in one of Raleigh’s WASH projects in a rural community, living alongside a host family, working with people from the UK, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, working to encourage behavioural change surrounding water uses in the community, sanitation in the household and personal hygiene. In what way we’d be helping I wasn’t sure of at this point.

Week 1 and we’d been placed in our team, Charlie 3, and told where we’d be living for the next 12 weeks, La Sandino near the town of Rio Blanco. In our little Charlie 3 family were our 2 fearless leaders, Mirna (Nicaraguan) and Ali (British), then 1 Nicaraguan, 1 Costa Rican and 7 British volunteers, plus our 2 lovely community volunteers from La Sandino.

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Our goal at the end of the project was to help in building 14 latrines, 1 tippy tap, 1 grey water filter and 1 vegetable garden. Also to host 8 action days, a women’s group, a youth group and visit the local school. Additionally, we also delivered 3 types of training – FECSA (familiy, school and community health), CAPS (La Sandino water committee) and E-WASH (entrepreneurial water, sanitation and hygiene). Alongside the ‘work stuff’ we also hosted fun events such as painting a community mural, pizza nights, quiz night, bonfire night, river visits and 2 movie nights (one successful and one less successful due to lack of electricity). Every activity, day, event, session, etc. designed by us to inform the community and families of La Sandino on various WASH related issues. The amount of leaflets, invitations and posters we made was ridiculous, but all worth it!

No entiendo Español

Nicaragua, Central America, SPANISH speaking. Yep, all capitals because before going I was completely clueless on anything Spanish and was most worried about the problems this language barrier might cause. The only language I knew little to none of was French, thanks to my poor attention span in GCSE lessons, but despite that it actually helped slightly with recognising similar words for the basics such as food. Thankfully I was placed in a host home with our Costa Rican volunteer Maria Paula who was bilingual and could help both me and David (my other roommate and fellow Brit). As hard as us Charlie 3 members who didn’t know Spanish were trying to learn and pick up as much as possible, in the first few weeks it was still tricky. I felt so guilty relying on those who knew Spanish to help me all the time, I remember feeling like such a burden and wishing I could do something to thank those who helped me for the incredible help they gave me (Ali, Mirna, Jen, Katherine – gracias para todo, te amo chicas).

I was trying my hardest and constantly learning more and more each day, but it wasn’t until week 4 when Maria Paula made the decision to leave that my need to speak Spanish rather than just recognise a few words became very important. I had to seriously start absorbing as much as I could, I ended up asking more stupidly basic language related questions than I care to remember. I’m sorry to everyone that had to deal with my terrible accent and pronunciation for so many weeks, I promise to get better. The person who made fun of me the most was my little brother, Osmanny, he just found it funny, especially because he knew much more English than I did of Spanish and he’s only 11! He became my own personal Spanish teacher very quickly, and I in exchange helped him with his English homework and taught him the proper pronunciation (mainly adjusting the American English accent he’d been taught). Through our (not-so) weekly language lessons, Osmanny’s teachings and the extremely hard work of the people who knew Spanish who helped us all, I managed to understand the basics, could talk to my family and hold a short conversation with the Nicaraguan volunteers. If I hadn’t made it my mission to learn as much Spanish as my brain could absorb in 12 weeks I wouldn’t have become so close with my host family, Nicaraguan/Costa Rican volunteers from Charlie 3 and the other teams and I definitely wouldn’t have been able to be as involved in our action days and presentations. Ahora, yo entiendo un poco español y yo soy mucho orgulloso de me!

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Raleigh ICS and Me

I could ramble on and on for hours, maybe even days, about how amazing Nicaragua was and how much I loved everything. But the most important takeaway of it all for me was that it helped me to finally decide on what my next step will be. Ever since I was first considering going to university I knew I wanted to study Geography and then go into International Development, but after a 10,000 word dissertation and too many essays and exams to count I was nowhere near willing to put myself through all that for another year. So I decided to apply for jobs, it didn’t go so well, still isn’t going so well now. But now I’m certain I want to work in International Development, so I need the experience and knowledge that the masters will give me. Working with Raleigh in a developing country 5000+ miles away from home built my confidence up to the stage at which, as hard as the masters may be and as little as I might believe in myself at times, I decided that I was willing to do it (sooner rather than later as well, before I change my mind again).

The bonds I made with people out there and the new family I gained, its all irreplaceable and I will honestly treasure it forever. I couldn’t imagine having spent 12 weeks away from all that was familiar to me with anyone else. To the girls that I shared practically everything with within the first week of knowing you, thank you for letting me be my weird self around you. To my roommate who put up with me every night and listed off every US state and NBA team with me, thank you for dealing with the crazy lunatics with me. To our two fearless team leaders who took care of us for 12 weeks, thank you for always without fail being there whenever I needed a hug (or you needed a hug) and being willing to talk about anything and everything with me, I don’t think I would’ve made it without you both. To my host family, my new mum, little brothers, father, brother, sister and their little baby, thank you for opening your hearts and home to me, for helping me when I was sick, for loving me like I was your own, I am forever grateful. Thank you to everyone who made this experience the most amazing thing I could’ve ever taken part in.

adventure awaits,
Becca xo

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Unabashedly Free

Adventure is her lover.
Experience her teacher.
Her eyes are a map of the world.
She is wild. Unabashedly free.
Born with a heart too big for just one city.
- Danielle Doby, I Am Her Tribe

Have you ever read something that immediately speaks so truly to you? …that makes you wonder how a stranger could put your exact thoughts into words? …words that resonate so deeply with you?

Well, this is what Danielle’s words did for me. They ignited the adventurous spark within me that yearns to travel, that wants to learn from people of different backgrounds and cultures, that wishes to experience the beauty the world has to offer and hopes to fall in love over and over again as I continue to witness life’s magic.

My hope is that this blog will be a place for my adventurous, nerdy, loveably weird, perfectly imperfect self to just write, be myself and let others follow my journey through this rollercoaster we call life. Therefore, it really only seemed fitting to name it ‘Unabashedly Free’, a place for me to just be me… unashamed, unapologetically and honestly me.

So here it goes…

adventure awaits,
Becca xo

P.S. if you want to know more about Danielle Doby and the fierce female tribe of honest, beautyFULL souls she’s gathering you can find her on Instagram as @iamhertribe.