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.