Being in the “good old days”

So it’s been a while and lot’s of things have happened and lots of things have been going through my head.

I think everyone can agree that the world isn’t quite in the best place right now.

I don’t want to sound cliche, but it kills me to see so much hatred coming from beings who were created specifically with the intellectual capacity to love.  (“But Jack, dogs love too, and so do other animals!”)  Fair, but therein lies the difference between instinctual beings (animals) and intellectual beings (humans).   Our capacity to love is something conscious, something sentient.  And for me, when humans directly defy that capacity for good and love and choose evil or hate, it gives me huge grief.

I guess the question is how does one single individual handle all of this that is plaguing society?  The only answer I’ve come to is that you just have to adapt in the moment.  We adapt to having to be a little bit more vigilant in areas that we normally would be lax.  We adapt to situations and the situation the world is in right now is sad and awful but that’s the way it is.  Understanding your current situation is not accepting it, and adapting does not negate the need to change, in fact, it should drive change.  So I add a quote from one of my favorite movies, Se7en, when Morgan Freeman’s character, Detective Somerset, ends the movie by saying, “Ernest Hemingway once wrote, ‘The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.’ I agree with the second part.”  So even when the world is not a fine place, let’s keep fighting for it.

I’ve been blessed to be spending this semester with some absolutely amazing people and was lucky enough to be in extremely good company while the world was, yet again, flipped on its rear end (something that seems to happen far too often).  Thanks to friends and family who reached out to see if I and everyone I was with was safe during the attacks, thankfully I was not in Paris and was on a totally different continent, although being in the city of love just a week before was a major wake up call.

With that being said, and even with everything happening around us, there’s a quote from my favorite show of all time that I fully believe in and would like to share and elaborate a bit on:

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That’s right.  In the final episode of the BEST SHOW EVER CREATED, Andy Bernard (played by Ed Helms) speaks this simple phrase that just kicked my heart right in the proverbial family jewels.  When I first heard it, I paused Netflix, sat back, and with tear in eye, shouted for one of my best buds (who also loves The Office), with something along the lines of “ARE WE IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS?!? I DON’T WANT TO LEAVE THESE GOOD OLD DAYS IF THESE ARE THE GOOD OLD DAYS!!” It was quite the emotional wrecking ball that had just nailed me in the face as you can see.  This quote applies so much to my time at CUA, time abroad, and other adventures.  That moment when I heard this quote, I was in the midst of one of the most amazing years of my life, doing Student Ministry and living in the House with some of my best friends I’ll ever have.  The second time I heard it, I had just finished sophomore year and was sitting on my couch at home during the summer, hoping some more good old days would come along.  The third time I heard it, was about 2 hours ago when I decided to watch the final episode of The Office just for fun.  Which spurred me to realize that I have entered into another phase of the “good old days” and that happens to be in Madrid, Spain.

But how can I POSSIBLY say these are the good old days with all the war, tragedy, and sadness happening????  Because frankly I’m having the time of my life.  I’ve had unforgettable experiences, made some incredible friends, and still have 3 and a half weeks left of this adventure.  I already look back fondly on every trip, every hidden treasure, every extremely successful (or failed) night out, even what occurs within the walls of Colegio Mayor de Guadalupe.  I’m learning about myself, what my strengths and weaknesses are, where I am and where I want to be, the type of people I want to surround myself with.  So let’s keep the good old days coming, and let’s hope the rest of the world catches up and realizes how beautiful life really it.  So while the world may be in turmoil, I’m exploring it.  And I definitely am going to keep the mindset that Detective Somerset wisely noted, it may not be in its finest hour, but the world is a beautiful place and I will keep fighting for it.

Also, in the meantime of being out of the world of blogging, I’ve now reached some pretty insane places in Europe and adding to the list of places the I went, saw, and (kind of?) conquered:

  1. Segovia, Spain
  2. Bilbao and San Sebastián, Spain 
  3. Munich, Germany – OKTOBERFEST
  4. London; Dover; and Canterbury; England
  5. Toledo, Spain
  6. Sevilla, Spain
  7. Chefchaouen, Asilah, and Tangier, Morocco

With a tip to Aranjuez and Chinchon, Spain tomorrow and snowboarding trip to the Sierra Nevada mountains in Granada, Spain next weekend!!

Check out my Facebook page for all the cool pics I take of scenery, objects, buildings, and things.

Much love as always.

 

Being a small fish in a BIG pond

The past three and a half weeks has definitely been the most interesting stretch of three weeks of my life.  To recap, here’s what’s going on with my travel life:

  1. Segovia, Spain
  2. Bilbao and San Sebastián 
  3. Munich, Germany – OKTOBERFEST
  4. London; Dover; and Canterbury; England

And yet to come!!

  1. Toledo, Spain
  2. Round trip of cities in Morroco
  3. Paris, France
  4. Rome, Italy

Ok let’s get down to business.  The last three weeks have been incredible.  I’ve learned that the world is a big place…

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That I can spend 20 euros and rent a surfboard and wet suit and surf at one of the most beautiful beaches in Europe

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That German beer is really, really, good and their traditional clothing is AWESOME (considering I own it now, I’ll be renting out my Lederhosen for Halloween/costume parties starting at $10 per hour)

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That a 6 hour layover alone in Frankfurt isn’t bad when your flight includes a view like that

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That missing a bus to Brussels isn’t actually all that bad

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That you’re cell phone will enter French service zone from the Cliffs of Dover in England

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And that when you and virtually the rest of your program is sick, it’s even more of an excuse to stay out until 3AM…because solidarity, right? Right.

Yeah all of those things are quite great and all is well and awesome, but after traveling widely around Madrid, Spain, and Europe, my mindset has been forced to change and I’ve learned something very important:

I am a small fish in a BIG pond.

All my life I’ve been in bubbles.  The bubble of Chaminade High School, the bubble of Catholic University.  I love my bubbles and I love the people who experience those bubbles with me.  Wherever I’ve been, and not to sound conceited or arrogant, but I’ve always felt like I’ve put myself/ended up in positions of being a big fish in a small pond.  But what I’ve realized is that anybody could be a big fish in a small pond if they want to.  CUA is by nature and number, a small pond (a small pond that I love with all my heart), and there are pros and cons to this.  Pros – the “big fish, small pond” environment provides my peers and I with the opportunities and confidence to feel as if we are important, we are more than a number, and that we are the best versions of ourselves, that our hard work, commitment to ourselves and activities does in fact pay off.  Cons – when a product of this environment (myself and many others) is thrusted into a “small fish, big pond” environment, it slaps one off of that mini pedestal that was given to us and shows us just how many other really great fish there are that do the exact same things we do.

The one response to this dilemma that I’ve been pondering can only be summed up into one action: continual application of the mindset of a big fish is necessary once the realization of small-fishness occurs.  I’m trying really hard to sound really smart about this, so I’m sorry these efforts might be futile.  But yeah, applying the “I’m important, I’m not just a number or nobody” attitude once realizing the world is a big place and you’re just one person is essential to inner growth and pretty much not going insane.  And I was going insane this past week.  That realization made me feel lonely, super homesick, and just missing everybody from my own little bubble over the past few days (and being actually sick did not help that at all).  I think the goal is to just keep those mindsets the same, even though I’ve somehow transplanted into a different pond.  Right now, I’m in a massive pond, knowing 50 people in this entire city, and only a handful more on this continent, and every time I travel, the pond’s shores expand even more.  But when I return to the US and specifically to CUA, I’ll be back in that small, comfy pond, with awesome fish, fish who don’t see me as target practice every time I cross the street on a blinking crosswalk light (I’m sorry, I’m from New York.  That’s my inner disposition. Streets are mine to cross whenever I want and that’s how it will stay).

I guess to close out this random jumbled mess of my own thoughts that I call a “blog,” I’m happy that I’m learning these lessons as I go.  A close friend told me when I was in the process of deciding to go abroad, when I was having doubts about doing so, that going abroad will enrich me in ways and areas of my life that I would never be able to experience in the United States.  He said that there is a new meaning to the term “independence” that we are granted when we leave for college once you study abroad.  He also flat out told me that if I didn’t submit my abroad application, he would’ve done it for me (I did it myself and made the decision all on my own, just for the record).

I’m still loving my time here, and don’t think that’s going to stop anytime soon.  I eat my Starburst every morning to remind me why I’m here and thank God every night for letting me grow with all these enormous opportunities that I’ve had.

Sending love…from a fish still figuring out his size, who actually did go cross an ocean,

Jack

Getting accustomed and being a customer

IS THIS EVEN REAL?

If I was to describe my first 12 days living in Madrid, it could only be done with that one phrase.  The city is incredible and that goes without saying, parks that go on for days; fountains, puertas, and plazas every time you turn a street corner; countless hours exploring different parts of the city recognizable by pictures and those hidden away from the touristy stage of this adventure.  Summing it up, I’m loving it.

I’ve been blessed with a host family that is super fun and hospitable, the friends I’ve made and people I’ve met are all wonderful, and my Spanish is exponentially better after just a few days.  Granted, it takes time to go from English mode to Spanish mode on a daily basis, but getting ye ole mind running en español for a while at a time is a really cool thing.  I am definitely exactly where I belong for this semester (don’t worry concerned reader, as much as I adore it here already, I’m coming home when I need to!)

I wake up at 7:30am and trek about 45 minutes every day to school at my program’s building at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Take the metro 5 stops, transfer at Sol (one of the most densely populated areas of Madrid, including the metro), 5 more stops, exit the metro, walk through a park for 10 minutes.  It’s something I’m not used to because as most of you know, my mantra is wake up 15 minutes before class, roll out of bed, and get to class a fashionably 2 minutes late in sweat pants, tshirt, a backwards hat, and slippers with pop tart or banana in hand.  Yeah that doesn’t happen here…maybe I’ll turn over a new leaf when I return. MAYBE.

Learning so much about Spanish culture just by analyzing what other people do, speaking to bartenders and taxi drivers, professors, program directors, etc.  It’s quite incredible if you just follow the “monkey see monkey do” idiom while out and about in a new place.  Some friends and I have also adopted the “church hopping” idea for Sunday masses, going to a different church each week, because there’s a thousand and one churches in this city and I can’t get enough of them!!!

Also while being accustomed to the Spanish and specifically Madrileño way of life, I’ve definitely become a customer of all that Madrid and Europe has to offer, literally and figuratively.  Literally, planning trips to Munich for Oktoberfest, London and Scotland for a long weekend, Barcelona in October, Morocco in November, and Paris/Rome long weekend in November, not only burns a hole in one’s brain but in one’s pocket as well.  All I know is that it’s a one time experience that no price could limit!! (Or that’s what I keep telling myself.  Please don’t kill my vibe, that means you Mom!!!)  Figuratively, I’ve completely bought into this semester.  At first I was timid, wasn’t myself, felt a little out of place.  Then a few days into this program I bought in and made the leap to put myself out there and immerse myself in the beauty that is this experience.  Hopefully doing that will allow me to enjoy my time here so much more, make lasting friendships, and become a more worldly person!

So here’s that section when I put up pictures and give a brief description of what they are:

IMG_0139 IMG_0173 IMG_0174 - CopyThese were taken on my first night out consisting of (in order) the Plaza de España, El Palacio Real, y Puerta del Sol.

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This one is of the Arco de la Victoria, a monument that was built in 1956 by the Franco dictatorship symbolizing the Nationalist victory in the Spanish Civil War.  I pass it everyday on my way to school…pretty cool huh? Not the Franco part…like the ascetic part.

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These are some pictures from Segovia, a small, old city about an hour outside of Madrid!  We took an excursion here for a day and saw some incredible architectural marvels.  Beautiful day for beautiful city!

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And most importantly…the Santiago Bernabeu.  Quite possibly the biggest dream I had coming here was fulfilled when I walked upon the mecca of my soccer loving life.  What made it more special was the tickets I walked away with to the Real v Granada game this Saturday…WHAT IS LIFE.

So, next in this adventure is the Real Madrid game on Saturday, followed by a weekend in Bilbao and San Sebastian in the north of Spain.  What comes next or in between that is completely up to what Madrid, Spain, and Europe want to throw in front of me!!

Much love from across the pond,

Jack


Taking the leap across the pond

Hey all! I’ve never blogged before, but I’m going to try to while I’m studying abroad because it seems cool and I want to be cool.  But bear with me, this is my first post!

So today is when I finally take the step onto Air Europa flight UX92 from John F. Kennedy International Airport to Barajas International airport in Madrid, Spain…the city I will call “home” for the next 3 months and 6 days.  It’s an exciting new adventure and I can’t wait to begin, but one can only wonder how much Europe has in store for me.

My mind wanders to pictures of friends and family that have traveled and studied abroad, front pages of travel magazines and program brochures, picturesque and beautiful, to stories of outlandish and unbelievable adventures that can only happen with this one experience of a lifetime.  With every trivial or massive expectation I have, I mostly expect my temporary home to change my life.  All my life I have embraced change, I was the only one from middle school who went to Chaminade, one of few who chose to attend CUA, and now one of few who choose to study in Madrid.  But this time, leaving home seems to be much more difficult than the others.

However, I’ve been struggling recently accepting the change, accepting having to leave my home behind.  I’ve built up such a wonderful life here in the states, both on Long Island and in Washington, D.C.  It’s always been difficult for me to say goodbye to people that I love and care about…

I mean how could I go without seeing the beautiful faces of people like this:IMG_0063

Or my brothers who have been through it all:

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The hooligans who keep me sane,

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the love and support of my family,

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My best friends,

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and my rock star,

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It’s not as difficult for me to leave a physical place that I call “home,” but it is so much harder for me to leave the people that are my home.  I had the privilege of spending some time down in DC at CUA for syllabus week and in Baltimore to say goodbye to the people I love the most, and I want to thank all of you for changing my life in so many different ways.  My family, friends, and loved ones will definitely be missed whilst abroad.

I mean, enough with the sappy stuff, “Jack’s a funny guy. Where is the fun in this post????”  It’s coming I promise.  Although I hate leaving so much behind, there is (quite literally) a world of new opportunities that I can’t wait to experience and soak in.  Whether it’s watching my favorite futbol team Real Madrid endless times, experiencing the Madrid nightlife, traveling to Munich, Rome, and wherever Ryanair can take me.  I hope to have a better grasp of the language and culture I’ve studied and love.  I can’t wait for the new friendships and all the people I will encounter.  Father Jude told me not to like snowboard, skydive, bungee jump, etc. because I have a history of those types of decisions leading to injuries but I might just need the prayers because I can’t make any promises (just kidding FJ, even though you probably aren’t reading this, hopefully somebody will tell you I gave you a shout out).  Maybe I’ll jump into a crowd of gypsies and never come back.  Who knows.  The opportunities are endless.

So as I venture across the pond tonight, please know that I can’t wait to get out there and experience the world, and that when I return in 97 days, I will come back with a new sense of appreciation and love for the people and places that matter the most.  And probably a new European hair cut because, come on, let’s be real that’s in the top ten of my things-to- do list.

Let’s hope that Europe can meet me where I’m at, and bring me to where I need and want to be.

Peace and love,

Jack