sea glass and summer travels 

I couldn’t sleep last night. I tossed and turned until I finally decided to roll out of bed, grudgingly put on my hiking boots and drive to the beach. I needed to walk, to think, to breathe. I ended up lost in thought and captivated by the cool wind and the sound of the refreshing waves as they caressed the shoreline.  I felt at peace as I walked along the paved sidewalk along the beach. As I was walking I noticed pieces of sand glass had washed upon the shore. 

As I collected the shimmering pieces of softened glass, I noticed something. I am like that sand glass. I, like all people, am broken. I have experienced tragedy, loss and pain. I am a shattered bottle.. Yet like the sand glass, the broken pieces of my life can be refined. As the waves of life thrust me into the gritty sand, my sharp edges continue to be softened through my experiences.  And, over time, each of the shards of glass in my life have become beautiful pieces of art, each being distinct from one another. 


Though I, like all humans, have experienced sorrow which has taught me to cling to the hope of tomorrow, to embrace the collective love we can share, to acknowledge the beauty within the mysteries within life, to be awe struck by the beauty of nature and most importantly, to be empathetic. All this being said, my walk yesterday was full of reflection and presence. One of the reasons I was unable to sleep yesterday night was because of my excitement for my upcoming summer.

Until June I will be living in Amman, Jordan with my university where I will be studying the peoples and cultures of the Middle East. While there I will be visiting the Dead Sea, Petra, Jesus’ baptism sight, Aqaba, Jerash, Madaba, Wadi Rum, and Mt. Nebo among other significant religious sites. I, along with seventeen other students, will be living in downtown Amman for the duration of this four week program. I am actually the resident advisor for the program, or as I like to call myself the mediator or go-to person for my professor and the other students.  

Other than eating tons of fresh falafel, learning survival Arabic, meeting locals and seeing significant holy sites, I don’t really know what to expect with this trip. Though I have traveled through Central America, Europe and detoured into Morocco for a bit, I do not  have experience with a Middle Eastern country. I am entering this trip with little to no expectations and with an open mind. 

Following my time in Jordan, I will fly directly to India where I am meeting one of my close friends, Pauline, with whom I am doing a yoga certification program in the world capital of yoga, Rishikesh. I have dreamed of traveling to India since I was a child. Mother Teresa has always been a key mentor in my life, which has contributed to India’s special place in my heart. In addition to this, my brother Tony traveled to India when he was in college, which has always inspired me to travel to the complex and incredible country myself. 

After spending six weeks in the yoga certification program, I will fly to Kolkata where I will volunteer with the sisters of charity until August. I hope my experience working with sisters of charity will open my heart and mind. We are all impoverished but some of us have impoverished hearts while others experience the devastation of physical poverty. 

I want to experience the poverty that many of my brothers and sisters face. I believe that I cannot possibly work towards fixing a problem unless I have seen it and experienced it. That being said, I hope that my proximal experience with physical poverty this summer will help me work towards empowering others to acknowledge and move forward from their depravity, whether that be spiritual or physical.  In reality, I am sure I will see that I am more impoverished than many of those that I will meet.  I look forward to learning about joy , love and what it means to live, from all those I encounter during this adventure. 

Following my work with the pious religious order, I tenitively fly back to Los Angeles and hopefully, be able to stop by Chicago area to visit my family before I begin my senior year. My summer plans are, though the tickets have been bought and the programs paid for, rather tentative. If I learned anything from my time on the Camino and from my other previous travels, I do anticipate that my plans will change.  

Like my other experiences, I know that this summer will refine me and hopefully soften my edges and help me to become a more compassionate, empathetic individual. Though I do not know what the future holds, I know that we need more compassionate, empathetic people in every occupation.

I know many of you are probably wondering why I am traveling and why I am not staying in the United States and working domestically.  Here are a few reasons.  First, I am an International Studies/political studies major and I have a passion for travel, to understand different religions, cultures and worldviews. Second, I am willing to make sacrifices to travel. Like not eating out at restruants and sticking to eating the basics, like apples and bananas, so that I can save my earned money for travel.  Another reason is that I do not want to desensitize myself to the reality of the world I live in.  So, when given an opportunity to see new parts of the world or live as others do, I will run with it.  

Thankfully, my parents and my family have supported me through much prayer, among other things, during my previous travels and adventures. My parents know that I am like a free bird and that I have a thirst for knowledge and experience.  They also know I have an end goal of promoting justice and working to promote human rights in some capacity in the future, and these experiences are part of my journey towards such work.  Though my dreams may sound audacious, I once thought my dream of traveling the world was rather improbable yet here I am about to begin another journey.  

I did, for those of you that remember my blog as CollegeWorldTraveler.com, decide to change my blog domain to JourneyAlong.me. I did this because I am captivated by the thought that we are each on a uniquely distinct journey. Whether your journey is composed of travel, raising a family or a nine-to-five job, we are all pilgrims just trekking our way through this beautiful and mysterious life. 

 So, if you so desire, I invite you to journey with me this summer as I travel through Jordan and India. Throughout my travels I will continue, as time and wifi permits, to share my thoughts and photographs with you. Many blessings to each of you.
Stay true, live justly and always travel on.  
Peace and Love.  

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yosemite in the snow

We live in a paradoxical world. Despite the heartache, the suffering and the tragic events that occur in this world, there still exist places of pure serenity and peace. Yosemite is one of those places. Yosemite is a true heaven that exists on this earth with her vast beautiful valley, majestic falls, granite mountains, rock formations, flowing waters, and ancient pine and sequoia trees.  For my 21st birthday I could think of no other place I’d rather be. So, following my finals my dear friend Ashley and I headed up north to embark on a spontaneous journey to Yosemite.

Our road trip was filled with long talks about life, God, philosophy, meaning and beauty. I cannot express my gratitude to have a friend like Ashley; I not only view her as a kindred spirit, but also as a sister. To have a friend that I can share thoughts, beliefs, doubts, questions and struggles with is an immeasurable gift.

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After a long drive filled with Sufjan Stevens and sweet conversations, we were greeted by chilly winds and fresh mountain air as we exited Ashley’s black pathfinder. On the first night of our journey we stayed with Ashley’s sweet grandmother, who lives around 45 minutes outside of the park. Ashley’s grandmother’s home is simple and heated by a single wood-burning stove. The moments of calm spent in her home were precious. Ashley and I awoke to a prepared breakfast and breathtaking scenic views that surrounded the quaint home. I enjoyed looking through the old photographs and art pieces that are on display throughout the home. After lots of hugs and thanksgiving, Ashley and I set out for Yosemite.  

Upon entering the park, my heart began to race as the misty, scenic views began to surround the car. The exquisite beauty of the park muted the faint hum of Ben Howard’s song “Old Pine” which quickly became the theme song of our trip.   After making it to the valley, we headed to the upper pines campsite, where we set up camp in the snow. We then headed out on our first hike towards Mirror Lake.

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Mirror Lake is stunning, with her vivid reflections and beautiful valley views, it sparked many thoughts. I thought about the fact that many of us, throughout our lives, may marvel at the reflections that we encounter yet fail to acknowledge the reality of the actual views before us.   Moreover, reflections though they are incredible, are missing the depth and the radiant hues of reality. What we perceive in this world is a reflection of reality, yet I know that each of us sometimes believe that our own perceptions are reality, but we must not confuse the reflections and the realities  that exist in our lives.

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After the hike, Ashley and I headed over to the Yosemite Village General Store, where I bought my first alcoholic beverage (in the U.S.) as a 21 year old: a small bottle of moscato rose sparkling wine. We also bought packets of Indian food, which we happily enjoyed sitting around the campfire (which we built ourselves, I may add). It was a perfect birthday, thanks not only to Yosemite but also to my true friend, Ashley. We spent the remainder of the night stargazing, listening the crackle of the fire, and enjoying each other’s company.

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 The following morning we set out for the upper falls trail. The hike was incredible. It took about six hours round trip and led to the highest waterfall in North America. At the start of the hike there was a light rain that greeted us, which made the trail a bit slippery. As we trekked onwards, snowfall began, and at one point we were walking through calf-deep snow. Though our feet quickly became numb, our frigid bodies were thawed and warmed by the breathtaking views that we encountered.
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The views of the valley, of the granite rock formations, of half dome, of the mist-covered pine trees, each brought me peace and a sense of comfort and connection. A connection to the earth and her endless beauty. Though I felt somewhat small in comparison to the stunning views that surrounded me, I felt more significant than ever. Breath by breath, step-by-step, snowflake after snowflake, every moment, every snow-covered pine tree passed and gorgeous view that stood before us, refreshed and revived my spirit and reminded me of what true freedom feels like.

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At the top of the peak Ashley and I made a little snowman.

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We used goji berries for the eyes and a cashew for the smile (though it fell off). As we were making the snowman, the sun’s rays broke through the mist-filled sky and reflected her brilliant light onto the mountains. This added a shimmery glow to the already magnificent views. Of course no photograph could ever capture the presence and the beauty of that moment. There is something so special about our experiences in life… The best things in life cannot be captured.

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On our third and final day in Yosemite, Ashley and I trekked up to Vernal Falls. Though the trail was technically closed due to the massive foot long icicles and the ice-covered trails, we, like any true adventurers, ignored the signs and hiked to the waterfall.

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This particular hike was a prayer and meditative hike. We walked, prayed silently and reflected on 1 Corinthians 14:33: “For God is not a God of confusion, but of peace.”   During that hike, as I repeated and declared that verse over my thoughts, my steps and myself, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace. The God of all peoples is greater than religion, is greater than our individual circumstances and our doubts, God is a God for everyone and God is a God of peace. 

IMG_7223IMG_7161SAMSUNG CSCIMG_1002I would naturally compare confusion, not with peace, but with clarity. However Paul, in 1 Corinthians compares confusion with peace. While we may think that adhering to a certain faith tradition or religion may bring us clarity, the verse does not say that. It says that God is a God of peace but peace does not necessarily mean clarity. Sometimes I feel as though we chase after the wrong things, we look for clarity in a confusing world rather than peace in a universal God. So, as we face our confusion and our doubts let us find peace in a God that is greater than our confusion. I will never have anything truly figured out and I will always have doubts, though I am working through them, but let us all find hope in a universal and great God who is a God of peace in a world of confusion.

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My trip to Yosemite was refreshing and revitalizing. I hope and pray that each of you have a year of peace, take a hike every so often and take the time to reground yourselves to this beautiful earth of ours. From one pilgrim to another: we are all on a journey, though my journey may be different than yours, each is unique and beautiful and is a mere twinkle of light in this vast universe. We must constantly remind ourselves of our own vitality and connection to this earth as we move through the motions of everyday life.

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We must take quiet moments of reflection and look for the sweet, simple joys that are present within each of our lives. We are finite beings. We are here then we are gone. But, our joy, our love, and our peace that we share with this world can live forever through those we impact. I pray that each of you would take the time to experience life without fear, that you would find your places of sweet freedom, like I have found in nature and like I did in Yosemite. Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.

A trip to New York City

With her bright city lights, energy, crowds, food, and symbolism, New York City is a destination for tourists and Americans alike. So, after living in Europe for nine months and traveling a bit, I thought it was time I visited the place where it all started—literally my family arrived in America via Ellis Island in 1902—and pay the iconic city a visit. Conveniently, my younger sister Mariana decided to enroll in a pre-college program in NYC this summer, which provided me with an excuse to pay the city a visit. So, in early July my mom, dad, two sisters, my niece, nephew and I headed to the city that never sleeps.

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Time with family, especially fourteen-hour car drives, is unique and special in a few ways. In fact, when reminiscing childhood vacations, the memories that occur in the car on the way to our destination are often the ones that stick. Why is that? Well, drive across country with over ten people in the car and you will find out! Our road trip was not so bad though, even with a two and a half year old and a baby. Surprisingly, they were the least of our worries.  With heated political and religious conversations, children’s songs, prayers, and bantering, there was a lot of chaos! Amongst the disorder of it all, there was still a sense of peace and relaxation, one that only a road tripping family can possibly understand.

Before our time in NYC, we stopped in Washington DC to visit my family. While in DC, we visited Georgetown Cupcakes (they have yummy vegan options), the Smithsonian and the National Mall.  At the Natural History museum there was an incredible Iceland exhibit.  It made me want to visit the country!

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After a few days in DC, we headed to New York City, leaving my older sister and her two children behind for obvious reasons. My aunt and uncle came along for the city visit, which was great. We stayed at an Airbnb in Bushwick, in an area that turned out to be undergoing re-gentrification, which was an adventure in itself!  Staying near Brooklyn was great, as I loved window-shopping, farmers market going, and people watching. Brooklyn is an absolutely wonderful area, it feels urban yet eclectic and whimsical. I loved the vegan restaurants, jewelry shops, street art, flowers, and its overall energy.

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Brooklyn StreetsWe visited all the main sites in NYC, the Statue of Liberty, Central Park, Greenwich Village, Union Square, 9/11 Memorial, and Times Square (among others).

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After feeling a bit claustrophobic in the busy city, Central Park was a wonderful stop. While in Central Park, we happened to run into a celebrity! Her name is Roxie and she is an adorable little Yorkie (search “Roxie in the City” on Facebook).

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Roxie in the City!

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We were also able to see both my cousin (who works in Manhattan) and distant Puerto Rican relatives. Sitting around the dinner table and enjoying the company of family and friends is something I will always cherish.

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One of my favorite memories from our trip was surprisingly in Times Square, not because I liked Times Square, but rather, I enjoyed my father’s reaction to the famous New York icon. Right as entered Times Square my father, with his socks, sandals, and baseball cap walked around excitedly and said, “Well…Time to check this one off the bucket list, now I just need a pretzel with cheese…” He then proceeded to buy a pretzel and walk aimlessly through the crowds of people as he stared up at the bright lights and advertisements. I, of course, did nothing but laugh and follow him, watching his reactions, enjoying every moment of it! It’s moments like those that I will always remember.  So, I made it to New York City. No, I did not eat a hot dog (I’m vegan) or even buy a “I heart NYC” t-shirt, but I did have a wonderful time with my family and I made memories that I will always treasure.

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Stay true, live justly, and always travel one. Peace and love.

A pilgrim’s heart: one year post Camino

Everybody has their own path, their own story, their own way. Amongst the business of life, the excitement of politics, the stress caused by work, and the seemingly mundane moments, we are all trekking our way through life. Each moment passing as the next precedes it. Each word acknowledged as the next is spoken. Sometimes, I fear that we forget we each are on a journey. I fear we forget that life is an adventure.  Mostly, I fear we are all going along with the motions of life; we are merely existing, instead of living.  What does life look like when we’re living anyways?  For me, it looks a lot like the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. SAMSUNG CSC Imagine yourself stripped of your job, school, political and religious ideologies, material belongings, culture, and all the convenience of comfort. Now, imagine living your life questioning every aspect of your existence, envision yourself actually thinking. Yes, thinking.  Thinking without the constant influence of society and media invading your every thought. Thinking not only about work, but also about the inner workings of your being, your very existence. Imagine yourself living out of a backpack for 38 days, with no set place to lie your head at night, a mere wanderer. Now imagine living an adventurous life every day and letting go of all you once were and instead, embracing who you are to become. IMG_0780Why am I asking you to imagine such things you may wonder? I am asking you to do such things because I fear no one else is. I am asking you because those were the things that I experienced and learned to ask myself while on the Camino de Santiago. Today marks my one-year Camino anniversary, as I completed the Camino de Santiago on July 25, 2014.  Yet, today truly represents something more than my arrival in Santiago one year ago. Instead, today is the one-year mark on my new beginning.  A new beginning where I began to strive to live each day as if I were still on the Camino.  Why?  Because I am. Though I may not be following a dirt covered trail surrounded by beautiful vineyards and rolling hills, I am on my Camino.  I am on my way to an unknown destination. SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC The Camino represents our life journey. A 520-mile journey that is plagued by times both good and bad, by friendships both lasting and fleeting, and by moments both remembered and forgotten. Though the Camino was only a five-week experience, it was a life changing and eye opening one.  I choose to take the lessons I learned on the Camino and apply them to every facet of my life. I search for and follow the yellow arrows placed before me, both literal and figurative.  I often carry a scallop shell in my purse wherever I go.  The scallop shell, a symbol of the Camino, serves the purpose of reminding me though I may not be on my way to Santiago on the trail, I am on my way to Santiago in my heart. For, I have adopted a pilgrim’s heart. Camino wild flowers IMG_0865This year, alike with the Camino, had her moments of pure bliss and moments of heartache. But, when I step back and see things as I should, moment-by-moment and step-by-step, then my heart is soothed, my mind is cleared, and I begin to live. I will always choose to stop and smell the flowers; I refuse to live a conventional, lukewarm life. I will continue to smile and say a quick “hello” to strangers.  I will cling to the beauty of community and the excitement found in a new friendship.  I will listen to the stories of others without making rash judgments based upon their surface level, external characteristics.  I will always hold onto the freedom that a life characterized by simplicity yields. I will continue to hold a part of the Camino in my heart.  As I head into my junior year in college, I will continue to question, think, and take my time to reflect upon my actions.  I will not fail to remember who I am and who we all are: unique human beings who possess the ability to love others and live in harmony and peace with all living things. I hope you are enjoying your way, your journey, and this very day. I hope that you too will choose to live rather than to merely exist. And finally, I hope that during your journey, despite the hardships you will (and do) inevitably face, you will see beauty in the simple and the mundane moments taking each as they are: a gift that will bring us one step closer to our final destination. Buen Camino pilgrims! SAMSUNG CSC My sweet travel group On the Camino SAMSUNG CSC Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and Love.

Goodbye Firenze, hello Malibu, and a new chapter at home

Sometimes saying goodbye is difficult.  Sometimes saying hello and moving forward is challenging.  Sometimes, however, when the time is right the hellos and goodbyes don’t seem too bad. It has been exactly one month today since I said goodbye to Florence. I said goodbye to Europe, to my study abroad experience, and to my new found “home” on April 15. It is hard to believe that was already one month ago. Saying goodbye was not too difficult since I saw more than I ever thought I would and I grew and matured in ways I am extremely grateful for.

Many people, during our final week in Italy, rushed around the city and seemed stressed with the pressure to see and to taste the things they had previously hoped to taste and see while in Italy.  I, however, after eight months of travel and study, relaxed and did not become too preoccupied with what I did not do while abroad, but instead I marveled at everything I was able to do while abroad. Because, when I look back to my time abroad, I am thankful and fulfilled.  I was able to travel to Italy, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Hungary, England, Germany, Austria, The Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Belgium, Spain, Ireland, Morocco, Greece and Vatican City. I saw the islands Sardinia, Sicily, Santorini, Burano and Murano, among others. I was able to visit over 100 cities; yes 100, I counted if you don’t believe me. I hiked the Alps in Switzerland and Italy, road tripped in Tuscany, walked over the Pyrenees in Spain and I have memories that I cherish dearly which will last me a lifetime.  I’d say my year has definitely been a memorable one. I am excited to see where life takes me next. Even though it has been one month since I returned home, I do not think I have fully processed my journey yet. The beginning of my time in Italy was actually quite difficult since as my time in Italy began, I was still trying to process my journey on the Camino de Santiago. I have too many thoughts to think about and ponder at the moment. But, it is my hope that my journey will help me to relate to and understand others in a more impactful way in the future.

Some of my highlights include the quiet freedom I felt when hiking the dolomites, seeing the Tuscan countryside and taking in the beauty of multi-colored houses in Cinque Terre.  I will always treaure the time I spent with my Italian relatives as well; I got to spend Christmas and Easter with them and go hiking, caving, and visit thermal springs with my family as well.  Other precious moments include embracing the beauty of new cultures and customs, meeting the smiling people of Ireland, hearing the call to prayer and walking through the souks in Morocco.  A more difficult yet impactful memory was when I visited the Dachau concentration camp and felt the pain and suffering that once occurred there while I attempted to fathom the plight that the Jews once faced in Nazi Germany.  Other moments I will never forget: seeing Papa Francisco twice and watching the sunset in Santorini and Sardenia. Those are only a few moments that come to mind when I recall the past nine months of my life, but there are many more, too many more stories waiting to be told.  One thing I am extremely grateful for is that this year I learned the importance of presence and of experiencing moments to their fullest.  I learned to take life less seriously, to laugh at my rediculious tendencies, to value true friendship and relatonships.  Most importantly, I learned to love others in a deeper way.

Some pictures from my highlighted moments:

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During our final week in Florence, we had a final banquet. The Gala was held at the top of a beautiful hotel that overlooked the Duomo, I have pictures to share below!

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Here are a few photos of my Italian friends and sweet Antonella (a Florentine resident who I worked with regularly who has downs syndrome). Sweet ones Sweet Antonella Italian friends My Italian friend

The Gala was one of the final dinners we shared all together and a time we were all able to honor the teachers and talk about the year. At the end of the banquet, I read a poem that I wrote about our time we spent together in Florence. It is simple, but I will share it with you all below.

 In September we came

Feeling excited and a bit afraid

A new country, a new place

A new chapter up ahead

Strangers we all were

Surrounded by the unknown

We walked into a building

That we would soon call our home

The excitement and thrill

Uncontrollable and intense

But soon reality set in

And life seemed to change on a whim

Firenze, we never knew

The challenges we would face

The happy moments and the tears

The facing of our fears

It felt hard, it seemed impossible

But we soon did adjust

We traveled, we experienced

We began to see the world

We found our little niches

Our sweet places of freedom

We cherished new friendships

And grew in unexplainable ways

Winter break soon ended

A new semester, a new start

New faces and new transitions

Welcoming in nine new additions

We set out for semester two

Some excited others blue

Others didn’t quite know what to do

But we all did learn a lesson or two

We traveled to find

What we needed was here all along

A community full of laughter

And a household of love

Now we sit here together

Only seven days left

Where did time take us?

We think and reflect

Emotions are now flowing

The reality has not yet set in

Yet now the goodbyes soon must begin

We say goodbye to

the pizza, the pasta, the Duomo

The gelato, the palazzos,

The statues and fine art

Goodbye to the Italians,

To Viale Milton

Goodbye most of all,

To who we once were before our journey had begun

Firenze how you would change us

Was unclear from the start

But we leave here with memories

Thanks to the city of the arts

We soon will enter our homeland

But before we depart,

Goodbye sweet Firenze,

You’re forever in our hearts

As a house, we left a gift for the future students who will be studying in Florence. We decided to leave a “yearbook page” meaning that the house would come up with a superlative for each of us, which would be placed by an individual photo of our choice and a quote. I was so honored because the superlative that was given to me was “most likely to save the world.” I don’t think I deserve this superlative, but I am more than honored that my peers gave me such an honorable title. In reality, I know I will never be able to change the world. All I hope to do is to love everyone and allow God to work through me, for change only comes from God. I feel as though I have been given so much and I often wonder, “Why me?” None of us will ever discover the answer to the question “Why us?”  I think the question that I will begin to ask myself is “How can I use the gifts and the experiences I have been given to help others?”  Maybe that is the question we should constantly ask ourselves. Matthew 10:8 says, “Freely you have received; freely give” I hope to model my life after this. I hope to give to those who have nothing, I want to share the love I have been given with the voiceless and the broken hearted. It is not a command that I have to do this, but instead a burning desire within my heart, one I have possessed ever since I was a child. Whether it is through spreading cultural awareness and acceptence, contributing to the world in using strong intercultural communication skills, or helping a child who is suffering. I hope that whatever I do, I will do it for the good of others and mostly; I will do it out of love.

After my time in Florence, I flew directly to Malibu. I stayed on campus with my dear friend Jennifer for a few days. Being back at the Malibu campus was refreshing. I was able to spend a good deal everyday at the beach, have a sunrise devotional, catch up with some great friends, visit my favorite acai juice bar Sunlife Organics, volunteer in the projects in downtown LA and even go to the campus ministry formal. I have a few pictures below from my time in Malibu.

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When I arrived home, it felt like a dream. I was tired, jet lagged, excited, and my mind was overloaded. While abroad, though I did not blog about this (I will explain more in future posts), I was actually ill. Even though I did travel throughout Europe, I suffered from various health problems throughout my journey and visited various Italian health physicians. Though I had originally planned on interning in Washington DC this summer with Pepperdine, I had to withdraw from the program in order to heal. So, this summer will be one full of relaxation and healing which is a stark contrast to my last nine months abroad. Since home I have been eating a raw, vegan diet (I have been vegetarian for 12 years, vegan for 4), doing yoga regularly, reading, spending time with family, and relaxing outside. It has seemed almost like a relaxation retreat. I have also been filling out various scholarships and other applications as well. What’s next? Well, as of now this summer will be one of healing but I am volunteering at a weeklong foster kids’ camp in June and will be hopefully traveling to Puerto Rico and backpacking (if my health allows) as well. I was just accepted into a Jewish Studies Scholarship Program, which will sponsor an internship in Israel next summer (or the following one), which I am excited about. I get excited thinking about living in the Middle East, I cannot wait, but until then I will continue to rest and hopefully my body will be healed soon. I will be posting regularly throughout the summer despite the fact that I will not be abroad, so keep your eyes open! Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.

tanti auguri di buona pasqua

Easter is a beautiful holiday, I’m sure each of us have memories from this special day.  Memories from Easter bunnies and baskets to sweet treats and good eats, but, I’m sure that most of the special memories we have during holidays are thanks to those we were with.  Family is what makes easter such a treasured day.  This Easter was quite different for me; there weren’t even any Easter baskets or jellybeans.  But, Easter was a special day, because I got to spend it with my dear family in Northern Italy.  This year just so happened to be on the weekend two weeks before finals, meaning the week following my Easter getaway was jam packed with projects, papers, various presentations.  That, however, did not stop me.  I left for Gallarate on the morning of Good Friday and returned to Florence on Tuesday morning just in time for my 10:00am class.  The four days I spent with my family were days smothered in love and tradition, and I cherished every moment I was given. 

Rather than giving a low down of my itinerary, I am going to share with you a few of my favorite, most treasured moments from my final travel weekend with my family.  One thing I really enjoy about the Italian culture, as I have mentioned before, is their emphasis on the importance of a family meal.  How special it is to make and enjoy a meal together, especially around the holidays.  I shared my secret bread recipe with them and made both rolls and monkey bread for my family with the help of Umberto.  It was a special American treat that they certainly enjoyed!  Another highlight was attending mass on Good Friday and Easter with my family.  The priest at the Easter mass spoke about the importance of peace and love, specifically that which can be seen through the eyes of a child. It was such a lovely talk. 

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My family planned three different hikes that we did together. One was a gorgeous hike to beautiful white marble waterfalls and scenic views.  After the waterfall hike I took with my family on Easter Saturday we stopped by a beautiful indoor and outdoor thermal spring spa.  It was relaxing, detoxing, and revitalizing!  It was much cleaner than the springs in Saturnia since it was a spa, but it was absolutely refreshing! 

Beautiful waterfalls Family time Amazed at the sight Rock formations Beautiful waterfall

On Easter, we took a little trip to Switzerland to see and hike around incredible ancient rock formations.  Unfortunately, during our hike in Switzerland sweet little Umberto, my dear cousin, slipped and fell, breaking his arm when we were playing tag in the forest. He was quite excited about breaking his arm and getting a cast, so I did not feel too bad!

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All of the hikes were especially fun, but one of the things that I cherish most about hiking with my family was the fact that every one participated, from 11 year old Umberto to 78 year old Caesare.  Being together in my favorite place (nature) was something I will cherish forever.  And, getting to participate in that tradition of Pasquetta, or Easter Monday, was special too.  It is a cultural tradition for Italians to go outside and hike or embark on a little pilgrimage on the Monday following Easter.  And, we did just that.  The Pilgrimage to San Pietro al Monte Pedale was so gorgeous we even picnicked during our hike!  Afterwards, we stopped by Lake Como afterwards and my dad (through the magic of credit cards) treated all of us to pizza.  It is those moments I cherish most, those moments all around the dinner table, where everything seems simply perfect since we are all together, united with love. 

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What was so special about this trip was the closeness I felt with my family.  On my first two visits with my family, the foundation of our relationship was built but on this trip, my third and final visit with them, our relationship gained depth.  We spoke about philosophy (in Italian), live, meaning, and God.  I shared my dreams, hopes and aspirations with them and they did the same with me.  My family in Italy has stolen apart of my heart and I cannot wait to unite with them again sometime soon.  Until then, I will continue to treasure the moments I have already had with them and I will open my heart up for whatever God has in store for me for the next chapter of my life.  Stay true, live justly, and always travel on.  Peace and Love.  

a very tuscan road trip

 When you think of the Italian culture, what do you think of?  A society defined by tradition and their significant history?  A collectivistic culture centered around family and the dinner table?  Well, those are all things I thought of prior to my life in Florence.  Though the Florentine culture does not particularly seem to be characterized by any of these ideas, the small villages and more southern regions of Italy certainly are.

The rural and more southern villages of Italy have not only a more corrupt government system than the North, the south also contains more poverty.  However, in contrast to what one would expect, from my observations I noticed that the people in the south seemed to be more family oriented, open, welcoming, and happy.  How did I discover this?  By visiting seven villages throughout the regions of southern Tuscany and Umbria over the course of a two-day road trip!

  

During my time in living in Italy, I had always dreamed of going on a road trip through the Tuscan countryside and traveling from city to city just embracing the Italian culture first had.  Myself and four of my dear friends decided to rent a car and embark on this adventure during one of our last travel weekends in Italy.  We set out on a Friday morning and returned by Saturday evening, but we were able to stop at six cities including the most “perfect” Renaissance city, a city known for her healing waters, a city with my own name, Amelia, and we even stopped by Narnia as well (The Chronicles of Narnia are by far my favorite children’s novels).   

    

The cities we stopped through were Montepulciano, Pienza, Amelia, Narni, Lago di Bolsena (Marta), Saturnia, and finally Pitigliano before we headed back to Florence.  The drive through the Tuscan countryside was a dream, an incredible dream.  And, the farther south we traveled the more smiles and “ciaos” we received and the more warmth and love we felt.  These gorgeous cities were nestled amongst the rolling hills of Tuscany and Umbria and are stoned, Medieval villages, each with their own unique history.  Montepulciano, the first city we stopped through was actually a city during the filming of Twilight Saga’s New Moon, little did we know.  Walking through the city was incredible, seeing the gorgeous views of the campagna (countryside) and walking through the sweet streets was very special.  

  

The next city we stopped through was Pienza.  Pienza is known as the  “ideal” Medieval city and it is known as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The entire neighboring valley is also one of UNESCO’s World Cultural Landscapes as well.  This city is characterized by the symmetries and architectural idealism of the Renaissance.  The city was actually rebuilt from a village called Corsignano, as was commanded by Pope Pius II in 1459, since he desired his place of birth to be transformed into an ideal Renaissance city.  Pope Pius II was successful in his wish and Pienza is visited by thousands of meager tourists every year.  While visiting this gorgeous city we stopped for lunch at an adorable restaurant and enjoyed a delicious meal.
  

After our time in Pienza, we headed towards the beautiful hillside city in Umbria called Amelia.  We were able to catch a glimpse of a gorgeous pink sunset from the top of this city.  While walking through the city that was seemingly empty, we met an incredible local woman whom was friendly and we talked with her for over 20 minutes.  It’s moments like that that really reminded me the true essence and beauty of the Italian culture.  Seeing Amelia was special to me since my father always ranted and raved about the beautiful Italian village that shares my name with me. 

After visiting the sweet city, we slept in our parked car in the parking lot at the bottom of the city.  Sleeping in the car was an adventure and it was convenient, I figured, why not make the car double as a hotel too?                   On Saturday morning we headed to Narni, which is a city about 20 minutes outside of Amelia.  Narni is a magical small Umbrian village, fun fact: in Latin Narnia is the name for Narni, so my childhood dreams did finally come true!  Narni was gorgeous, overlooks snow covered mountains, has a wonderful atmosphere and a gorgeous castle. After rummaging through a sweet open air market in Narni, we headed towards Saturnia to do as the Romans did and bathe in some natural healing waters. 

  

On the way to Saturnia we passed a beautiful lake, which I insisted we stop at, and that we did. While there, I met the sweetest group of older men who were walking along the lake. They were kind, friendly and even hugged me! You can’t find that in Northern Italy! While looking out at the glistening waters, I was reminded that it’s the moments of pure bliss and joyful living that make all the dull, dreary moments bearable and livable. While standing in front of the vivacious lake, I took in the beauty and I embraced that present moment. I became fully present and alive while staring out at that lake. That moment made my past seem unimportant and my future unthinkable. It made me remember what living really feels like. You see, most of the time we just exist, we go through the motions, we press on, all without truly living. It’s the moments of life, it’s the moments where we are actually present. Those seconds, those vivid occurrences make all else seem okay. I have learned to carry those moments with me since they remind me of the peace that can be found within life’s constant beauty.

 

Ever since coming to Florence, I had hoped to travel to Saturnia and visit the thermal baths. One thing that did surprise me, on the way to Saturnia and actually throughout my entire Tuscan road trip, the countryside was filled with natural, thermal springs! On arriving to Saturnia I was pleased to find that the springs were crowded, but not with tourists, instead with locals. It felt like such a cultural experience, bathing in thermal baths with other Italians in this remote village.

  

The water was definitely natural and organic as there were little worms in the water. This didn’t phase me but some of my friends left when they noticed the little worm friends in the water! After the springs, we all definitely smelt of sulfur, but we didn’t let that stop us!  We then headed to Pitigliano. This city was similar to the others we saw, but a bit more artsy. Walking through this city at dusk was epic.  I was surprised to find that many of the shops were adorable vintage and resale stores.  After some window shopping, we found a cute cafe where we sipped on hot chocolate and played cards. It was a wonderful night and a perfect finish to our adventurous weekend.   My last week in Florence was pretty hectic but reminiscing on the peaceful moments from this trip pulled me through until the next weekend of fun.

Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.

running into papa francesco

Italy is a place of wonders and a country of immeasurable beauty.  On one of my final trips I visited Pompeii, Naples, and Capri and ran into the pope along the way!  My trip began early on a Friday morning as me and various other students headed out to the train station for a Pepperdine sponsored trip to Pompeii.  We trained to Naples then took a bus to the ancient ruined city.  We visited both Pompeii and Herculaneum, two ancient cities that were destroyed by the deadly flow of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD.        Walking through these two ancient cities was strange, moving, and also humbling.  To see the thousands of empty homes and to imagine the fear the citizens felt during the eruption of the volcano was overwhelming.  How humbling it was to imaginr the thousands of nameless lives that were lost in these cities, the thousands of unknown faces that once walked through the city, the city that individuals visit out of mere fascination today.  One day we too will be dust, we too will be forgotten, just like the individuals in Pompeii, since all life is fleeting.  But, what we stand for and the good we represent, the love we share, that, even when all is long gone, will still remain.

After Pompeii, myself and four other friends stayed the night in Naples.  We stayed in a beautiful Airbnb that was in a wonderful area of the city.  While walking through the city, we quickly discovered the Pope would be doing a procession on the very next day!  However, we had already planned to ferry to the beautiful island of Capri for that day. So, I did not think I would get to see the Pope while in Naples, but I will address this later. While in Naples,we went to the world famous, family owned pizzeria called Sorbillo, which many locals had suggested to us.  If you are traveling to Pompeii, I would highly suggest a visit.      All day on Saturday we spent on the beautiful Island known for her crystal clear water and sweet lemon cello, Capri.  While there, we took a gorgeous boat tour around the island and visited the green grotto, white grotto, and the coral grotto.  The island was absolutely stunning, though the weather was cold, windy and unfavorable, this did not diminish Capri’s natural beauty.       

  

  

   After visiting Capri we headed back to Naples to catch our train back to Florence.  On the walk to the station, we ran into a large crowd and within minutes the pope came by on the pope mobile!     Seeing the pope was so great but,what was greater was seeing all of the individuals who came to see the pope, a man who stand for so much peace and so much love.  The fact that crowds were drawn to see a man who represents God’s light in this world of darkness, is a miracle. Moreover, it’s a sign that there is hope amongst the brokenness of the world. Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.  

morocco, a taste of a new culture 

My fellow bloggers, I am sorry It seems like I have yet again abandoned you.  With the end of the school year, finals and lots of goodbyes, my blog did not make the cut for one of my top priorities. This was since I knew I could catch up on blogging once I returned home but I could not visit the duomo or talk with Italians on the daily when I would return home, so the duomo and the Italians became my priority prior to my departure.  The wait is over though, as I am now home.  I arrived back home about one week ago which I will talk about in future posts. For now, I will talk about my trip to Morocco.  

  

Africa has always been a place I have hoped to travel to.  I know I have said this in almost every post thus far, but this is different.  Growing up in a western culture, I have been sheltered from other cultures, especially cultures that are not influenced by Christianity.  Seeing this new culture was both incredible and shocking.  But, did I love it?  Of course.  I hope to return again someday.   

  

It may sound crazy, but not only did I go to Africa, I went for less than 40 hours.  How did this happen?  Well, due to strange flight schedules since it is not peak tourist season, not many flights go between Florence and Africa.  But, this is besides the point. When you think “Morocco” what comes to mind?  Coming into this trip, I did not really know what to expect with Morocco or with this Islamic country.   But, as you will soon discover, I found Morocco to be a vibrant, interesting city, with many caring individuals.  No I cannot speak Arabic or French, so communication was not easy, but some people did know English which helped substantially.

  

You may also question, is Morocco safe right now?  Well, in researching prior to my trip to this exotic country, I found Morocco to be surprisingly safe.  In North Africa, many countries actually look to Morocco and their safety precautions.  So, of course it was a risk going to Africa, but there is also a risk in walking the streets of Florence, danger is everywhere, but Morocco’s security and police officers that covered Marrakech’s city limits definitely added to my feelings of security.  All in all, though it does not take much to make me feel safe, I did feel safe during most of my time in the beautiful country.  

  

I traveled to Morocco with four other girls Katie, British, Alyssa and Mallory.  We headed to Milan early on Friday morning and arrived in Marrakech around 2pm.  During my flight I met a sweet girl and her father who were both from Morocco yet lived in Italy.  They were so friendly and kind, so the trip had a great start.  After getting through customs we headed to our hotel.  After we checked in, we headed over to the sooks, which are huge markets near a large, very crowded plaza.  The architecture was very different from anything I had ever seen with the grand mosques and bright colors.  The plaza area was crowded with drummers, dancers, flute playing snake charmers, women doing henna temporary tattoos (I got two), food, clothing and trinket vendors and many exotic animals, including monkeys.  Walking through the loud, smoke-filled plaza with various vendors trying to catch your attention, was exciting, it was exactly what I had imagined an African city would have been like.  

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We ate at an adorable restaurant in the plaza where I got vegetable cous cous and mango juice and Morocco’s signature green tea all for under six euro.  The food was simple but my favorite thus far in my travels!  After our lunch we then ventured for a few hours in the sooks.  The sooks were filled with bright blankets, jewelry, gem-covered shoes, painted pottery and various other fun things.  We actually happened to bump into other Pepperdine students (who are studying in Lausanne) while we were walking through the sooks, it was such a special experience!                         

  

On our final day in Morocco, we decided to do a camel tour ride outside of the city.  Before consenting, I researched the companies and I found one that many customers claimed treated the camels well. I was surprised to find the camels were treated well but I still felt a little guilty riding them. It was a really special experience though, going through the palm desert on camels. We even stopped half way through and were given traditional Moroccan toasted bread with honey and mint tea. 

 

 

        

After our camel tour we walked through the sooks one last time, it was increadible. We also visited various museums, a crypt, and even a mosque. Everything was bright and colorful, it was a whirlwind of excitement for me. We were even able to hear the call for prayer one last time as we walked through the city before our flight.

   
   

   
Visiting Morocco was a dream and I cannot wait to return one day. There are so many places to explore in this world and so many cultures to learn about.  I cannot wait to see more and to widen my perspective and worldview. I hope and pray that all of these experiences I have been blessed with will teach me to be more loving and accepting of those around me, especially with my occupation in the future. Until then, I will love with all I have and live in thankfulness for all I have been given. I challenge you to do the same. We don’t have to travel to Africa to learn to love and respect others for their different cultures, we’re all unique being and there are endless opportunities right outside our doorstep, but will we pursue them and open ourselves up to love and acceptence? That is the question. Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.