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.

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galicia

Galicia was the last region I walked through in Spain and was a beautiful place. Here is a brief history of the area.
Galicia is an autonomous community known for its many rivers, delicious seafood, beautiful coastal spots, and its gorgeous, lush, green mountainous area. Galicia is located in the northwestern region of Spain, is bordered by Portugal in the south and by Asturias, a celtic region, in the east. This region is very diverse geographically, having mountains inland, gorgeous cliffside beaches, islands, lagoons, and is known for the beautiful fishing villages that surround the area. Galicia’s beautiful geography has attracted the attention of many and Galicia is often referred to as the “land of one thousand rivers.”

Some people believe that the ancient Galicians traveled by boat to Ireland, where they spread their Celtic roots, various legends go along with this belief as well. By 5th century B.C., individuals of the Celtic decent made up a large portion of Galicia’s population. There are various remnants of the Celtic villages that were once spread across this area, the Celtic ruins of Castro de Santa Tegra, are a good example of these Celtic remnants. Galicia was colonized in the 6th century by the Visigoths, 500 years after this colonization, Muslims took over the land for a short period of time. The economy of Galicia began to fall after the Spanish Civil War causing many citizens to emigrate. Because of Galicia’s past economic problems, Galicia has been viewed in the past as one of Spain’s poorest regions. Nowadays the economy survives off of its abundant, agricultural land and seafood. Many of the residents of this region speak the Galician language, Gallego, which was not recognized as an official literary language until the mid-1800s. This Romance language has Latin roots, from which it is said to have evolved from. This language that has been described as being similar to the Portuguese language, separates the Galicians from the other Spaniards.

There are a few major cities in this region, but many villages that are spread throughout Galicia are extremely rural which definitely has an impact on the culture of the region. Galicians are known for their delicious white wine and seafood rich diet. There are various festivals that are celebrated by the Galician people, most of them being religious or Celtic festivals. One well known celebration is the festival in honor of Saint James, which I actually attended this year, on July 25 in Santiago de Compostela. Galicia’s celebrations are typically in honor of various patron saints, are filled with excitement, fresh seafood, and often have firework shows. So, one may clearly see that the Galician people, who have deep Celtic and religious roots, display their heritage throughout their culture.

Santiago de Compostela, the capital of Galicia, is the end to the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage and one of the most famous cities in the region. The name Santiago de Compostela is believed by many to come from the Latin words campus stellae, which means “field of stars.” When Pelayo, a hermit, claimed to have seen a vision of bright lights in a forest in 815, the area where the vision occurred was dug into. In the ground where the vision occurred, a Roman-era tomb was unearthed, this was said to contain the body of Saint James the apostle. A church was soon built where the tomb was found, as was commanded by Theodomir, the bishop of a village near to the excavation site. A city soon began to form and grow around this monumental site and church, that city being Santiago de Compostela.

Many people would travel to see the site and by the 11th and 12th centuries over 500,000 pilgrims would journey to see the said relics of Saint James every year. Pope Calixtus II gave Santiago various city privileges in 1122 and offered indulgences to any individuals who would walk the Camino de Santiago, this began to attract even more pilgrims to the site. The city’s population grew as a result of various new constructed buildings including the grand cathedral. Various surrounding leaders throughout Galicia helped build many roads, bridges, hospitals, and places of lodging for the Camino’s travelers. These structures increased not only the population in Santiago, but also the number of pilgrims who journeyed to the cathedral. The Camino de Santiago was and still is viewed as a spiritual journey by many, one that helps an individual grow closer to God. Some pilgrims today travel solely for cultural and historical purposes. Nonetheless, this monumental path, The Way of Saint James, remains as one of the most well traveled religious pilgrimages in the world and will continue to attract thousands of pilgrims in the future, whatever their motives may be.

The locals throughout this region are quite different than in the others I traveled through. The smaller mountain villages I traveled through seemed to be completely empty with hardly anyone outside, other than at the bars. Sometimes I would pass old men throughout Galicia, ones that were sitting on benches staring off into the sky. I often wondered what the lives of those older locals would be like in such a small village. When in the more mid size cities like Sarria and Palas De Rei, the locals seem less interested and encouraging towards pilgrims. Understandably so, as there are notably more pilgrims in this region. This is because if a pilgrim walks the last 100 kilometers they will get credentials, since the last 100 kilometers of the Camino begins in Sarria, a city in Galicia, there were far more people on the trail during the end of my journey.

This region is quite different geographically than the other regions I have traveled through. Galicia reminds me of Navarra in that the area is mountainous, filled with rolling hills and scarcely has any completely flat regions. When walking from Triacastela to Barbadelo, I was happily surprised to find that Galicia has various beautiful streams and waterfalls, which I have not yet seen on the Camino. This region was colder and more rainy than the other regions, especially Navarra and La Roja, who both had warmer weather and less rain. I have come upon far more small farming towns throughout the region than in any other. Also, unlike the other regions that all seemed to be filled with grazing sheep, most farms in Galicia seem to have cows and chickens. Most of the large cities that I stayed at in Galicia seem to be more commercialized and less personal than the previous areas we traveled through. The food in this region was different as well, gazpacho was more difficult to find in restaurants, and I found that the pilgrim menus were filled with more seafood, as this region is so close to the sea. I enjoyed traveling through Galicia and I cannot wait to return to this gorgeous region again someday. Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.

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images from today

Today we walked more than 19 miles from Terradillo de Los Templarios to El Burgo Ranero. The walk was great, but the last five miles were mentally rough. Me and my friend Hannah both pulled each other through and we made it to the city by around 2:30pm. We’re staying at an adorable albergue called El Nogal. I made a salad with fresh veggies, chickpeas, artichoke hearts, white asparagus, and tomatoes for a few friends and I for dinner, it was so refreshing after a somewhat mentally strenuous day. I’m really starting to get to know and love all of the group members from my university that I’ve been traveling with, each person adds something extremely special to this group. Though this is an individual journey, it’s so amazing to experience all of this together. I wouldn’t want to change one thing. Tomorrow we have a shorter hiking day, 12 miles. Then on Thursday we head to Leon, for two rest days. I’m excited for Leon because some of my pilgrim friends are waiting for my group in Leon and we’ll all be together again on Thursday. I love my Camino family, I love my Camino. A few pictures from my travels today are below. Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.

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