more in milan.

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Sweaty armpits, visibly dry skin on my legs and calves, a flushed face full of tears and hands shaking with rage.

I was willing myself to walk, each painstaking step, as the Castello Sforzesco in Milan, came into view on my left side. And as much as I wanted to marvel and admire such a beautiful structure, my view of the castle was obstructed with tears which fluttered freely from my eyes and my experience of taking it all in was ruined with the rage I couldn’t shake.

“Please take me to get my things,” I asked, calmly, for probably the tenth time in the past few minutes. When my Couchsurfing host ignored my plea and carelessly continued to rattle off random information about the castle’s history, my rage and panic and hysteria only festered and grew into something big. A big ball, a ball of fury, something which I knew could soon unravel and mount into something messy, frightful, dangerous and unsafe.

“Please…take…me…to…get…my…things,” I repeated this time, with my teeth clenched. When he continued to talk, ignoring my frustration, I flung myself into full conniption mode.

“I’M GOING TO CALL THE POLICE! TAKE ME TO GET MY THINGS! I DON’T WANT TO GO INTO THE CASTLE!”

At this point, onlookers were staring, wondering who this crazed American girl, screaming in English, was. Why she was disturbing the otherwise tranquil mood surrounding the castle. Why I was disturbing the peace with my antics.

But none of them knew what I had endured for the past five hours. I had arrived at Malpensa airport after a 6:25 a.m. flight. I had slept for a total of an hour and half the night before, because I had to get up and take two buses to get to the airport. I had trekked to the city center on another bus once I was in Milan, a bus ride which took 1 hour and 15 minutes, because of traffic, instead of the 50 minutes I was told. I’d waited for two hours soaking up free Wi-Fi while stuffing my face with pizza margherita, a prosciutto, mozzarella and arugula sandwich on focaccia and apple pie while I sipped my first authentic cappuccino.

I was exhausted. And for some deluded reason, I assumed once I’d arrived in Milan and was with my Couchsurfing host, they’d understand that and would let me shower and nap in peace, then take me out for aperitivo in the late evening.

But once I arrived to my couch surfing host’s house, which smelled of musk, dingy, week-old socks, filth and shisha, I knew I’d picked the wrong adventure for my first trip to Italy. Minutes after dropping my bag, I was told to walk with him to a nearby McDonald’s where we picked up four other people from Poland. They came back to the flat with us and also dropped off their things.

We were all rushed to be ready to go, impatiently so. And once we were out the door, the host began talking his shoddy English, which mostly sounded like incoherent mumbling. Most of the time while he talked, I just nodded and smiled. I had no clue what he was saying nor did I care.

We went to the famed Fashion District, then to Plazza Duomo to see the cathedral so massive and beautiful it didn’t look real. We hurriedly sped through these places and countless others, while the host corralled us through at his speed, ignoring we might want to stop and look a little longer, take photos, grab a drink or a snack. Whenever I suggested stopping to do anything off his pre-set itinerary, he vetoed it with a suggestion of his own. It felt like I was on a high school field trip with my chaperone instead of on a weekend jaunt to one of the cities I was crossing off my bucket list.

About four hours in, after walking non-stop at the pace of someone else, not being able to voice my opinions, not being able to leisurely take everything in, I gambled and started searching for somewhere to stay for the weekend on AirBnB. And then the other four people ditched me to do their own thing while leaving me with my lackluster host, and I ended up screaming at him in public because I was delirious, exhausted, hysterical and annoyed with both myself and him for testing and pushing my own limits.

And limits, boundaries, expecting more, expecting less, all these concepts are things I suppose I’ve been subconsciously learning about all my life, although within the past year as I’ve started to come into my own and disassociate from my identity which was constructed for me (versus me constructing it myself), it’s become especially prominent and pressing.

I knew before even confirming my first (and last) Couchsurfing experience it wasn’t really something I wanted to do, but after desperately searching for someone to stay within my budget and finding everywhere feasible booked, I succeeded to my desperation and chose the Free.99 route. It cost me my comfort, the freedom of exploring a new city on my own, doing things at my own pace, steering away from a set plan and instead roaming and being open to what pops up, what comes up, what might seem appealing and rolling with it.

Just as damaging as pushing the limits, your boundaries, the level of comfort you dare not press past, can be, I believe there is delicate balance between what you may think are really your boundaries and personal comfort (and guarding these while listening to your intuition) and what is instead masquerading as fear, fear of the unknown.

I’ve found, repeatedly whenever I thought clinging to my familiarities was the safer or the more “rational” choice, I’ve been astounded by the Universe’s response when I acted in courage whilst trembling in fear. In these cases, choosing the safe option was just an illusion. I was just scared. Scared to fail. Scared to have to deal with the repercussions, the fallback, what people would say when and if I did fail. How I would feel about myself having attempted and not succeeded.

Before I moved abroad, I battled many, many, many doubts and even after I moved, I’ve steadily battled whether or not packing up and relocating my life was a good decision. Each time I got deep in that rabbit hole, the Universe showed me a reminder. Or something amazing happens to alter my perspective, something incredibly beautiful, something beyond what I could have ever imagined. And in those moments, I wonder why I have been rewarded with such a beautiful life.

I had a moment like this as I looked down from my hotel room in Milan late at night, after the wretched couchsurfing experience earlier that day. The streets were dark and the only light bouncing down on the streets below were from antiquated lamps lining every block. There was a soft whisper of a car or two whizzing by, but for the most part it was really quiet. And still. I had to remind myself I was in Italy. How years ago being there, in that moment, was only a mere thought, and how miraculously it had become reality, my reality.

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The Duomo, Milan’s renowned cathedral.

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The Galleria, located in close proximity to the Duomo, adjacent to Plazza Duomo.

Only it wasn’t a miracle. And it should’ve never been something deemed impossible or unreachable. Each of us, it is my belief, are destined to walk a certain path in our lives, before who we are and who we become is even a thought. We might grow up in an environment where we’re not encouraged to dream, to hope, to reach for something larger than ourselves. We internalize this thought process and it follows us into adulthood.

But sometimes, quite often, the Universe has a way of catching up to us, of redirecting us back on track for our life journey. That’s what has happened for me anyway, since I began this expat journey. When I first received my passport five years ago, the flame was ignited for me to be a citizen of the world, but somewhere within me, I know that flame was just waiting for the optimum moment to be set ablaze. I was never meant to stay put in one place forever. I was meant to see the world, moments at a time, and share my insights, my lessons, my struggles, my suffering, my enlightenment as I did, while growing and helping others to grow, too.

This life I am living was meant for me. And your life that you are living, beyond the throes of the 9-to-5 hustle, beyond just living to pay your bills, beyond doing everything right to make everyone but you happy, is yours. It is yours and you only get one. So live it. Without restraint. Without regrets. Without looking back.

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fearful courage.

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A brilliant blue sky, untouched by clouds and rain and instead buffered by a glittering sun bursting with light held me in a trance, a I stood on a balcony in Segovia, Spain, in September of last year.

I saw snow-capped mountains far-off in the distance and the roofs of terra cotta homes. I heard birds chirping a melody, and for once, I wasn’t annoyed at the sound.

Journeying to Spain fell onto my lap, as taking my first trip to Europe was nowhere on my radar, until Sucheta, the founder of Go Eat Give, sent out an email about a free trip to Spain. The “free” trip didn’t mean all I had to do was place my name on a list and be whisked on a private charter jet nearly 5,000 miles away from my hometown of Atlanta.

The catch was a noble one. In exchange for five nights in a fine hotel as well as meals and wine galore, I was asked to volunteer as apart of a program called VaughanTown. VaughanTown, the extension of Spanish telecommunications company VaughanSystems, plucks native English speakers and pairs them with Spanish business executives who are looking to better their English speaking skills.

I was under the impression from the description of how the program works before getting there that I’d be teaching, but in reality, the full extent of my teaching was having multiple conversations with the Spaniards throughout the day. Each conversation was guided by either specific subject matter or colloquiums we had to explain, which almost always were hilarious and rendered spirited conversation.

This experience was so fascinating to me, but as the days wore on, I craved solitude and ample time to reflect to how this country, these experiences and the trip was affecting me. Because of the rigorous, packed schedule, that only left spare moments, such as my balcony time, as the stolen seconds where I was lost in my thoughts.

I came to grips with what was happening, a slow but assured realization the two days I spent frolicking in Madrid before VaughanTown and the sole evening after before I flew back to Atlanta: this wouldn’t be my last go-round in Madrid but the first of many. I’d be back, and sooner than I’d thought and for longer than I’d ever dreamed.

I talked with Sucheta’s dear friend the night before leaving for VaughanTown over grilled vegetables, chicken wings and glasses of vino about her own journey to Madrid and how life had been since she packed up her life and moved to Madrid to teach English for the past two years.

As I listened to her talk, something stirred within me. I prodded and continued asking her questions and listening carefully and closely to her responses. When we went our separate ways that night, she added, an an aside, to look her up on Facebook once I was home to chat more about the program she went through.

I sat on her call to action for a month.

I went back to my old life, pretending that that trip, my first trip to Europe, the first time I’d traveled solo didn’t change me or rattle me or force me to seek a different pace of life.

But now I know why there was a hesitation. I was scared, frightened, terrified. I thought it was crazy that I was even considering picking up my life and relocating to the other side of the world knowing no one and inserting myself in an unfamiliar culture with a language I didn’t speak.

When I finally sent out the email, I was still consumed by fear. And the fear didn’t go away even as I went through a series of interviews and received my welcome letter to teach in the program.

The screams of inferiority, the constant taunting from my spirit and my conscience telling me I was out of my mind to be going through with his, only intensified with each progression, especially as I was stressed to the brim navigating the daunting visa process, with numerous dead-ends, confusion on requirements and hold-ups with delayed documents received in the mail.

On July 7, with almost no money in my bank account, I drove 10 hours for my visa appointment, scheduled for July 8, with the nearest consulate in Miami. I spent a grueling two hours, my body shaking and writhing with stress, as I waited to turn in sheets of paper that represented five months of struggle, stress and trepidation.

Eleven days later, I hurriedly opened the self-addressed priority USPS envelope I’d provided the consulate with, and my passport fell out, with a small piece of paper shoved inside of the pages. I stared in awe at my approved visa, completely stunned that I’d done it, that I’d made this happen and that I was indeed moving to Madrid.

You see, moving to Spain had long been a dream of mine, but I’d pushed it away and traded it in exchange for other more practical ones. For instance, when I graduated from undergrad, my dream was to get a full-time newspaper reporter job.Then my dream became getting a graduate degree to become a better writer and to explore what path writing would take me on in the future.

But these dreams, these goals that once seemed so important and the key to my happiness were no longer fruitful. They were just plain tired and unfulfilling. I had grown to hate my newspaper reporter job over the past few years, a job that was boring, routine, monotonous, consumed with micromanaging bosses, and to top it all off, I was only paid $10 per hour for all my hard work.

I was also tired of not being the woman who stood on her own, as I had never lived on my own after moving back home after college. I lived in the same room I spent cooped up in most of my childhood, getting by with only enough money to pay my car note, exorbitant amounts for gas since I lived so far away from said job and little extra for hair appointments, happy hours with friends and other outings for which money was required.

I was broke, unhappy and felt stuck. I’d tried to apply and search for other jobs, thinking more money was the change I needed, but after many applications and several interviews that never went anywhere, I knew this was much bigger than my bout with financial poverty—but more along the lines of emotional, mental, and spiritual poverty. I was poor in spirit all around.

Deciding to take this leap of faith and follow my heart was much more than traveling to to Spain and falling in love with every aspect of it. It was about taking a brave step in a new direction, standing on my own two feet and living my own separate adult existence, something I’d been needing to do since I finished college.

Along with the fear that has accompanied me along each step of this transition to the next phase of adulthood has been a silent, strong and assured sense that moving to Spain was something I was supposed to do. In each moment, this sense, this knowledge that this was apart of what the universe wanted me to experience, has helped me to override the fear and remove myself from a pattern of dysfunction and not reaching for more. This was made clear by the numerous people that were placed along my journey to help me and the obstacles that at first glance seemed impossible, but once I was closer upon them, they dismantled and disappeared before my eyes with a resolution.

I’ve never been more sure something has been meant for me, more than this move, in my short 27 years of life.

I’m one week away from starting this new chapter and often, quite often, I think back to the many emotions and thoughts that flooded my consciousness while standing out on that balcony, staring at the sky, enamored and in a daze. In a way, an innocent decision to volunteer and give of myself ended up pouring back into me and igniting a light that had long been extinguished.