Looking Back on 2016 | LOOKING FORWARD

I’m heading back to Athens, Greece in 2017!  I will continue to volunteer at HD, though in time I’ve been away, we already have another participant and our first baby.  Things should continue to be interesting and challenging at work, which is exactly how I like it.  On the social end of things, it will be so nice to return to my own apartment and my own cat, to grow already existing friendships instead of creating new ones from scratch.

One of the strange things about moving to a new city is how long the process of finding friends really is.  It’s easy to meet new people, but sometimes you don’t realize that you don’t click until a month or two in, and sometimes you immediately click but your schedules never match up.  It takes time to find the people who will be a consistent, fun, and supportive presence in your life.  Luckily, I did most of that work last year, so I get to reap the rewards and jump right back into hanging out with Luciana, Giorgos, Kendra, and Rosie.

Most of my goals for next year are the same as last:  keep learning Greek, keep traveling, keep figuring out what to do next year.  The fact that I am kind of reliving my year makes me want to die, though, so here are some new goals.  Never be stagnant!

This year I want to travel solo.  There are often deals on Ryanair that offer flights for only €10 each way, but I pass them by because I can’t find anyone willing to spontaneously go on a weekend trip.  Why waste the opportunity?  And honestly, the more I think about it, the more fun it sounds to wander Budapest on my own.

Hm.  That’s honestly the only new thing I can think of.  Maybe I would want to join a dance class or something?  One of those ridiculous hipster dance classes that focuses on body positivity that Luciana told me about.  Or self-defense!  I don’t know, and probably I wouldn’t spend money on something like that, but I’ll keep my eyes open.

Other than those things, I really am just going to focus on: keep learning Greek.  Keep trying to figure out what the next step is.  Keep enjoying where I am while I’m there.

Bring it, 2017!

Looking Back on 2016 | BOOKS

My Six Favorite Books of 2016

(I read them in 2016; they were not necessarily published in 2016)

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All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

The nature and causes of mental illnesses is explored in this unique, beautiful love story between two teenagers.  Do not read in public if you have an ugly crying face!

The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost by Rachel Friedman

A perfectionistic young woman stops trying to please everyone else and travels throughout Ireland, Australia, and South America.  It was relevant to my life.

Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire by Lars Brownsworth

Yes, this is a non-fiction book about the Byzantine Empire.  But if you are even slightly interested in history, this is SUCH an engrossing story.

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

A retelling of The Odyssey from Penelope’s perspective that is unreliable, clever, and socially scathing.

Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik (review not up yet)

A Pride and Prejudice retelling starring a Muslim girl in England – it’s actually different enough from the source material to be worth reading!

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

A stand-alone fantasy novel that has intensely original worldbuilding and a slow burn of a romance that doesn’t supercede our heroine’s character development.

What were some of your favorite books that you read this year?

Looking Back on 2016 | TRAVEL

As usual, I judge the success of my years by how much traveling I manage to get in.  Here’s a quick rundown!

Outside Greece

  • I met up with Kaitlyn in Berlin, Germany for a weekend in March.
  • I met up with Roy and Idil in Cappadocia, Turkey in June.
  • I went on a roadtrip throughout Slovenia and visited Venice and Bologna, Italy with my mom in August.
  • I went to my organization’s debrief in Lille, France in December.

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Inside Greece

  • I went to three Greek conferences this year: one near Corinth, one on Evvia, and one near Katerini.
  • I visited Sounio and Nafplio with Anthi.
  • I went to Meteora with Sarah in October.

Greek Islands

  • I visited Aegina with Jenna in March.
  • I spent a weekend in Hydra with Mallory in May.
  • I spent a weekend in Crete with Elizabeth in October.
  • I spent a weekend in Santorini with Lindsay and Emily in November.

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Traveling is my happy place, and it was especially good fortune that during one of the most stressful years of my life, I was surrounded by an enormous amount of cheap, beautiful, diverse weekend destinations.  Here’s hoping that traveling doesn’t feel quite so necessary next year, but that I’ll still get to hit up several amazing places!

Looking Back on 2016 | OVERVIEW

One of my bucket list goals was to live in Europe for at least six months, and 2016 was the year I made that a reality.  Because of the connection I made with Dina twelve years ago, she invited me to join her in launching HD, a non-profit safe house and recovery program for women who have been sexually assaulted and trafficked in Athens, Greece.  It was one of the most amazing years of my life, both because I got to use my talents to do meaningful work and because I stretched myself enormously in adapting to a foreign culture.  Honestly, right now I still feel pretty burnt out by it all, but I wouldn’t trade my experience for the world.  Which is good, since I’m going to keep living in Athens and working with HD throughout 2017 (but we’ll get there in a future blog post)!

I could go through a blow-by-blow of what happened in 2016, but instead, I’m going to base this post upon the five resolutions I made a year ago.

1|  Say yes to more things that scare me.  

I think I did all right on this one, although I did not anticipate how “things that scare me” would grow to include “walking down the street to buy pet food.”  Things got rough for a while.  (Let me clarify, that wasn’t scary because of facts, but because of my brain.)  Overall, this whole year was scary!  Although I love traveling, the process of making a foreign country your home takes SO much effort, and it required almost constant “yes”s to work opportunities, friendships, and responsibilities.

2|  Focus on health.

Balancing #1, I think I did a GREAT job in letting myself say “no” to things.  I knew before I moved to Greece that my personal inclination is to do everything and be perfect to everyone around me.  But I said no to a ministry opportunity, and when leaving my apartment felt impossible, I let myself cancel plans and then form new ones when I was feeling less empty.

I also got physically healthy.  Thanks to lots of walking and a country that makes eating healthy an easy priority, I lost weight and gained endurance.  Until a bunch of friends visited in October and November, and then I came home to the States for the holidays, anyway.  But health isn’t a one-time goal – there’s always next year to keep going!

3|  Learn enough Greek to go shopping, navigate public transportation, and carry on basic conversations.

Wow!  I’m so glad I set the bar low on this one.  I can definitely shop, navigate public transportation, and carry on basic conversations in Greek.  I can even carry on medium conversations in Greek, although my brain gets tired very quickly, and usually only with people who make me feel safe.

4|  Visit at least five countries during the year.

I did this too, though there will be an entire blog post on travel tomorrow!

5|  Decide what I’ll be doing in 2017, and where.

Yup, did that too!  I’m going to be staying in Athens and continuing to work with HD.  Now if only I knew what I’ll be doing in 2018…but I never seem to know much beyond a year from now.

Looking Back on 2015: Looking Forward to 2016!

2015, in a lot of ways, felt like one big goodbye.  Goodbye to Texas, and the friends I made there.  Goodbye to DTS, and the nerdy pleasure of reading textbooks and writing essays.  Goodbye to Peoria, and the friends who helped me accomplish my goal of moving to Athens.

It was a year of goodbyes, and I’m definitely still sad about many of them.  But the goodbyes are all in anticipation of one massive HELLO – to Athens, Greece, and the life that awaits me there.

As I look forward to my life in Athens, here are some of the things I’m most excited about:

  • GREEK FOOD
  • riding public transportation (more time to read!)
  • helping organize, plan, and implement a new business
  • working with my HD teammates
  • meeting the women who will come to HD
  • traveling around Greece (and hopefully more of Europe)
  • learning a new city and calling it my own
  • stretching myself beyond what I think I can do

2015 was amazing.  I cannot wait to see what 2016 has in store!

What is coming up for you in 2016 that you’re most excited about?  Leave a comment and let me know!