A Time Abroad

For five months, I lived in Alicante, Spain, a coastal city on the Mediterranean Sea. During this time, I went classes at the local university, lived with a host family, met people from all over the US and Spain, had an internship, ate local food, and traveled. Lots of it.

While living there, I had up and down experiences. Becoming elated over finding English books in a Spanish bookstore, sitting in cafes to book trips, keeping up a conversation with my host parents for hours, meeting life-long friends – all moments that pulsed my heart with joy.

Being abroad was not all butterflies and rainbows, times arose where my only desire was to return home. The constant strain to converse with anyone, living in an unfamiliar city with unfamiliar people, adjusting my schedule to accommodate others, constantly being outside my comfort zone – all times that made me wish to be waking up in my twin bed in the basement of my parents’ house.

Being constantly out of my comfort zone eventually broke me, and I had to reconstruct it. That zone grew, and by the end of my stay, I could spark up a conversation with my host parents after I woke up and would take daily strolls through the city by myself. I thought when my departure date arrived, I would be ready to leave, but I wasn’t. My last day in Spain, I was laying out at Playa de Postiguet, soaking up the rays and smell of the sea before I left. I sat thinking about what I had obtained, and what I would leave behind. Tears leaked from my eyes. It’s not time to leave yet.

But I returned, and have been living back in the states for two months. There’s not a day that passes where I do not long to be back in Spain, eating gelato on the beach or eating paella with my host family. I am missing the adventure, which is why I made this video. To remind myself what pushing oneself outside his or her comfort zone does, and to continue to pursue these experiences in the future.

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We walk. We wander. We watch.

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Photography is poetry, both immortalizes a moment of time. Where they differ is how they use storytelling practices to tell a story. Poetry allows its story’s image to be created by the reader’s mind while photography allows the story to be created through the reader’s interpretation of the photo.

A poet utilizes literary devices to conjure evocative moments, to allow the black lines and bends of letters fabricate scenes in the reader’s mind, to create room for various interpretations of the story. 

A photographer finds the literary devices within the story–the flashbacks of the past hidden in old buildings; the blended alliteration between a stream, sidewalk, and sky; the anecdote of a dad and baby son sitting at a bus stop; the tone set by the collaboration of colors in the woods.

The best way to tell a story? That depends on the story and its artist.

I am a storyteller by word and picture, by passion and profession, by desire and survival.

By being both a writer and photographer, I can share an unabridged narrative. Humans like to know the whole story, so why not give it all?

The pictures above are from the latest excursion in Minneapolis. Clay, my mom, and I ambled around the Warehouse District, 1st Avenue, and Uptown for a day. With no destination in mind, we found places that we would have never seen before.

Only a Carry-On

Night’s somber darkness settled above the street lights. Horns blared at the passive drivers. A brisk breeze snaked between the late-night walkers. Lexi and I stood at the corner of 16th Avenue and New Hampshire Lane. The light turned green, blinking 62 seconds for us to cross. She grabbed my hand, and we ran–across the street, picking up speed as we hit the sidewalk, darting between pedestrians. Men in suits gathered at corners. We brushed past a woman in a red coat, who gave us a dirty look. We past embassies–Portugal, India, Argentina, Kazakhstan. We ran because we were not in Moorhead, we did not have to fill out job applications, we did not have Spanish homework that demanded our attention. We ran because we had no other obligation to keep us standstill. We had freedom in the capital of nation whose foundation is built upon this concept.

And I almost did not go.

I am a part of a student organization called SALSA–Student Associate for Living and Studying Abroad. In February, Concordia College’s Associate Director of Intercultural Affairs told Lexi Robinson and Michaela Read, presidents of SALSA, about NAFSA’s Advocacy Day in Washington D.C. This two-day conference prepares students and educators to inform congressmen and women about the importance of American citizens becoming globally engaged through strategizing sessions and issue briefings.

The SALSA board jumped on this opportunity, first seeking Concordia’s assistance for the financial aspect of the trip. I did not think Concordia would fund the trip, but I was proven wrong. On March 5, Michaela messaged us, stating that Concordia granted us funds to go to D.C.

No way, how? I thought to myself.

We would be in D.C. from March 18-20. I flipped through my planner, discovering I would miss nine classes, including a lab. I had two projects due on the Monday we returned. The trip was smack-dab in the middle of my cleanse diet, something I knew I would have to forgo for those three days. Worry’s tendrils wrapped around my throat and stomach, thrusting questions and doubts to spurt out.

Is the stress of catching up on that much school worth this trip? Sage, you’re going to be missing school for another conference coming up, can you miss this much school? Do you have the money for this trip? I hesitated when Michaela asked if I wanted to go. After conversations with my roommate and parents, I finally decided at the last minute.

“Screw it, YOLO,” I sent in our group message.

Michaela booked my flight, I was going to Washington D.C.

5 a.m. on March 18, I boarded on the plane in Fargo, the first plane I have been on in seven years. I waited for the side effects of nervousness to set in–fidgety hands, sweaty armpits, short breaths, tapping feet. None of them came; I felt calm, comfortable. Maybe it was due to the fact that I was traveling with three others who have done this innumerable amount of times or maybe it was something else–a mystery I will not discover until I travel by myself.

The plane took off. Fargo sprawled out beneath me, the street lights I have walked past numerous of times had become glowing specks against the black earth, as if the sky and the ground switched.

We landed in Minneapolis around 6 a.m., then left for D.C. around 7:30 a.m. Still, not an inkling of negative energy seeped through my body. We landed in D.C. a little before 11 a.m., hailing an Uber as soon as we got off. As we drove to the conference, we past the Washington Monument and many embassies. My mind felt lighter, the baggage of responsibilities and worries left in my dorm room. I caught myself smiling, realizing that I was living an aphorism John Green wrote in Paper Towns.

“It is so hard to leave—until you leave. And then it is the easiest goddamned thing in the world.”

Where we live, where we work, where our family is, adds more weight to the backpack of responsibilities we carry. The older we grow, the heavier it becomes, making it extraneous to walk away. Finding the willpower and strength to take off that backpack is difficult, because we know that taking it off means more weight will be put in.

But what if we never take it off? Does that mean we will always carry this burden for our whole lives? Our muscles would grow weak, fatigued. Freeing oneself from the weight allows one’s muscles to stretch, to breathe, to grow. I have not been on an actual vacation in seven years.

I left, with only a carry-on to lug. And it was the best goddamned feeling in the world.

Photography in the Garden

Nine degrees. Nine degrees was the high for the day, and that did not take in to account the wind. The smallest breeze felt as if it had picked up the snow, vaporized it, and instilled it into our bones in one swoosh. The cold and wind did not stop my brother and I as we stood in front of the Two-Way Mirror Punched Steel Edge Labyrinth (yes, that is its name) at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.

Chink, chink went the camera. I tilted it upward to see the photo. I was trying to capture us standing in front of the mirror without holding the camera to my face to take the picture–a task that proved to be more difficult than it seemed.

“Dang it,” I muttered. “I got our legs.”

Legs

Clay, my brother, laughed. He ran his fingers through his blonde hair and readjusted his John Lennon wannabe, tortoise shelled sunglasses.

“We should look off into the distance,” Clay said. “We’ll look cooler that way.”

Clay is a sophomore in high school, still wandering down the path of who-the-heck-am-I. He plays football and shops at Pac Sun. He benches 135 pounds and blowdries his hair after he showers. On weekends you’ll find him at the basketball court and in the car ride home, you’ll find him singing One Direction at the top of his lungs. Twine bracelets line both his wrists and his Nike Elite socks come up to mid-calf. Two months ago, he told me he wanted to be a photographer when he grows up. Now, he sees himself delving into Astronomy when he goes to college. At least one can say that he’s not afraid to take random turns in his journey of self-discovery.

I rolled my eyes. “Okay hermanito,” I said.

I was home for spring break, which did not stop my professors from assigning homework. For my digital photography class, I had to take a forced perspective photo–an image that utilizes space that misconceives the eye (a common example is a person resting against the Leaning Tower of Pisa). The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden seemed perfect for this project because of the ginormous artwork. Clay was more than willing to spend his Thursday afternoon in Minneapolis to be my model. We had just finished taking these pictures with The Front of the Snowwoman sculpture.

Balls

Clay stuck his hands into his pockets, then looked off to the right. Not wanting to mess up the picture again, I brought the camera to my face, positioned the angle, and distanced my face a little away from the camera so only one-third of my face remained covered by the picture-taking device.

Chink, chink. I pulled the camera away from my face, looking down onto the digital screen to see if we finally had success.

The image appeared, and thanks to the magical effects of the mirror and sheer luck, the image turned out.

“Whoa, that’s pretty cool,” Clay said. “That’s going on Instagram.”

We took more photos, trying different angles and sides with the mirror until the cold nibbled past our coats and mittens and settled into our skin.

I set my camera back into its case. “We should get going,” I said.

Clay nodded, rubbing his hands together. We walked to our Expedition, set the equipment in the back, and slid into our seats. Heat and Taylor Swift blasted from the speakers and vents as soon as I turned the key.

I was sipping the remnants of my turtle mocha when Clay nudged my arm.

“Hey sis,” he said.

“Yes?” I replied.

“Thanks for today. I had a lot of fun. Probably the most fun I’ve had in a long time.”

A goofy, sappy smile stretched across my face. I set the coffee back into the cupholder. “Anytime hermanito,” I said.

I put the car into drive and spun it around. Taylor Swift had subsided and Avicii overtook the stereo system.

Hey brother. There’s an endless road to rediscover. Hey sister. Know the water’s sweet but blood is thicker. Oh, if the sky comes falling down for you, there’s nothing in this world I wouldn’t do.

Creases and Crinkles

I am a used, piece of notebook paper.

Once crisp, clean, edges unperforated,

now worn with creases and crinkles

that will never smooth.

Soft spots, rough spots,

edges and corners torn away.

Scribbles in the margins,

doodles between the lines.

A piece of paper

that will be set aside,

lost underneath books, binders, folders.

Known, but forgotten.

Morning Coffee

Every morning, I make myself coffee before I go to class. My Keurig is one of my best friends because she motivates me to go to class and participate, supports me through difficult times of tackling piles of homework, and never judges me on how much creamer I stir into my coffee.

One day, I was avoiding homework when the idea sprung on me–why don’t I make a little movie trailer professing my love and dependence on coffee? I did, and here it is. I hope you enjoy it.

How I Lost My Favorite Pair of Jeans

In my Creative Writing course, we are reading a book called In the Palm of Your Hand by Steve Kowit. To sum it up in one sentence, this book offers advice on how to write better poetry. In the beginning of the book, Kowit addresses on how to play with time within a poem and exhibits how one can do that through an example poem called “How I Knew Harold*” by Deborah Harding. After reading the poem, he challenges the reader to write a poem in the same style as Harding did. Well, I tried and here’s my attempt to play with time through words and poetry.

 

“How I Lost My Favorite Pair of Jeans”

Around 2010 we all sat in Mike’s basement

              as we played Apples to Apples.

              Chocolate chip cookies 

               crumbled in my mouth.

               Jon kept rubbing my thigh.

Around 2008 my perfect set of jeans ripped

              underneath the back pocket. My

              mom said that she could not fix it.

              Kayla and I are not talking.

Around 2004 I started to keep a diary. I wrote

              about how I didn’t like Josh anymore

              because he had green frosting caked

              on his face one day.

Around 1999 my sister and I jumped on my

              dad’s tractor. Somehow we got it

              started and we flew down the hill.

              My mom screamed and ran next to

              us with her arms stretched out to

              grab us. We stopped and my

              mom cried. I was five and my

              sister was three.

Around 2012 my mom handed me a Kleenex

              and said, “You deserve better than

              him Sage. Forget about him.”

              I walked into the woods and

              screamed through my tears.

Around 2013 I walked home alone without

              a jacket because someone threw

              up on it. It was 3 am in December.

              My best friend refused to walk

              home with me.

Around 2009 I had my first interview. The

              employer asked me to sit on my

              hands because they were distracting.

              She smelled of baby powder. She

              said I could write well though.

Around 2006 my brother had tears in his

              eyes because of a bully. I yelled at

              the bully, heat reddening my face.

              He never said anything to my

              brother again.

Around 2014 I placed my dinner and

              drink on the corner table in the

              cafe. I whipped out my laptop to

              try to hide the fact that I had 

              no one to eat with.

Around 2007 I had the perfect pair of jeans.

              They fit snuggly around my

              waist and legs, yet I could

              move in them. Kayla, my best

              friend, gave them to me.

Around 2011 Jon tells me that he’s in

              love with me and wants to

              spend the rest of his life with

              me. I believed him.

What John Green, Dorm Room Decor, and Motivation Have in Common

“‘Everything that comes together falls apart,’” the Old Man said. “Everything. The chair I’m sitting on. It was built, and so it will fall apart. I’m gonna fall apart, probably before this chair. And you’re gonna fall apart. The cells and organs and systems that make you you—they came together, grew together, and so must fall apart. The Buddha knew one thing science didn’t prove for millennia after his death: Entropy increases. Things fall apart.”

Above is my favorite quote from Looking for Alaska by John Green, my favorite book. The reality behind this quote is my main reason why I love reading John Green’s novels; his works exploit the truth behind life events, not some sugar-coated ending where everything turns out great for all the characters. I love this quote so much that I cut out newspaper letters and pieced the quote on a canvas for my dorm room (need some sort of decoration this year).

My mom and sister read through the quote once; looked at me with their noses curled, as if they walked past a 3-month old port-a-potty; and said, “Why in the world would you want to hang up such a depressing quote in your dorm room?”

Yes, at first read the quote is sad because it reiterates the fact that we will eventually die. But I don’t find it depressing, I find it motivational.

We slowly came together as we developed in our mother’s womb and as we age, we slowly fall to pieces as our organs and systems break down. The computer or tablet or phone you’re on to read this was pieced together and will break down. Acknowledging that one day, the parts that came together will eventually leave each other, motivates me in the present. Should I drink this coffee? Yes, because the workers that grabbed the coffee beans and the truck that brought them here and the machine that grounded them will fall apart one day. Should I read this book? Yes, since the trees that created the pages and the ink that distinguish the words will fall apart.

The ultimate question that this quote helps me answer is, “Should I do this, even though it makes me feel uncomfortable and out of place?”

I came together, and so I will fall apart. I won’t be able to do the activity when I start falling apart. So yes, I should do it because I can now, and not one day.

Also, the quote falls in the lines of the cliché, “Things fall apart so better things can come together.” A cliché that’s an euphemism for when things end (most commonly used for teenage breakups). Yes, things fall apart, but yet they had to come together at one point in order to fall apart. What’s stopping something else, something new, something better to come together next?

Mom, sister, this quote may be depressing but maybe a reminder of sadness gives a boost to action for the present. 

“Things fall apart.”

Bam, motivation in three words.

“Mom, Sage Can Speak Spanish”

At the end of April, I wandered out of my perfectly squared box and stepped into a different realm.

My friends Felix, Taylor, and Paige were sprawled across the futon and bed when I arrived at Felix’s dorm room. I sat down at the desk and whipped out my laptop, casually conversing and working as we relaxed that Sunday afternoon. While comfortably lounging around and attempting to do homework, Felix received a call from his mom. After a couple minutes of catching up, his mom bursted into tears, sobbing about how much she missed him and wanted him to come home. Taylor looked up from his laptop and said, “If she cooks us dinner, I’ll bring us there.”

Isn’t Felix lucky that he lives only a half an hour away from our college?

45 minutes later, us hungry college students pulled into a quaint town where main street equates to the liveliness of the place. In a of couple turns, we parked outside a charming barn-red house with white trimming. I took shortened steps as Felix bounded up, nervousness of the unknown made me hesitate.

We stepped into the aroma of frijoles (beans), rice, beef, chicken, fruits, and Valentina sauce. Felix’s mom greeted her son with a bear-hug and a beaming smile.

Taylor, Paige, and I sat at the dinner table while Felix and his mom chit-chatted away in Spanish and chopped fresh mangos, apples, and melons. I slowly gazed around the house, pictures that captured dear memories hung across the walls, their couches held permanent seat indents where many loved ones have sat over the years, and planks of wood and tools sat in the corner since his parents have been working on remodeling their kitchen.

“Mom, Sage can speak Spanish,” Felix voiced. A smirk etched across his face as he turned and looked at me for my reaction.

“¿Se puede?” his mom asked.

“Sí, estoy aprendiendo español por cinco años ahora,” I answered.

The wrinkles around her eyes folded as a smile overtook her whole face. “You can speak Spanish well,” she said through her toothy smile.

“My mom has never heard a white person speak Spanish,” Felix whispered to us.

I grew up in a town where white people predominantly lived. My high school’s student population is 93% Caucasian (stat found on Wikipedia). I’m not saying that this was a bad thing. Actually, I loved where I grew up and couldn’t be any happier that my parents decided to live there. But my home town lacks one thing.

Culture.

Now hearing from a woman that’s full of culture, tell me that I can intertwine myself in one aspect of her Hispanic lifestyle made my heart smile. I never had an opportunity like this before.

His mom placed in front of me a plate heaping full of Mexican rice and a burrito that was as big as my forearm. I sliced into my burrito and took my first bite—the juices of the grilled chicken slid down my tongue; the cucumbers, tomatoes, and lettuce bursted fresh droplets with each chomp; and the random zing of an unknown spice surprised me and sprung tears into my eyes.

The thought, “this does not compare to Chipotle,” crossed my mind numerous of times throughout the dinner.

Felix and his parents conversed in Spanish about things he has missed while at college. He would filter back and forth between English and Spanish as he remembered that Taylor and Paige could not understand what they were saying.

Desolation filled the gaps between the bites of burrito and rice in my stomach as I realized that it would be a miracle if I could finish the burrito. (Felix informed us before we came that in his culture, it was an insult if one could not finish their plate. I was only halfway done with my burrito and I was full.) “Don’t think, just eat,” I thought to myself and munched on. Luckily, I could find some room in my stomach to stuff the last bite in.

As time ticked by, so did the conversations and the food left on the table. His mom boxed up what we didn’t finish to take back to college. A string of thank yous and goodbyes followed us as we made our way back to the car. Felix’s mom gave him one last hug before we pulled away.

As the four of us lightly chatted during the car ride back, my mind floated into the new insight I inquired from this experience.

I want to see the world.

I want to learn about different cultures, compare and contrast them from mine and find the beauty in the differences in each culture. I want to try new foods, broaden my taste buds and discover new delicacies. I want to see new landscapes, new buildings. I want to talk to people and learn what about their culture is important to them and why they abide to it.

I figuratively and literally received a taste of a different culture and now I’m hungry for more.

Felix gently squeezed my hand, bringing my presence back into the car. I returned to him a warm smile and looked at the stars, imagining about jumping on a plane and leaving my perfectly square box for good.

A Day at the Cabin

At day’s break, warm droplets of sunshine nuzzle my face to welcome me into the new day. Reluctant to leave the comforting sheets that held me throughout the night, I leave my bed due to the smell of pancakes and syrup seeps through the crevasses of the door. Sweatshirt in hand, I hustle downstairs to the beckoning aroma. After seizing a plate, I step out onto the porch to be wrapped in a blanket of moist, cool air. Hummingbirds whir softly as they sip upon their sweet, tangy nectar. Everything is quiet, calm, tranquil; the only sound is the tides licking the shore. My cabin is a world within the larger world we all live in.

After finishing breakfast, I slip into the standard weekend apparel: a swimsuit. The necessities for the day–sunglasses, towel, tanning lotion, iPod–are tucked away in my bag as I make my way to the dock. Towel laid at the perfect angle for the rising sun, I slather on the tanning lotion, throw on the sunglasses, and start the tunes. My skin bathes in the sun’s golden jewels as it climbs in the sky. My mind strays to the obligations and conflicts back at home: when am I working this week, how am I going to get to my softball games and practices, what chores need to get done at home, how I need to get a start on my summer homework–the list goes on and on! If I were at home, my idea of relaxation would be the drive home from work. These thoughts crash and collide into one another like waves slamming against the dock, twisting my relaxed state into a nervous, uptight frenzy. The banana Laffy-Taffy tanning cream wafts throughout my senses, bringing me back to the present. Body scorching from the newly acquired rays, I jump into the lake.

The tranquilizing water nestles my body and pulls me deeper into the lake, farther away from the thoughts of moral imperatives. The deeper I swim into the lake, the stronger the pressure becomes. The gentle push in my inner ears quickly advances into a fierce grip on my whole head. I swim frantically and break the surface, taking in a massive gulp of air. I am grateful for the sun pressing against my body, the gentle waves caressing the shoreline, not having to worry about anything. These simple details help me enjoy what life is about.

After a satisfying lunch, I jump into my paddle boat and venture off into the bay. Boats from all over the lake pull their skiers and wake boarders while others cruise to admire the beautiful lake. I paddle my way into one of the lake’s greatest treasures, a subtle creek. When I enter the creek, the busy lake is hushed into silence. I stop paddling and the let the gentle push of the current take me, allowing me to observe the waterscape.
A light breeze maneuvers through the looming cat-tails. Seagulls cry overhead. The slight stench of a dead fish hovers nearby. My hand cups a pool of the chilly lake. A drop of salty sweat falls onto my lips, seeping onto my tongue. My mind wanders back to my affairs at home. There, I would be working at my job throughout the day, going to a tiresome practice, and coming home to help with the never-ending list of chores. I look at the landscape around me. Why think about troubles when I am surrounded by beauty? Nature is an elegant gift, providing much more than something to look at. It sets a serene mood, allowing me to cleanse myself. Lost within the enchanting scenery, I almost don’t notice the setting sun. I paddle to the cabin, leaving a wake that breaks the colors pirouetting across the lake’s ripples.

At last the cool breeze ushers in the night. The flames of the bonfire embellish the dark welkin. I lay on the dewy grass and stare at the clean, black-slate sky. My mind is as peaceful as this night. Grabbing a stick, I push a marshmallow upon it and poke it in the heart of the fire. Flames wrap around the puffy-white blob and it soon metamorphoses into a black coal. I put my overcooked marshmallow on a graham cracker and I lay back down. A blissful laugh escapes my lips as the warm, gooey s’more dribbles down my chin. Pin-pricks of light slowly emerge in the inky black sky. If I didn’t go up to my cabin this weekend, I would have been in bed by now, getting my rest before I undergo the same day again. But all complications are at ease, not to be bothered with. I don’t want to be anywhere else than where I am now.