Growing Up in the Leadership Institute

For six of the last seven years, I’ve grown up in CMU’s Leadership Institute. I’ve gone from a first-year Leader Advancement Scholar to a Graduate Assistant and my journey (for now) has come to an end. I grew up in the LI  – from a 17 year old kid to a 24 year old young professional seeking the next opportunity that life presents.

My experience culminates with a program that set the stage for what my life would become. At the end of my first year (2011), I attended the LeaderShape Institute, where I was challenged to clarify my core values, discuss what would be possible to achieve, and determine what impact I wanted to make on the world around me. In the most cliche way possible, the LeaderShape Institute has served as the beginning and ending of my time at CMU. As a member of the faculty this year’s Institute, it serves as a personal ending and beginning.

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Standing alongside 140 people asking what can we do to make the world better? How can we Live in Possibility? How can we build a more Just, Caring, and Thriving world that is a place for everyone? I am deeply thankful that I have been given the chance to ask myself those questions once more before I enter the professional world. How can I enact the vision I wrote down several years ago? How has that vision changed? How have I changed? What have I achieved and what is left to do?

What comes next for me is a life of seeing what’s possible, of building/maintaining meaningful and healthy relationships, as well as doing work that positively affects the lives of others. Though I may have already carried that in me, CMU’s Leadership Institute pulled it out of me. My life is immensely better because of the people, experiences, and wisdom gained from being part of the Leadership Institute.

There are so many people to thank, and to each and every single one of you – Thank You from the bottom of my heart. I will carry with me the lessons, love, kindness, and memories that you have shared with me.

Forging New Partnerships. Transforming Communities.

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Photos Taken by Arturo – Mujerave Staff Photographer

There is something beautiful happening in the countryside of Guatemala in Totonicapán. It’s happening quietly, too. Lives are being changed by the work of a community based organization – Mujerave, which was created by Kody Gerkin, a former member of the Peace Corps. I learned of Mujerave (moo-hare-ah-vey) after sitting on a panel with Emily Gerkin Guerrant, Kody’s Sister. She spoke about her brother’s passion with great zeal, which prompted me to dig a little deeper. I knew I had to find a way to get involved after learning of the values, commitments, and goals of the organization.

Mujerave’s mission is to contribute to the alleviation of poverty, the eradication of malnutrition, and the reduction of preventable illnesses by empowering women through sustainable development projects in indigenous communities in the department of Totonicapán, Guatemala. As for the vision of Mujerave: Through increasing food security, expanding community-based education initiatives, and improving health-related infrastructure in underserved rural, indigenous communities in Guatemala’s Western Highlands, Mujerave’s vision is a Totonicapán less burdened by preventable illnesses, chronic malnutrition, and debilitating poverty.

In 2011, at the LeaderShape Institute, I was asked the big questions, “what would you do for the rest of your life if money and time weren’t barriers?” or “what are you doing today to make the world a more just, caring and thriving place?” These questions stayed with me throughout the week and for many years to come. I still ask myself those questions year after year. My vision, though extremely limited and inarticulate at the time, was to make a division-less world. Nearly 6 years later, I can explicitly say that even back then, it had everything to do with ending poverty, creating opportunities for others to have better lives, and working with and on behalf of the global community.

After a few bumps and bruises, failures and mistakes, I began to realize that I didn’t have to save the world on my own. I simply had to do my part to make the world better in my own way, as well as find ways to support others who were already working in other capacities, industries, and communities. This led me to Mujerave, as well as a philanthropic partnership. I’ve made a five-year commitment to support Mujerave’s work to reduce poverty, increase gender mainstreaming in policy and action, as well as aid in sustainable development.

Many women around the world are powerful stewards in their communities, yet they are still overlooked and underrepresented in places of power. Mujerave provides resources and a space for women to use their voices, wisdom, and experiences to make their communities healthier, improve economic stability, and much more.

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To learn more visit: http://www.mujerave.org

Feel free to make a donation in support of the many projects that are currently taking place, as well as future projects.

A Month Has Passed…

It’s been exactly one month since I decided to try eating as a vegetarian and I’ve learned a lot. Here are a few things I experienced over the past few weeks.

First and foremost – To be honest, my choice to be try  this whole vegetarian thing was purely selfish. I wanted to be healthier for me. Though I’m sure it has positive affects on the environment, animal rights, and a variety of other things, I didn’t want to make this change scientific, too deep, or some dramatic event with meaningful lessons and all that jazz. Much of those benefits are byproducts of the last month. I admire people who choose to be vegetarian for noble reasons. My journey has no direct connection to nobility.

Secondly, I thought about food so much over the last month, especially at the beginning. What foods would I miss having? Could I really go an entire month without meat? How much salad would I consume in 30 days? My first non-salad, vegetarian meal was a wonderful homemade, spinach and ricotta ravioli topped with pesto. There was also wine (much needed wine).

Thinking about food constantly made me talk about food constantly. I annoyed myself so much (others too I’m sure). All the memes or jokes that say part of being a vegetarian is telling everyone are so much funnier now. It took up so much mental space. I felt like I had to proclaim it to the world, and really only other vegetarians care so you can exchange recipes and secretly/openly judge everyone who is. I didn’t participate in the judging, because all I wanted was Wendy’s chicken nuggets, which, I’m sure, barely qualify as meat anyway.

So what have I discovered from being vegetarian for a month?

  1. There’s more to life than salad. Though I love a good salad, there are so many other foods out there and they are just as delicious, if not more.
  2. Fastfood isn’t very vegetarian friendly, which worked out for me because this choice was health related (I still miss Cheesy Gordita Crunches – shout out to Taco Bell).
  3. Your body responds to different foods in different ways. I have more energy. I feel more focused. I have more clarity. Overall, I feel better.
  4. Food is such a big part of my life. I love cooking, trying new recipes, finding awesome wine pairing with great appetizers, and so much more. I love food and food culture.

Here are some challenges I encountered:

  1. Eating became much more involved – I thought so much more about food. I talked a lot about food. (Sorry if you were around me a lot during the last month.) It took up a lot of mental space.
  2. Cravings. Cravings. Cravings. I wanted a greasy burger for an entire week. Didn’t get one and I’m not really on board with black bean burgers yet. Still kinda want a burger.
  3. I ate a lot of oatmeal. I got so tired of eating the same things. It helped with my creativity in the kitchen. Dealing with this got easier as time went on and I tried new recipes.
  4. Sometimes I wouldn’t have enough protein and I learned the new meaning of HANGRY even though I was having normal portion sizes.

All in all, I’ve learned a lot over the last month and I feel healthier. I haven’t decided if I’ll continue on or not. The journey continues.

The Craft of Writing

Practice. Practice. Practice. Fail. Correct. Correct again. Rewrite. Revise. Practice. Practice. Practice.

“I was learning the craft of poetry, which really was an intensive version of what my mother had taught me all those years ago – the craft of writing as the art of thinking.” Ta-Nehisi Coates

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I’ve always loved writing as a form of communication. I have five journals for five different topics, but they share a common purpose –  they exist for me to get my thoughts onto a page in order to make sense of them. Over the years, I’ve learned to etch my thoughts into semi-eloquent phrases that may yield cohesive thoughts, but more often than not, I write, organize, rewrite, edit, post, notice mistakes (I hate this part), revise, update posts, and the begin again.

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After a discussion with a good friend, I decided to revisit Between the World and Me, authored by Ta-Nehisi Coates. The writing itself is captivating, but more important to me is the fact that the ideas expressed are deeply personal to me because they are reflective of my life experiences. I imagine that one day, I’ll be able to write in a way that effectively articulates my thoughts and emotions, but also reflects back what the world has given me, as well as what others have experienced.

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Writing as a way of thinking is time consuming in many ways, but for me it is time well-spent. Organizing thoughts and emotions related to personal experience relieves stress and aids me in finding clarity. In the developmental or academic context, writing helps me bridge the seemingly invisible gaps between the concepts of human dignity, leadership, human rights, communication, and cultural pluralism to name a few interests. Writing, in personal and developmental circumstances, produces clarity and new understanding.

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So, I challenge you to write your thoughts down. Allow them to flow in an unorganized fashion, draw, revisit, edit, rewrite, and then share them with someone close to you. Ultimately, I think writing as a practice has made me a better thinker, more inquisitive, and more appreciative of writers who can author books, create meaningful poems, or produce art that captivates the hearts and minds of others. Words may not always be enough, but they sure help. Write your heart out!

When the best leader’s work is done, the people will say, ‘we did it ourselves.’

In 2015, I rejoined the Leadership Institute as a Graduate Student charged with the mission to coordinate leadership programs. This meant I would work with undergraduate student coordinators who would help build and implement leadership programs for students all across CMU’s campus.

When I arrived, CMU’s Leadership Institute was facing a tipping point. It was time to change and much of what we did would need to change as well; not in spirt because at its core the LI was staying the same – prompting students to develop into ethical leaders who would go out to impact our campus community, as well as our local, national, and international communities. What was changing was how we did that.

One program in particular was evolving – risk, change, uncertain, and a belief that it could be made better. Jesi Ekonen, David Walter, and Natalie Woods had transformed what used to be the Alpha Leadership Program into what would become the Spark Leadership Series. I arrived as this first iteration had be completed. Two semesters of testing occurred and we found great success. We offered the opportunity to more students than we had previously, we refined our method and messages. By all accounts it was successful, but we weren’t satisfied.

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Within the existing framework, we found that a four-week program was no longer conducive to our calendar. We’d recently added Catalyst – a LeaderShape Program, the Academic Calendar didn’t allow for much flexibility, and eventually we’d run right into another program. We’d risk over-programming students by keeping Spark the same. So we took another calculated risk. We changed Spark from four weeks to one day.

This took some maneuvering and creativity. After yesterday, we found what we were looking for. A program that could offered multiple times in a semester to a variety of audiences presented in a way that was engaging, refined, and efficient. That is in part to some very important people. My undergraduate coordinators: David Walter, Amanda Yats, and Jordyn Salerno.

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In an organic process that played to one another’s strengths, each of them took on a role that allowed them to become the best version of a Spark Coordinator – David possesses an immense amount of creativity, but also the control to produce amazing material. This is one of David’s greatest talents. One area in which I’ve seen him grow tremendously is in his ability to present material with confidence, certainty, and with great passion. His understanding of the mission, purpose, and direction of Spark has come with time and commitment. We’ll be sad to see him move on to his next journey come May. If there were awards for our office and program, David would receive the Spark award for passion, commitment, and creativity.

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Amanda Yats, aside from a printer malfunction (she’ll understand that one), made this event happen behind the scenes. Her ability to coordinate an event is as professional as it gets. She spent months make sure that rooms were reserved, catering was ordered and adjusted, and that all physical materials that participants receive were creative and without error. Without her efforts, the day would simply not be possible. If there were awards to give for our office and program, Amanda would receive the Heart and Soul of award.

Jordyn Salerno is a Grad Assistant’s dream coordinator because she knows how to get people organized and in the same place. There is another important group that is absolutely necessary for Spark and those are the Spark facilitators. Jordyn spent last semester and many day over her own winter break coordinating the selection and training of facilitators. Without question, her work led to one of the most cohesive facilitator teams the LI has ever had. If there were awards to give for our office and program, Jordyn would receive the Leadership Award, because her efforts resulted in the creation of more leaders.

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Together, the Spark Coordinators provided a transformative experience that has undoubtedly helped students begin their journey to discover and manifest their leadership potential. That is truly remarkable.

Maybe I’m getting sentimental with graduation looming and I’ll have to walk out of this position in a few months. But maybe, it’s more than sentimentality – maybe it is the understanding that this program could run without now because of how strong my team is. Either way, I am deeply thankful for their work, and more than that, I hold a great sense of pride in their ability to affect the lives of others who are beginning their leadership journey.

Building Together – Finding Inspiration in Your Circle

Community is deeply important in regards to success, social support, and development. When I look at the community of family and friends that support and build me up, I can’t help but be inspired, hopeful, and deeply grateful. These are the people I love, I support, and care about. One of my intentions is to better express my gratitude toward them all.

The initial idea for this post came last Friday after I sat down with my badass mentor, Lisa Hadden, who does all kinds of great work related to Asset Based Community Development. To quote her, “The greatest diversity is the proliferation of gifts to your community. Our communities should allow space for people to become great.” This struck me in a way that resulted in a great deal of reflection over the weekend. Who was in my life doing amazing work? How could I support them? How can I share their stories?

I thought about mentors, friends, family members, and people that I’ve just stayed connected to in one way, shape, or form. The second inspiration came from catching up with my girlfriend. We talked about proactive strategies related to social issues related to education, politics, and enacting change. She’s a boss, challenges me to really be invested in ways I wouldn’t normally be, and she reminds me that there is good in the world.

The last note focuses on a friend and brother that has been in my life for nearly 10 years. Zo was on Snapchat discussing his journey toward joining the US Navy, having a beautiful baby girl, making long term plans for success, and where his life is headed. Seeing your friends succeed as well as find their niche creates a great sense of pride. He also dropped a few musical gems in between the positive notes.

I look at my circle and see tons of inspiration – My family is doing well (parents, brother, cousins, and so on). My best friend is moving to Georgia soon. My college best friends are in their careers and thriving around the country. Lastly, I LITERALLY (not in the ironic way) have friends on every continent, except Antarctica, that are fighting for good causes, building business, sharing their creativity with the world through music and art, and so much more.

Years ago I had the savior approach many passionate people have at some point or another. “I have to be the one to do it.” “This is my burden to bare” “It has to be me” mindset that can really cause you to do more harm than good. Great friends and mentors serve as a reminder that we, as a community, make the world better. “The world needs less ME and more WE.” Happy Monday, everybody.

A Year of Generosity, Experiences, and Building.

“Hemingway said we heal stronger at the broken places, but I’ve found that where the heart is concerned, we also heal more tenderly, more open to the miraculous.” Boyd Varty, author of Cathedral of the Wild, spoke about setting intentions for the year in the last chapter of his book, The Om in Motion.

Instead of creating rigid resolutions that I often seem to fail at, I’ve decided to set clear intentions for myself. What do I want to feel more of? What do I want to do more of? How can I express more gratitude? What can I give more, be it time or resources? Am I maintaining strong relationships rooted in mutual respect, dignity, and love?

The world was rocked pretty hard in 2016. A difficult year didn’t come about unintentionally. No matter how you look at it, there were many times of despair, shock, pain, and hardship caused by natural disasters and people. Many of those things hit me at my core, but on the other side of the coin was success, change, exploration, outpours of love and support, resilience, new friendships and relationships, and the maintenance of old friendships. For me, it was a full year that began with traveling abroad and ending with family at home. 2016 was a year of saying yes to myself. It was a year of healing, soul-searching, and personal growth. 2017 will be a year for balance.

My first intention for the year is to be more generous with my time and resources. I’ve been fortunate enough to receive scholarships for grad school, receive free housing and a stipend. This has allowed me flexibility with time and resources. I hope to support causes with time through volunteering and with resources be it monetary or otherwise. I also hope to be generous with my gratitude and to be more vocal in expressing thanks to others. I want give back to the communities that have given me so much.

My second intention is to continue to having valuable experiences that enhance my learning, bring me joy, and feed my soul. There is value in participation and reflection. In 2016, I traveled abroad and domestically quite a bit. It was enlivening and enriching. I hope to read more, discuss important topics, and simply find joy in daily experiences. I want to see beautiful places and meet beautiful people.

My last intention for the year is to maintain meaningful relationships and cultivate new relationships. The concept of Ubuntu, an African philosophy, has become widely known around the world and it means “I am because you are.” In essence, people exist to be part of communities. Without other people, there is little meaning for our lives. It is important to me build trusting, meaningful relationships that are rooted in dignity, mutual respect, and love.

As you can tell these are not resolutions as they are not rigid, explicitly defined, and time-bound. To me, intentions act like the winds that fill sails and propels ships forward; the must be revisited, adjusted, and reflected upon often. 2017 will be a year of building for me and my intentions will guide me. Best wishes to all celebrating a new year or any time of renewal in life.

Amigos de todo el mundo – El abogado de Argentina (Friends Around the World – The Attorney from Argentina)

As you can see in the title both the Spanish and English language are represented. My friend Flor, who is a lawyer in Buenos Aires, and I met in Florence, Italy in 2015. Since then, she’s traveled many amazing places and balances work, life, and traveling. You’ll find that the following blog will be in both Spanish and English as a representation of our friendship. Enjoy!

Como se puede ver en el título tanto el español como el inglés están representados. Mi amiga Flor, que es abogada en Buenos Aires, y me reuní en Florencia, Italia en 2015. Desde entonces, ella ha viajado por muchos lugares increíbles y equilibra el trabajo, la vida y los viajes. Usted encontrará que el siguiente blog será escrito en español e inglés como una representación de nuestra amistad. Disfruta!

Esta es la histora de Flor. This is Flor’s Story!

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¿De donde eres? ¿Qué ciudad y país?

 Me llamo Flor  y soy de Buenos Aires, Argentina.

 ¿Viaja con frecuencia?

 Me gradué de la universidad en diciembre del 2014. Hasta el momento que estuve muy enfocada en mis estudios y no tenía forma de solvente grandes viajes.Una vez ya graduado decidí ir a Europa un mes y medio a modo de “festejo”. Ese viaje resultó el Puntapié inicial para descubrir que viajar es una experiencia única que te conecta con un sin fin de emociones.En la actualidad trato de organización de viajes (cortos-largos) con la mayor frecuencia posible.

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Portobello Road Market – London, England

Que país ha sido favorito? ¿Qué te ha gustado?

 No puedo elegir uno solo. Mis dos favoritos son Inglaterra y Costa Rica.

Londres fue la primera ciudad europea que conocí y quedó fascinada con toda su estructura y perfección. Lo mejor de todo: Los parques.Mi preferido Holland Park y una hora del centro Houmpton Court.

 En Costa Rica existe una energía especial. Más allá de la belleza de sus playas creo que lo mejor es su gente. Utilizar la frase “PURA VIDA” como saludo. Son dos palabras que simbolizan su forma de vivir: alegría, armonía y paz.

Mi playa favorita: Santa Teresa. Sus atardeceres son de película.

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Santa Theresa – Costa Rica

 ¿Tiene algún otro viaje planeado para el próximo año?

 Si, México en abril del 2017.

¿Qué es lo que más te gusta de viajar?

 En una palabra: La libertad.

Si pudieras decirle a la gente algo que inspirar a viajar, ¿qué dirías?

¡La vida es una sola, you live one !!!

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Cliffs of Moher, Irlanda

English Translation:

Where are you from? What city and country?

 My name is Flor and I am from Buenos Aires, Argentina.

 Do you travel frequently?

 I graduated from university in December of 2014. Until then I was very focused on my studies and had no way of planning great trips. Once I graduated I decided to go to Europe for a month and a half as a “celebration”. That trip was the starting point to discover that traveling is a unique experience that connects you with an endless number of emotions. Currently, I try to organize trips (short and long) as often as possible.

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Portobello Road Market – London, England

What country has been your favorite? What did you like?

I cannot choose one. My two favorites are England and Costa Rica.

London was the first European city I visited and I was fascinated with all its structure and perfection. Best of all: The Parks. My favorite was Holland Park and 1 hour from downtown Hampton Court.

In Costa Rica, there is a special energy. Beyond the beauty of its beaches, I think the best is its people. They use the phrase “PURA VIDA” as a greeting. These are two words that symbolize their way of living: joy, harmony and peace. My favorite beach: Santa Teresa. Their sunsets are like the movies.

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Santa Theresa – Costa Rica

Do you have any other trips planned for next year?

Yes, Mexico in April 2017.

What do you like most about traveling?

In a word: Freedom.

If you could tell people something to inspire them to travel, what would you say?

You live once!!!!

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Cliffs of Moher – Ireland

Friends Around the World: The American Artist in Italy

From conversations in hostels to exploring cities together, I’ve met some interesting people who all have amazing stories to tell. I’ll be starting a series that highlights friends that I’ve met around the world and their stories.

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This summer in Certaldo, Italy at the Fattoria Bassetto Guesthouse I had the pleasure of meeting Zoe Rayner, an American artist living in Italy. We became friends after three days of conversation and the sharing of wine, pasta, and personal stories. It didn’t take long to discover her amazing talent for drawing. As I journaled at the kitchen table, Zoe took out a sketchpad, several pens and pencils, and started crafting a masterpiece. Check out her Instagram page to see more work by Zoe, @zoe.illustration. Be sure to follow me for more updates @vincent_thurman1.

Though it may not  reflect in her work pre-say, she does pull inspiration from Arthur Rackham, Katie Scott, James Jean, Brett Helquist, and Jared Muralt. “I’m definitely not saying that my art looks anything like theirs, but I find their styles and the depth of their ideas endlessly inspirational.

Bellow you’ll find a short interview between myself and Zoe.

Vincent: Why drawing?

Zoe: I always loved art, and it became a sort of natural direction for me to take. The process of creating something can be so meditative and personal, so it’s interesting to see how others respond to what you’ve made and how you can use the personal process to convey something universal.

Vincent: Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve drawn?

Zoe: One of my favorites is of an octagonal bee hive, with a few bees around it. I wasn’t really planning it ahead of time, so it just developed as I drew. It was one of the more challenging drawings that I’d done then, so it felt like a personal accomplishment, to push myself a bit further than usual.

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Vincent: Describe a moment that captures the spirt of your work?

Zoe: I guess one moment that stands out is when I realized that art was what I wanted to do for a living: I was avoiding a college paper, so I sat down to draw instead, and when the piece was done I suddenly felt this clarity. I like to be able to return to that feeling whenever I’m doing a new piece.

Vincent: Any last words of inspiration for other artists?

Zoe: Everyone has their own style, their own way of expressing an idea or emotion. Don’t compare yourself to others, but take inspiration from them and strengthen your personal style. It’s much more rewarding to reach that point of feeling unique in your work, and to be aware of the qualities that make it your own.

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 Artist Spotlight: Zoe Rayner – find her on Instagram to explore her work.

Travel Series Part 3 – Nostalgic. Grateful. And Ready to Go Again

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Imagine coming home after four months of exploration, being fully present, and navigating life in places so unfamiliar that all you could do was stumble around for a while until you found your way? Midge Carter found herself buying tickets for trains with no destination in mind. She hiked mountains, walked out to island after the tide rolled out, and sat at King Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh at sunrise with 16 amazing friends. (Photos at the end).

Today’s blog is about Midge’s four-month journey around Europe. From hot chocolate in Ibiza to longing for Smucker’s All Natural Peanut Butter by the end of her trip, Midge shared with me interesting stories about not wanting to leave, but finally coming to a place where she is grateful for her experiences, but so deeply ready to leave again. (She’s not particular about much, but she is about peanut butter. – “Smucker’s All Natural Peanut Butter or NOTHING”). In France, she found herself wandering around markets before heading out for a solo-hike. “I don’t speak French so I just walked around pointing at things and ended up with a few oranges and a baguette. I hiked up this mountain by myself and I sat on the side of it looking out at the alps… just sitting there like this is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever experienced.”When you’re traveling for months at a time, you experience these peaceful, still moments where it’s just you and the world.

You also find that much of your success is related to the kindness of others. Traveling is deeply revealing – it shows us deepest selves, our strength, our ability to be alone and be happy, and our need to connect wherever we go. “There was one day when two of us met up with two friends for a hike and when we got to the top it was so windy and no one else was around. It was JUST us. It was just the most… it was one of those moments that feels so tangible because it’s so solid when you’re in it and you want to remember it.” These moments aren’t easily forgotten. We hold tightly to the moments where we felt most alive. We remember who was with us, what the air felt like, and how important the people around us were in those moments.

As the trip came to a close the emotions changed. The desire to get off the plane and escape back to a new place grows and grows. “The hardest part was that I didn’t want to be home. Especially because I spent the rest of the summer in the same town I grew up in. It’s like going from doing something interesting every day and all of sudden you’re back in the grind. It’s not like every day there (Europe) was perfect, but it wasn’t every day here.” While listening to Midge share stories of travel and her journey home, I couldn’t help but go back to the moment of landing back in the States after my first trip abroad. That feeling of I could be anywhere in the world right now, why did I come back here sets in. You think of just buying the first ticket out to wherever and going away again. It doesn’t last forever, but it does feel like it will never go away.

After a while, you come to a point where you’ve settled back in. You find that the grind isn’t so bad and you look back on all the memories made with amazing people. “I think I stopped being angry when I felt like I was doing something with my life again… And I’m at a point where I’m nostalgic, and grateful, and ready to go again,” The desire to travel never really goes away after that first trip. It intensifies and staying in familiar places too long starts to feel suffocating, but that’s when you look through old photos, plan your next trip and get on your way.

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All photos were provided by Midge Carter. Midge is studying public relations, a lover of Smucker’s All Natural Peanut Butter, and a fellow Travel enthusiast.