Six months of my wild and crazy life wrapped up into one, simple, word.
The last six months of my life have been a wild roller coaster ride to say the least. I finished my junior year at University of Denver at the end of May, and packed up my things to move to Vail, Colorado for a 3 month internship. I was pretty excited with all the mountain stuff I do to live in such an awesome place, not to mention one of the most desirable places in the world for many people to live. While in Vail I met lots of awesome people, worked for an awesome company, lived out some of my dreams, hiked tons of 14ers, helped save a man's life, enjoyed more than my 15 minutes of fame, expanded my horizons, grew a lot as a person, and so on. After 3 months in Vail, I packed up my things to get on a plane and fly across the great pond to Paris where I took a train to Dijon to "study" for 3 months. I arrived safely in Dijon in early September with no lost luggage (imagine that!) ready to begin my studies here. I was a lost little island at first, not knowing anyone over here, not knowing where anything was, knowing enough French to do simple things but by no means enough, and the first few days were pretty rough for me and a bit challenging. I thought I was ready and totally prepared, packed smart, and was ready for this thing, but it ended up being so much more.
Before long I made lots of new and awesome friends from all over the world and began my classes. But before even going to a class, I started traveling. I have since then traveled all over Europe, visited Africa, and walked amongst and breathed in so many different, new, unique, and often times strange cultural experiences. I've traveled nearly everywhere by train, something that isn't common in the United States. My family spent one week in Paris and Dijon visiting me, and am now back in the US trying to resume life as normal, if there is such a thing anymore. All of these experiences have helped me grow and realize that I am not anywhere close to the person I was six months ago, I wouldn't be the person I am today if it weren't for these experiences, and I wouldn't change a thing. However, these experiences have also taught me to take a look back and examine life for what it is. That said, I think that I can sum all of my life's experiences over the last six months, no matter how crazy, drastic, bizarre, or otherwise into the simple word of Appreciation. A lot of this may sound really cliché, and I'm sorry if that's the case, but these six months have taught me to appreciate everything you have in life, including the things you wouldn't really expect. I'm writing this all down in the hopes that people might be able to learn to appreciate things in life as much as I have over these last 6 months.
Appreciate New Opportunities
Not everyone in life is as lucky as you. Moving to Vail was a gift, and one that I was incredibly fortunate to have. My dad has talked for years about "retiring in the mountains someday". Sometimes, it sounds like it might happen for him someday, and other times it just sounds like this dream, one that he shares with many other people. I was lucky enough to live and work in Vail for 3 months, and it helped me grow tremendously as a person. I was able to live in the heart of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. I felt like I was taking advantage of it at the time, and I think I did, but I still don't think I appreciated it enough today.
Sunset over Mt. Shavano from Salida, Colorado
Study Abroad. I was terrified when I was preparing for study abroad and I often questioned whether or not I'd make it. I convinced myself I'd be fine, and then got to Dijon and the first few days were really, really, tough. I was the only kid from Denver in Dijon and the only person I knew in the whole town. But I read a quote somewhere recently that we always fear what we don't know and what we don't understand, but those are always the experiences that we grow the most from. And as I sit here today, I am a walking, living, breathing testament to that. New opportunities in your life are something to be grateful for, even if they scare the crap out of you at first. Embrace them and make the most of them, and you'll be that much better of a person for it later.
Sunrise on Mt. Antero from Mt. Princeton
I learned very quickly when moving to Vail how quickly life can change. When I was out hiking Mt. Antero one day, I ended up helping rescue a man who crashed his ATV and saving his life by taking care of the proper first aid steps and precautions after we pulled him from the river. It was a pretty scary experience and one I'll never forget. It changed me forever, that's for sure. Every time I think about things in the future now, banking on the idea that something will happen, or asking myself why I'm recertifying myself for CPR when I don't necessarily need it since I have most of those steps memorized now, I'm always reminded: Life can change in an instant and you could be dead tomorrow. I don't mean to be heavy with that, but it's true. I look at life differently these days because of what happened that day. So appreciate life and every moment of every day and make sure if you died tomorrow that you'd be happy with what you did today. (Don't kill yourself today in case you might die tomorrow though, that would be bad.)
Appreciate What's Given to You
After all of this life saving heroism drama story stuff happened, I got more than my 15 minutes of fame. I'm not the kind of person who likes to be in the spotlight, so it was a little shocking and weird for me, but cool in some ways too I guess. Regardless, appreciate the things in life that are given to you. I only told three close friends and my family about what happened the day it happened, completely content with moving on with the rest of my life as though it never happened. But instead of staying out of the spotlight my story was covered by newspapers, blogs, and magazines over and over again. I was in the Vail Daily newspaper two or three times for it, the Salida newspaper twice, a couple online blogs I didn't even know about, the DU blog, and now in the DU magazine which gets sent to over 100,000 people this month. It all still blows my mind, and definitely isn't something I asked for or expected as a result of what happened while I was out hiking. So, appreciate what's given to you. Not everyone in this world is as lucky.
Appreciate the Little Things
Lionshead during a hike in Vail, Colorado
Some of you reading this probably live in Colorado, where we receive over THREE HUNDRED days of sunshine every year. Not the case in Dijon, or most places in Europe for that matter. I didn't realize how much I would miss that when I came to Europe. The same is true for mountains. We are too lucky to have mountains like we do in Colorado, and you can see them whether you're in Denver, Boulder, Colorado Springs, driving i70, or anywhere in between. I missed those in Dijon. If you're near a window or an open area, go look at the mountains or the blue sky we have. Not everyone gets to enjoy it like we do. And needless to say, I'll probably never want to live anywhere other than Colorado now. - Maybe I'm lucky, but I miss things like having cell service on my iPhone all the time, having access to a car regularly, fast internet, or having a reasonable bed at night to sleep in. All of these things changed when I went to Europe, and you don't realize how much you enjoy these things until you no longer have them at your disposal. So, appreciate the little things, because they make all the difference sometimes.
Appreciate the United States of America
Double rainbows over Beaver Creek, Colorado
Yeah, I said it. And whether you love or hate the way our country is run these days, once you live outside the country for an extended period of time, you'll learn to appreciate how lucky we all are to have what we do in our country. I considered myself somewhat patriotic before I left, but having lived in Europe for 3.5 months, I'm incredibly proud to represent the country that I do. Our political system, though it may seem screwed up at times, isn't anywhere near as bad as some stuff is in Europe, Africa, or other areas of the world. Talking to international students has taught me that. Appreciate the fact that you live in a culture and language that you know and *fully* understand. I can speak French, sure, and I know enough to get around, ask questions, convey my ideas, etc, but I am no where near fluent. The social norms and customs in Europe are incredibly different sometimes, both in France and in other countries, and be thankful that every day you understand things around you. It's not always that easy. By living in a culture that you understand you often times have the ability to "predict" in some ways the next move a person is going to make based on the situation, and I didn't have that in Europe. So, appreciate the fact that you do understand everything, and when you want to ask for something in a restaurant or while traveling, you're able to understand everything. I didn't realize how much I would miss that when I left the US in September.
Appreciate Your Friends
Hôtel Dieu, Beaunne, France
When you live on the other side of the world from all of your friends, life can be a bit challenging. You will always have friends you can turn to, but you won't always have friends you can go to. Make the most of those moments while you're at home or when you have the chance to spend time with your friends. Appreciate the ones who make an effort to keep in touch while you're gone, too, they're the ones who matter the most. Not all friends are that awesome. Appreciate the new friends you make too. All of my friends I've made over here in Europe have been awesome, and I'm lucky to have them. We've shared some pretty wild and incredible travel adventures together and some wild nights together in Dijon too. Appreciate the times you have with them while you've got them there. I know I'm going to miss all my friends I made during study abroad when we all fly back home to our different parts of the globe.
Appreciate Your Family
With my brother at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France
This kind of goes without saying, but I guess I always took it for granted that my family was a phone call away. It was always easy to call, text, get on the lightrail, drive, whatever, and see my family. When you're on the other side of the world, it's not quite so simple anymore, and the best you've got is Skype when you can find a way to line up the time differences. So make the most of the time that you have to spend with your family, whether they live close by or a 2 hour flight away. Having them visit me in France was awesome, and gave me a great appreciation for how important family is, something I undervalued while living at home and in Vail.
Appreciate Loved Ones
A candle burns for my grandfather in this small Church at the top of Zermatt, Switzerland
This one kind of took me by surprise and wasn't something I expected, but I've had a number of travel experiences across all parts of Europe, high and low, that have reminded me of my grandfather who passed a couple years ago. I referenced a man in Italy who I met who reminded me of my grandfather, and I felt something special and surreal come over me when I was in Zermatt in the Swiss Alps that reminded me of him. If I could put my finger on what that was, I would. There are a few churches in Europe (Italy, Zermatt, France) where I lit candles and said a few prayers, if you can call it that. I'm still skeptical at times of religion and it's place in my life, but something out there was calling, so I lit the candles and said thanks in a moment of thought. The moments that reminded me of my grandfather were something very special. I'm lucky that he's the only close family member I've lost, but don't take that time for granted. I certainly won't from this day forward. It makes me wonder sometimes what I would say to him about the last six months of my life, what he would think, and what kind of hilarious jokes I'm sure he would make about all kinds of things I would tell him about. I wish I could have that back sometimes, so appreciate it in your life while you've got it because those people won't always be there.
Appreciate New Experiences
Sunset on Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany
Traveling Europe isn't like traveling like the United States. The cultures are richer, older, deeper, and so much more diverse than the US it's incredible. And then you go to Africa and it's something completely different too in its own right. Traveling Europe has become one of the greatest things I've ever done with my life. I realize that's a bold statement to make, but it's true. I'm thousands of dollars poorer because of it, but my life is infinitely richer thanks to the new experiences I've had from it. While these experiences will no doubt throw you into situations that you aren't prepared for, appreciate them for what they are. When traveling Europe and so many different cultures, you learn to kind of just go with the flow and act like a sponge absorbing everything you can and accepting the experience for what it is. You will inevitably miss a train here or there, screw up a hostel reservation by being late, and be forced to eat new foods or take the subway systems in a city with the rest of the people who call that city their home. While these experiences are foreign and sometimes bizarre, they also teach you the most by exposing you to new cultures and walks of life that you may never have known existed. New experiences will shock you, terrify you, and sometimes break you down, but you'll be a broader and richer person afterwards as a result, so embrace them.
Sunset over the Vatican from Rome, Italy
So there you have it. If I could pick one lesson that I've learned from the last six months of my life, it's to appreciate everything you've got around you. Living in Vail for three months expanded my horizons and changed me more as a person than I could have ever imagined. And then I jumped inside a metal tube with a couple bags of belongings for Europe, and my world and horizons exploded even more. These six months have taught me to appreciate a lot, and I guess on the flip side who and what in my life really matters to me and what I can live without. It's all been invaluable information to have learned at such a young age, and I hope to carry it forward with me every day for the rest of my life. Appreciate every minute of every day and everything about each of those moments. In closing, I want to use one of my favorite quotes of all time. I spend a lot of downtime reading a big fat 800 page book of mine (no, it's not that really long Harry Potter book) called The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. In one of his works he writes,
"To the attentive eye, each moment of the year has it's own beauty, and in the same field, it beholds, every hour a picture which was never seen before and which shall never be seen again." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
So, appreciate every moment of every day of your life. You may never have back what you have in that moment, whether its a loved one, family, friends, the little things, or your own life, and learn as much as you can from what's around you and what you have. I hope everyone who reads this gets something from it, even if it's just one tiny little thing. Feedback is welcomed too! Enlightening? Boring? Funny? Too cliché? Let me know, and hopefully I'll see you all around now that I'm back in the United States of America!
Ciao, au revoir, and God Bless!