Why I Strive to Become Mr. American Flag Guy

That Dumb American Tourist

He struts off the plane with his head held high. His jacket swings open as he swaggers over to customs so you can see the T-shirt he has beneath with that obnoxious eagle wearing a red white and blue hat. If you were to open his backpack, you would see a travel sized American flag rolled up in the side pocket because, as he often reminds us, “A good American never leaves home without one.” The backgrounds on his laptop range from George Washington to Reagan, and if you ask his why, his answer is always “because I’m an American”.  

He wears his sunglasses indoors and refuses to use any voice level below eight. He pronounces Je voudrais as Jenny Craig- and unlike me, he’s having the time of his life.

When I went on a school trip to Europe with 42 other members of my class, I knew that no matter where I went, I would instantly be labeled as a dumb tourist- one of those annoying ones whose group takes up all the tables in a restaurant and refuses to speak anything but English. I hate being perceived like this when abroad, so, I did what any reasonable person would do and tried to blend in.

I brought all my European-esque clothes, hid under my scarf, and tried to stay towards the back of the pack where it wouldn’t be obvious that I was with the group. When in France and Belgium, I tried to only speak French. In Amsterdam, I downloaded an app to learn some Dutch so could at least say Hello, and ask for coffee. On the metro in Paris, when my group hogged an entire car and kept yelling about whales, I drifted to the back, put in my headphones, and kept my head down. I’m not going to lie, I was not only embarrassed, but miserable.

For six months while I studied abroad in France, I made it my primary objective every day to fit in. I wanted people to forget that I was just another exchange kid- I wanted to be seen as French. Obviously I still wasn’t able to completely shake that mindset, as I was very, very uncomfortable on that metro months later. But that night, I made it a point to observe and emulate Mr. American Flag Guy.

Mr. American Flag Guy is shamelessly American; patriotic, confident, aggressive, and has no problem relating everything back to big business. He was having a great time making a fool of himself on the metro, yelling on the streets, and taking tacky tourist photos at every turn. Meanwhile, I was trying my hardest to become a speck of dust on the bottom of some Parisian woman’s shoe. At that moment, I realized just how pathetic I was and reminded myself that I have years upon years to blend in and feel like a true Parisian. I would never be back in Paris with my high school friends; this opportunity to whip out the selfie stick and laugh at the top of my lungs would be gone forever in a matter of days. So, I got my ass out of the corner and joined in the ruckus.

Sometimes, it’s good to be “that” American tourist.

Sure, I was still that kind-of-obnoxious friend/mom that told all my friends to hush if they were causing too much of a ruckus on the train and I still winced when Mr. American Flag Guy expressed the cultural sensitivity of a toddler, but I was definitely enjoying myself far more than the Mandy from a few hours ago. She still uses her headphones to block out the noise.

Little does she know, however, that it’s not the sound of dumb Americans that she’s tuning out- it’s comforting melody of friends from home.

 

Setting New Goals

Something I Gotta Do.

If you’re a frequent reader of my blog posts (which you probably are because you’re probably related to me or Jess) you’ll know that I’m currently studying abroad in France. Well, since arriving here, I’ve gained quite a bit of weight, and I’m really not comfortable with the way my body is looking and feeling right now. For the last year or so, I’ve put on more than 10 pounds, and it’s time for me to stop ignoring it.

Some of the reasons for this are personal, but my biggest spikes weight wise have come from being far from home and immersed in unhealthy food that I haven’t been able to resist. Believe it or not, I really love working out and eating healthy foods, more than I like cupcakes and potato chips, but I’m awful at controlling cravings, saying no when someone offers me food, and I eat/bake when I’m stressed or upset. Obviously, the combination of these things does nothing to help my physique.

So, tomorrow, October 23rd, 2016, is going to be the start of a new period of clean living- healthier eating habits, habitual exercise, water consumption, and relaxation. My two week long school vacation recently began, so I’ll have plenty of time to go for runs, head to the gym, get my work done for Nano and my school back at home, SLEEP, and I’ll get to be in charge of what I eat with full control over the kitchen.

I plan to use these two weeks as a sort of detox so that I can return to school in November with a clean slate. This means vegetables and fruits for snacks, cream-sauce-less protein, lots of water, a smaller intake of simple carbs (baguettes/pasta) and a ban on junk food/fast food. Although I recognize that this will be pretty difficult with my host family’s eating habits, I’m sure I can find ways to eat cleaner versions of their meals or cook my own. Fortunately, I have a gym membership and I’m already an avid Pinterest user, so I can get in my daily exercise and find plenty of healthy recipes online.

I’m ordering a veggie pasta maker online (because zucchini pasta is AMAZING) and I plan to stockpile on supplies this coming week to try my hand at cooking something that doesn’t contain sugar.

Basically, I’m deciding to use this blog as a source of accountability. I’ve never had much luck making myself stick to anything, but there’s something about having something written and posted where you know anyone can see it that makes you feel like you really have to follow through. Even if nobody sees this, at least I know that if I fail and cheat, I’ll have to delete this post or have it forever haunt me as yet another thing I said I’d do but didn’t.

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Like Versus Love

I love music.

Ask me 10 things I like and I’ll say things along the lines of: ice cream, the TV show Arrow, Avatar, swimming, running etc.

Ask me 10 things I love, and things become more complicated.

There are things that we are supposed to love, like our friends, family, or a sport we’ve played since we were still in the womb, but as time has gone on, I’ve been trying to distinguish the difference between liking and loving, and why exactly we all feel compelled to give often true but very similar answers when asked what it is we love most.

This whole train of ideas started a while back in my school’s advisory when my teacher asked the class whether we would rather be deaf or blind. Now for me, I have always wanted to learn sign language, so I’ve always chosen to be deaf. I’ve been asked this question numerous times and have always been pretty confident in my answer, but I have a friend who always chooses the opposite; she would take blindness any day over losing her ability to listen to music.  

At the time I said something along the lines of “Yeah, I feel that, but I mean, I still wanna see stuff.” (Yes, I know, my eloquence is outstanding, thanks for noticing.) When I think about that now, that I could never hear my favorite songs again, I feel something strange and empty that quite literally hurts my heart. I don’t think I’ve ever gone a day without listening to something, even now as I write this article I have Ludovico Einaudi’s slow, beautiful piano melodies streaming through the speakers on my laptop. Music has been a method of escape for as long as I can remember, whether it be blasting Novocaine by Fall Out Boy to drown out my mother’s lectures, or staring out the window on a rainy day imagining that I’m a character in some sad movie while I listen to Kodaline’s What It Is.

When it’s 1:00 in the morning on a Tuesday and I can’t turn off my brain, I’m listening to Tyler Joseph’s precious voice crack through my headphones. When I’m ready to punch a wall or an obnoxious sixth grader on my bus, my shock over Brendon Urie’s unbelievable vocal range keep my fists by my side.

I guess the point of all these examples is to illustrate that I don’t just like music because it sounds good or it’s fun to dance to, I live through lyrics and my heart beats to the rhythms hammered out on drum sets. Music is more than something to include on the “my interests” part of my profile, It’s something I’m passionate about- something I love.

Acknowledging this made me wonder- what else do I love? What else stirs up indescribable tremors in my chest? I thought about the things that I do that make me excited beyond reason when I talk about, things that are constantly on my mind, things that I can’t imagine living without.

I love writing, I love books, I love to travel and learn languages, I love adrenaline. There are more things to love in my life than I realized. If I’m ever feeling miserable and stressed and I can’t seem to find anything that I want to do- nothing left to do that I like- I picture that feeling of true ease and adoration that I get when I do things I love, and that’s enough of a distraction to pull myself out of that dark space.

I never want to undervalue the importance of ice cream, my favorite TV shows and other things I like, because those can be my little spurts of happiness as I go throughout my day, but it’s the consistency and solidity of those few things I truly love that keep me moving.

I’m still not sure whether I would prefer to be deaf or blind (that practical part of my brain makes choosing too difficult) but I’m glad that I can’t find an answer. There are things I love about my ears and my eyes. At the end of the day, that silly little question sparked an entire wave of ideas about the difference between appreciation and adoration, and I hope that something within this article ignited some thoughts in you. Go on, think, “ponder of something great”, search for that feeling, you’ll know it when you find it; it’s called love.

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What Stress is Worth It

What Stress is Worth it? 

If you are or ever have been a student, then you have probably experienced stress at some point during your high school career. This stress affects some people far more than others, however I have no doubt that every human being alive today can name at least one stressful situation that they’ve had to endure recently. As humans, stress and stress responses are hard wired into our DNA, and as a result, we have numerous behavioral mechanisms, both physiological and psychological, that are prepared to help us combat this underrated epidemic.  

The fight or flight response. This is something that we’ve all heard of and probably experienced before, so if you don’t mind, I am going to skip explaining all of the biological processes behind this phenomenon since I don’t particularly like science, and I would prefer to  just move ahead to why stress = bad. According to the theory of fight or flight, we have two options when faced with a stressful situation, run away or tough it out.  When I mention cutting stress out of your life, I don’t mean to just run away from every problem or test that starts to bug your brain; that would qualify as a “flight” reaction, and sometimes they can be just as emotionally taxing as a three and a half hour AP Physics exam. You see, running away from your problems can seem extremely beneficial at the time being, but there is an underlying effect that people rarely consider when fleeing from a problem… regret.

Oh regret, the sharp edged knife that cuts deep into our chest whenever we make a tough decision. Regret is arguably the most humane emotion that we experience, and it’s crippling. Regret lies heavy in the hearts of many and can drive madness into the minds of anyone who cannot bear the weight. “What if I had studied more for that test?” “What if I didn’t go out with my friends last night?”  “What would have happened?” These questions make us all wish we had reset buttons that could turn back the clock, but since such an object has yet to be invented, we are forced to drudge through our doubts and uneasiness until we can move on. Sometimes that process takes minutes, hours, or days, and sometimes, weeks, months, or even years to complete, and still the memory of that heaviness remains in our hearts.

So, if fighting through stress is painful, but suffering through regret is equally torturous, then how do we win our battles against this pesky little devil?  If you were expecting a clear answer, I hate to tell you this, but I don’t exactly have one.

Personally, I try to gauge my stress levels by prioritizing certain tasks, and letting go of my unreasonable expectations. By this, I mean choosing a few immediate goals and working to accomplish them one by one. Also, I have to accept that there are some things more important than tests, or essays, like my mental health, for example.

One way that I have gone about eliminating stress is by deciding what in my life matters most to me, especially when it comes to school. I know for a fact that I care far more about learning foreign languages and studying our government as opposed to science and math, so I decided to cut myself a little slack when it came to my grades in those latter subjects. Don’t get me wrong, I still feel that pang of panic before any test, no matter the subject, but I tell myself that it doesn’t matter that much in the end. I know, I know, I can feel the eye rolls from behind the screen, but this strategy has worked for me in the past.

Once I set my priorities, I started chopping away at my schedule. I knew that I wanted more time to read for pleasure, study my various languages, and keep up to date on basically everything on CNN, so this meant that looking up the results of the Indiana Presidential Primary and studying for my French exam took priority over spending countless hours reviewing the differences between RNA transcription and translation. I made sure I was familiar with those topics, but then I focused my attention elsewhere. I also decided that doing two sports at the same time competitively was just not going to work anymore. It was hard, and I definitely felt that annoying regret settling in for a bit, but in the end, I treasure those extra two hours I get everyday when I don’t need to drive 40 minutes to a sport that I simply don’t love the way I used to.

I had to realize that my life was going to be okay if I didn’t participate in everything. I wasn’t going to fail at life because I dropped from an AP science class down to an honors, and colleges were not going to reject me solely because I cut winter track out of my schedule. I’m still working on accepting these new changes into my life, but so far, I’m really enjoying the extra hours of sleep, and the clear mist that blocks out the panic when I take a math test. For me, this isn’t a flight response, it’s a fight. I had to sit down and really think about what I cared most about and what I could risk losing, I had to work through those feelings. I have determined where I want to go in this world, and found the most efficient way to get there.

My interests may change and fade with time as hobbies do, and so my priorities will develop along with them. Stress may be inevitable, but we can choose the extent to which we allow it to control our lives. If we enjoy our stressful activities, are we really stressed at all?

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