Birthday Memories, aka not about books

2009: The big one – 21. I’m fresh off the plane from the United States and spending the semester studying abroad in London. Even though I’ve only been in London for 11 days, I cleverly brought one of my best friends to study abroad at the same school, so between the two of us we are able to wrangle up a few new friends to help me ring in the year.

While I’ve been able to drink legally in this country already, the bartender couldn’t be more thrilled to help me celebrate my official U.S. legal-ness and promptly hands me a tequila shot. Not much more of the night can be said.

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2011: I’m traveling for three weeks in Turkey on a short-term study abroad trip. Once again, I find myself celebrating my birthday with a group of people who really just started to get to know me in the last ten days and shouldn’t feel particularly obligated to make me the birthday princess. Luckily, I spent the last week intensely advertising my upcoming birthday and look forward to what they might have in store.

And that day was, well… kind of normal. Our educational activities that day in Konya were blah. We couldn’t even do anything fun that evening as we have an overnight train ride back to Istanbul.

I’m a little bummed as I sit in the train station, secretly wishing the day had been a bit more glamorous. As the train pulls in, the program director asks me to help with with his stuff and we fall to the back of the group. As I finally get on the train, I’m unable to find my friends and walk down the aisle calling out, “Guys?” Suddenly, the door of the train compartment next to me swings open and my twelve new friends start singing happy birthday as they hold a cake modified into a birthday cake (eventually covered with Nutella frosting) and candles purchased at the nearby gas station.

My birthday ends with a grumpy Turkish man yelling at my friends to stop singing, and all of us (including the program director and his TA) playing
games crammed into a train car.

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2012: I’m back in Turkey on that same short-term study abroad program, this time as the TA. On my birthday we sent the kiddos off to a one-night homestay, and the program director and I celebrated being free by going out to a nice dinner. As I return to my hotel room, I’m surprised to see a beautiful birthday cake with sparklers and “HAPPY BIRTHDAY KRISTEN MCCARTHY” written across the top.

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2014: I’m six months new to Boston and have just started to date someone new a week ago. Naturally, what every guy wants to hear on the first date is, “Oh yeah, my birthday is next week!” He did wonderfully under the pressure, taking me out to a lovely dinner and treating me to crepes and flowers. And joke’s on him, because we’re still dating.

2016: The night before my birthday, I’m in New York City for a business trip and wrangle up a few close friends from different parts of my life to come together in celebration of me. The next morning, alone in my hotel room, I wake up to a voice memo with one of my best friends creepily saying, “Happy birthday,” because I had mentioned to her I was bummed that I wouldn’t wake up next to someone saying that first thing. She rules.

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2017: One of my best friends graciously decides to get married two days after my birthday, which works very well in my favor as that means all of my favorite people in the world – bridesmaids in her wedding – are also in town to celebrate my birthday. We have a low-key day of Top Golf, cocktails, and massage appointments (for me) but I keep the party going on the wedding night when the bride surprises me by having the bandleader officially announce me as “The birthday girl!”

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One of the things I love most about my birthday is getting the chance to reflect on the year past, as well as the years past. What I’ve learned most from this reflection exercise is that I am lucky enough to have had some amazing travel opportunities and incredible people in my life dedicated to making my day special – things I want to keep in mind as I go through the last year of my 20s.

 

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How I’m Marching On

On January 20, 2017, I semi-watched the 45th President get inaugurated with a pit of fear in my stomach.

On January 21, 2017, I joined 150,000+ humans in Boston Common as we gathered and drew strength from each other. We listened to the inspirational messages from our government representatives fighting for our basic human rights, and leaders of groups and movements from across Massachusetts.

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I didn’t participate in the march itself (just the rally) due to time constraints, but I did do my own personal 1 mile march from my subway stop to my home reflecting on the day and on the days following. Over and over, we’ve been hearing that this march isn’t enough. It’s a wonderful show of unity, as over 3 million people in every continent (including Antarctica!) came together to demonstrate for basic human rights and dignity. But just as important is staying informed (and keeping intersectionality front and center), staying loud, and staying involved. Here’s how I’m going to do that.

Staying Informed

I’m trying to get out of my liberal echo chamber by challenging myself to read books and articles that explore the nuances of all of America – not just the America I live in.

I’m also trying to grow my own intersectional feminism through informed research and exploration. Two podcasts that are helping me do that, and understand the fight women have had for generations and the fights we are still conducting, are Stuff Mom Never Told You and Call Your Girlfriend.

Staying Loud

I’ve saved the numbers of my government representatives in my phone and plan to be on a first name basis with their staff. I’m thankful that my representatives reflect my viewpoints that A) Cabinet officials should have a basic understanding of the job they are seeking; B) women’s rights are human rights; C) science is real; and D) universal health care is crucial to save people’s lives. But I still want to stay loud by thanking them for representing the rights of everyone, not just those who give them the most money, and also to ask what I could be doing to support them.

Staying Involved

The day after the election, I set up a reoccurring donation to Planned Parenthood, an organization that has saved millions of women’s lives and continues to be a top defender for human health and human rights – and personally has been an excellent educational resource for me.

In addition to donating my money, I’m going to be donating my time. I’ve been discouraged trying to find the best place that fits my abilities – with an unpredictable travel schedule, it’s tough for me to find somewhere that is okay with a non-weekly commitment, especially since many places prefer you to volunteer during the workday. But, on my personal march I reflected on the issues that are of crucial importance in my life and decided women’s rights fit that for me.

And so, I’m learning more about the Boston Doula Project, which provides compassionate support to women experiencing abortion and pregnancy loss. I’ve also signed up to volunteer at a women’s shelter that allows for unpredictable volunteer sign-up, and I’m going to work with my employer to see if they will allow me to take off 1 or 2 half-days per month for this commitment.

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I marched on Saturday for a lot of reasons, and my feet continue to carry me now towards positive change and peaceful resistance to a kleptocracy.

What’s next?

2017 and 29

I’ve had some incredibly exciting starts to the past several years: In January 2009, I moved to London to study abroad; in January 2010, I was shaking myself alive from a NYE Times Square reverie and prepping for my final year of college; in January 2011 and January 2012, I traveled to Turkey; in January 2013, I jumped on a plane to Bangkok to spend the spring in Asia; and in January 2014, I met my gentleman caller (we just celebrated three years!).

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However, once I settled in Boston in July 2013 – and especially starting mid-2015, when I found a lovely apartment that I refuse to ever leave and a wonderful job that continues to challenge me – I started to fall into a, how do you say, a rut. Especially when I just look at my life history from 2009-2014. When reflecting on my 2016 a few weeks ago, I realized that for the first time in over a decade, 2016 was the first year in which I didn’t move and/or get a new job.

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I don’t necessarily need the big life changes or exciting passport stamps to prove to myself that my year is worthwhile; sometimes, internal changes are just as important. I’ve always appreciated that my birthday is relatively close to the start of the New Year – it means that New Year resolutions nicely align with my “new age” resolutions (although, to be VERY clear, I hate when people give me combo presents. “This is for Christmas AND your birthday!” Okay, you wouldn’t pull that shit if my birthday were in July, buddy). Since I’ll be ringing in the last year of my 20s next week, I figure it’s now or never to make those internal realignments to my mind, spirit, and relationships.

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So, some of my personal resolutions?

  • Keep in touch with my friends: It’s so easy in the Facebook age to assume I’m up-to-date on my friends’ lives. I’ve also been lucky that my work travels have taken me to cities where I’m able to visit with old friends. But, I want to be intentional about checking back in with friends. I love sending snail mail for no reason, so my goal is to send a couple of random postcards a month just to say hello, and occasionally even (GASP) pick up the phone and call someone just to catch up. 
  • Focus on wellness: I ain’t gettin’ any younger (see: birthday next week). While my eating and exercise habits have been better this year than ever before, I still know I could be doing better. I’ve also gotten more colds and other minor illnesses than I feel comfortable with (likely because I travel so often, my body gets worn down and exposed to other people’s grossness). So, I want to talk to someone about overall nutrition and wellness and establish a good plan for myself – even and especially when I’m traveling.
  • Charity: More than ever I want to turn my attention this year to local, state, and national causes that are under attack by an out-of-touch, misogynistic, narcissistic despot of a President. I have a lot of privilege, and I want to use it to shout as loudly as I can for my rights and the rights of others. Still contemplating how to get this done, but I’m excited to kick it off – and, more importantly, keep it GOING – at the Women’s March in Boston on January 21.

I have a few more on the work and finances front, but I think that’s a pretty good place to start. Book resolutions to follow! I can tell you one thing: this year, I’ll be focusing less on reading a LOT and instead read more deeply.

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Unbought and Unbossed

As  I’ve grown wise in my advanced age, I’ve been thinking a lot more about how amazing women are and how feminism is more important than ever, especially as it becomes grossly apparently that people hate women. (See: how women are treated in public, in private, in the workplace, in government, by government, and basically everywhere.)

In the spirit of that, I’ve been diving into one of my new favorite podcasts, Stuff Mom Never Told You. In the well research twice-weekly podcast by How Stuff Works (which also produces one of my favorite other podcasts, Stuff You Missed In History Class), the hosts Cristen and Caroline “get down to the business of being women from every imaginable angle.

In the few short weeks I’ve been listening to it, they’ve examined the history of retail work and how women and particularly women of color have factored in it; the “bury your gays” TV trope in which LGBT characters are routinely killed off on television shows; and the history of “weather girls” and social workers, to name just a few careers dominated by women. (The main takeaway I’ve gotten from the career-focused episodes is that women comprise the majority of the worker bees and men a disproportionate number of leadership roles, even still today. BUT EVERYTHING’S TOTALLY FAIR AND AMERICA IS THE LAND OF THE FREE OKAY).

Far and away the most interesting episode I listened to recently was on Shirley Chilsom, a genuine kick-ass lady and one I wish I had known about from infancy. In the spirit of Shirley, here are the most inspiring things about her.

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There’s SO much to dive into, and honestly you should look to more researched literature on her to get a good understanding (the podcast episode is a good place to start) but here are some of my favorite Shirley facts:

  • She was the first African American woman elected to Congress
  • Girlfriend was one of the truest politicians who worked for the people, and for ALL people. She was intersectional way before it was popular, folks. Just a few of my favorite facts:
    • She was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus and the National Women’s Political Caucus
    • She advocated for improved access to education, was instrumental in the formation of WIC, fought for the rights of immigrants, and sponsored a bill to expand childcare for women
    • She freaking RAN for PRESIDENT in 1972 and while she knew she wouldn’t get the Democratic nomination (because remember, America not only hates women, they also hate black people. Freedom!), she hoped to get enough delegates to leverage the eventual nominee – George McGovern – to create an ACTUAL representative government with a female Cabinet member, and a Native American as Secretary of the Interior.
    • Her campaign slogan? “Unbought and Unbossed.” May that be ALL of our slogans.

And, of course, some genuinely inspiring, or genuinely horrifying that things are still the same 40 years later, Shirley quotes to lead us into the Christmas season.

“The emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says, ‘It’s a girl.'”

 

“In the end, anti-black, anti-female, and all forms of discrimination are equivalent to the same thing – anti-humanism.”

 

“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”

 

“That I am a national figure because I was the first person in 192 years to be at once a congressman, black and a woman proves, I think, that our society is not yet either just or free.”

 

A Look Back, and a New Start

So, it’s been a while, huh? I’m sure you’ve spent the last two months since I posted rending your garments and tearing out your hair, so I apologize for my absence. Call it a combination of life stuff, work stuff, and writer’s block – but now that we are entering into a new year (2014 already? Didn’t 2013 just happen?) I figured it was time to jump back in to narcissistically expressing my thoughts for the world to read.

I’ve had a weird last few months – nay, a weird last year. Was it really only a few months ago that I was living with my parents? That I was sunning myself on a beach in Thailand? Now I am piecing together a life in Boston, something that is more challenging than one would think.

As is my wont, as I sit on the edge of 2013 I can’t help but look back. And considering it is one of my most documented years, it’s not as difficult as you might think. Let’s jump in, gang.

JANUARY 

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Washington, DC; Virginia; Bangkok, Thailand

FEBRUARY

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Koh Lanta, Thailand; Chiang Mai, Thailand; Vientiane, Laos

MARCH

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Beijing, China; Siem Reap, Cambodia; Kep, Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Cambodia; Chau Doc, Vietnam; Saigon, Vietnam 

APRIL/MAY/JUNE

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Virginia; New Orleans, Louisiana; Emerald Isle, NC

  • I returned to my parents’ home and went quiet for a while as I started job-searching, questioning myself, wondering what I am doing with my life… you know, the usual. It was a pretty fun time for those around me. In reviewing my Facebook timeline it looks like the most exciting thing I did was find my diary from when I was 14. Talk about embarrassing! I also went to the Outer Banks for the bachelorette party of one of my favorite people – everyone loves a rainy beach weekend!
  • In actual exciting news: I traveled to NOLA for the law school graduation of one of my favorite people, with a bunch of my other favorite people coming in from around the country to celebrate! Let’s just say it was an appropriately New Orleans-y weekend.
  • By June, K10 Unemployed became K10 Employed, as I finally convinced someone to hire me, much to the relief of my parents and friends who were sick of my belly-aching.

JULY

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 Charlottesville, Virginia; Boston, Massachusetts

  • After celebrating the wedding of one of my best friends in gorgeous Charlottesville, VA (where both she and the groom went to university), I headed directly off to Boston. Like, I literally said goodbye to my parents on Friday, hitched a ride with two big suitcases to the wedding, flew to Boston on Sunday, and started my new job on Monday.
  • I started my new job with a roar, as I jumped in to their busiest period of the year and worked the first seven straight days I was in Beantown.
  • It wasn’t all work: I was lucky enough to land in the wonderful apartment of two of my favorite people as I apartment-hunted.

AUGUST

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Los Angeles, CA; Boston, MA

  • I kicked off August with a quick trip to LA; while I was namely there to sit in LAX for twelve hours (the less glamorous side of working in international education – seeing off the group flights to faraway countries), I took some time with my coworker to hit up Santa Monica and indulge in some delicious Mexican food.
  • Once I was back, I spent most of August exploring my new home of Boston, from test-driving Italian restaurants all over the city to forming hasty opinions. Mostly, I spent the month in a sublet daydreaming how I would decorate my new apartment in September – the first (semi) permanent place I would live in in over a year.

SEPTEMBER

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Boston, MA; Virginia

  • More Boston explorations as I discovered my locations of choice
  • I capped it off with a trip back to my parents’ home to move more of my possessions and, most importantly, finally be reunited with my kitchen supplies. For those keeping track, I’m still not completely moved out of my parents’. I’ve elected to take the ‘suitcase’ approach which means that every time I go to visit, I come back with two suitcases bulging with my belongings. It’s strangely effective.

OCTOBER

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Boston, MA

NOVEMBER

Boston, MA; Athens, Greece; Thessaloniki, Greece; Virginia

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  • After six months in the same country, it was high time I broke out my passport again – and this time it was for baby’s first international business trip (unless you count the time I lived abroad for a job). While I spent most of my time in Greece in meetings, I managed to revisit the Acropolis after an absence of eight years, learn how to say ‘cheers’ in Greek, and eat more feta cheese than is advisable.
  • I ended the month with a good old fashioned American Thanksgiving back in Virginia – and yes, brought up more of my belongings.

DECEMBER

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Boston, MA; Virginia

  • By far, my favorite part of moving to Boston has been the fact that my dear friend Katie lived down just the street from me. So imagine my delight when Amanda, aka one of the greatest and most kick-ass friends you could ever meet, finally joined us in The Hub and landed an apartment right across the street! I spent most of December happily ensconced in their (metaphorical) bosoms as we helped Amanda move in, made the obligatory trips to Ikea, and drank a LOT of white wine. I mean, a lot.
  • I finished up 2013 with – you guess it – another trip to Virginia for Christmas! I’ve definitely spent more time in my home state this year than I have in the past seven years of my life. That’ll be it for a couple of months as I’m not slated to return until March – just in time to start enjoying the beautiful weather, with sailing trips and beach bumming in my future.

And so for 2014? I want to take the time for activity. Not just physical activity, but actively doing things instead of passively sitting by. Whether that is indulging in my hobbies (and I do want to keep writing this blog in my life), continuing to grow my friendships, or exploring my home instead of sitting around, this will not be a year for sitting and watching the world go by.

As you read this (if you finished it, that is!) I’m headed back to Boston to celebrate the start of another year with my dear friends. 2013 was the year of K10 Travels, but I do resolve that 2014 will continue to be the year of K10 Explores.

A Very Bostonian Weekend

All of a sudden, I got thrown head-first into Boston fun, y’all. I don’t even know what to do with my burgeoning social life! But never fear – I have been taking plenty of pictures and mental notes to share with you all. So RELAX already.

Most recently, I started to trade in my sweet tea for Dunkins with the celebration of the HEAD OF THE CHARLES. Besides having a dirty name, this is some annual event that brings a bunch of boats to Boston where they paddle around. See how athletic I am? You may go ahead and be impressed.

And so I celebrated in the best way I know how: artistically and fan-ically! Or whatever. What am I, a doctor?

First up: a trip to Paint Bar painting the Head of the Charles! If you’ve never been to one of these, please drop everything you are doing and go immediately. I’ll wait. They basically walk you through step-by-step how to paint a specific picture, and you drink. WHAT MORE COULD YOU WANT?!

Painting, wine, and Katie: three of my favorite things.

Painting, wine, and Katie: three of my favorite things.

We got there before our other friends and, in addition to prepping the stations and doing the paint-gathering thang, brought in a GIANT delicious pizza and Katie-made desserts for munching throughout our artistic process. We were the best darned prepared artists there.

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I had this not-so-secret-because-I-told-everyone belief that I was going to turn out to be really awesome at this. When I was seven, I was utterly convinced I would become an artist because I was really good at painting sunsets. I don’t know if that’s true, but I CAN say that my aunt still has a picture I drew of my dog in her house 15 years later, so you know.

Anyway, the end result was, shall we say, less than impressive, especially compared to some of the other ones. To be fair to me, Bob the Bartender was very generous with his pours because Katie and I got there early and got our harmless flirt on. Thanks, Bob!

Also pictured: Bob in the background on the left. I shall write of you favorably in my memoirs.

Also pictured: Bob in the background on the left. I shall write of you favorably in my memoirs.

Artistically talented or not, it was still a darn good time and I am ABSOLUTELY going back.

To pair with our painting of the Head of the Charles, on Sunday I headed over to the actual Charles for the actual Head (or something) to cheer on my alma mater with two of my favorite fellow Colonials: Katie and Josh! (Y’all, I swear I have more friends than them, I just REALLY like them so they are often blog-featured).

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Things I learned:

  • Once a GW student, always a GW student; as soon as I saw the free food, I was opening up my purse and sweeping in as much of it as possible. OMG THEY’RE FEEDING ME MUST TAKE IT ALLLLLL
  • You will never feel more Bostonian than walking across the Charles, cheering on the teams below you, sippin’ your Dunkins
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  • As a society, we may not know a lot about crew (or whatever sport was happening during this event) but we know enough to hate Canada. When I was hanging out on the sidelines it was a fairly tame crowd as the announcer said which teams were rowing by, but when he said, “And here’s our own Team USA coming up on Team Canada,” the entire crowd erupted in a chant of “U-S-A! U-S-A!”
  • There is no good way to take a picture with those weird megaphone things.

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Nailed it.

Nailed it.

The Be Brave Book Club

I like to call myself an ambivert. While I inch closer to an introvert,  I find that a little limiting to my actual personality traits: I’m typically completely at ease in situations with a lot of people, I am a friendly, bubbly person who enjoys meeting new people and getting to know them, but after a while I get really exhausted and just want to curl up with a book and read (there goes my introversion showing again!). I’ve found being an introvert to be a double-edged sword in new situations (like traveling solo or moving to a new city): I am comfortable and happy being by myself, but sometimes I am too comfortable and I can easily fall into a rut of being alone that quickly folds into loneliness (my kryptonite is that I love being alone but I get nervous and sad if I am alone for too long. Don’t we all, though?).

One of my biggest struggles in the past has been pushing myself out of my comfort zone and endeavoring to meet new people. If I am already thrown into a situation where I have to interact with new friends (start of college, a new job, a party) I can do just dandily, but I shy away from having to make the effort myself. I failed miserably at making new friends while in London. I kept intending to find some friends outside of my immediate circle of coworkers, but with the business of work, my hectic travel schedule, and the knowledge that I would be leaving in December, I figured there was no point. There’s a similar vibe with traveling solo: I met plenty of people through activities, hostels, and guesthouses, but since everyone is on their way to somewhere else, these were mostly one-off situations (or, in the smaller cities, multiple run-ins, which was fun but still had an expiration date).

I wanted this to be different when I moved to Boston. This was my first time moving somewhere new where I would be living for the foreseeable future since I had left for college when I was 18. Even when I graduated college, I stayed in DC, as did most of my friends. No need to make new ones! But I made a leap of faith when I decided to move to a new city 500 miles away from DC and 700 miles away from my hometown, and this time, I was going to get out of my comfort zone.

I am incredibly lucky that I already have a strong support system in Boston, with several friends from different parts of my life who already live here. But now that I’m past my two month mark, I’ve started to acknowledge that I need to have friends here who I didn’t already have before. Enter: book club.

As you may have gathered by the fact that I tend to read about 7-10 books per month (and that’s a slow month), I really enjoy reading. Meetup.com is full of book clubs; what better way to meet new people than to have a set topic of conversation, I figured? I joined a bunch and waited for the stars to align with the perfect date, time, and group.

Despite my resolve, I was nervous as all get out when I was walking to meet the group. I actually texted my mother, “I’m about to go to a book club where I don’t know anyone. Mommy I’m scared but you should be proud of me!” I figured that if I hated it, I could just leave. And so I steeled my resolve and found – not so scary after all! I loved the ladies, loved talking about the book and other things, and will definitely return. Most importantly, I discovered an amazing new bar in Boston and I shall definitely return – probably with one of my ready-made friends, but who knows? Maybe I’ll go there with a new friend!

This reminds me of one of my favorite mantras from my favorite person Laura Maas: “Keep calm. Be brave.” I repeated it over and over when I was traveling in Asia and when I was working at a tough job in London. I can already see where this sometimes tough and stressful year has helped me grow: I might have been nervous when I walked into the new situations, but I still did it and look forward to the next time. I’m going to carry this thought around with me in my pocket as I continue to build my life here.