I Held onto One Friendship While Simultaneously Letting Another Go

“Friendship is worth fighting for.”

These words were like a punch in the gut. Not because they were bad or harsh but because I knew they were true.

When one of the leaders at my church sat with me for coffee a few weeks ago, I knew her words were what I needed to hear. (After all, she is in her 30s. 30-somethings are my favorite people. They are so much more put together than us 20-somethings!)

When I came back to Los Angeles after three months in Europe, I did not come home to the warm welcome I was anticipating. One of my closest (and one of very few) friends in Los Angeles seemed to be icing me out. (Remember I mentioned how hard making true friends in L.A. is?) I was hurt. I was offended. I was prideful.

Long story short, we had a bit of a tiff (like all friends do) back in December right before I left, but we talked about it before I left- twice. We had talked it out, apologized and gotten past it (or so I thought.) Why was she still mad at me four months later?

Simple solution- Talk to her. Make an effort. Reach out. My pride would not me to do any of these things because I was hurt and rightfully so (or so I thought.) Then, I sat down with the worship leader at my church and laid my cards on the table. X,Y,Z- Here is why I am angry, here is why I deserve to be vindicated and here is why this situation is unfair.

Then, she eloquently and gracefully reminded me friendship isn’t about being right nor is it always fair. Friendship means showing grace (especially when it is undeserved.) By definition, that is what grace is. She told me real friendship is worth fighting for.

Twenty-Something Advice (for Anybody):

“Friendship isn’t about being right nor is it always fair. Friendship means showing grace- especially when it is undeserved.”

I was angry and frustrated, but I knew she was right. I knew if I wanted my friend back (which I did), I needed to let go of my need to be right. I needed to do the work of being a friend- forgiving, asking for forgiveness, letting go, talking it through.

Simultaneously, another friend was acting strangely toward me. Warm welcome back to America, right? This friend is someone I am a lot less close to, and this fallout involved money (a very tough area to navigate with friends and family I have learned.) I felt she should pay for something. She thought it was unfair of me to ask her to pay for said thing. My thoughts- lets agree to disagree, but this does not have to be a deal breaker. Yet and still, she wasn’t talking to me when I returned to America, and she was acting quite strange when I reached out.

In this second scenario, what did I do? I decided to let it go. Why? I evaluated the situation, the person and our friendship, and I decided it wasn’t worth putting that much energy into. In reality, we were not that close. Our friendship was more so situational, temporary, seasonal. It was time to let this one go.

The first scenario- I did the opposite. I decided to fight for it. I reached out to my friend. We talked over coffee. We made amends. We got in the trenches together, and we did the work.

What is the difference between the two situations? One friendship is a a long-term (going on 10 years) friend who I have invested in and who has invested in me. It is a two-way street, a friendship that had seen more through some hard times and pushed me to grow. This friend was like a sister to me, someone I deeply care about.

The other situation was more so a friendship of proximity. We were “friends” or more so acquaintances because we saw each other daily and knew the same people. It was never a give-and-take friendship, but rather, it was friendship where I always felt like it was one-sided.

Friendship in adulthood is hard. Making new friends in adulthood seems even harder. It’s not the same as when you are a kid, and you can just ask the kid next to you to play or share their crayons. I have friends in different states (and different countries), which require effort, work and energy to maintain. No one likes to associate work with friendship, but the truth is any functioning, adult relationship (romantic, familial or friends) requires work. You gotta pick up that phone!

Another truth about friendship, some friendships (most actually) are only temporary. A part of growing up is knowing when to let go. If you try to hold onto every friendship and take them with you into new chapters, then you might being doing yourself and the other person a disservice. Holding on to old friends might be limiting your growth.

It takes work to balance the art of knowing when to let go of friends and when to hold on. The irony in this situation is that I watched both scenarios play out in my life at the same time.

I am so glad I fought for my true friendship. My heart healed a little just talking to her. Making amends with her felt so much better than holding onto my pride. True friends are hard to come by (especially in Los Angeles).

How has navigating friendship in adult been for you? Have you ever struggled with knowing when to let go of a friend and when to hold on? I hope you are encouraged to know you are not alone in this journey. I wish you nothing but wisdom in your friendships and also that you would always have a few true, loyal friends by your side to remind you that you are not alone.

With hope,

Stevie

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What the Men I Date Taught Me About Self-Worth and False Expectations

I am a walking, talking cliché.

Unfortunately, I had this rude awakening awhile ago. Yet and still, up until this point, I have done little to change it.

Real talk: I am the cliché good girl who likes bad boys. Well, I guess a good woman who chooses (keyword) bad men. While I argue with my guy friends about the theory that women don’t like “good guys” or “good guys just don’t win” until I’m blue in the face, I guess my dating record doesn’t do much to disapprove their theory.

Here’s the thing. I’m not much of a dater. I will literally go years without a date to the movies or out for dinner or coffee. Years.

Don’t feel bad for me. I have never really seen these “droughts” as concerning, especially when I was younger. I’ve more seen it as better suited for my personality. I’m a very independent person, but I am also a commitment type of gal. Like a serious relationship type. Like all or nothing. I’m not up for hookups, one-night anythings, or flings. I want the real thing, that four letter word. I want all the cheesy and corny things of Rom-com magic, the holding hands, the witty back-and-forth banter, and the best friend turned love. I want the hard stuff the movies don’t always show, the honest conversations, the sacrifice, and the work of adult relationships.

I’ve been content waiting until I find it, which is why I don’t really date. (Let me tell ya- There’s a lot of frogs out there!) I’ve been busy working on me, and my oh my, has that felt like a complex and at times disastrous construction site. I’ve been focused on building my career, taking care of my body (first half marathon done!), traveling as much as possible (I just got back from Italy a few weeks ago), navigating the ups and downs of friendships, working on my relationships with family (specifically my momma), and most importantly, the relationship with the person in the mirror.

It’s been hard, but I don’t think the waiting is in vain. In the last few years, I’m so much wiser, stronger, and smarter, as well as humbled by life’s hardships. I think all these things will make me a better woman and hopefully, wife someday.

But then, I got restless.

Or maybe, a better word is distracted. Or bored? Maybe, I got a little angry with myself or God and how he wasn’t meeting my expectations in my timeline. So I had an internal screw it moment (or several months rather), and I got a bit reckless.

To my surprise, guys started asking me out. I felt like for awhile I was being punked and a cameraman was going to jump out and scream, “You’re on candid camera!”

Literally the number of guys who asked me out (in person not on a dating app or online) right before I left L.A. for Italy was sheer madness. This isn’t to toot my own horn. It’s just to point out the humor in it all. My friend Jade and I always joke about how we never date and the difficulty in meeting genuine men in L.A. We have spent many a number of weekend date nights together in Target! (I literally asked Jade if she paid these guys as some sort of joke.)

So when this unicorn dating experience happened, I thought why not? I kissed a lot of frogs (figuratively), but it was fun, and I had a lot of great stories to share with friends. The note on my windshield last Christmas with the bad grammar. The guy who followed me in a coffee shop parking lot. The guy with the really nice car and a big ego to match. We had some good laughs!

Then, I took this free-spirited dating mentality with me to Italy and met my share of frogs there, too. (Note: Frogs are not exclusive to America.) It was a whirlwind, a mix of fairytale and adventure. Dates to vineyards, coffee shops, fairs, tours of small, Italian towns, and fancy restaurants with Italian men were exhilarating and fun!

I don’t regret it (well maybe a few things), but I definitely got caught up in just casual or “loose” dating, knowing that this isn’t who I am nor what I want. I made some compromises and settled for treatment that did not line up with my expectations and wants, and now that I am back in America, I’m having to do the work of dealing with the repercussions.

Why do we women settle? Why do we sometimes make love from someone else the highest goal and, in the process, compromise love for ourselves?

I know this idea of settling not only applies to women but men too. There are plenty of instances where women play “the bad guy” in love. It’s not just men.

I am having to wrestle with the “why ” at the moment (Why exactly do I gravitate toward the “the bad boy” type?) and that maybe the men I have dated reflect a bigger disconnection and chasm in my relationship with myself, in how I value myself.

“The men I have dated reflect a bigger disconnection and chasm in my relationship with myself.”

I don’t wholly blame the guys. Real growth comes when we can be honest with ourselves and hold ourselves accountable. Most of the frogs I have encountered are up front about their intentions (or some instances, what their intentions are not.) Men tend to be simplistic creators (unlike women.) They say what they mean and act accordingly. I have been guilty of wanting more than the frogs have been willing to offer and that’s my fault.

Twenty-Something Advice (for Anybody): “Real growth comes when we can be honest with ourselves and hold ourselves accountable.”

What I have learned: It is unfair to yourself and to another person to try to change them and in the process, you set falls expectations that can’t ever be met.

I’d like to note out of all the guys I met in Italy and all the dates, there was one amazingly kind, dorky, humble and gentlemanly guy. He was a keeper. I told him before I left that whomever he marries will be a lucky lady.

I think I need to remind myself that too. Whatever man I end up with is lucky. I need to remind myself of my value and my worth. Because I know the love I get from others is a reflection of how I love myself.

I just want to encourage you reader to not settle in love. I will be here with you doing the work of self-evaluation and growth. I am hoping that we can prove the stereotype wrong. Women do indeed like “the good guy.” I think the good guy can win. I hope to find one someday (but if he’s got a little bad boy swag- I’m OK with that too!)

With hope,

Stevie

Why ‘Fall In Line’ Is the Girl Power Anthem We Needed

Warning: A “controversial” female empowerment message is coming. Beware!

Ever since I was a little girl, I can remember being told I was outspoken or that I had a “strong” personality. Things like questioning gender-based roles (like why I had to help set the dinner table when my brother got to sit and watch TV) or speaking up about why I did not think a woman necessarily had to change her last name in marriage got me long stares and lots of questions.

I have always lived by the notion that men and women are equal and deserve to be treated as so. I was a feminist since birth without even knowing it.

I remember once when someone from my church in Tulsa told me she admired me for speaking my mind. Little did she know, I struggled with it. I got annoyed at being labeled “bossy” or “fiesty.” Yet, I did not know any other way of existing. To speak my mind, to be intelligent and outspoken, to use my voice for other women and girls who cannot, it was as natural to me as breathing.

Last week, a new song called “Fall in Line” by Christina Aguilera and Demi Lovato dropped. I have had it on replay ever since. The two ladies with the larger-than-life voices debuted the song last night at the 2018 Billboard Awards. It was marvelous, empowering, and most importantly, timely.

FallinLine

As the twenty-first century wave of the feminist movement rages on, the increasing push for equal pay and the ongoing exposure of sexual harassment in the workplace comes with the #MeToo movement, this song could not have come out at a better time.

I recently worked as a teacher assistant in Italy, and I did a lesson on Women’s History Month and today’s gender equality movement. I was surprised by my students’ reactions, some of whom did not feel gender bias affected Italy or others who validated the pay gap for women. Despite equal education and experience, women fall behind in annual wages worldwide.

I think my biggest question for ant-feminists is why? Why does the word feminism make you uncomfortable? Why has the word “feminism” become an uncomfortable word as Emma Watson said in her U.N. address? Why has fighting for women’s rights become associated with man-hating (despite real-life feminists telling you that is not what they stand for)? Why are women not as valued in the workplace for their efforts? How can women win the battle for equality without men working beside us as allies?

I am a feminist, and I do not hate men, but I should not have to explain that.

I am tired of watching the list of women affected by rape and sexual assualt grow. I believe that men and women have differences, but those differences do not make men better than women or vice versa. I believe little girls and little boys should have equal access to education and should be equally valued outside the classroom. I believe a woman should be paid the same as her male counterpart in the office. I believe a woman can be feminine, gentle and elegant, while still being strong, intelligent and outspoken.

Check out the lyrics from “Fall in Line” and current statistics on why the gender equality movement is still relevant in 2018.

1-2-3, right 2-3. Shut your mouth. Stick your ass out for me.

40 percent of all athletes are female, yet women’s sports receive only 4 percent of all sport media coverage and female athletes are much more likely than male athletes to be portrayed in sexually provocative poses.- Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport

March, 1-2-3. Who told you you’re allowed to think?

Women make less than men in every field, in every nation (except Iceland as of 2018).- United Nations

It’s just the way it is.

130 million girls between the age of 6 and 17 are out of school.- UNESCO

Baby, it’s never gonna change.

1 in 5 women have been sexually assaulted. –New York Times

I am gonna pay for this.

200 million girls and women in 30 countries today have undergone genital mutilation.- World Health Organization

They’re gonna burn me at the stake.

97 percent of rapists never face jail time.- RAINN

Ladies, I hope you are just as empowered by this song as I am. I hope you know you are worth equal pay for that job you busted your ass to get. I hope you know that sexual harassment and rape culture are not normal, and you have a right to speak up. I hope you know that girls all around the world are still fighting for the chance to get an education (even just to the high school level).

I hope you know that the fight for gender equality is not over. I hope you are encouraged to shine in whatever your field of expertise is and use it to empower other women to do the same.

Because we were not made to fall in line.

With hope,

Stevie

How Life in L.A. Reminded Me of the Value of a Friend

Whenever I talk to friends back home about life in L.A., one thing I always hear myself repeating is the difficulty in making friends.

Sure, meeting people here is easy. There’s more than 4 million people in the Los Angeles metropolis area. With the endless amount of happy hours, networking events and social media professional groups, there’s an endless possibility to make connections here. However, making actual, genuine friends in L.A., that my friend takes work (effort, intention and maybe a dash of luck in meeting the right people at the right time.) Bebe Rexha so eloquently explains how she suffers from the “lack of realness” in L.A. and how friends come and go like the seasons in the song F.F.F.

As I’m writing this, I am sitting in a coffee, and to my left there are two women talking. It seems one has just been laid off (maybe just as recent as today- my creeping skills could use a little more work), and the other is playing cheerleader, counselor and career coach all at once.

Lay-off. Ouch, been there. It absolutely sucks, and it can feel painful, blindsiding, and like a stab in the back all in one fell swoop.

The cheerleader, counselor, career coach friend offered some very wise words to her hurting amiga. She told her she might have to cut Hulu or Netflix for ahwile. (I kept Spotify and Netflix when I lost my job. A girl needs her entertainment in hard times!) She told her of course to prioritize paying rent, but if she ever needed a place to stay, then she could crash with her. She also told her, most importantly, not to isolate herself but to continue to talk to people and network. Only by putting herself out there would she be able to hold her head up and not allow the job loss to hurt her confidence. Only by networking would she make connections that would lead to her next job.

I so wanted to lean over in their conversation and give them both the biggest hug, but considering that I am a complete stranger, I won’t do that. I loved this conversation. I loved this moment in my day (though only made possible through easedropping) because it reminded me of what true friendship looks like.

Friendship shows up in the hardest of times. Friendship offers comfort and a shoulder to lean on when you are having trouble standing on your own. Friendship isn’t concerned about what it can gain or get. Friendship doesn’t give up without a fight.

Twenty-Something Advice (for Anybody):

“Friendship can be messy, hard and stretching, but guaranteed, if after all life’s curveballs, unfair hands, ups and downs, you find yourself with a true friend, you are blessed.”

I think finding true friends in adulthood can be difficult no matter where you live but especially in L.A. With the Hollywood culture, there comes a lot of fakeness, people who smile at your face but whisper behind your back, people who use friendship as an opportunity to promote themselves and their careers.

The irony is that often some of the most real and down-to-Earth people in Los Angeles are the people who are actually from here. The wishy-washy, opportunistic people are often transplants from small town, Midwest or suburbia America who bring their ideas of the City of Angeles with them.

While I love L.A., the wishy-washy culture can make thriving here difficult. Everytime I meet a genuine person, it’s like a breath of fresh air. It seems so rare.

A true friend is a precious gem worth holding onto. Making and keeping friends in adulthood can be tough, but I encourage you to fight for your true friendships and to not be afraid to put yourself out their to make new ones.

With hope,

Stevie

Twenty-Something Tycoons: Detroiter Turns Passion for Fitness Into Personal Training Business

For the month of May, the Twenty-Something Tycoons series will focus on twenty-somethings who are heading their own businesses in honor of the 10-year reunion for Detroit’s Renaissance High School, class of 2008.
With a lot of hard work, sweat and creativity, Detroit native and Renaissance High School class of 2008 alumna Laura Washington has built her personal training business from the ground up. A month into the entrepreneurial world, Washington is on a mission to empower women to feel confident and to redefine society’s definition of “sexy” and “beautiful” through physical fitness. Her personal training services provide one-on-one support and allow clients to set individualized goals and work toward them in a private setting.
Laura’s mission to empower women through physical fitness couldn’t be more timely with one-third of American adults living with obesity. This includes non-Hispanic blacks at the highest rate of obesity at 48.1 percent, followed by Hispanics at 42.5 percent, non-Hispanic whites at 34.5 percent and non-Hispanic Asians at 11.7 percent. Of young adults (ages 20-39), 32.3 percent are obese.

Here’s what Laura had to say about her personal training business and the importance of physical fitness:

Tell me about your business.
I offer personal training services to help clients reach desired physical attributes, improve overall health and gain confidence. I train in a private gym or (if preferred) at client’s at-home gyms.

How did the idea for your business come about?
I’ve always enjoyed fitness, not only for the physical benefits but also the mental and emotional benefits it offers. Yet, for years, I was unsatisfied with my weight and shape. I finally decided to invest in a personal trainer. I set specific goals and worked consistently to reach those goals. On my journey, I developed stronger self-discipline, perseverance and confidence. I transformed my entire body and, more importantly, my sense of self.

The world (TV, movies, music and social media) constantly makes women feel discontent and ashamed of their bodies. It forces a limited perception of what “sexy” and “beautiful” looks like, perceptions which we as women often unconsciously internalize. This unconscious internalization is detrimental to our self-esteem (i.e calling ourselves “fat,” comparing our bodies to other women’s bodies and hoping to lose weight.) My goal is to empower women to have confidence in their bodies through setting personalized goals and gaining pride through hard work to achieve those goals.

What separates it from similar businesses?
My personal training services is centered completely around the client’s objectives and desires. This can range from weight loss to toning to improving cardiovascular health. Workouts are developed to challenge and encourage the client when working toward his/her specific aims. Additionally, it offers a private setting (typically just myself and the client) to avoid the discomfort of most gyms.

Describe your business in three words.
Difficult, yet therapeutic

Where do you see your business in the next 10 years?
I hope to reach more people. I simply want to help people fall in love with their bodies and maintain a healthier lifestyle.

Who is your target audience?
My target audience is women of all ages, shapes and sizes who desire to feel more confident and self-empowered.

What advice do you have for high school students thinking about starting a business one day?
Stay disciplined and persistent. Obstacles undoubtedly will occur, but continue to keep your faith, hope and goal in mind to motivate you during the worst of challenges.

For more interviews with interesting twenty-somethings, click here.
With hope,
Stevie

Twenty-Something Tycoons: Breana Curry Is Disrupting Financial Illiteracy in Urban Communities

For the month of May, the Twenty-Something Tycoons series will focus on twenty-somethings who are heading their own businesses in honor of the 10-year reunion for Detroit’s Renaissance High School, class of 2008.

The costs of financial illiteracy are high. Poor money habits equal a bad credit score. A bad credit score equals a higher price tag on the cost of living. It’s a vicious cycle of poor money management. In America, families of color fall behind in building wealth compared to white familes. For example, in 2016, black families made seven times less than white families.

Detroit native Breana Curry wants to change the game of finances for the black community. Breana works to help urban families make better money decisions through her company, Curry Financials LLC.

The financial coaching company is on a mission to empower young people and adults with the necessary financial literacy to build their personal wealth. At it’s heart, Curry Financials seeks to disrupt long-established cultural and social systems that cause African Americans to fail by teaching them money management.

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Here’s what Breana had to say about Curry Financials:

Tell me about your business.

Curry Financials’ mission is to educate young adults on the basics of credit, budgeting and saving. The vision is for families to embrace financial literacy, end generational poverty and establish generational wealth.

How did the idea for your business come about?

When I moved to Atlanta in March 2016, it was a leap of faith. I didn’t have a job or a place to stay, but one thing I did have was a plan. After submitting what felt like a million applications from March to June and not hearing anything back, I was finally connected to the United Way of Greater Atlanta, a nonprofit I genuinely wanted to work for. I became a financial coach for the their veterans program.
I thought it was just an opportunity to get me in the door and help pay the bills. I had no idea it would turn into a business because finances was not my thing. Nevertheless, I grew to love it. I helped formerly homeless veterans increase their income, repair their credit and learn how to budget and save. After working with them and hearing their testimonies, I was able to see the difference it made when a person learns the art of money management. Check out a few of the testimonials on CurryFinancials.com.

What separates it from similar businesses?

Curry Financials is different from similar businesses because we focus on educating our clients. Companies with similar business models, especially those with a credit component, focus on “fixing your credit.” I’m not a credit repair lady. My mission is to educate you on how your credit score is calculated, how to make it increase and what will make it decrease. After we’re done, you will know how to fix credit yourself.

I am passionate about disrupting systems that are put in place to make African Americans fail. In order to disrupt these systems, we have to educate ourselves. The financial system was never set up to benefit us. Did you know the history behind Wall Street’s name? It is called “Wall Street” because there used to be an actual wall built by slaves where snipers would shoot slaves who tried to escape from being sold. We were the first commodity sold on the stock exchange. Clearly, we have always been valuable. Today, Wall Street is known as one of the most influential financial districts in the world. If the economy has always depended on us, then why are so many of us still poor? One reason we remain in poverty is lack of knowledge about our history and the basic rules of money management.

If you have poor money habits, then you probably also have a bad credit score. If you have a bad credit score, then you are literally charged more to live your life. You pay more for everything: from the type of house/apartment/car you can afford (because your down payment and security deposit depends on your credit score), to how much you pay when using a credit card (low credit score = high interest rate). Essentially, this is another form of control because you are only allowed to do so much. They’ll offer you credit cards galore, but no one ever teaches you to never go above 30 percent of your credit limit. If you have a credit card with a $1,000 limit, then you should never spend more than $300. Understanding simple facts like that and knowing how to manage your money can change the trajectory of our livelihood. They want us to continue to drown in debt, stress ourselves out and live paycheck to paycheck. They know how powerful and valuable we are, which is why so much effort is put toward the continuation of oppression. We must disrupt these systems by educating ourselves, strengthening our legacies and passing down healthier habits.

Describe your business in three words.

In less than three words- Financially Lit (lol)

Where do you see your business in the next 10 years?

In the next 10 years, Curry Financials’ curricula will be implemented into school systems across the country. It will include unique lesson plans for students in elementary all the way to college. It has already been created, but I’m taking these next few years to learn and become as solid as possible mentally, spiritually and professionally. This way when it’s time for me to steer the ship, it will sail forever.

Who is your target audience?

My target audience is young adults ages 16-24. I am dedicated to making the information relatable, fun and easy to understand. Young people are our rising leaders, and they need to learn about financial literacy at an early age. Eventually, they will know it so well they’ll inevitably teach their parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and, most importantly, their future children.

What advice do you have for high school students thinking about starting a business one day?

Put your thoughts on paper. Goals in your mind are just ideas. You have to write them down to call it a plan. Once you write them down, keep them in sight. Write on Post-its or write on your mirror in erasable marker. Stay organized. The more you see it and the more you talk about it, the more likely it’ll come into fruition. Somebody has to do it. Why can’t that somebody be you?

How have you grown or changed since joining the entrepreneurial world?

I’ve become much more responsible. I take pride in my brand, and I understand I’m accountable for how my business operates. Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” When people encounter Curry Financials I want them to feel love, compassion and genuine concern. I believe whatever you do, you should execute with excellence. Don’t waste your time or energy being mediocre. Give it all you’ve got.

For more interviews with interesting twenty-somethings, click here.

With hope,
Stevie

The Girl Who Was an Outsider

People often romanticize travel and life abroad. Here’s an honest account of three months of my life abroad in Italy.

I have one full day left in Itay. I still have two classes to teach, goodbye lunches and dinners to attend, bus and train tickets to buy and bags to pack.

Before all the hustle begins, I wanted to just sit. Breathe. Take it in.

My time in Italy has been one of the craziest times of my life. It started with a bang, had lots of ups and downs in the middle, and is ending with another bang.

My first week in Italy, I was pickpocketed during teacher assistant orientation in Turin. Toward the middle of my trip, I was abadoned by new “friends” in London (in the middle of a snowy night.) My last week in Italy, my American checking account was hacked, and I had to cancel my debit card. You just can’t make up a better script than the one life writes for you.

Sometimes, you just have to laugh at the obstacles life hands you because it doesn’t always make sense. While some hard things just happen arbitrarily, other hard and painful things happen because of the person staring back in the mirror.

My time in Italy has been a lot of deciphering between the two, the things I cannot control and the things I can, like my attitude, my ability to communicate and listen, if I will forgive and let things go and my willingness to perservere and push through.

One of the hardest parts of living in Italy for me was the feeling of being an outsider. I am a brown, American woman with curly hair who speaks English walking up and down the streets of small town, Bra, Italy. There might as well have been a sign painted on my back that said: OUTSIDER.

It might sound harmless, but three months of getting stares wherever you go and few smiles or hellos from passersby is exhausting. I have been told by many Italians that this is the reality of northern Italy and Piemonte, the region where I lived, that people tend to be cold and not overtly friendly.

My semi-introverted personality couldn’t handle the stares and all the attention. My extroverted side struggled with the lack of hellos and smiles.

Within my teaching program, I had these “outsider” moments too. While a lot of my fellow teacher assistants had the financial ability to jetset across Europe every weekend, my bank account said a big, fat, “Hello….uh, no.” I am just a normal, middle-class, twenty-something American, who mommy and daddy cannot and will not foot the bill for. I was still able to travel to several really cool places though (Barcelona included!), but I was penny-pinching and saving money at every corner. I couldn’t go on all the pricey trips my peers went on, and when I did, I couldn’t do everything they did.

It’s true. I felt like an outsider here in my time in Italy, but I don’t think that has to be a bad thing. Being on the outside gave me an appreciation for some things that I may have previously taken for granted. It gave me perspective. It also helped me realize some areas where I can grow in. (Aaah, growth!)

For example, something as simple as a smile or a hello is magical. It can literally warm a person’s soul. Anytime a student stopped me to chat or said hello in the hallways or around town, it cheered me up instantly! I really appreciated a kind hello.

I gained an appreciation for a listening ear. The English department head at my school sat and listened to be rant and sometimes cry in the teacher lounge. I am so appreciative of her taking time to listen to my struggles. Several other professors helped me work through the stresses, or just got loads of messages on Whatsapp from me trying to work through them.

I gained an appreciation for friends. Friends back home kept me sane by checking in on me. The few friends I made here, English speaking Italians and assistants in my program, helped me laugh. One friend and I burnt a pizza and lost electricity all in one hour! Friends make a world of difference.

I gained appreciation for kindness. Daniela is a woman who works for my host family, and she is literally my favorite person in Italy. Get this- She speaks no English! But we talked every day. (Hello, Google Translate!) I learned that you do not need to speak the same language to communicate with someone. Kindness, warmth and a smile, they speak volumes. Daniela made me feel welcome and seen. (Boy am I going to have a hard time saying bye to her tomorrow!)

Twenty-Something Advice (for Anybody):

“A person is only an outsider until someone decides to let them in. That one person makes a world of difference. You can always choose to be that one person.”

I was nervous to think what I would say when people asked how Italy was. What will they think if I’m honest? Will they judge me if it wasn’t this picture-perfect, movie experience? Can I be both positive and transparent?

I decided I would be honest. Italy was hard, but in the midst of the difficulty, it was still good. I learned. I grew. I was challenged. I cried some tears, and then, I got back up and put one foot in front of the other. I struggled. I made mistakes. I got frustrated. I frustrated people at times (I’m sure!) I laughed. I adventured. I lived well.

Perhaps my experience as an outsider would have been a bit different if I spoke some Italian or maybe if my skin were a different color. Perhaps, then I would have felt not so different. Italy is currently in a time of political tension as it faces a swell of immigration from Africa and with it, a swell in racism. I asked my students about the current state of politics in Italy and how immigrants are viewed here. They shared that immigrants are often looked down upon and seen as outsiders.

There’s that word again- OUTSIDER

I can only imagine what their lives are like, to live in a country as an alien, to be seen as different. I get to go home, but for them, this is their day-to-day lives.

Here’s what I know- A person is only an outsider until someone decides to let them in. That one person makes a world of difference.

Thank you to all the beautiful people who made me feel welcome during my stay here. To the people who took me for coffee, traveled with me, made a seat for me at their dinner tables and showed me around wine country and small, Italian towns, thank you for making me feel like less of an outsider.

With hope,

Stevie