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There’s nothing quite as sobering as moving to a new city and realizing that you don’t know anyone. And in that moment, you begin to question where you are, what you’re doing, and whether or not you even know yourself.

It’s a quarter till one in the morning and I’m walking back to my dorm from the Escargot, rubbing my hands along the sleeves of my sweater, trying to fight the brisk night air breeze that was biting at my skin. The pathway is dimly lit except for the lamp posts illuminating the cement road between buildings C and B, which would soon be blocked off for the start of a years worth of renovations. My phone buzzed in my hand, and I quickly looked down at the screen only to find a notification from Facebook.

So-and-so and 21 other friends will be attending Tacos and Tequila tonight in Austin. Let them know if you’re attending!

I clicked the home button and shoved my phone deep in my purse, picking up my pace as I noticed the darkness dissolve with every step I took. In the distance I heard male voices howl, whistling and slurring some words in French before being interrupted by the sharp shattering of a beer bottle. It was as if you could slice the air with a knife, the silence being the loudest noise around me.

Moments later I arrived at building B, running up the four flights of stairs to get to the third floor (oh yeah, in Europe the ground floor is level zero and I lived on the European third floor, which is equivalent to the American fourth floor). I knocked on my apartment door and was greeted by my parents. My dad began by quickly briefing me on all of the organizing he did in my room: where he installed my tea kettle, how he moved my bed to face alongside the window, and how he hid some emergency cash along the inner lining of my desk drawer.

My mom enthusiastically handed me a brown, glossy gift bag, which I reached in to and found two beautiful diamond earrings along with a certificate of authenticity, entirely in French. “This is your early birthday present, since we won’t be here to give it to you then,” she would say. I swallowed back my nervousness and indulged in the luxury of my present, paying no attention to the reality of the situation– that my parents were about to say goodbye to me as I moved to a new city, in a new country, in a different continent. Realizing the time, two hours past midnight, we exchanged kisses on the cheek and my dad prayed in a hush tone as he embraced me for one last time (a tradition of his every time I leave to travel).

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Game day in Austin, my new apartment, and my Dallas normal.

This was it. A rush of excitement reverberated through my bones, amplified by the hoots and howls which slipped through the cracks beneath the balcony door. While I was high on the adrenaline of being in a new country, a numbness sat idly in the back of my mind as I realized that I was on my own. That’s when the sobering silence began to seep in and I recognized the reality of the situation. I sat down on my bed and looked up at the moon through the large panel of windows along the wall. While I harbored a fear of losing myself in the commotion I felt relief knowing that that we all look up to the same moon. Swallowing my doubt, in that moment I knew that everything I would do was solely dependent on me. All that I was so certain of and with all other drivers aside, I’d control the reigns of my life and it would be up to me to make the most of all that would greet me in the new year.

All the sudden change and movement around me transformed into a state of constancy. My forever in the moment would soon deviate into a fond memory. As every day would pass, I would overwrite the uncertainty I’d face and discover my normal with the people I’d spend all of my hours with.

In the past year, my life turned into finding my new normal in a new city for an X-amount of time before having to move on to the next. The immediacy of every new setting sunk into my life, making that very moment in my life become my default, my new normal– square one. In France, waking up and walking down the street to Building T for class was my new normal. Waiting outside the Catacombs in the slicing, Paris night air for the 1:30 am shuttle from the city back to campus. In my home away from home I had found my new normal and in those fleeting moment, it felt as if nothing would ever change again.

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My 21st birthday in Paris.

A milestone of my life was turning 21 while I was living in France. At dinner at Paris’ Le Georges, to my surprise the waiters poured in to our private room with trays of sparkler shooters and velvety chocolate cake alongside a scoop of a ice cream and cannoli. As my friends sang happy birthday, I burst into tears and then to laughter. It only takes an instant to know something, and as my being trembled with emotion, I was overcome with the reality that I had found my new normal with the people I’d call my best friends.

As months passed, the excitement funneled into an anxiety obsessed over how the streets I’d walk and the people who I would talk to every day were only to exist in my life for a short amount of time before I’d have to move on to the next chapter. The honesty of being on my own rushed over me like a gradual intoxication. I thought my new normal was the definition of who I was, and when it came time to leave, I would have to leave behind who I became during that that part of my life.

It only took me 21 years and four months to realize that I was wrong.

Two thousand sixteen has been the year that I’ve lived mostly out of a suitcase and a carry-on. I’d start my year by leaving behind my second home, Austin, in hopes of finding myself eight thousand one hundred and ninety three kilometers away in the outskirts of Paris. Fast forward five months and traveling through 19% of Europe to when I arrived back in Houston, my hometown in Texas. Four days later, I’d make Uptown Dallas my new home and where I’d spend the entirety of my summer as an intern. After 9 months away, in the middle of August, I’d move to my new apartment in Austin.

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Wine on the Champ de Mars, Dallas skyline, and DKR Stadium at UT Austin.

I didn’t fully understand the concept of finding myself in my normal until this past summer. It’s a June, Saturday morning in Dallas and I lay in my bed, facing the large windows which overlooked Turtle Creek Boulevard, exposed to the beaming sunlight and white noise from outside. The silence rang in my ears as I wished so dearly to assimilate into my new city and clutched to the remnants of my old normal. Just a few days ago I was taking the RER into the city and drinking wine until the early hours of the morning. An hour passed of scrolling through my Instagram feed before I became cognizant of how my new normal wouldn’t come on its own. It would come when I dared to find myself in my new surroundings and in those individuals around me. I would look to spending time with others, not to mask a fear of being alone, but to discover pieces of myself through the relationships I’d form. Soon after, I quickly found my new normal in Dallas. I made the strongest friendships with some people I want by my side for the rest of my life. They made made me realize my worth, my purpose, and where I am in my life. As a young woman living outside of my comfort zone, I found that my perception of finding my “normal” was entirely skewed. I was so caught up in the momentary aspect of uncovering my normal that I overlooked how every experience and every exchange would form my person. The things you find in yourself stay with you even after you transition between your current routine of ordinary. You invent yourself in the different cities you travel to and the different people you meet. Your life should be spent finding yourself, and there’s never an end to who you are. It’s a puzzle. Everywhere you go and everyone you meet uncovers a sliver of who you are. The image of who you are in any given moment doesn’t prescribe all that you have yet to discover about yourself as you move on to the next part of your life. It stays with you and mends you in ways which may not be obvious in the present.

As my senior year begins at the best university in Texas, I reflect on the decisions I have to make that will contribute to forming my new normal picking a full time job, potentially moving to a new city, making new friends and leaving the shell of my comfort zone. Every time I leave for somewhere new, I find my routine in that new place and call it my normal. I’ve been using the word normal throughout the duration of my post, though this past year, my impression of normal has changed. There is no such thing as normal, it’s the extraordinary that we align ourselves with to challenge our journey. The excitement that comes along with our lives lies within finding yourself in the various opportunities around you and not confining yourself to your current idea of normal.

Episode 1: Not In Texas

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Overlooking Istanbul, Turkey

Upon my departure from the states, the very first thing I noticed was the diversity of language that chattered around me. My initial reaction was utter amazement yet recognition: I had committed to a four month exchange program in a country whose language I’m all but familiar with, so naturally I would be forced to continually interact with the language barrier. While I travel quite often, I have never felt so estranged until the reality of it all hit me. What I was experiencing was just a side effect of culture shock, having left the familiar comfort of Texas and onto a four-month experience across Europe.

On the first leg of my flight from Houston, I sat next to a kind German lady who was traveling back home with her eldest son. Though we didn’t share a common language, we were able to connect through facial expressions and hand gestures. Every so often she would sprinkle a few words in English to the conversation, to which I would respond with excitement while registering how little I knew of her native tongue. Having crossed the Atlantic Ocean, I was now in Frankfurt and said my farewells to the lady as she wished me luck on my journey. Despite traveling alone and having abandoned my native tongue in the last few hours, I felt at ease in the foreign land, having known that her wishes for me were a part of a universal language. That is, the universal language where love predominates and there is supreme value in caring for your neighbor no matter your differences.

After a 3-hour layover and a 3-hour flight, I was finally in Istanbul: where I would meet my parents for a day and a half stay in the beautiful city. Not to my surprise, I was greeted by the same language barrier, this time in a country I had never been to before. Rolling along a black carry-on, I navigated my way through the Istanbul-Ataturk airport, relying on pictograms of arrows and suitcase symbols to find my way. Fast-forward two hours, I was reunited with my parents and we set for the hotel. While I could recount my story of exploring Istanbul with my lovely parents, the majestic Blue Mosque, the many friendly dogs wandering Sultan Ahmed Square, and seeing snow for the first time in 2016, that’s not why I’m writing to you today.

What I experienced was more than sightseeing. While I was far away from home and out of the loop on social media (the means in which I communicate with my friends), I was able to see what I normally would take for granted. Let me explain what I mean. In the states, the comfort of being able to communicate to anyone and everyone comes as second-nature. Whatever I need, I can express with mere words, not much stress would resonate on expressing myself through facial cues and hand gestures. Admittedly I am one to talk heavily with my hands, waving them out and about to express with enthusiasm what I’m trying to say. While this comes naturally to me, I could still express myself just as easily without using my hands. Therefore, it’s natural to take for granted the ease of communicating using a single-tool: words. In France, I lack the luxury of talking my way through a situation, as I don’t really speak all that much French. These past few days I’ve been relying on other tools to communicate: hand gestures, facial expressions, and the occasional sprinkle of French in my English sentences.

I’m now sitting in my room and reflecting on my day. At the Massy-Palaiseau metro station I lost my day-pass ticket and found myself stranded at the other end of the “sortie” turnstiles. I looked through my purse, unzipping and double-checking every pocket for the tiny piece of paper that would permit my exit of the station. Two men on the opposite side of the turnstiles watched me as I nervously shuffled through my belongings. Moments later, one of the men handed me his Metro card, motioning for me to scan it in order to exit the turnstiles. I took it from him and immediately thanked him in French, as a massive grin formed on my face. This little act of kindness echoed in my thoughts for the rest of the evening.

I was reminded of the kind lady on the plane who wished me luck; though we didn’t share a language we shared a feeling, rather, a moment in time where human nature reigned and complete kindness was the universal language. I thought to myself how underneath the different social orders, cultural contexts, and actual language differences, we all share a common ground in the way that we look out for each other. This sliver in time made me reflect on how beyond our physical differences, human nature is a cycle of shared common experiences, and the language barriers we come across are just the translations of that experience. The many different languages on this planet merely translate the underlying actions and desires we harvest. There’s love, hate, kindness, jealousy, envy, hope, compassion, fear, sympathy, and empathy to name a few. Though those are just words, the feelings and actions attached to the words are shared among the billions of people on this earth.

I’ve been in this beautiful country for just over a week and my fear of the language barrier has dissolved into appreciation. I’ve become friends with Americans across the states, Argentinians, an Australian (whose accent I could listen to all day), Brazilians, Canadians, two lovely Irish ladies, Italians (“maaaaa dona”), and Spaniards. I can honestly tell you that at all times I’m surrounded by people whose stories, languages, and experiences are extremely different than mine, and I am so completely thankful for that. The richness of all that surrounds me reminds me of how grand our world is and how there’s so much left for me to discover.

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My bottom line is this: don’t let the language barrier scare you. Sure, it’s a little overwhelming at first. But look beyond it, look beyond the words and look at the actions beneath them. Words are just translations of actions and actions are universal. We all share the same language, and that’s the language that will open your mind and feed you experiences.

23 Things I Love Most About My Sister

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You asked me earlier this week if I had started your graduation collage for Facebook. I shook my head no and laughed as you reiterated how you’re expecting a graduation collage for Facebook. Well, I’m gonna give you something else: a blog post with the 23 things I love most about you. I chose only twenty-three things because I figured I’d write something I love about you for every year that you’ve been alive. So without any further adieu, here’s my list of the 23 things I love most about you.

  1. We communicate better than anyone else – living with you has made me realize how much you are me and I am you. I don’t even have to make sense for you to understand me. In fact, we communicate best when we hardly speak at all (cue odd grunts that no one else understands). I love how we chat secretively in Persian, and then make an excited-surprised face when we catch someone speaking Persian in public.
  2. Most reliable shopping partner. You’re my favorite person to go shopping with because you spot unique pieces that I would easily pass by without giving a second glance (you’re especially good at finding dresses for formals and weddings). You make long shopping trips that would otherwise exhaust me seem so enjoyable. And an acute fashion sense is a girls best friend.
  3. You are the perfect roommate – from the #215 to #306, after living with you for two years now, I’m moved to tears to see you go. We’ve shared so many moments together: hysterical (when you would wake me up after you got home from 6th), scary (that time we were trying to fall asleep and you remembered the scary lady with the black drink from Prisoners), late nights studying (that time I woke up in the middle of the night and saw you still awake, studying for Drilling), sick days (how many times have you made fun of me for using the Nedi Pot?), and just plain ridiculousness (the “this-is-where-I-do-weird-things” hallway). I love having someone to listen to turn down songs with before we go to sleep, someone to talk to about absolutely anything, and someone to pick me up from class in MRH on Fridays then go shopping with. I literally don’t know how I’m going to deal with having one less-roommate when you’re gone.
  4. You get me hooked on the best TV shows. Where do I begin? There was Gossip Girl, Revenge, the Vampire Diaries, How To Get Away With Murder, the Originals… and now you’re tempting me to start other shows like Scandal and House of Cards.chuck-3
  5. For somehow always convincing me to do stuff for you. Even though it’s really annoying when you ask me to do you a favor right as I’m about to lay in bed and watch Netflix, I’d do it any day. Yes, I’ll grab your iPhone charger from your room before I sit down. Yes, I’ll bring you your multivitamin and fish oil. Yes, I’ll bring water too. We don’t even keep track of favors any more, because you’re always willing to do stuff for me too.
  6. You helped build my character. You’ve taught me so many priceless things throughout the years that no one else could possibly begin to teach me. You are my life guru, and I don’t know how to thank you for it.
  7. You let me wear your clothes – when you left for college and I was still in high school, there were three years of strategic outfit sharing. You can have this shirt this weekend, but I really need it next weekend for the homecoming game. Though we’ve fought over clothes countless amounts of times – sometimes so intensely that I’ve made mom buy me the same shirt or sweater so we wouldn’t have to share – I wouldn’t trade those memories as there’s no one else I enjoy negotiating with more.
  8. You help me decide which Instagram filter to put on my picture. No explanation needed. An Instagram feed says so much about a person, and the perfect Instagram filter is essential.
  9. Your sense of humor. You’re possibly the most hilarious person that I know. Sometimes you say things that make me think “how on earth did you even come up with that?” And the best part is, when I compliment you on a joke or something funny you said, you’ll reply with “what part was your favorite?” as if you’re taking notes on how to be funnier. But the best thing is that your humor is effortless and it just comes naturally to you.
  10. Your personality. I don’t know where to begin on this, but ask anyone who has met you – whether they met you five seconds ago or have known you for years – you fill the room with light and a unique positive energy that not everyone possesses.
  11. For coming up with the nickname “Golbs.” I can’t believe I used to hate this nickname. Honestly, this is one of your original accomplishments and I’m so proud of you for it. Also for naming me ____bou. For Thanksgiving there was Gobblebou. For Winter and Christmastime, there’s Snowbou. In the Spring, dubbing me Dewbou. Oh, and then getting of your friends to call me by those nicknames too.
  12. For being a basic betch with me. This is for all those times we got the seasonal Starbucks drinks together during the summer and winter. And for going to Bath & Body Works to buy seasonal scents.
  13. You let me hang out with your friends when I was a tween. And when you didn’t, I’d go to mom and ask her to make you include me in your plans. “Bebegol, can I please hang out with you and your friends?” *eyeroll* “Fine”
  14. Your positive outlook. This goes hand in hand with your personality. Side anecdote as a demonstration: one time I was having a hypothetical conversation about camping with our dad, and I mentioned that I’d be scared of sleeping on the floor in a sleeping bag because there could be cockroaches that could crawl into it. Even though you too acknowledged the potential of gross vermin, you were quick to be enthusiastic about the experience. Dad then pinched your cheeks and told me warmly, “Bebegol is always so positive, making the best of any situation.” For some reason, I will never forget that discussion. You’re able to make the best of a not-so-great situation and see the silver lining of the experience.
  15. Your childhood obsession with Jesse McCartney. Which rubbed off on me… and well, yeah.
  16. You’re my mentor – not only have you helped me with how to: write the perfect email, nail the perfect interview, dress business formal, etc., but you’ve paved the way for me. You know what’s best and what to do to get ahead, and you’re always so willing and enthusiastic when sharing your experiences with me. I look at everything you do with admiration and aspire to take what you’ve done and replicate my version of it in my life.
  17. You hate going to the dentist just as much as I do – I don’t think anyone hates going to the dentist more than you and I do, but at least we have each other to keep us company.
  18. You “broke-in” our parents. As the first child, you grew up with so many more rules from our parents: “don’t stay out past 10,” “call us when you go from place to place,” “will there be boys? (if so, what’s the girl-guy ratio).” So thanks sis, you’re the reason why parents were way more chill with me in high school because they had took out all of their extreme-parental-responsibilities on you. Let’s be honest, there’s no way they would have let you come home at 1 am without freaking out and contacting the SWAT team for a city-wide search. Oh, and God FORBID you don’t answer your phone after the first missed call.
  19. You’re my number one Snapchat friend. You come before all else and you’ll always have priority in my heart. You are the original bae forever and always. No matter who you date, just remember one thing, I will always be your number one Snapchat friend. And all of your ugly Snapchats. Even though you’re not capable of being ugly, you’ve sent me some of the most award winning ugly-snaps. Double chin in all its glory.
  20.  You’re easy to blame when I’m not sure whose fault it really is. “Mom, sorry we’re late, it’s Bebegol’s fault – she was taking forever to get ready” When honestly, I was curling my hair in the time that you changed outfits a zillion times, but hey, you’re an easy target, so thanks for taking the blame and being a good sport.
  21. For reading me chapters from the books on your middle school reading list then quizzing me after each page to make sure I was paying attention. Note: you still do this and before you ask to read me something from one of your textbooks, be warned that I’ll request you not quiz me. How did you even come up with this idea?
  22. You pushed me out of my tomboy phase. Ahem. A moment of silence for the awkward 12-14 year old Golbou. Now I’ll continue to explain this less than pleasant awkward chapter of my life where I loved cargo shorts, army print (in fact, anything green), and was generally a tomboy. Fortunately, good things happen to good people and you pushed me out of that phase as I was influenced by your girly taste and experimenting with beauty products. I mean can you believe it, me? A tomboy? LOL.
  23. You give me something to brag about to my friends. Did I mention that my sister is graduating with a Petroleum Engineering degree from UT Austin? You don’t even have to know what Petroleum Engineering is, just know that she’s extremely bright and also “aesthetic AF.” Oh, and she’s made it on My Campus Story twice (that’s before I’ve even been on it). Ask any of my friends, there’s not a day that you’re not brought up in admiration in my conversations.

I cannot sufficiently put into words how much I love you and how much I’m proud of you. You did it. You excelled beyond expectations in every way possible and you’re officially a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin. You’re my big sister and you’re the biggest blessing of my life. I only wish that you continue to defy expectations in everything that you do.

For traditions sake, I made you a collage of some of the pictures that bring a smile to my face. You’ve been by my side since day one, and I wish nothing but for billions of more happy moments, side-twisting laughs, and vibrant smiles with you. Oh, and dayuummm girl, is that how you felt about that test?

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When you have…

  • Four midterms
  • 20/30 volunteer hours left to complete
  • Several organization meetings
  • A quiz
  • 8am’s Monday-Thursday
  • Case studies and Excel assignments with electronic deadlines
  • The last possible academic advising appointment scheduled for the hour after your registration opens

It’s hard to catch a break. That’s just a typical weekly schedule now that I’m in my second year at the University of Texas at Austin, and additionally in the business school. It’s tough, and I sometimes I get so caught up in my work that I forget how to balance everything else. In fact, it feels as though 80% of the school year my Snapchat story consists of me complaining about Accounting, or a “0mph” snap of how exhausted I am.

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Though when I take a step back, and reevaluate everything on my plate, I start to count my blessings and realize how minuscule my problems are. That Accounting assignment? Sure, it’s tedious and I only understand one third of it now, but it’ll be okay. Too tired from staying up all night studying? No big deal, I’ll sleep when I’m dead, it’ll be okay. The fact that I have no idea what classes I’m taking next semester? It’ll be sorted out, it’ll be okay.

I’m so blessed to have problems like these filling the cracks in my mind. When I think about some of the burdens that people have to face every single day, I realize how selfish and egocentric my problems are. There are people around the world who wake up asking themselves if today will be their day because there’s not enough food to eat, or water to drink. There are people struggling to make a living as everything else seems to fall against their favor. There’s someone laying in a hospital bed asking God how much longer they have.

I can’t begin to imagine how that feels. I don’t ever wish to feel that. I don’t wish for anyone to feel that pain. I wish that everyone can receive the blessings that I receive every single morning when I wake up, put on my contacts, and go to class. I wish for everyone to receive the gift of education, including all of the petty-problems we assume with it. I only wish for everyone what I wish for myself.

Stepping back into the frame, I realize that my problems aren’t unimportant either. To completely ignore the pressing way my burdens stress me out, and weigh heavily on my schedule, is to ignore all of the blessings in which I receive daily. I think that the reason why I have all of these obstacles, whether it be endless midterms or trying to balance spending time with friends and school, is so that I can step out of the frame every now and then and appreciate how fortunate I am in that moment. Without these pesky-problems, I wouldn’t be able to realize how significant and contented I really am.

Day 1 of the Snowpocalypse:

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Day 4 of the Snowpocalypse:

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UT, it’s not even snowing anymore. It’s cold, alright. I’ll wear a jacket. When no school starts interfering with my perfectly laid out exam schedule, then we have a problem.