An American Girl in Leeds: The Beginning


Life in your twenties is never easy, as I’m sure most people are aware. We’re sort of divided into two camps; the ones who are trying to figure things out, and the ones who think that they have things figured out. Me, I am the former. I spent a good chunk of my twenties thinking that I needed to conform to certain societal norms: finishing college, getting a job, getting married, pushing out kids. And I certainly spend a good amount of my time being reminded of that by people who are supposed to be my friends, and my family. The latter two were always a popular topic of conversation, as if I had somehow already managed to fail adulthood because I wasn’t married, even though most of my friends were, and I had absolutely no interest in having any kids. Never mind the fact that several of those same said friends were also already divorced, and some had kids that were all monstrous little shits; somehow I was the failure because I had yet to accomplish either one. And of course, I use the term “accomplish” extremely loosely, because you’ll forgive me if I don’t think that getting knocked up and/or managing to land a man is the pinnacle of human achievement.
  You can probably tell from my not so subtle cynicism that I no longer think that this is the sort of thing I have to accomplish anymore. I’m 28 years old, and I give much less of a shit now about marriage and children as I did when I was 21. I’m not saying that it’s outside of the realm of possibility for me, I’m just saying that it’s no longer something that I actively want to pursue. And I’ve long since convinced myself that I’m not a failure for not wanting those things, for now or ever, regardless of what other people seem to think.
You’re probably wondering what on earth this has to do with the title of this post, and rightly so. I do have a tendency to ramble when I’m giving exposition. But this goes back to what I was saying at the very beginning of this whole thing. I spent 8 years trying to figure out what it was that I wanted to do – I went to college, I graduated, and I got a job. Things should be simple and I should be happy, but I still feel that there’s something missing. And I think the biggest problem is I talk a much bigger game than I play.
You probably have gleaned from this blog thusfar that I have a serious case of wanderlust. I’ve wanted to globetrot ever since I was old enough to know that there was a world beyond my playground. I couldn’t really reconcile with the fact that there was so much of the world out there, and that I was only seeing a small, almost miniscule percentage of it. And that’s all very well and good, but intention doesn’t take you nearly as far as action does. I had all the intention in the world, just not the initiative. I have always planned at some point in my life to see as much of the world as possible while I still have the time, while I wasn’t anchored to a man or a baby.
And of course, I had to be realistic. I didn’t have the money to just jet off wherever I felt like, much as I wanted to. I was working full time and going to college full time and I was barely making enough money to feed myself and keep a roof over my head, let alone satiate my desperate desire to travel all over the world. When I was still at San Jose State University, I thought that my opportunity had shown up at last in the form of a study abroad program for a semester in Bath, England. I was already taking out student loans to fund my college education, so what was a few thousand more dollars in order for a once in a lifetime opportunity to visit countries that I’ve only ever dreamed of? But, of course, fate conspired against me. By the time I was at a point where I was eligible for the program, it was canceled, due to, ironically, lack of enrollment.
I graduated from college with the reluctant understanding that my chance to go abroad was now limited by the strength of my paychecks. And since I work as a teacher with over 15k in debt, you can imagine that my paychecks aren’t particularly powerful. Oh sure, opportunities were there, dangling precariously out of my reach – an offer to teach English in Japan for a year, a chance to apply for international internships, learning about travel hacking (a worthwhile venture if ever there was one). But all of these fell by the wayside, not just because of lack of organization by the people who had extended the offers to me, but, as I soon came to terms with the fact, that I was afraid.
I don’t know if you all know this, but the prospect of going overseas for an extended period of time is daunting as hell. There’s a real fear of the unknown, of being separated by the comfort and safety of the familiar. But it’s the price you pay for dreams. When you want to see the world, you can’t take your whole life with you. Part of you has to stay behind.
When I first heard about the University of Leeds through a friend who is currently attending, I had no plans to take my education past my bachelor’s degree. English majors rarely benefit from a graduate degree, so I filled out the application on a whim, more concerned about the idea of being abroad than being a student. So I strayed a bit in the application process, because I couldn’t reconcile the idea of putting myself even further into debt with my dream of going abroad. It just seemed like too much money for what I couldn’t consider a worthwhile reward, especially considering the tremendous issue of student debt that the American economy is currently facing.
But the university hadn’t lost its interest in me, and a few months ago, I was contacted by their department about submitting the documentation needed to complete the application process. I still had my doubts, but I was also facing yet another unfortunate effect of the economy, as well as the flaws in the American higher education system – I couldn’t get a full – time job, and I didn’t have the job skills or experience to distinguish me in a competitive job market. It’s true that I am making more money than I had been before graduation, but that job will offer me no growth or stability in the long run. I took the time to research the university’s MA program, and the more I read, the less my doubt became. I still had the concerns about the cost of the whole thing, as well as the prospect of being separated from my family and friends for a year, but that was soon outweighed by my increasing desire for the degree, and the chance to have the kind of adventure I had always dreamed of. I’m nearing the end of my twenties – I no longer have the time for fear.

So I submitted the documentation. As of April 29th, 2014, I have been accepted into the University of Leeds as a graduate student in Publication and Performance.

Looking back, making the decision was the easy part. Telling my mother that her only child would be leaving her for a year was hard. Understanding the amount of money and preparation needed to make this happen was hard. Knowing that I will be separated from my cats for a year was hard. Knowing that I will likely be absent from the birth of my best friend’s first baby, from Daniel’s first words and first steps, from my cousin’s high school graduation, from the most important people in my entire life was almost beyond bearing,

But I can’t think of it in terms of what I will be losing. I have to think of it in terms of what I will be gaining. Even though I’m coming back with 36k more in debt, and with once-in-a-lifetime opportunities missed, I will be coming back with not just an MA, but with the kind of experience I’ve always dreamed of having. And there will be another part of the world that I will have seen. And that’s what makes it worth the fear.

I’ll be leaving for England September 16th. Meanwhile, expect me to do quite a bit of documentation about the millions of things that I have to accomplish first.



I’m sure that everyone out there has a list of all of the places that they would like to see or visit. I happen to have a list that could fill a book. And while I’m sure that there are a majority of people who could survive having not done a significant amount of traveling before they die, I am absolutely not one of those people. I need travel like I need oxygen, and that’s something that I know is a fact despite not having done a whole lot of it.
  The problem is that I have no money. No money and traveling are rarely compatible bedfellows. Chalk it up to a degree in English, a decent, but not lucrative job, and several thousand dollars in debt, and you have a recipe for a permanently fixed position. Crappy? Oh, you bet. Impossible to get out of? Not so much. Like so many rules of life, there are rules in the world of travel that are easily bent or broken. It does take a lot of research and even more imagination, but it’s doable. I don’t pretend to be an expert on travel hacking, because I’m just getting started myself. But part of this blog is meant to chronicle my discoveries as they happen, so that people can be privy to my mistakes, as well as my successes.
The first thing that I learned is that you have to be open to opportunities as they happen. The second is that you have to know how to mix business with pleasure. I guess “business” is kind of a misnomer, but it’s the most appropriate term I could think of. What I mean is, take advantage of the trips that are necessary to help you with the trips that aren’t.
  In June, I’ll be flying up to Seattle to visit two of my best friends in the world; one would hardly qualify that as a business trip. But it is a trip with an intention, not one without. Travel for pleasure has no business or intention, and that’s what I mean by take opportunities as they come.  Open ended travel means going just to go, not going because. If the opportunity came up when I booked my flight to Seattle that there was a lengthy stopover in Portland, I wouldn’t scoff at the extra time spent trying to get to my destination. I’d embrace the opportunity to visit a city that I’m especially fond of, or at least have never seen before.
  When I was booking my flight, it occurred to me that it would be wise to take advantage of an oft not taken service – frequent flyer miles programs. People automatically assume that you have to actually fly on planes to accumulate them, but you often don’t. The company that offers the service is often linked to a multitude of other services that you can also use to acquire points without actually flying. Since I was flying Southwest Airlines, I signed up for their Rapid Rewards Program, so the flight racked up a good amount of points that I can use for my next flight. I also noticed that buying from 1-800-Flowers would get me even more points. Since my mother is so fond of buying my grandmother flowers, there’s a little bit of an advantage already. Is it super lucrative?  No, not yet. But I’m hoping that in time, it will be, after I learn more about it. Again, all of the tricks are there. It’s just figuring out how to make the best of them.