Ireland

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Last weekend we had the opportunity to make a quick weekend trip to Ireland to see a co-worker run the Dublin marathon and explore the city a bit. We booked a cheap Ryanair flight (big mistake; more on that later), booked beds in a hostel, and got excited to see the famed Dublin, if only for a few days. 

Our simple little trip soon proved anything but. Due to Ryanair’s policy of requiring that non-EU passport holders to have a passport check at the check in desk before going through security (a policy we somehow didn’t follow), we weren’t allowed to board our 9:40 flight out of Gatwick to Dublin. About $175 and 4 hours later we were able to rebook (and successfully board) another flight to Dublin. It made for an interesting morning and taught us lots about reading every bit of information on a boarding pass. 

We eventually did get to Dublin, and got a taxi through the torrential downpour to meet our co-workers at our hostel. The hostel was really cool and trendy, with a definite hipster vibe going on. It even had a really cool bar where we had some MUCH deserved drinks before dropping off our bags in our room. The room was nice as well; it was clean and the furnishings were new, and the bathroom was a nice size and freshly cleaned. We left our bags in a locked drawer under one of our beds and headed out to wander around Dublin and get some dinner. 

Dublin is centered around a river, giving it a very European feel. Most of the buildings are old and beautiful and hold centuries of history. We stopped for our very first pints of Guinness before heading on to a tiny Italian restaurant nestled between countless other brick buildings. It was obviously family owned and the food was delicious! Because Laila and I had to spend so much on the flight to get to Dublin, the other girls made sure dinner was taken care of for us, a very sweet gesture. 

We went to bed early that night so the girls could rest up for the marathon the next day. We were up bright and early the next morning to wish them luck on their epic run, and raced to catch them again a few miles down the course. After we saw the girls run by for the first time Laila and I broke off to explore Dublin. We mostly wandered the streets, looking for trinkets to bring home and exploring the ins and outs of the cosy city. 

When the girls were done with their marathon we met back up for drinks and some fries (chips in Brit speak, of course). Then the runners went up for a shower and the other three of us went to the Guinness factory! It was really more a museum of Guinness and its history, but when it was over we got a free pint in the bar high atop the building. The 360 degree view of Dublin was gorgeous, and the beer was pretty great too. After having a conversation with a guy who happened to have gone to high school in Texas and knew Laila’s cousin (CRAZY small world!) we started the trek back to the hostel to freshen up before dinner.

Dinner the second night was at a place called The Bank; a super nice restaurant that, shockingly, used to be a bank! Being in the restaurant felt like spending an evening in The Great Gatsby; the walls were beautifully adorned with gold carvings and the ceilings were painted beautifully. I had lots of fresh oysters (yum!) and we tried Irish coffee (I was real disappointed that it looked like chocolate, but tasted like liquor…). Laila and I had a VERY early morning the next day to catch our 7:40am flight, so we said goodnight to the other ladies and headed to bed.

Our trip home was much smoother than the one over, but because of a nasty storm in London the day before I was still about 15 minutes late for work and INSANELY tired. Despite all the setbacks and troubles along the way, I’m glad I got to spend a little time in Dublin. I’d love to go back and see the natural beauty that Ireland has to offer, but that’s for another time.  

 

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Scotland

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I love to travel. I love everything about it. I love seeing new places and cultures, and experiencing all they have to offer. I especially love watching the people around me when I’m in these new and exciting places; seeing how they differ from those in the places I’m used to, and how they’re similar. I even enjoy seeing other travelers. I find it a great privilege to see a person have an experience that they will always remember.

Of all the places I’ve traveled (so far, that is), Edinburgh is my favorite. The buildings aren’t just historic, they’re consistent. In any given area the buildings actually match one another; or at least they coordinate. It makes for a very visually appealing city. And that’s just the architecture.

The land that the city of Edinburgh was built on is very hilly. This means that, though it most often takes more than a leisurely stroll to get across the city, your trek is full of stunning views. Everything was so gorgeous; I literally took over 200 photos!

Our trip started VERY early Wednesday morning with a flight from London to Glasgow. This Scottish city is about an hour’s drive from the capital city of Edinburgh. When we arrived in Scotland we drove to the Explore Learning center where we’d be RMUing for the day. RMU stands for Remote Marketing Unit, and “RMUing” basically consists of sales: approaching lots of people (often families), talking to them about Explore Learning, and (hopefully) booking in a trial session for them in one of our centers. We talked to lots of Glaswegians, booked some trials, and at the end of the day headed towards Edinburgh.

When we arrived in Scotland’s capital city it was near dark and rainy. We went up to our cosy little loft near the center of town to drop our things and headed out for dinner. Scotch was tasted and haggis was eaten; it was a proper Scottish night. After dinner we wandered up the Royal Mile for a bit and then headed home to (finally) rest after a long day.

On my birthday we did even more RMUing in a shopping mall in Edinburgh. it was slower going, but it ended up being a productive, if not long, day. After work I was treated to a dinner with some Explore employees from Edinburgh centers, where we had even more traditional Scottish food. Image

These little babies were described as “fried”, but they were really just slightly crispy whole fish.

We spent Friday and Saturday in the two Edinburgh centers, learning from the directors that work there. Edinburgh centers have the highest retention rates in the company, and it was really insightful to see what made them so successful in keeping their members. I learned a lot and brought a lot back to the center in St Albans, most of which I will later bring to Texas!

Sunday started our weekend, and we had lots planned. We started the morning with a walk across the city center to Holyrood park. This park is the home to the extinct volcano that towers over the city of Edinburgh. The views from the top are raved about from everyone who visits the city, and we were told it was a must-do.

To be honest, I hate rock climbing. It makes me nervous: every few steps I can’t help but picture myself slipping and breaking my face open on a muddy stone. The climb up the mountain to Arthur’s Seat (the peak of the volcano) was hard and long, but when we got to the top it truly was gorgeous. You really can see the entire city from up there; even the slightly sloping grassy side of the mountain that children and the elderly used to get to the top. :/

On our way down the mountain Laila slipped on some wet grass and cut her knee, so we walked down the shorter and less strenuous side to the bottom. Because this route ended up on the complete other side of the park, we then had to walk around the base of the mountain until we reached the Royal Mile again.

The Royal Mile is the main historical street in Edinburgh; at the bottom of the hill on which the Royal Mile sits is Arthur’s seat, and at the top is Edinburgh castle. After getting some lunch at a tiny Italian sandwich shop, we began wandering up the hill towards the castle, weaving in and out of tourist-driven shops along the way. We arrived at Edinburgh Castle less than 5 minutes after closing, so we wandered around town a bit longer before heading back to our flat for a night in.

We made the trek across town again on Monday morning to see Edinburgh Castle and, luckily, had no problems getting in. The castle is beautiful, offering wide views from its perch at the top of the Royal Mile. When we were done wandering the Castle grounds we still had time left before our flight so we wandered around the Scottish National (art) Gallery for a bit. Though the modern art section went almost completely over my head, the Gallery’s collection of historic portraits and massive paintings were definitely worth the admission they didn’t charge.

After the museum we said goodbye to our perfect flat and headed for the airport. Though the flight went pretty smoothly, I ran into trouble getting from London to St Albans when the train line that I usually take was closed due to a man being hit on the tracks. Luckily, the Fleckney’s are saints, and I was able to take a train near enough to them to be picked up by car. I got back to St Albans completely worn out and exhausted, but full of great memories (and hundreds of great pictures) from my wonderful week in Scotland.

Texas Thursday

Tomorrow marks the half-way point of my British adventure. I can’t believe it’s been 7 weeks since I boarded my first trans-Atlantic flight to the UK. It feels like so long ago, and at the same time it feels like just yesterday. I’ve been living and learning in London long enough to be comfortable in my routine and am now starting to be comfortable in the job I’m doing as well. 

Recently “Team Texas”, the team of Americans and Brits who will be opening the first Explore center in Dallas, had our first official meeting as a team. I finally got to meet the people who I will be working with in this exciting endeavor! The team is made up of three head-office employees (Al, Liz, and Belinda) who have tirelessly been working on the logistics of establishing the centers for months now. It also includes Iris, the third American who had only just landed in London the day before the meeting, and the British CDs and AD: Clare, Matt, and Emily. I was so excited to meet these people, and they didn’t disappoint. Clare is kind and warm, and shares with me a passion for music and singing. Matt is charismatic and friendly, and, strangely enough, is another musically inclined and accomplished member of the team. I’m so excited to learn from these experienced center directors, not only inside the centers but in life. Emily is quieter, but seems sweet and genuine; and those who know me well know that genuineness is a very important quality to me. 

Not only did we get to meet one another, we also got some much-anticipated details about the game-plan for centers in Texas. We learned of our three proposed locations: Frisco, Colleyville, and a north Fort Worth location, the name of which routinely escapes me. We learned a bit about the content we’ll offer members, and were given the proposed name of the American counterpart of the company: Explore Horizons. I really like that name, and I hope it works out. 

After our trainings, Explore took us out to dinner at a really interesting Asian/Indian restaurant. We got to sit and talk with the team in a more relaxed environment on a more personal level. This day made me so ready to go back to the states and start working in our centers. Everyone involved in this project is amazing, and I’m so excited to get to know them better. Meeting all these wonderful people makes me feel so lucky to be chosen for this team, and so eager to prove myself worthy of this position. I’m not only beginning to get comfortable in this position, I’m also starting to love this company and the great people it employs. 

My First Bout of Homesickness

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I am now at the end of a nice, relaxing, gloriously empty weekend. I did almost nothing all weekend long: I caught up on some backlogged TV I’ve been missing, drank a lot of tea, and sat for what feels like the first time all week. The only fly in the ointment of my wonderful weekend was a creeping feeling of wishing I was home.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t crying into my pillow singing “Deep In The Heart Of Texas” or anything, but I found myself wishing it was possible to get in my car and make a quick trip to the place where they know all my quirks and the fridge is stocked with Coke Zero. I miss my needy, fluffy white cat who demands milk on the reg. I miss my bed and the sound of the fan in my face while I sleep. I miss being able to hop in my decade-old creaky truck and drive anywhere I want, which is usually to the friends I’m sadly used to missing. I miss my parents and my sister and the feeling of being undoubtedly connected.

And all this missing makes me really annoyed. Here I am in a world-class city with the most wonderful and accommodating family and the most dynamic job and part of me is wishing I was sitting on the couch begging Ace to sit on my lap. It’s mind-blowing. After a long week of standing all day every day and mastering new concepts and being constantly “on”, all I want to do is sit and not move. But when I try to sit and relax, boredom creeps in. And with the boredom comes the missing.

I’m lucky, really. My “homesickness” is really more temporary discontent brought on by boredom than a crippling longing to be home. And once the week starts and I’m going and doing and working, I’ll forget I even thought about being home. Because the truth is, though I’d love to be able to drive home after work to my own bed in my own apartment with my own cat (can you see a cat lady trend forming here?) I wouldn’t trade what I’m doing here to have it. This is such an amazing opportunity, and one that I know will be over far too soon.

If the date on the calender isn’t enough to tell me the time to return to Texas is drawing nearer (October 7th!? Where’d the last month go!?), it seems that planning for the next stage of my life is about to begin. This week we have a “Team Texas” day, and I think we’re going to get some more details about what our lives in Dallas will look like. As a planner, I’m pumped to get a clearer picture of the next year. I’m excited to browse online for the place I’ll someday call home and to pin the crap out of home decor on Pinterest.

I have a tendency to focus on looking forward (or backward at times), and in doing so I miss the details of what’s going on around me in the now.  I have to remind myself that though my bed at home is comfy and my car is convenient, and getting a new apartment and decorating it is fun, the real beauty and joy of life is in the present. And right now, the present is too good to miss.

 

One Month In

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It has officially been (more than) one month since I arrived in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (who all knew that’s what UK stands for? Show of hands?). I’ve already learned so much, some of which I’ve shared with you already. After a solid 3 weeks in the center I’m starting to become confident in some areas of my job, and that’s a great feeling. I miss my family and my friends (and my fuzzy King Ace Cotton Ball!) but I’m content in where I am and what I’m doing at the moment.

I’ve taken a few trips around the UK; one to Oxford, one to Brighton, and a few day trips to local towns for work trainings. I’ve also planned a trip for Dublin at the end of the month, and I’m really excited to go to Ireland! By that trip I will have passed the half-way point of my trip, which is crazy, weird, exciting, and disappointing.

Since I don’t pay for much of my food here (the Fleckneys are angels and treat me like one of their own) I get to spend most of my pay on fun things. I’ve bought quite a few work clothes and a few jackets so far, and I have no idea how all of it is going to get back to the states under the bag number and weight restrictions that British Airways have (I think unfairly) imposed upon it’s passengers. I love to shop, and it’s a problem. Luckily, most of my time is spent in work so I don’t have too much time to waste money, so hopefully I’ll be saving most of it once I’ve made all my basic purchases.

I’ve been really lucky to keep in pretty good touch with my friends and family thanks to technology. In a way it helps that I’ve just come from living at home in Corpus for the last year, because I’m used to living far from my friends and not speaking to them as much as I did in college. I got used to being isolated and, strangely, it’s prepared me well for this experience. I’ve also been able to keep in touch with my favorite American television programs. I got completely up to date on How I Met Your Mother last night (GOSH this season is awesome!), and I plan to use my weekend to catch up on the rest of the shows I’ve somehow become addicted to over the last few years.

I’ve developed some must-haves in my life here; things that I rarely go a day or two without having or using. One, since my hair has a mind of its own and often needs to be tamed so I don’t look like one of our five year old members, is my curling iron. I had to buy a new one because my old one died, and we’re still getting to know each other. But, so far so good. As stated earlier, I have a need for American television or movies in my life. Between Netflix, the constant stream of Friends episodes that air on cable here, and my sketchy go-to TV watching website, I rarely go without my fix.

Chocolate has always been one of the great loves of my life. The Brits share this passion for the creamy confection and, moreover, so do the Fleckneys. It has been a very off day indeed if I haven’t had chocolate (usually Cadbury’s Dairy Milk chocolate) at some point in the day. I also NEED caffeine. This is not unusual for me. But now part of my Coke Zero habit has been replaced by a mocha habit. They’re wonderful and sweet and CHOCOLATY (catching on?), and an extra shot of coffee in my lunch-time mocha can mean the difference between a tired afternoon or a happy and energized one.

I’ve had a really great first month here; I can’t believe it’s already been that long! I’ve made some good friends and had some wonderful experiences, and I can’t wait to see what the next two and a half months will bring!

The Learning Curve

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Everything in life has a learning curve. Some are instantaneous, while others are seemingly insurmountable; but we’re always learning. The last 5 years of my life have been packed full of life experiences and learning curves. In college I learned quickly the people with whom I had a deep, soul-to-soul connection, and more slowly who hung around only for circumstantial reasons. I learned that I love the excitement and buzz of interacting with a big group of people, but crave quiet time by myself.

Though college was, for me and countless others, a time of tremendous personal growth, I was so constantly occupied with the busyness around me that I had little time to reflect on all these changes. Just a few short months after graduation, when I moved home, all this changed. I had literally nothing but time. Though change came slower during this season of my life, when it did come I noticed it. In the year I spent at home I learned patience and to trust in God’s providence. I discovered a few things I’m good at and some things that I’m not, and the picture of what I want for my future slowly became clearer.

When I finally landed what I didn’t even know at the time was my perfect job, I was sure I’d learn a lot but I wasn’t prepared for the total avalanche of discovery, both in the workplace and in myself. Just as in college I’m busy and engrossed in the changes around me, but the extreme environment change and large chunks of time spent alone provide a fertile climate for introspection.

Living in a foreign country is a trip; literally and figuratively. It gives you the unique opportunity to truly miss the little details that make your country home. Although England is very western and therefore shares lots of characteristics with the states, being away makes me realize how much I love Texas, and love being a Texan. I love that you’re never more than a short drive from corn fields and pickup trucks. I love that everyone says y’all and most people are just as kind to strangers as they are to their neighbors. I love that people get what an awesome place Texas A&M University is, and I love that people understand that cheering for a football team is about more than sports.  There’s a million things I love about Texas, and I wouldn’t have realized most of them if I hadn’t had the opportunity to step away from my southern bubble.

I’ve learned so much about myself in the past year, and more since I’ve been in England. It seems a strange concept, learning about yourself, and I’m not sure when or if I’ll ever stop finding out new things about the person that I am.

Starting in the professional world has opened my eyes to a whole new side of my personality. I’ve always thought of myself as completely all over the place, disorganized to the core, but I’ve realized lately that that’s not the case. When I have a free minute at work, I straighten. I like my workplace to be clear of clutter and free of distractions. I’ve known for a while that I like my time to be used efficiently, but I’ve also recently realized that I’m a planner. I like to look at the day in front of me and have a plan of attack, even if it’s inevitable that the plan will change. Things my bosses praise me for take root in things I’ve always known I’m good at, but in application are new. I’m good with the kids and good with the parents (which I’ve been told is going to make me good at helping Explore retain members), and I learn and take direction well. It’s a nice thing to know that not only is this job good for me, but I’m good for this job.

Being away from home I’ve realized that I like to travel, but with the ones I love. I could never up and move to a country (permanently, that is) without bringing a piece of home with me. That’s the biggest part of home for me: it has the people I love. Seeing new things and new places means a whole lot less when you don’t have someone you care about seeing them with you.

The father of the family I’m staying with gave me a great complement today. He told me I was brave. Brave to come to a country I’d never been to, stay with people I’d never met, and do a job I’d never done. I’ve never thought of myself as brave, and I was flattered to be identified as such. But in the end, I couldn’t not come. You have to make “brave” choices in life or you’ll look back at the end at a life unlived. And I fully intend on living my life.