Dear Sister, Even if You’re Not

I envisioned this post as a time capsule of sorts. While studying abroad in Nantes, France, I decided that I would one day want something that would be a one-way ticket to an experience of memory, a memory of experience. I wanted something that would make me feel as if I was transported back to the moment when I sat along the Erdre River with my two bare pieds noirs (literally “black feet”), dusty and darkened from wandering barefoot. So without further ado, I present the letter that I wrote to the most important person of my experience–my “host sister.”

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Dear Mélissa,

I’m writing to you, but you will likely never read this letter. Mais si tu vois ça, n’hesites pas à demander à Nathalie pour une traduction – j’utilise beaucoup d’argot, mais elle fera de sa mieux. (If you do, ask Nathalie to translate- my English is replete with unique slang, but she’ll do her best.) I’m writing to you to explain the thoughts that rest idle when the words have run elsewhere. I’m writing to you because there’s no map to sincere gratitude that has sufficient instructions when you’re lost in translation.

The words “host sister” find their way ever so subtly into my conversation.  The title comes easy now that it’s slipped its way into conversation with friends and family so many times. It’s easy, convenient, just a smidge endearing, but also quite amusingly incorrect.

We are not technically sisters. And while nobody would guess it, you’re not part of my host family either. (Though truly you are considered such, more or less.) You are a student, renting the room for two years now in this house we call ours and studying at the same university in this charming city. Our rooms sit side-by-side and are linked by the bathroom we share, like many other things.

I love that we are always known as les filles (the girls) in the house. We’ve taken to taking meals together, swapping cheese and sharing bread. I never get sick of laughing about the time when we gleefully put ribbons in our brother’s shoes on his birthday. I love that we’ll both bemoan missing Nathalie’s amazing pumpkin soup and tease the other if she does. I’m constantly amused by your endless love of coffee. And by the time you’re on cup #4, I know full well to join you pronto. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It warms my soul that you rush to greet me, when you know I’ve had an unkind exam at way-too-early in the morning. You are the first one to ask me how it went. To tell me “ça va, c’est fini” (it’s ok, it’s over), when my lower lip trembles in response. Whether you knew that or not, I needed it more than anything.

When I bounce into a room, I love that you offer to make room on the couch for me. And share the blanket too. Blanket sharing is serious business in this world of friendship. I try to politely refuse every time so as to not make you move. And I laugh every time you shoot me a raised eyebrow and eye-rolling glance that clearly says “shut up, and sit your ass down.” You know me a good handful of steps beyond politeness.

I love that you put my host brother, Cyriaque, in his place when he gets sassy up in your grill. I love that we’ll eat seconds of dessert at any given chance because we rejoice in just how sweet life is. I love that you know my class schedule and that I know yours. That you’re my confidante for all questions bizarre and embarrassing (and believe me, I ask a lot). I love the way you talk to your 2 year old (?) nephew, like your heart is so full of adoration that every word is laced with a love plain and simple. You’re kind and silly, easy-going and always ready to answer my next question.

I loved that night you bought hard cider during our spontaneous trip to the grocery store — “2 for tonight, and 2 for another night,” you said. That we cooked dinner, filling the kitchen with music and soul-soothing laughter alike. I love that I uttered the words ‘Ryan Gosling’, and you took your hand to lips and declared, “Il est parfait!” as I lost myself to laughter. I love that we later hung out and watched The Notebook en français, with you reminding me to make myself at home in your room that sits mere steps from mine. I loved the risotto you made but loved the pride that shone in making it even more. I love that you asked me twice if I was forgetting anything before leaving…even though you knew I likely would anyway. That like my sister, you stopped me before going out, straightened my smile, and beamed saying, “Tu es jolie!” (you’re beautiful). 

I smile from head to toe realizing how good of friends we’ve become so quickly, even with that transparent language barrier that tries to draw a line between two. I try to imagine what it would be like if I could speak fluently in French, or you in English. If this sweet companionship could be even better.

I love that I never guessed we of all people would be best friends. But I couldn’t be happier that we are. I wonder if we’ll keep in touch and what it’d be like if/when you were to come visit me in California. I think about how much you’ve given me comfort in being here and if I could ever do the same in return. I think about how much I’ll miss you. But above all, I wonder if you realize what all this has to meant to me…that at the end of the day, I would be proud to call you my sister.

Love,
Lexi

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{snow day}

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happy snow day from washington d.c.!

the reader’s digest version: 

brought to you by a royal sh*t ton of snow [atta girl, mother nature!]
beer for breakfast, chillin in da snow [crushin it]
homemade cinnamon rolls & coffee [fo real]
and 0% productivity [duh]
and that one boy next door who just yodeled for the 536th time. [no comment]

-lexi

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My Real Answer to “How are you?”

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34 days ago, I came home for the first time in 8 months. I wondered what Georgetown would feel like after so long spent away. If it would be a paradise lost or a paradise found or some crazy little thing in between. Cross-legged and with this song looping on repeat, I found myself wondering if I should have some sort of plan.

But New Years and its knocking for resolutions came and passed; the first day of school went pedal to the metal; and for once, no plan seemed to be the best plan of all.

SAY WHAT? I suppose this seems straight up loony. It goes against all the normal rules of being an ambitious perfectionist.

Well damn, it’s a good thing I have a flagrant disregard for normal rules.

No doubt, people have asked about study abroad--if I wish I were still there or happy to be back. Well hey there, life is our box of chocolates, friends–no need to choose just one! My transition has been one of rather surprising smoothness. Coming back from study abroad, I’ve separated things by place. The places I’ve been are incomparably different, but there’s more to it than that. Georgetown as I know it has changed, but then again, so have I.

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You see, my first two years at Georgetown were defined by polar opposites–by a fairytale freshman year and a sophomore slump. It makes sense that this year, defined wholly by me as I’ve deemed it, just feels authentic. I’ve parted ways with the categories I used to crave and am really just happier going with the flow. I’m doing what I need, doing more of less without doing something meaningless.

And that has made all the difference. I’ve found myself craving minimalism, going back to the basics as if life were the rediscovery of cheese pizza. I feel comfortable being in my own skin. I say this casually, but I mean it sincerely. I’ve been walking the line between self improvement and straight chillin’.

In the lands of self-improvement, I’ve spent a fair amount of time considering the people part of the equation. I spent a weekend with best friend C, just laughing about nonsense before her semester abroad in Cape Town. Days come together in due jankiness with best friends H, L, and who know me far too well. New roomies and E are the redefinition of funky fresh, with loving reminders that “donuts” and “happy hour” are integral vocabulary words. Couch talks with P have been vital. Lunches with have been wonderfully hilarious, and themed costumes with A have been a major sort of major success. 

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{Can you guess the costume? Hint: it’s Dr. Seuss}

I’ve realized how much certain relationships matter to me–they matter more than Sunday brunch, trips to Paris, corny jokes, Gmail, and really really comfy beds all put together. (Ok, that last one might be a close second…). I appreciate the people who are there when its convenient…but even more so those who are there when its not convenient. The people who take the time to hangout from across campus and from states away. The people who can see a classic Lexi moment before I see it myself. 

After a few years of slugging through general ed requirements, I’m finally starting to jump into classes that interest me. Plus, I still count every one of my dang lucky stars when a teacher speaks to me in English. And I could hug every, single one for never bringing up French literature. It’s the little things, yo! Professionally, I’ve accepted an offer for a return internship at Google this summer and couldn’t be more excited to see what the Bay area brings this time. 

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For me, coming back (home) to Georgetown has been about doing things a little differently. I’ve made it my goal to meet new people. And in such an eager pursuit, I’ve stumbled my way into conversations about unconventional elevator speeches, the how behind happiness, and quantum physics (come again?). I’ve been realizing the beauty of place but also of experience too.

Side note: I still don’t fully understand quantum physics. Really. At all.

Of course, I’d like to be careful to paint a charmed life as is so easily done on social media. I’m still dealing with a few fractured friendships and segueing my way into new life territory. There’s still plenty to do and even more to figure out. For all ya’ll who have been along for the ride, hey thanks! You make my day when you tell me you’ve enjoyed my ramblings. I’ve had a hard time sticking with journaling here, but someone last week reminded me why I love and need to write, even if it’s trivial.

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Looking to what’s on the docket, there’s no shortage of things coming soon to a theater near you. I want to start something new, to try a new restaurant or two, and to carry on with the farmers’ market. I want to visit the Holocaust museum for reflection and North Rock Creek Park for a hike simply because I never have.  I couldn’t be happier about next weekend’s reunion with Google friends/resident Cool Kids on the Block. And you better believe I’m bonkers pumped for an upcoming spring break in Miami.

Make no small plans, or make no plans at all.

I’m finding balance. And just being me–an unapologetically free-spirited, barefoot dreamer (and hot mess). If you’re inclined to ask for a normal explanation of what that means, my answer is this:

Well, darling, I thought we agreed that normal isn’t really my style anyway.

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Introducing the Characters: Allison

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First friend. Like ever. Taco beans magic dies hard. Strawberry blonde sistah child. Just keeps on swimming. And would save me from drowning (literally and figuratively) in less than a heartbeat. Sleepover buds since the beginning. Cake in the face and piñatas in the park. Irish at core, Bostonian beloved all the while. Surrogate sister and second parents. She got it from her mama….and papa too. 

AL and I go way back. Beyond anything I can even remember because we were two PYTs (pretty young things) in strollers at the park. No matter how much time has passed, it’s always the same. Kitchen table talk for days. Christmas cookie compadres. Persona and pretenses are tossed out the window because we know each other inside out…and backwards. Writes Dublin tour guides that blow every travel book to Guinness tipsy smithereens. Through life’s highs, lows, and ridic in-betweens. Simply a gem who has always been and will always be.
p.s. Happy belated birthday, AL :) 

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4 Days More

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4 days more in France! Real life is fast and furious, yo.

Procrastination is a mode of life at this point. And because I’m doing just that, here’s a nugget of Tuesday wisdom. You could pretty much call it a metaphorical home run.

“It turns out procrastination is not typically a function of laziness, apathy or work ethic as it is often regarded to be. It’s a neurotic self-defense behavior that develops to protect a person’s sense of self-worth.

You see, procrastinators tend to be people who have, for whatever reason, developed to perceive an unusually strong association between their performance and their value as a person. This makes failure or criticism disproportionately painful, which leads naturally to hesitancy when it comes to the prospect of doing anything that reflects their ability — which is pretty much everything.

But in real life, you can’t avoid doing things. We have to earn a living, do our taxes, have difficult conversations sometimes. Human life requires confronting uncertainty and risk, so pressure mounts. Procrastination gives a person a temporary hit of relief from this pressure of “having to do” things, which is a self-rewarding behavior. So it continues and becomes the normal way to respond to these pressures.

Particularly prone to serious procrastination problems are children who grew up with unusually high expectations placed on them. Their older siblings may have been high achievers, leaving big shoes to fill, or their parents may have had neurotic and inhuman expectations of their own, or else they exhibited exceptional talents early on, and thereafter “average” performances were met with concern and suspicion from parents and teachers.”

David Cain, “Procrastination Is Not Laziness

à plus tard (’till more later).

-lex

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What Nobody Told Me About Study Abroad

(Note: Reposted from the article in Georgetown’s newspaper The Hoya, which can be found here with stylistic variations.)

Immersed in the crisp autumn air of a Parisian night, I realize that this is kind of a funny story. 

I look up at the million shards of light that dance before me and breathe deeply, taking in the speechless grandeur of the Eiffel Tower. Pausing, I think to myself: “This is it! This is what I will tell people about study abroad – the revelatory feeling of discovering what only existed in dreams…”

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And then abruptly, I stop. It’s true that this is dream-worthy, but it doesn’t tell the whole story about studying abroad. As I enter my fourth month in France, I reflect on this question often:

What will I tell people when they ask about study abroad?

I think about this because I remember asking the very same questions about study abroad myself.  As a Hoya, a student, and a dreamer, I have valued my time abroad at its fullest. However, I know that much of the remaining value exists in being able to translate this experience to life on the Hilltop—to both my life and that of others.

It is with this realization that I want to share something immensely important. Something I am quite frankly scared to share. I want to tell you what I wish I had known, but perhaps what you may not want to hear.
I want to tell you what nobody told me about study abroad.

Strap on your seat belts, and grab a chair. Let’s do real talk.

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Like many people, I had dreamed of study abroad since coming to Georgetown. I decided early-on that languages are bonkers cool; traveling is all sorts of amazing; and exploring a new culture is downright jazzy. So as junior year approached, I carefully filled out the applications and tackled the painstakingly atrocious VISA process. I chose to study in Nantes, France (the country’s 6th largest city). And six months later, I stepped off the plane. Wide-eyed, awestruck, and wondering if I was in the famed Genovia.

Fast forward to one month later, and my life as seen by most people is nothing short of a French fairytale.

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I’ve met my host family and learned that my dad is a semi-famous French chef.  I’ve made some awesome friends, many of which are among the 40 other American students with whom I’m spending the semester. Dublin, Paris, Munich, Bologna, Rome, Florence, and the French Champagne region dot my travel itinerary. I’ve immersed myself in the French language and started rapidly climbing the learning curve. The world’s best pain au chocolat is a daily staple. And I’ve discretely stepped into life as a femme française, forming a newfound identity as the Princess of Better-Than-Genovia.

This story illustrates the highlights of my time abroad, which has been undoubtedly magnifique. It reads like a flawless fairytale, a dream and a half, a casual frivolity. It depicts a tale without bad days or trips on the Struggle Bus. And it evokes an easy-breezy-beautiful-Covergirl sort of mentality.

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But what nobody told me about study abroad is that it is not just about the highlights. It is not always “easy.”

I don’t mean just physically, emotionally, socially, financially, mentally, or personally. I mean, every single bit of it. When I first remarked on these tiny ebbs of subtraction, people were quick to respond, “BUT YOU’RE IN EUROPE. YOU CRAY?” like they were shouting the final answer to Jeopardy. As if being abroad automatically means you can’t feel anything but flower-crown-adorned happiness 24/7.

But bad days and personal struggles exist abroad just like anywhere else. Perhaps even more strikingly, being that one stands beyond the sureness of a comfort zone.

There may be days when you struggle with always feeling like the outsider. When your country, your culture, your language, YOU are now the minority rather than the majority. When you feel like classes are either an unbelievable “joke” or a believable impossibility. When the loss of a community of intellectual engagement leaves you without any raison d’être as a student.

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It feels like the moment when the ground was yanked like a rug beneath you, and you promptly ended up landing on your tailbone. HARD. But even with a bruised ego, it’s as if it’s sunny and raining simultaneously: the rain smacks ya grandly with all it’s got, but the bright moments put the starry-look back in your eyes.

Maybe or maybe not you’ll feel that nobody “gets you” in the inexact precision of your personality. You may be confronted with the loss of all things familiar, including familiarity itself. In venturing to the likes of Facebook/ Instagram/ Twitter/the Interwebz, you might be greeted with FOMO (fear of missing out). For some, maybe the lessons in solitude will manifest as lessons in loneliness. For others, there is the trying emotional investment of having a loved one elsewhere—of figuring out how to live feeling like the other half of you is elsewhere. For you, perhaps being understood in full is the simplest wish and the most unattainable desire.

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In talking with others abroad this semester, every person remarked that they thought study abroad was “supposed to be easy.” Though most described the overall experience as positive, nobody described the semester as easy. And in fact, not a single person ever recalled hearing about these trying lowlights of study abroad beforehand.

Yes, I will tell you that study abroad is magnifique and for some, life-changing. That you can pursue the extraordinary and find life unlike the one you’ve lived. Yes, I will tell you that I believe it is 100% worth it and that you’ll never forget it.

But yes, I will also tell you that study abroad is not just plain easy.

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For most, it’s not an endless parade of glamour and ease—a 4-month-long vacation of stars, rainbows, ponies, and absolutely perfection. I tell you this not to complain about a “hard knock life,” to lament an epic 1st world problem, to be negative, to be discouraging, to scare you. I tell you this because it’s what nobody told me. Rather, this is what I wish I had known so as to avoid feeling caught off guard or as if these sentiments were unique to me.

For me, study abroad has been nothing like I expected but far beyond anything I ever could have dreamed. Plans rarely go directly according to plan. Sass frequently goes through the roof; hair gets tangled; and life gets messy on the daily. It’s not cute.

But you learn to make it your own. Through it all, life abroad paints the world in colors you’ve scarcely imagined. And the complete picture is one of highlights, lowlights, and everything in between.  It’s rarely perfect but always as it should be. It’s a whole lot of organized chaos, a whole lot of faith in yourself, and the reminder that, well—

It’s kind of a funny story.

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By: Lexi Cotcamp, MSB ‘15: Reposted from The Hoya‘s (Georgetown’s newspaper) article found here, with stylistic variations.

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As It Should Be

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I’m smiling. Not the kind of smile that you use for when Grandma goes ballistic with the camera on Christmas. Or the kind of smile you use as a disguise around public audience.

Really smiling. 1% of you have seen this smile. The 1% that has truly made the effort to keep in touch this semester. The 1% that can decipher the face I’ll make when faced with hilarious awkwardness. You’re probably the same 1% that has Chapstick rites of passage.

Why the smile?

Sunlight floods the room. And I sit in its presence, greeting the streams of gold as they gently wash over me. Something feels right. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but the smooth click on life’s gears feels apparent. This could totally be the effect of too much coffee. Yeah? Saturday, get at me.

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Or it could be the discovery that:

  • I have 14 days more in France. That it will be an amazing 14 days but that going home will be the freakin’ tits.
  • My host sister has become like a sister to me and my best friend here. The fact that she is neither a biological sister nor my host family’s actual daughter is irrelevant. Friendship extends beyond culture and language.
  • Studying abroad is a janky crash course in showing you which friends remain friends, even when it’s not convenient. Ironically, the people that I’ve talked to most are some of the busiest people I know. It’s taught me that saying “Sorry, I was too busy, but I miss you!” or “Sorry! I just really suck at communication” is a bit misleading. “Busy” is a convenient excuse but a rather inconvenient truth. I haven’t kept in touch with people this semester who ‘have’ time but rather people who have ‘made’ time. It’s a small, but important, distinction.
  • By American standards, what I eat on a daily basis is considered horrifyingly unhealthy. Yet I’ve never felt more at peace with my body.
  • Language immersion is like playing the game CatchPhrase 24/7 — you spend most of your time describing what you want to say to people, while they try to guess the meaning or word you’re trying to convey. Sometimes you win; sometimes you lose.
  • I will eat Chipotle with reckless abandon upon return to the states. RECKLESS ABANDON. To the kind man/lady in charge of said inaugural homecoming burrito: please inform HQ that you will need exactly 1.74296 shit-tons of guacamole for my burrito.  Thanks!

Over and out.

Happy Saturday :)

-lex

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