The Adventure Of A Lifetime: 2021 Africa and Europe Stories

This blog post is well overdue. I sat down to start writing this in January while everything was still fresh, but I kept procrastinating and never returned to it until now. I think maybe everything just needed more time to marinate in my mind. These are the stories of my trip to Africa and Europe; I guess it’s better late than never. 

I always thought about the way Africa would change me and affect me while I was there experiencing it all, but I rarely wondered how it would affect me after the trip was over. And it’s hit me like a train. I am in the process of undoing everything I’ve ever learned and believed. I am becoming a new person daily as my experience changes me in small bits and pieces. It’s the little moments, like when I’m stopped at a red light, and I look up at the sky, and all the memories and feelings rush back to me. Like, “holy shit, I went to Africa?!!” 

It’s the middle of my day when all of a sudden, I remember holding little Alice and Bright so tightly and beaming with joy. It’s during my job at a salon when a wealthy white lady fusses about her hair appointment; she has absolutely no idea of the other world that exists on the other side of the earth; she has absolutely no clue that her hair appointment means absolutely nothing when people are living with nothing, who are just happy to be alive. I think this experience will change me slowly forever, but as of now, it weighs heavily inside me as I try to figure out what’s next in my life. 

In school, we are taught little to nothing about the big and beautiful world that exists inside the continent of Africa. We learn about the Apartheid, the Rwanda genocide, slavery, and colonialism. But we are left to our own imaginations to wonder what parts of Africa might look like, what the people are like, what they do, what they celebrate, and what they love. We were raised to believe the entire continent of Africa is an immense desert full of people living in huts. In fact, many people before I left asked questions like, “well, where will you even stay? Are there even houses?” “Are there cities in Africa, like where did you even go”? “Did you have water or electricity ever? Were you always just out in the middle of nowhere?” 

Though I know these questions were just asked out of pure curiosity, it proves how little we know about the countries in Africa. And I’ll be the first to admit; that I also knew very little about the countries in Africa; I think that was a part of the reason why I was so drawn to go there because I needed to see it all with my own eyes, I needed to experience the beauty of the cultures and people that lived there. Though I had never been to Africa, I think there has always been something inside me that knew the most special people lived there. When I was about 3 or 4, I wrote a letter about how one day I wanted to open “Gracie’s Grocery Store” in Africa, where everything was always free. I guess it’s always been a dream of mine to try and do something good with my life in Africa. 

Our story begins in Ghana. The craziest part is that the rockiest travel day happened at the beginning, but I’m glad I got it out of the way so everything else could go more smoothly. I almost didn’t even make my first flight to Chicago when the check-in desk told me I needed proof of a negative covid test before I got on the plane, not when I landed in Ghana… lots of confusion. By the grace of god after sobbing and begging the lab over the phone to send me my test results, the check-in desk said I could run over and get a quick test in the airport. $200 and lots of tears later, they accepted the negative test, and I sprinted like never before, where I boarded my flight to Chicago just in time. 

Landing In Accra, Ghana, the next day was such a fantastic feeling. I had successfully completed my first solo international flight, and seeing this new and unique place with my eyes felt surreal. I remember hardly being able to sleep that first night; I could not freakin believe I was asleep in Ghana, Africa. The next day we arrived in Kumasi, Ghana, where I’d spend the next 3 ½ weeks. Kumasi was like nothing I’ve ever witnessed. The number of people and building structures packed so tightly together in a land that was essentially a desert was intense. Because Kumasi is rarely visited by tourists or white presenting people, people were perplexed by the sight of a group of such pale people. I always found it so interesting to witness people’s reactions to us. 

First Night in Accra, Ghana

One thing I noticed quickly was how kind and hospitable people in Ghana are; they will bend backward to take care of you or get you what you need, which is genuinely humbling to see. Our living conditions at the volunteer house were similar to how most people in Kumasi live, which I appreciated because it made the experience more immersive. Our bedrooms were little rooms of 5-6 bunkbeds with some cabinets for storing belongings and a ceiling fan that worked only when it wanted to. Most nights, it would be so hot with all of us in the room that I had to fan myself with a handheld fan until I could fall asleep. 

We drank our water out of packaged bags to avoid any illness from the tap water, and on most nights when the electricity and water shut off, we’d just pour the bag water over our heads to get clean, which was probably still a luxury considered to what water access most locals had. Almost every night for maybe 30min it would downpour as I’ve never seen before. So much rain that one night we just took our soap outside and had a rain shower. 

In Kumasi, I was fortunate enough to volunteer at two places. I spent two weeks observing in the labor and delivery ward and the local government hospital surgical ward. I have so many insane but detailed medical stories if anyone ever wants to know more, but I’ll spare the gross details for now. I watched many natural vaginal births and a few cesarean sections at the hospital. The birthing room was a tiny room with only two birthing beds. Sometimes there would be a line of women in labor waiting outside the door for their turn in the bed. 

Ten plus midwives and nurses cram into the birthing room to either help or just watch the births. There was no access to any epidurals or pain medicine, so all of the vaginal births were done 100% natural, and that was the most unique and beautiful thing I’ve ever witnessed. It proved just how strong and invincible women’s bodies are. I’ve never seen stronger and braver women. It inspired me to want to pursue a career in midwifery or women’s health, and to experience a natural birth of my own one day, hopefully. 

Outside of the Hosptial in Ghana!

Another of my favorite parts of the hospital experience was getting to talk with all of the midwives and doctors; they all spoke English fluently which was so helpful, especially when I had medical questions. The midwives I spoke to were passionate about their work and excited every time they got the chance to deliver a baby. They all hoped that one day they would have the opportunity to visit America and learn about our birthing practices; it made me want to find a way one day for them to have easier access to travel wherever they wanted to know more about their practices. 

The second place I got to volunteer for a week and a ½ was at one of the orphanages in Kumasi. The orphanage broke my heart into a million pieces, and if I were a bit older, I know I would have quickly adopted a few of those babies. Our days there consisted of holding, feeding, and cuddling the babies, playing with the toddlers, and helping out with the children with disabilities. The most heartbreaking part was learning that sometimes in Ghana culture, children with disabilities are highly looked down upon and viewed as a curse or the devil. Most of them are abused and abandoned, which is why the orphanage has many children with disabilities. The one child that broke my heart so much was Daniel. Daniel, who at eight years old could already speak fluent English and Twi and was more intelligent than most eight-year-olds, was paralyzed from the neck down; because of this, he was forbidden to attend school, and I wanted nothing more but for him to get an education, so much so I still think about him and what I could do to help him. 

Leaving the orphanage in Ghana on the last day was a sad and hard feeling to wrestle with. I so badly wanted to take home as many of those beautiful babies and children as I could, but I knew that was not possible considering the stage of life I was in. I still struggle with this feeling because I know I was able to positively impact those babies’ lives for a few weeks, but I feel like I abandoned them; I gave them love and then left them there. Though I know they don’t need “saved” by us white people because they are surrounded by good women who take care of them, I still feel as if I’m letting them down by not providing them with a better quality of life. And I think I’ll grapple with that feeling for a long time until I figure something out. 

My favorite thing ever, holding sweet babies
all the cuddles and love!!

Unfortunately, my time in Ghana was cut about a week short because of the social situations in the volunteer house. There was a peculiar dynamic between most of the group of British volunteers who arrived before most of us American volunteers arrived. Some of them had the strangest superiority complex because they were there before us and refused to believe that all Americans weren’t stupid. It caused a constant storm of drama and division in the house, making it very difficult most days to live in, especially when all I wanted to do was make lifelong friends with some volunteers! Despite the drama, I became very good friends with a few people I ended up following to Tanzania a week earlier than I was supposed to. And boy, was that the best decision because Tanzania was truly the most magical and beautiful experience I’ve ever had. 

I can’t even try to explain Tanzania’s beauty in words if I try thoroughly. It’s this amazing combination of safari deserts, lush greenery, flowers and trees, big beautiful mountains including Kilimanjaro, which is the largest mountain in all of Africa, and then to top it all, just right off the coast of Tanzania in the Indian Ocean lies Zanzibar which has the bluest waters you’ll ever see. Truly Tanzania is all of God’s best creations in one country. My journey to Tanzania from Ghana was a long one, and it was the traveling portion of the trip that I was most worried about because it was almost two days crossing over Africa in airports where I knew I would not always understand what was going on. I had about an 18hr layover in Ethiopia, which sounded awful. Still, it ended up being cool because I stayed overnight in a hotel that allowed me to see the capital Addis Ababa, which almost gives off the vibes of a mini Dubai. Also, a little fun fact, ladies, if you start your period in Addis Ababa, they have no idea what a tampon is no matter how hard you try to explain, haha. Apparently, they only have pads, and I wonder if this is from a lack of resources or because their religion prevents it? 

A cloudy Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Finally, after many hours of traveling, I landed at Kilimanjaro airport, and instantly you feel like you are in a scene of the Lion King. The desert land was so hot, but once you drove an hour into Arusha, where the volunteer house was, the vegetation and mountains made the weather so perfect. There was always a nice breeze to cool you down. It was amazing going from sleeping in only a t-shirt and waking up in a pool of sweat in Ghana to wrapping yourself up in a cozy duvet and sleeping with a breeze in Tanzania; it was heaven. But let’s be real, the most heavenly part of my time in Tanzania was spending time with the kids at Rafiki School and Orphanage. 

The desert surrounding Arusha + Mt. Kilimanjaro in the distance!

And the craziest part is that I went to Tanzania signed up for the medical program to continue observing midwives. But the hospital in Arusha, Tanzania, differed significantly from the hospital in Kumasi, Ghana. The hospital in Arusha welcomed lots of licensed nurses and doctors who wanted to use their skills in another country; they did not typically welcome volunteers who were not licensed medical professionals like myself, and because I was not licensed, the woman who ran the hospital did not want me in the delivery room, which makes complete sense, and was truly a gift in disguise because I then switched my volunteer placement to help out at Rafiki. 

“Rafiki School and Orphanage” where do I even begin… I’ve never experienced such a joyful and beautiful community. Rafiki is the purest example of God’s love on this earth, and to witness and participate in that, is something that I’ll always cherish. Rafiki in Swahili means “friend.” Joseph and Josephine, the founders of Rafiki, wanted Rafiki to be a place where everyone feels like friends and family, a place anyone can call home. 

Rafiki started because Joseph and Josephine, both teachers and lovers of children, saw a need in their community for a place where children without parents could have a place to live and learn and a place for children who have parents who can’t afford local school to also have a place to learn. I’ve never met two people with bigger hearts than Joseph and Josephine. They are known in their community as caregivers who will find a way to meet anyone’s needs. They often spend most weekends making visits to homes delivering food and medicine to people, telling stories, and showing us photos of all the people they were trying to help. 

If a child came to Rafiki with a medical condition that needed treatment, Joseph and Josephine would do everything in their power to try and find a doctor who could treat the child. While there, a young boy was suffering from severe eczema all over his body. Everyone thought he had some sort of contagious disease, and so they decided to keep him out of school for months. Joseph wanted us to look at this young boy to see if we had any medical advice. We immediately could tell that this boy was not a danger to anyone; he just had terrible eczema and needed some proper lotion and treatment. The next day after our consult, the boy could start attending Rafiki again, which was a powerful experience! 

At Rafiki!
All of us with Joseph!
A look inside the Kindergarten classroom

Another highlight of my stay in Tanzania was my friendships with the other volunteers I got to live with, some of the best people I’ve ever met, and friends I hope to travel with again soon. In the middle of my stay, we all decided to venture to Zanzibar for a week. Zanzibar is an island off the coast of Tanzania in the Indian Ocean. Full of the whitest sand and the most transparent crystal blue turquoise waters, this place was a true paradise, heaven on earth. You must get to Zanzibar one day if you’re a beach lover. We had so much fun hanging out on the beach, exploring, snorkeling, getting tattoos together, meeting people from all over the world, and hearing their stories. I also got to spend my 20th birthday there with all of them, which was a birthday I’ll never forget. 

Blue Beaches of Zanzibar
My girls!!
floating and living our best lives

We took Piki Piki’s to Rafiki every morning, and it’s funny how such a simple thing can bring you so much joy. In Arusha, there are three primary forms of public transportation. There’s the Dali Dali, a big van with maybe nine seats. But man, they stuffed those things to the brim with as many people as they could. Not my favorite form of transportation, haha. Next, they had Tuk Tuk’s, which were little cars on three wheels, and lastly, they had Piki Piki’s, which are motorcycles. Something about taking a bike through town every morning with the cool breeze running through your hair and the view of mountains on your left side was just so magical; there were so many moments on those daily rides where I would just think to myself, “damn this is what true living feels like, I’m so glad I left school for this.” 

Our days at Rafiki were spent teaching lessons to the kindergartners, playing games with all the kids, and my personal favorite, walking into the toddler room every morning and getting swarmed with hugs and requests to be held; they always wanted to be held and cuddled, and it was my favorite thing ever. As I got to know most of the kids, it was so fun to see their little personalities shine through. They all could speak fluent English and Swahili, which was so impressive. At recess, they taught us all their songs and games; they would always sing the sweetest song: “Be happy, be happy! Be happy, be happy!” in return, we taught them games like tag and how to play jump rope. Sometimes I would sit down, and all the girls loved to braid and play with our hair; most of them already knew how to do small, tight braids, and they were so fast and good at it! 

Me on my daily Piki Piki ride!
The kids singing their happy song!

Though each child at Rafiki touched my heart differently, two children specifically left a distinctive and significant mark on my heart. Alice and Bright. On my first day at Rafiki, Joseph explained that three five-year-old orphans still needed to be sponsored to begin primary school in January. Joseph introduced me to Bright, a shy little boy with the sweetest face and smile. I had no clue how I would come up with the money in only a few weeks to sponsor Bright, but I knew I had to find a way. 

Over the next few days, Bright quickly warmed up to me, and I looked forward to each morning when he would run into my arms and give me the biggest hug and smile. I noticed baby Alice one morning when I walked into the toddler room, and she was sitting on the floor crying. I would later come to figure out Alice just wanted to be held and loved 24/7. I spent lots of time most days holding Alice and walking her around until she would fall asleep in my arms; seriously, there was nothing more sweet and pure than those moments. I feel honored that both Bright and Alice allowed me into their worlds and allowed a connection that I believe is the root of true goodness and love in this world. 

Me and baby Alice
Me and my little Bright

In my final days at Rafiki, I knew I wanted to do more than just give my time, I also wanted to give money, and thanks to a bunch of very gracious donors in my life, I was able to raise enough money to buy the school new toys and bikes, re-paint the new toddler classroom they were renovating and send Bright to primary school with the help of my boyfriend, Sam. The feeling that I was able to give them things they could use long after I had left was so fulfilling, and if you donated and are reading this blog, please know your contributions meant so much to the kids and me!! 

My last few days in Tanzania were very bittersweet. During my last week at Rafiki, I got super sick with what we think might have been the original strand of Omicron?? I had multiple blood tests done, and nothing came back positive; the doctors said it was probably just the flu, but I’m convinced that the gnarly cough I had (the worst I’ve had in my entire life) was more than just some flu, hahaha. 

I dreaded the last day at Rafiki, I knew it had to come, but of course, I couldn’t imagine saying goodbye to everyone, especially my little Alice and Bright 😦 Joseph and Josephine showered me with so much love and gifted me with a beautiful piece of clothing that was the traditional female outfit of the Massi tribe. I took my final photos with the kids and gave out so many hugs and kisses. Though I was heartbroken, I knew this would only be a temporary goodbye; I had found the most special place on earth and a forever home. As I hoped on a Pikki Pikki to drive off, I looked behind me one more time and saw Bright crying in Joseph’s arms, and that image has been in my head ever since; it’s my motivation to get back to that sweet little boy. 

With my new Favorite people, Joseph and Josephine
last day with the Kiddos
The kids with their new bikes, thanks to many donors!!

The final leg of this journey took place in Europe, and though I was only there for two weeks, I think I learned so much about myself and the world in the most challenging way possible. If you spend time in an impoverished place, I do not recommend going to some of the fanciest and wealthiest cities right afterward, or maybe I do recommend it because it will turn your whole world upside down and change your perspective forever. The idea of going to Europe after being in Africa came from an excited girl who just wanted to see the world and did not think about how the two vast experiences might mix weirdly. 

I figured if I was already on the other side of the world, why not jump over to some places I’ve always wanted to see in Europe? Like most girls, I’ve wanted to go to Paris since I was little. I had my mom paint an Eiffel tower in my room; I hung Paris pictures for years and collected little Eiffel towers. So, of course, Paris had to be my first stop. Though I was meeting up with a friend, I got to spend two days alone in Paris before they arrived, and boy, were those just the best (and the only good two days) I had on my Europe trip. 

Going to Paris felt like a true fever dream; I was living out one of my first childhood dreams, fulfilling a part of me that had wondered about this place for so long, and I don’t regret that part of the trip. Paris was truly beautiful in all of its old architecture. I got to my air b n b with no winter clothes except one pair of jeans and a long-sleeve shirt, so I went on a mission to change my appearance. I wanted to have that French look. So I found a little hole-in-the-wall hair salon run by two old french ladies who didn’t speak a lick of English; this will be a story I tell for ages 🙂 

I had pictures on my phone of what I wanted; thankfully, that was enough to get the job done. She placed my head in a shampoo bowl, pouring bleach straight on my head and massaging that sucker in. I then had to let it sit, of course, and when my head was on fire from the chemical burn, I had no way to communicate but make some noise and point to my head. Their methods seemed strange, but the French are good man. I came out of that salon after an hour looking like a new woman, a very, very blonde one. 

 I spent the next two days wandering around Paris, shopping, eating lots of pastries, and conquering the metro system. I spoke no french but made my way around the city like a pro; I can thank the NYC metro system (the most confusing metro system in the world) for that one! The first time I saw the Eiffel Tower up close, I cried; I felt extremely happy for the seven-year-old girl inside me who wanted nothing more but to see the Eiffel tower; it was a dream come true. 

me at the hair salon with my head on fire, haha
Pretending to be French with my new hair, clothes, and a baguette
My dream come true:)

Things were beautiful until about day 4 in Paris; at this point, I was not alone, other people accompanied me, and this is where things became a bit more complicated and a little bit less beautiful. I remember vividly walking through a fancy part of Paris with designer stores and signs surrounding me everywhere. And at that moment, I wanted nothing more but to be home with my family. I felt disgusted and confused. I realized then that I had just flown to a new world where money, brands, and materialistic items are valued most. I wanted to run as fast as I could. Europe was not where my soul and heart belonged at the moment, and realizing I was stuck there for another two weeks before I could return to my boyfriend and family was a harsh reality to face. 

I could go on and on about the details and the stories that made the rest of my time in Europe quite miserable, but for the respect of other people, I’ll just share how the tragic end of my trip became beautiful and perfect. In our second to the last city, Copenhagen, I became super sick the night we got to our air b n b. When you’re sick, all you want is your bed and your mom, so my longing to be home heightened. I woke up the following day with the worst pain in my throat I’ve ever felt, and I knew the only way to fix the pain was to get some prescription medicine. But there’s just one issue: Denmark has free healthcare for its citizens, so it’s tough luck for you if you aren’t a citizen. After spending $200 in taxi fares jumping from clinic to hospital all day trying to find a doctor who would see me, I finally found an emergency room that would see me. Needless to say, the whole thing was a mess just to get some penicillin. 

We got back to our air b n b that night, and with basically no money left in my bank account, I had no energy, desire, or means to go to our last stop, London. I did not want to buy another expensive taxi, so I decided to walk 30min in the cold to the nearest pharmacy to pick up my medicine. And on the walk to the pharmacy listening to Taylor Swift’s new Red album, I had an epiphany. I believe it was a Wednesday. I was supposed to be arriving in NYC that following Tuesday to finally see my boyfriend, Sam, after being apart for almost four months. Then I remembered that on that Saturday night, Sam was going to be performing in a monologue show at his college while another performer was going to perform the story that Sam wrote about our time doing international long distance. I was super sad that I was going to miss the show until I realized on my walk, “wait, why don’t I just see if I can change my flight and fly from Copenhagen to NYC on Friday and surprise Sam??” And so I did! I knew London could wait; all I wanted was to finally be reunited with Sam anyways. 

When I tell you it was indeed the work of God that I made it on time to Sam’s show that Saturday night!! I had to take two flights and two trains to make it to Poughkeepsie, New York, from Copenhagen, Denmark, and it was all planned out to a T to make it in time. I would not arrive in time if any flight or train got delayed. Indeed it was one of the craziest 24 hours. I left the air b n b in Copenhagen at 4 am that Friday morning. I then flew to Lisbon and boarded my flight to NYC. Because it was an 8-hour flight and because of the time difference, I landed in NYC that Saturday afternoon. 

I didn’t know if I could pull off the surprise since I couldn’t text Sam for 8 hours while I was on my flight, but I had this man fooled. I turned off my location the day before, which I knew would be suspicious, but I told him my location app was broken, lol. He thought I was in London, so I took a screenshot of the air b nb photo online and sent it to him saying, “just arrived in London; look how nice our house is!” And he fell for that too! Lastly, I told him that since I was still sick, I would be sleeping and wouldn’t be on my phone for a while since I could not text on the plane. It was a perfect scheme, and he was too distracted by his performance to read into it. 

Once I landed in NYC, it was crunch time to make it through customs, get ready in the airport bathroom then bolt it to train #1 and train #2. Time could not go by any slower. I was so excited to see the look on Sam’s face when I surprised him. Finally, an hour before the show started, I made it to Poughkeepsie, NY, where Sam’s parents picked me up. Seeing some familiar faces after being away from home for ten weeks was so lovely. 

We went inside Sam’s college before the show started, but obviously, we needed a way to get Sam downstairs. So while I hid behind a wall, Sam’s mom called him to come downstairs because she had “twisted her ankle.” He, of course, rushed downstairs, and I popped out behind the wall! His reaction was priceless and made all of the traveling so worth it. He was so surprised, and finally, being able to hug him was the best feeling ever. We will remember that story forever, and it’s just another reason to be thankful the Europe trip went awful because if it weren’t, I would have gone to London, and we would have never had that particular moment of surprise. 

Sam and I finally reunited ❤

It was the perfect way to end an amazing and life-altering trip. I’m so thankful that my life path guided me to take this trip. I’m grateful that Sarah Lawrence College was not the right place for me because the doors to this trip would have never opened. I’m thankful for all the beautiful people and children I met in Ghana and Tanzania. The people and friends who I will have relationships with for many years to come. Though this blog has been in the works since January of 2022, I’m writing the ending to this piece a week before I take another trip back to Tanzania.

 My heart is so full as I think of the way my first trip to Tanzania changed me and how it will continue to shape and change me as I go back time after time. This time I’ll solely be in Tanzania for about five weeks. I’ll be living with Joseph and Josephine, the owners of Rafiki Orphanage and School, who graciously opened up their home to me, and Katie and Naima, my friends who I met there last year, that are going back with me! I am beyond excited to live within the Rafiki community; this will allow me to spend much more time with the kids and see more of their daily lives.

 Naima, Katie, and I will also embark on a crazy adventure by climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa!! The first time I saw Mt. Kilimanajro last fall, I told myself I would come back one day and climb it, I didn’t think it would be this soon, but this feels like the perfect time for me to do it. I’m constantly processing what my next steps in life should be right now, and I have a fantastic feeling that climbing this mountain and connecting to a miraculous part of God’s creation will help me process many things. 

Lastly, I want to thank you all for being a part of this journey with me! Whether reading my blog posts, interacting with my Instagram posts about my travels, donating to Rafiki, or encouraging me and being excited about my adventure, you all have a part of this journey. I hope, if anything, it inspires you to get out and see the world, travel to distant places, and find a community of people to love and give back to. I will continue to post updates on my Instagram @gracieshanklin, but I have also made a new Instagram dedicated to all my travels that you can follow for photos, stories, and how to travel on a budget @gracietravelstheworld. Once again, I’ll see you on the flip side! 

-Love G, 

Watch it Begin Again

March 2021:

I’m not even quite sure where to start with this one. I have so much to pour out onto these pages. Writing has always helped me make sense of what I was going through in my life, and I started my blog hoping that my writing would speak to other people who have shared or similar experiences. But if anything, I just hope this piece is a marker of time, something I can look back to when I’m less confused and happier with the place I’m in. 

I’ve gone through so many emotions and questions these past few months, and now that I’m finally getting to a place where I’m at peace with my decisions, I knew it was time to write it all out. I’ve been able to grow and learn so much more about myself during my freshman year in college. I’ve learned more about what I believe I’m called to do with my life, what types of people I feel best around and what environments I thrive in. And unfortunately, the college I attended my freshman year didn’t provide those key aspects for me. 

At first, it felt so odd; how could I begin to dislike a place that I worked so hard to get into? How could I begin to dislike a place I was really happy in just half a year ago? But then I realized a few things. Everything in my life is part of my growing process. This current destination doesn’t have to be the final destination if it isn’t fulfilling me. It’s simply ok that this current destination is just a stop on my life’s journey. I think that’s something that I wish more young people could understand. 

During senior year of high school, there’s this immediate pressure to find a college and stay there until you graduate. I fell under that pressure. It’s hard to admit to myself and to others that I’m leaving my college after only a year because of the way that others might perceive me for my decision. Some people may think I didn’t stick it out long enough, or I didn’t try hard enough, but I know that at the end of the day, how I feel and what I know is going to fulfill my purpose is all that matters.

Another important thing that I’ve had to remind myself is that coming to my current college was not a mistake. I was supposed to be here, even if it was only for a year. Because the lessons I’ve learned about myself and the world and the few amazing friends I’ve met are all a part of my story and my life moving forward. Would it have been nice to save myself the $70,000? Yes!! But if spending $70,000 was going to help me understand my life’s purpose better, then ultimately, it was worth every penny. 

Now that I’ve covered some of the crucial takeaways from this story, I’ll talk about the past few months of my life and how I got to the place where I am now. COVID made college life for the better part of my second semester unbearable. There were many pieces and factors that made the COVID situation different at my college than other schools. I won’t go into every single detail, but a COVID breakout on campus at the beginning of the semester ultimately sent me into a downward spiral. 

The feeling of being trapped and prohibited from going anywhere, the fear that my every move was going to get me in trouble with the college somehow, and the constant fear of being thrown into quarantine, isolated for 14 days, produced intense feelings of anxiety that I had never felt in my entire life. I have never been an anxious person, and it takes A LOT to stress me out, so I knew that I was living in an unhealthy environment when those feelings were with me from the second I woke up every morning. 

On top of all of this messiness, my social life was heavily lacking at college. It has always been super easy for me to make friends wherever I go. I find that I can connect with lots of people, but oddly that was something I found myself struggling with from the start at my college. Ultimately, it was a combination of COVID, the east coast culture that I did not grow up in, and not feeling like I fit in with the liberal arts student crowd. My mistake was thinking that going to a small college meant everyone would function as one community; instead, I found that everyone liked to function as an individual. 

August 2021:

In less than 365 days, I’ve managed to become a completely different version of myself. I’ve shed a whole layer of skin like a snake, and my mind seems to have rewired itself. Everything that I see for myself now, I would have never in a million years been ok with last year. In some ways, I think I’m a person who needs constant change, but in other ways, I think I may be a person who grows excessively in short amounts of time. 

The change I’ve had in my life, and the change that is to come, will come with new experiences, and in some ways, I feel lucky that I will have crammed so much into this one life. This past year I tried on the east coast liberal art student, and it wasn’t for me at all. But hey! Now I can say I’ve been there and done that. In the past two months, I have become more in tune with myself than ever before. 

I learned that once you can stare at yourself in the mirror and stop lying to yourself, you can actually become the most authentic, happiest version of yourself; imagine that! Once I stopped lying to myself, I became content with absolutely everything in my life. I’ve spent the past few weeks realizing that I enjoy my hometown, and I don’t have to keep running if I don’t want to. I’ve realized that college was never actually my dream; volunteering and traveling have been my real dream since I was a child, and I am finally in a healthy enough place to pursue it!

 Lastly, I realized that a career in nursing/women’s health is my calling. All I had to do was just truly and deeply, stop listening and believing the bullshit I was feeding myself by the spoonfuls. And that ain’t easy, at all. It took me four solid months of feeling empty and lost to understand that I had to stop feeding myself lies. And finally, when I hit my breaking point/breakthrough one Sunday afternoon in college, I called my parents and spilled every lie and every fear, and since that day, I’ve decided to start swimming and stop drowning. It seriously feels like someone has drained my mind of all the yuckiness, and it’s so much clearer now. 

I am so excited for my next adventure; I think this is the healthiest and happiest I have been in a long time; it’s just been so lovely to breathe. I enjoy all the things I couldn’t handle or stand for so long, and that’s how I’ve truly been able to know that I have mentally transitioned into a new world. I enjoy my home, time with family, Cincinnati, I love spending time with myself, and for once, I’m enjoying living in the present moment, which has always been impossible for me to do. 

Before I lay out my future plans for this upcoming semester, let’s rewind to April 2020. We were all amid covid and quarantine at the time. But as I was navigating quarantine, I was also navigating what college I wanted to enroll in. One night I had this bizarre dream about traveling to Africa and loving it. I woke up the next morning and wondered if I was making a big mistake going to college. I wondered if I should make a last-minute decision to take a gap year and travel. 

Although deep down inside, that aspiration to travel was my actual dream, I wasn’t mature enough yet to listen to that voice, and as we all already know, I chose college last year. But luckily, almost a year later, in March of 2020, that voice inside me came back, and I decided to listen to it this time! Though it was so terrifying and hard to listen to that voice, I knew that it was time to listen; I knew that it was time to leave college for a bit. 

In September, I’ll be leaving for Africa. I have always felt a strong desire to volunteer abroad for many years now, so I have decided to take this upcoming fall semester off from school to pursue my (actual) dreams!! It is absolutely crazy to be typing that out because last fall while at college, I had a freakout moment one night where I thought to myself, “Why am I at this prestigious college learning about all the injustices in the world when I could go out and start trying to actually fix it?!!” Honestly, I think that may be the key to following your dreams and pursuing your purpose; is to stop fearing where those crazy and wild thoughts and dreams will take you. 

In Africa, I’ll split my time in Ghana and Tanzania, volunteering with midwives and doctors in the labor and delivery section of government hospitals. For so long, I would have dropped everything to be able to volunteer with a project like this, so I am incredibly excited and thankful that I’ll have the chance to love on all of the beautiful people I’ll be meeting. 

I am also so excited to learn all of the beautiful lessons they have to teach me. After I leave Africa, I’ll be taking two weeks to visit some places in Europe with one of my best friends Zoe who I met during my junior year of high school in NYC! This has always been something we have wanted to do together, and I’m so thankful we have the opportunity to do it now! 

It will probably be nice to take some time to reflect and debrief on everything I learned in Africa. Hopefully, I will get some good writing done during all my travels. I imagine there will be so much I will want to share with the world! Hopefully, I will be able to keep you all updated by continuing to publish blog posts during the next few months. 

I am ultimately hoping that somehow, my current and future blog posts about taking time off from school to do what is going to fulfill me can inspire other young people to do the same and to realize that college isn’t the only option! I desperately wish I would have listened to the people in my life who gave me that message during my senior year of high school. But at the end of the day, I believe the timing is perfect, and everything happens for a reason. 

Though the past year of my life was messy in so many ways, I believe it led me and prepared me for this next adventure. I know this next adventure is going to help me grow immensely and probably change my life forever. But this adventure might also be the craziest thing I’ve ever done (in a good way) but still, say a little prayer for me if you think of it 😂 

Thanks for taking the time to read yet another blog post! See you all on the flip side! -G ❤

The End of High School

Today is May 1st. I am officially 14 days away from my last day of high school, and 22 days from my graduation. I never thought I would be spending my final days of senior year on my computer in my bedroom. I also never thought that my graduation would be a short gathering in our cars at our high school to get our diploma and snap a quick picture. My graduation is something I have dreamed about for a very long time, especially this year. In my hardest moments and days, I would close my eyes and daydream about May 22nd. I pictured myself in a white dress and a royal blue cap and gown. I pictured all the people I loved, who traveled near and far to celebrate this big and special day with me. I imagined how amazing it would feel to walk across the stage and throw my cap up in the air with all of my classmates, like the classic scene you see in the movies. Waking up in 22 days won’t be the same. There will be no loved ones and there will be no ceremony in a big arena. I can’t pretend that this doesn’t absolutely suck, and there is still a lingering feeling that I am not getting the proper closing to this chapter. But despite this extremely disappointing feeling, I am learning to come to terms with the ending of this story. I will not let a pandemic stop me from celebrating all of the personal growth and hard work I have faced through high school. And if you are a senior, you shouldn’t let this pandemic stop you from self-love and self-pride either!

I want this blog post to be a reflection of the person I have become in high school and over the years. This is one of the best ways I can make sure this chapter has a proper ending. I don’t know the girl who walked through the doors on the first day of high school anymore, although she will always be a part of me, I am certainly not her anymore. I mean that in the best way possible because I started high school in a cocoon, and I have ended it as a butterfly who is ready to fly off to beautiful places. A few nights ago I pulled out a box under my bed that holds old photos and every single letter I’ve been given since Kindergarten. As I went through photos and letters I realized that the end of high school isn’t just a celebration of the past four years, it’s truly a celebration of your entire life up to this point. In a few months I will gain a sense of independence that I’ve never felt before, and I will live by myself for the first time. Everything in your life has led up to this moment and it’s a big deal!

Recently I decided to sit down and split a blank canvas into four sections. I painted each section to symbolize what each year of high school felt like to me. So our story begins with Freshman year. I titled this year “Sprouting”, a year that seems so far away because I have changed so much since then. During that year I began to grow more comfortable in my skin, as I discovered how much I loved writing and poetry, thanks to my Freshman English class. I discovered that I hated Geometry, but I also started to discover a sense of independence for the first time as I started hanging out with friends and going places on my own. During the spring of my Freshman year, our family changed. Larriana (or JoJo) came into our lives, and suddenly the Shanklin family became five. I guess Freshman year was ultimately the foundation, the seeds that would help me grow into myself over the next following years.

Then came Sophomore year, the year I titled “Wilting”. A large cumulative of things made this year so hard. It was the struggle of trying to figure out who you are, while being mixed in with the wrong people, and that is something I found to be impossible. When I look back on that year, I see and feel a lot of sadness. I feel sad for the girl who was so lost, and who only desperately wanted to be found. But even now, I feel thankful for that year because I know that sometimes we have to wilt to bloom. I’ll never forget the moment I got the call from my dad, on a spring day towards the end of my Sophomore year. I was hiking with some friends while my dad was at a work conference in Colorado, so when he called I knew I should take it. I wandered off somewhere where I could be alone, and there on that incredible and surprising day my dad said “I think we are going to move to New York City”. Little did I know, that phone call was the pathway to the end of being lost and instead, becoming found. That phone call would change my life forever.

Then came Junior year, easily the most exciting and transforming year of high school, as well as the best year of my life so far. I titled this year “Blooming”. I like to joke because during my Junior year I successfully made it into three-year books by attending three different high schools. That September in New Jersey I did one of the scariest things I’ve ever done, which was walking into a new high school full of hundreds of new faces. Little did I know, I would go through that first and horrifying feeling two more times that year. But little did I know, those scary moments of starting something new would mold me into the most confident and bravest version of myself. As most people know, the New Jersey school and chapter only lasted three months, and I have promised myself to never return to that dreaded place unless it is necessary ;))

I found myself completely captivated and ready to start again in a new place, New York City. In October, I continued Junior year at an all-girls Catholic school on the Upper East Side ( I was convinced I was about to live all my gossip girl dreams). Other than meeting my best friend Zoe, the first semester of Junior year I experienced a new and utter feeling of loneliness. The city became my friend and I grew to rely on it to feel happiness, curiosity, and wonder. All of those long walks through the city by myself, and the afternoons at coffee shops to process and reflect on my feelings were an absolute gift. I was able to finally process my life in a healthy manner, and I was able to find confidence in myself that eventually helped me bloom. The cherry on top was switching schools once again when things at the catholic school were not going well. It was the cherry on top because it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. During my last semester of Junior year I fell in love with so many beautiful things. I fell more in love with New York City, as it continued to teach me new things and inspire me every day. I fell in love with learning and school for the first time because I was taking interesting classes that were catered to a student’s interests instead of the government’s interest. I credit this experience to greatly influencing my college choice. I met great friends and some of the most interesting people and lastly as most of you all know, I fell in love with a New Yorker:) and he turned me into a Yankees fan (Sorry Dad!).

All jokes aside, I could go on and on about my Junior year because of how spectacular it truly was. I know the experiences I had and the people I met during my Junior year have changed my life forever in the best way possible. So I guess this leaves me at my last year, Senior year, the year I titled “Growing”. Senior year hasn’t been all daisies and roses for me, It’s been another year of growth and stretch. To simplify it, Senior year has felt like sitting in a waiting room before your train arrives. Moving back to Cincinnati was not the easiest transition for me, I missed the person I was back in NYC and I missed the people I loved. I’ve been in a long-distance relationship throughout my senior year which has been very rewarding and worth it, but it’s also very hard to live ten hours away from the person you love most. It was strange coming back to a place I had already left, It was hard to find my place again when I had transformed into a completely different person. I spent a lot of time alone, maybe more than a typical senior would have, but in the end it worked out beautifully.

I was nervous that when I moved back to Ohio I would fall back into my old habits and lose sight of the person I had become. But I never did lose sight of the new person I had grown to love as I held onto my dream and my goal I had this year. The dream was to be able to return to New York or as I call it “The Motherland”. I’m so excited and proud to say that I have achieved this goal! But it certainly was not an easy road. The college process stretched me in ways I was not expecting it to. It was one of the hardest processes I have ever had to go through, but it taught me to have faith and it pushed me to work very hard until I got exactly what I wanted. In this season of my life I needed that. I was convinced that by Christmas I would get my acceptance packets and I would know exactly where I was going, but it was quite the opposite. I was deferred by my top two schools and I was very heartbroken for a while.

At the end of the day, I had to sit back and remember what was most important to me. That was getting a unique college education and moving back to New York. Over the first few months of my second semester I wrote what felt like a hundred essays and applications. I applied to a few smaller New York schools and even one in Chicago and North Carolina. But it never felt right and I figured I would have to settle. By March I knew I only had a little less than two months to make a final decision and as nothing felt 100% right, I started to wonder if things would work out for me. I knew that sometime in March or April I would hear a final decision from my top two colleges in New York, The New school, and Sarah Lawrence.

I had started to let go of the dream of these two schools, but I think the thought always lingered inside. Then came that week in the middle of March, at last to my astonishment all the hard work and trust paid off! I came home from school one Friday afternoon to find my acceptance letter from the New School, and I was returning home from a school camping trip sitting at a McDonalds when I got my acceptance to Sarah Lawrence (what a glamorous way to find out;). Now sitting here today, It’s crazy to think that I have come full circle. I remember the perfect fall day in October when my dad and I visited Sarah Lawrence for the first time. I had envisioned my life there ever since that day. There were days when I wanted to throw my dream away because it became so hard, and there were times where I tried to envision myself at other places to convince myself to settle. But I’m so thankful that I never did because Sarah Lawrence was the right place all along, I just had to travel through the long and dark tunnel to finally find the light.

So our story, this chapter ends here, in the final days of my high school years. I can only imagine all of the spectacular things life has in store for me. At Sarah Lawrence I plan on studying International relations, political science, and Journalism. As long as my job and my life’s work involves helping people in big ways, then I will be happy! It’s the end of an 18-year chapter, but in so many ways this only feels like the beginning. As this story ends, a new one is beginning to unfold, and I am so excited to start living, exploring, and serving. Heres to closing a door and opening an even bigger and brighter one!

-Gracie

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18…

This birthday feels a little different than the others. It feels like a death and a birth intertwined into one. The world recognizes me as an adult today, but in regards to time, my childhood has come to an end. One day this summer, I randomly remembered what I believe is my earliest memory. I was a baby, around 6 or 7 months old. I was swimming in a baby ring with my dad in the lake my parents got married at. In my pink bathing suit, I began to cry and scream because I was afraid of the enormous lake surrounding my tiny body. This moment and this fear stuck with me for most of my childhood, just like thousands of other memories have stuck inside my complicated head. I’ve always had a good memory, And today I couldn’t be more thankful for that. It’s a gift to be able to remember the moments and the people who have shaped me into the person I am, on my 18th birthday.

It’s wild to think that I’ve been living on this earth for 18 years. Although today feels no different than last week when I was 17, turning 18 feels like the beginning of the rest of my life, and in that sense, today feels big and scary and exciting. The year of 18 means choosing a college, moving out and living on my own (finally)! But it also means making big financial decisions and charting the path that will begin the adult chapter, which weighs heavy on my heart today. In so many ways, my 17th year on earth prepared me tremendously for the upcoming 18th year. On my birthday last year, I had lived in New York for only 3 days and everything was so new and big and nothing was figured out or planned. Turning 17 in New York City felt like having the whole world at my fingertips. That feeling was so exhilarating and that feeling is something that I haven’t stopped chasing ever since that day. 

It makes complete sense why turning 18 feels like a “re-birth”. My 17th trip around the sun was a journey and a process to shed the parts of me that I didn’t need anymore. In this process, I gained the parts of me that I needed for adulthood. So today, it feels good to celebrate surviving the big and daunting year the world gifted me last year, at this time. We celebrate birthdays to celebrate the day we were born, when really, we should also be celebrating the person we’ve become since our last birthday. Let’s celebrate the good people who walked into our lives, the challenges we conquered, our self development, and the people who loved us and helped us grow throughout the year.  In a sense, I think it’s an accomplishment to know that I’ve survived this big and scary world for 18 years. All the obstacles I’ve faced during all this time, and now it’s freeing to know that all of those challenges were there to prepare me for the life I have ahead. 

Thursday night at work, my last night of being 17, a little girl came in with her mother. She had the same short haircut and the same little voice I had when I was younger. Everything she said and everything she did reminded me completely of my younger self. The way she talked to her mom about certain objects, the questions she asked, and her curiosity to pick up everything that sparked her eye. It was almost as if the younger version of myself had come back to visit me, to remind me that everything was going to be ok, that my childhood will always travel with me, and that she’s proud of the person she’s become. I think in that moment I knew it was ok to move on, to grow up, to turn over the next page. So now with excitement and assurance, I can say, This is 18.

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First Birthday

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18th Birthday 🙂

The End of The NYC Chapter (For Now)

As I look back on this insane year, so many thoughts, feelings, and memories rush back to my  head. Last year at this time we were just about to move to New jersey, and if I could have seen how incredible this all ends, I think the journey would have been a little easier. But I know this journey went exactly the way it was supposed too. When we first moved it was so easy to become wrapped up in the excitement and adventure of NYC, and so easy to forget everything, to feel like everything was going to be perfect. But little did I know, moving here was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Once the newness of this place wore off, the loneliness kicked in.

How ironic it was, even though I lived in a city of 8 million, I had never felt more isolated in my entire life. Something I hope I never have to feel again. Time seemed to move slower and slower each and every day. The world seemed to keep moving around me as I just stood still and watched everything happening around me. I wondered why we even moved here, every single day, because for the first few months nothing seemed to go right.

The flights back to New York after visiting friends in Cincinnati were the most painful experiences. Two hours in the sky, wishing maybe just maybe, we don’t come back down to the ground. Because landing meant facing my sad and lonely reality. But don’t get me wrong, there are parts I loved about living here and still love to this day. Because at the end of the day, even though this city seemed to test my limits and push me to the edge, I knew it could show me love when it wanted to, I knew because of this city, I was growing and blooming into an entirely new person. Walking the streets of New York made, and still makes me feel like the most free person in the world. I feel in control, and I feel my best and usually happiest everyday as I take in all the beauty this city has to offer. The fashion, the people, the buildings, the food, the culture, the excitement. This city has true magic when you are willing to search for it.

When we finally settled into our little Harlem apartment in October, things started to get a little better. I did something I swore I would never do, which was starting school at an all girls catholic school. It was tough, riding the subway in my skirt and knee high socks, getting looks from old men, which made me feel insecure most of the time. But this was another thing I learned to love about NYC, the subway.

What’s there to love about being squished with strangers early in the morning in a metal tube?! For me there was something about being surrounded by people from every  background, economically, racially, culturally. In these big train cars, in the underground of NYC, I saw and experienced some of the loveliest moments during my time here. Smiling at cute babies, making friendly conversation with strangers, witnessing random acts of kindness, helping strangers and doing some of my best thinking. After a long day of school or a long night out, the subway was always the place I could catch a breath, close my eyes and find some peace. The NYC subway will forever and always be my favorite form of transportation! 

In November, after four months of having practically no friends, I met my best friend and literal life saver Zoe! Without Zoe I have no clue how I would have made it through the toughest times here. I knew I could always look forward to our Friday night dinners, dreaming about the future and relating over our love for fashion and good food. She is a gift I am forever thankful for, and she truly helped me see the beauty and excitement in this place.

As fall turned into winter and the weather got colder I had to find something to do so I wasn’t cooped up in my apartment all day. Walking to the Upper Westside or the High line was what kept me going and what kept me sane. Listening to my music, meditating and really just sitting in my sadness and my dreams was really important to me. My writing developed into so much more than I ever thought it could be. In these moments I was really able to dig deep into myself, figure out what I really wanted, what I needed to work on and achieve. It inspired me to start writing and praying for the things I felt were missing from my life. In January after a long and hard semester in New Jersey and in Catholic school, the best thing happened to me.

I stumbled upon the most special, little public school in New York City, and possibly the world. A place where all of us who feel like we don’t belong could come together and find community, support and acceptance with each other. This changed my life and my world. Finally I felt like I could understand why I was called to NYC. When nothing feels right for months and you find yourself in a desert, stranded, finding something that felt right was my biggest win. The people that I met at my new school filled my heart up with the joy it had been longing for. I had motivation to get up every morning and go to the classes I loved with the people I loved, which was very special.

In March, when my family made the decision that we would move back to Ohio in the summer, I think that was the moment when I let myself fully indulge and absorb this city and I fell more in love with it, which is something I’m so thankful for. Spring in the city was truly some of the best months I had ever experienced. Just as the trees and flowers became new again, new beginnings started to present itself to me. The good thing that came out of having a rough time here was that my spiritual life grew more than I imagined it could. Moving here forced me to trust God because I had nothing else to fall back on, and that was incredibly hard and scary but so rewarding in the end. On easter I was baptized, something I didn’t see myself doing for along time, but the timing felt so perfect when the opportunity arose.

In the spring I also fell in love with a university in Manhattan. A place I had passed by many times but didn’t think much of. My school made everyone pick a college from a list of choices to go visit one day. Not knowing much about any college here and having my heart set on Indiana University I picked the “The New School University” because I recognized the name. I could go on and on about why I love this college so much but I’ll save you the time. Long story short, After the first 10 minutes of the tour I knew this was my place. I plan on applying here in the fall and It’s given me another reason to appreciate living here because I would have never found out about this college in Ohio!

Just when things seemed like they couldn’t get any better, I met a very special person. It was like all at once God and the universe or whatever you choose to believe, was giving me gifts and reasons to understand why we moved here and to be thankful for the rainbows that continued to grow after a scary and fierce storm. I had decided that this year was a good chance to take a break from relationships and just focus on my independence and working on myself. It was hard at times but I learned so much about myself with all the time I got to spend by myself and I started to write and pray for what I wanted my next relationship to look like. I had come to a place where I wasn’t interested in having another pointless high school relationship with someone who wasn’t worth my time and I made that extremely clear in my prayers and writing.

At what seemed like the most inconvenient time and a time when I was certainly not looking to start a relationship, I met my best friend Sam! From the first time I hung out with Sam I knew right away he was someone really special and oddly had every characteristic in a person I had been praying for. I got home that day and wanted to scream at and thank the universe and God all at the same time for making our paths cross at this time. 

Our friendship quickly blossomed into more than a friendship which led to a scary and confusing time for the both of us. But after a lot a lot of praying and writing and time together, I knew I couldn’t let Sam go or continue to just be friends. We then decided to head into a long distance relationship for this upcoming year, and It’s been the most beautiful and bittersweet ending to this chapter. But I’m endlessly grateful that I get to bring someone as amazing as Sam into the next one with me!

These last few weeks and days have been really sad but also really magical as I’ve gotten to look back at who I’ve become and what I’ve learned this past year. I think the list could go on, but most importantly I’ve gained a new sense of independence within myself, learned to dream a little bigger, and learned that when life is miserable and hard, there’s always going to be a light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve learned to find peace in the chaos and joy in the unwanted circumstances. These are lessons I know I will take with me forever.

I’ll never forget my first train ride into Manhattan, feeling an intense spark of wonder because I knew the city was what I made of it. I’ll never forget my first subway rat sightings , the time I got separated from my mom on the subway, my first food truck gyro, dollar pizza, singing welcome to New York the first day we moved, rooftop sunsets, the constant smell of weed and pee, the Plaza, walking the streets in my fur coat, feeling lost, being found, the tears, the laughs, the smiles, the bad times and the good times. They all make this city the spectacular place it was and the place it will always be in my heart.

To my friends In Cincinnati, Thank you for not forgetting about your girl and supporting me through this crazy year even if it was from 700 miles away. I can’t wait to spend senior year with you all!!:)

To my friends and loved ones here in NYC, thank you for filling my heart up with so much love and carrying me through this adventure, I promise you I will be back before you know it!

And lastly, to the city that never sleeps, Thank you for teaching me everything, freeing my soul and opening my eyes up a little bigger. I love you NYC!

Below are some photos to highlight the people and places I mentioned in the Blog!

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One of Ellie and I’s first times into the City when we moved last summer

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Photo taken in September during the “Great NYC apartment hunting adventure”.

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The famous fur coat that made me feel like a New Yorker that all my Ohio friends like to make fun of haha:)

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My life saver, fabulous, life long bff Zoe!

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Our first NYC snow!!!

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An accurate photo of how the Shanklin Girls feel about the NYC subway…

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Just a few of my amazing public school friends!

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My girl Lainie who got me through chemistry, so thankful for our friendship!

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one of many beautiful NYC sunsets.

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My best friend, boyfriend, the one and only Sam:)

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A few of my favorite NYC photos I took over the past year. 

Letting Go. 1/12/19

If you know me well, you know that living in New Jersey for 3 1/2 months in 2018 was extremely difficult for me and probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Even though it was miserable, I know that that those 3 1/2 months were crucial to my life because they taught me two of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned. I hope that my story and knowledge can help and enlighten anyone who’s going through a rough transition right now or in the future. My heart goes out to you.<3

My entire life I’ve been a person who doesn’t like to let go of happy memories or people/relationships that I love. I hug on so tightly to them, I pour my heart out into them  to the point where I still try and live through those memories or pretend the relationships I love most are still right there with me. It’s a coping mechanism, but it isn’t always healthy and it’s made me a very exhausted and sad person at points in my life. For those of you who don’t know, I grew up in Cincinnati OH from 6th grade through the end of 10th grade. The relationships and memories I made there were crucial to my life and growing up. In July of 2018 we moved to New Jersey for my dad’s new job in NYC.

It was Extremely hard and painful to leave half way through my high school years,leaving everything I knew and loved behind. In the end I really tried to not to show how sad I was. Metaphorically I forced myself to hide in a cocoon and I convinced myself that as soon as I moved I’d become this new Butterfly who could fly free and happy with a new life. But shortly after moving I realized how hard my life was about to become and how badly I just wanted my best friends! Shortly after settling in our new house I found myself trying to vicariously live through my life in Cincinnati. Trying to maintain all the relationships I had and stay involved with everything. I didn’t want to admit that I had ever moved in the first place. I didn’t even realize how unhealthy this was for me until half way through our time in New Jersey.

Waking up everyday felt like a punch in the stomach. Trying to live two lives became so exhausting. I became so unhappy and miserable. I then started to see a Therapist who shared my same spiritual beliefs and that’s when I realized I was making my life a living hell. I realized that it was a pattern in my life and that it was simply a mindset that I could change. I started praying and believing that somehow my life would get better. That’s when My family and I moved to NYC. Moving here was like being able to come up to the surface and breathe again. It was like putting on new glasses and being able to see clear. Learning to let go of relationships and a life I no longer was apart of, set me free from all the chains I was carrying everyday. I really felt alive and free for the first time in months.

I think in life there’s always this pressure to keep around lots of friends and to have lots of relationships so you don’t look “lonely”, and it’s also extremely hard to except change and be open to it when change involves leaving what you love. But I think it’s so important for us as humans to know that it’s healthy and perfectly ok to let go of relationships that aren’t healthy or benefiting us anymore. This ties into the last important lesson I learned in New Jersey.

A quote that really defines what I learned is “You treat them like they have a heart like yours, But not everyone can be as soft and as tender. You don’t see the person they are, You see the person they have the potential to be. You give and give till they pull everything out of you and leave you empty.” -Rupi Kaur. I really resonate with this quote because it’s a part of who I am. It’s what I’ve struggled with for along time. My therapist taught me that there are two types of people in this world, “Givers” and “Takers”. She helped me see that I was a giver who tended to pour into others who didn’t pour back into me. This gave me a similar feeling as the first lesson, feeling empty and sad when I let myself follow this pattern with relationships.

When I started a new high school in New Jersey I walked in seeing the potential that everyone would be friendly and kind, not the people they actually were. And for that one week, those 5 days, I poured myself out into all those new faces to get nothing in return, to feel hopeless and empty. I felt like I didn’t belong. Just like I and you don’t belong in a relationship with people who take everything out of your cup while you pour everything into their cup. It’s sometimes really hard to let go of relationships like these, but when you stop pouring yourself into empty cups, you’ll notice how much more you have to give to important people and how much happier you can be:).

Thank you for taking the time to Read my blog, It means more than you know! Sending lots of love and happiness everyone’s way<3

-Gracie

Current/Favorite Winter Outfits 12/20/18

Welcome Back to my Blog!<3 Today I’m sharing a few different casual and fancy outfit ideas for the winter! I hope it provides some inspiration! Much Love- Gracie<3.

Look # 1 “Casual and Colorful”

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Colorful Sweater = Zara

Mom Jeans = Forever 21

Shoes= Air Force ones

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Explanation/Advice: This look is very casual yet very happy and bright! Most people associate bright colored clothing for only the spring or summer, but I think it’s fun to wear colors all year round especially when the weather is dark and gloomy.  The light washed jeans make the colorful sweater pop and the white, bright sneakers make the light jeans pop. So overall you can have a bright yet simple outfit.

Look #2  “Glam & edgy”

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Shirt= Golfwang.com

Fur coat = Thrift store

ripped mom Jeans= Urban outfitters

Beanie= urban outfitters

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Explanation/Advice: This has to be one of my favorite outfits because it mixes my two styles together! Edgy and Glam seem like two complete opposite styles but they are easy and super cute to pair together. Any pair of ripped jeans especially mom jeans give the look it’s edgy feel. Beanies are also super trendy and cheap right now. Finding the right color beanie that will pop with your hair color is important too!  I wore a shirt that added some extra color but any tee shirt that coordinates with the jeans works too. Lastly to add the “glam” element I added my fur coat. Fur coats can be pretty pricey but most thrift stores right now have pretty cheap and great fur coats!! You can also check out “zaful.com” for cheap fur coats too. Adding some pretty jewelry and a dark colored lipstick can add more glam to the look.

Look #3 ” Comfy and Classy”

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Black Turtle neck = Old navy

White Sweater= T.J max

Orange pants= Old navy

Black flats= H&M

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This outfit looks sophisticated but also looks comfy and classy! Again the orange pants add a pop of color and sometimes putting two dark colors together can balance the outfit out. In my opinion black turtle necks look so flattering on anybody and mine is a staple that I wear all the time. The fuzzy sweater is also a staple I think anybody could use because it can match with almost any outfit! With this type of look I think the shoes could make or break the outfit. The flats add the sophisticated feel to the outfit but you could add a pair of white sneakers to give a more laid back feel or even add black heels to dress it up!

Look #4 “Fun and Fancy”

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Leather jacket= Tommy Hilfiger

Polka dot shirt = Forever 21

Denim skirt = Target

Belt= Urban Outfitters

Boots= Blundstone USA

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Explanation/Advice: First off EVERYBODY needs a black denim skirt and a leather jacket in their closet because you can always pair those two with anything and look like a million bucks!! I love this outfit because you can dress it up or dress it down. It doesn’t have much color but sometimes wearing a lot of black looks super fancy and edgy. I think the polka dots make the outfit more playful so adding any type of pattern to an outfit like this is also a good idea. Lastly by adding a Belt or any other accessories, it makes the outfit extra and fun!

Look #5 “Professional & Playful”

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Shirt= Calvin Klein

Pants= Zara

Blazer= Thrift Store

Neck Scarf= Thrift Store

Boots= Blundstone USA

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Explanation/Advice: This outfit is so fun and playful and one of my favorites because it looks very professional but also super trendy and colorful! These Gingham pants are in almost every store now so they are super easy to find and they make any outfit look professional. Any black or white shirt will pop with the Gingham pants. Blazers are also very trendy now and you can dress them up or dress them down as well. I’m obsessed with bright colored blazers because you can add them to any black or white outfit and look amazing! Blazers are another piece of clothing that thrift stores have a great selection of. This one is vintage from the 80’s which you can easily find at a thrift store! Lastly the neck scarfs/ handkerchiefs got super popular over the summer and they look so fun with most outfits!! Thrift stores usually  have a super great and cheap collection of them!

11/11/18 Breathe.

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It’s Saturday afternoon, I’m sitting on a little hill with a view of mountains, fall colors, the ability to just breathe and a sunset in Connecticut. It’s always so amazing and weird to leave the city and be in nature and quiet. You never get quiet in the city, life never slows down. So sometimes I forget that there’s another slower life out there. Lately I’ve noticed myself daydreaming all the time about my life in the future. What college I’ll go to, where I’ll live, what job I’ll have, I have ideas and dreams of what I want but as I’ve learned very well, nothing turns out the way you think it will. I feel like i’m in this weird holding point until my life seems like it will really start, once i leave home. Junior year is weird because you start really thinking about your future and you feel so close to it, like you can almost just reach it but you aren’t quite there yet.

Every day I take the subway to school. I’m squished between people on every side of every race and every background and social class and that’s when I feel most away from home but also the most grown up. If you can navigate the NYC subway system and feel comfortable enough to take it all the time you might just be ready for whatever life throws at you. Some of my scariest moments have been on the subway but some of the most beautiful moments have been on the subway. When you catch a baby smiling at you or you get a chance to just close your eyes for a minute and take a deep breath or my favorite, watching a person who doesn’t have much give what little they have to a person begging for money. That will easily bring you to tears.

Another amazing thing about NYC is that almost everyone comes to perform here. Ellie and I went to see one of our favorite bands “LANY” last weekend. I’ve found that when i’m at a concert hearing the music that i’ve listened to in my ear buds 100 times or the music that has gotten me through the hard times and good times, that’s when i’m most happiest. Music is so spiritual and influential in my life, I don’t even think i’d be the person I am today without it. So the fact that I have these opportunities to hear live music is something i’m so thankful for. Three of my favorite songs right now that help me meditate or just stop and breathe that I highly recommend are “To build a home” by The Cinematic Orchestra, “Revelation” by Troye Sivan and “Ballad of the dying man” by Father John Misty. Taking walks through the Upper West side and listening to this beautiful music is what really helps me get through these tough times.

I think some days it really just feels like a race to the finish line. The day I have my dream job, a perfect life partner, a family, a filled up passport, etc. Somedays dreaming about that future life I think is good because it motivates me to work hard, it brings me joy and it helps me block out all the negative energy knowing how successful I can be one day. But some days I think we all have to remember that it’s not a race. It might be hard right now but you are going through your current journey to help prepare you for the next Journey. I’ve been thinking about how fast life goes. One day you might look back on this moment and really wish you could go back to it.

So don’t take anything for granted, slow down, enjoy the life you are living and just BREATHE.

 

10/22/18 When The Story Ends

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“Why Is It That When The Story Ends We Begin To Feel All Of It” -Rupi Kaur

I’ve struggled with this my whole life. I’ve struggled with learning how to be happy with my memories and experiences with people instead of being sad that it’s over. One of my least favorite parts of life is going through days or weeks or even years of missing moments, people and wishing you could have something you can’t have. As of right now I have a love/hate relationship with New York city. I love the views, I love feeling so free as I walk down the big streets wearing whatever I want. But I hate that it’s taking so long to find a purpose and belonging here. It’s ironic that I feel the most lonely in the biggest city in America. I recently went back home to celebrate my birthday. I have the best friends in the entire world back home which just makes this even harder. As I walked to my gate in the airport Sunday night, my life felt like a sad scene in a movie. I was listening to “Bad religion” by Frank Ocean as people passed me by. I walked fast but everything seemed to be going slow, because the only thing that mattered was what I was leaving behind. You haven’t felt awkwardness until your squished between two men having a mini panic attack, holding back tears on an airplane haha.

There’s the pain of sadness, but no one prepares you for the pain of heartbreak. You can’t be prepared for the physical pain you feel in your heart. It feels as if your heart is drowning in it’s own blood as it slowly breaks apart. Heart break comes in all shapes and sizes and leaving home this weekend was mine. My favorite quote of all time is “What is stronger than the human heart which shatters over and over and still lives.” In a way our hearts are like newborn babies and we will do anything to protect our hearts from the big scary world. But then our hearts grow up like babies grow up and we can’t always stop it from getting hurt or broken, and we can’t control who our heart’s meet and who touches our hearts and souls for better or for worse. But we do know, no matter how many times our heart’s shatter they still live, they just grow stronger. Sometimes we have to put band aids and boundaries on our hearts to fix them again just like children. Sometimes you have to stack on the band aids while your heart is healing. It hurts to rip the band aids off when it’s time. But we have to believe and trust that the right people will help us rip the band aids off fast so that our hearts can love again. Thats the way I’ve learned how to heal. 

This post was personal and raw. But I do this because if at least one person can relate or become inspired by my writing than I’ll be happy.

-All my love -Gracie.

10/9/18 My Story

IMG_2127As an almost 17 year old, I’d like to think I’ve lived a lot of life, or that I have all the answers, but I don’t, at least not yet. In my 17 years on this earth, I’ve lived in a lot of places,  I’ve met a lot of people,  I’ve experienced high and low points, I’ve picked up some pretty amazing friends, and I’ve learned a lot. Although, in my 17 years of life I’ve never experienced what I’m going through now. For so long I believed my story began October 18th 2001, but now I’m realizing this year, this transition, and this move is only the beginning to the Gracie Story. I started this Blog to take you all along on my adventure and share with you my love for life, traveling, fashion and writing.

Everything up to this Point:

Now that you know why I’ve started this Blog, I’ll share a little bit about my life before the move to New Jersey/New York. I was born In Indiana and I was brought into this world by the two greatest people I’ve ever met (aka my parents). They lived in a little apartment above a garage, my dad was a youth group leader and my mom worked as an office assistant, so it’s kinda crazy how 17 years later we’ve landed in NYC. Shortly after I was born, my parents had my sister Ellie. Not sure how they raised two kids 16 months apart but they did! Then when we were just toddlers my parents packed up our lives and we moved all the way to Los Angeles, California. This was the beginning of my childhood always being on the move. We lived in California for a less than a year, and then it was time to move again. We moved to Nashville Tennesse for three years where I spent my time running around in pink cowboy boots and going to Grand Ole Opry shows almost every weekend. But after a short time, we knew it was time to move back to the small town of Fort Wayne Indiana where all of our family lived.

I spent kindergarten through 5th grade in Indiana playing barbies with my sister, having dreams of going to a local college, and growing up a small town girl. For six years that’s all I knew and all I wanted but I wouldn’t be the person I am today if we wouldn’t have left safe and small Indiana. One day towards the end of 5th grade, my dad got offered a job to be a proffesor and teacher at Xavier University in Cincinnati Ohio. I didn’t even have to think twice about moving this time. All I knew was that Cincinnati was bigger than Fort Wayne and that sold me. So here we were again saying goodbye to friends and family, packing up our life and moving four hours down to Cincinnati. Long story short, moving to Cincinnati was the best thing that ever happened to me. I met my best friends in the entire world, went to an awesome Montessori school, and joined a killer youth group. We started fostering a 2 year old girl who became my 2nd sister and I had many opportunities to travel to places like the Bahamas, Utah, Church camp, and China. I could genuinely say I loved my life. Yes there was some low points because what high schooler doesn’t have low points, but by the second semester of sophomore year I was having the time of life.

All my friends could drive so I spent all my weekends with my friends, I had a job and I was starting to feel like I was finding my passions like fashion, politics, women rights and volunteering. But then one spring day in March I was on a hike with my friends when my dad called me, and little did I know my life was about to change forever. A few weeks before this day he went to NYC to do work with a company, but we all just figured it was just a project he’d work on from home. But when he called me, he told me he was offered a job, his dream job, which meant we would be moving to NYC. I remember crying right after that. Tears of excitement because “OH MY GOSH NYC!!” but also tears of sadness because I would have to leave the life I was falling in love with behind. For the rest of sophomore year I went through phases of being really excited and then phases of being really sad and angry. But then things started to change for me. For most of High school I really struggled with self identity and self love. But after my trip to China in June, something clicked for me. I felt love for myself and for my surroundings like never before.  Experiencing another part of the world gave me the chance to see a side of myself I had never seen before, and gain a new perspective on life. I had a really clear vision of who I wanted to be. I’m forever grateful for that because it prepared me for the biggest change in my life, and it’s shaped the person I am today. With all that to say, The move has been HARD. It’s been hell to feel so isolated from my best friends. We decided to move to a suburb outside of the city in New Jersey for a better school, but things haven’t worked out at all. It’s almost like I’ve been in this transition period for three months and its been the toughest time of my entire life. But as we pack up and move to South Harlem NYC in just a few days, I have this beautiful feeling that my story is just about to begin, and that everything I just told you about my life was preparing me for this moment. This next chapter is a big one and I can’t wait to take you all along.

– Gracie