I moved to Italy, then I moved to DC. Here’s a little bit about my strange, exhausting, wonderful summer.

If you follow me on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or Snapchat, you’ve probably already seen that I’ve been having a crazy summer. I spent the first six weeks of summer studying abroad in Florence, Italy, and my second six weeks completing an internship in our nation’s capital.

Florence was a dream, filled with random adventures to hidden towns, late nights studying with my roommates, and lots and lots of pasta. My classmates and I made wishes at the Trevi Fountain in Rome, rode in gondolas in Venice and swam in crevices in Cinque Terre. I’m confident that the only things that allowed us to make it through the busiest six weeks of our lives were plenty of 4-euro bottles of wine and a decent amount of 50-cent espressos from a vending machine in our school.

IMG_6463

Me, trying not to get squished by all the tourists.

Then, less than a week after getting back from Florence, I moved to Washington, DC (where I knew no one), to complete my ~* dream *~ internship.

I had landed the job starting with a tweet to the company’s digital strategist. After months of emailing back and forth, I secured the position. I’m currently writing blogs about social issues, analyzing healthcare systems and working on digital strategy for the founder of craigslist, Craig Newmark, who now is an influential figure devoted to philanthropy.

To supplement my internship, which started as just 20 hours per week, I knew I needed to get a serving job. I ended up working for a gay bar, serving brunch and happy hour in the midst of performances by drag queens. I thrived in the upbeat atmosphere with silly co-workers and flexible hours. My friends back home thought I was crazy. I loved it.

serving drag brunch

In her wise words, “Sometimes you have to do something strange for a change.”

Here’s the thing: we are so young. When we land 9-to-5 jobs and have student debt and insurance bills to worry about, we may not have the funds—or flexibility—to drop everything and do something we love.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying that once I have a real job, I’ll turn into a boring adult who spends every night at home with my boyfriend binge watching Netflix episodes. I’ve met many ~cool adults~ who find ways to save funds for vacation travels to look forward to and get around society’s pressure to settle down and stick to a routine.

But there’s been something special about this summer. It felt like more than just “traveling.” I didn’t just travel to two of the most touristy cities in the world—I lived in them. It may have only been for six weeks, and I may not have had the time to be quite as immersed in Italian culture as someone who spends a year there, but I know where the nearest Conad is like the back of my hand. I even know a trick to fixing the Italian toilets.

And the Washington Monument isn’t just a building that I take a silly picture with. It’s my regular running route and my place to think. The White House still leaves me in awe, but I’m thankful that I can stop by and stare at it on my way home from work, wishfully wondering if our President will walk out. (Note: I actually did do this several times, and Obama never walked out. I think the secret service guards think I’m insane.)

I’m only going to be 20 once. I have just one summer left before I have to secure a real job. I don’t know what I’m going to do a year from now; maybe I’ll be back in DC. Maybe I’ll find an internship in another city. Maybe I’ll seek out freelancing positions and travel as needed. Maybe I’ll work at an ice cream parlor in Asia. I have some ideas, but the point is I really don’t know. And I’m okay with that uncertainty. I’m going to take risks, and move, and do my best and maybe fail along the way.

There were times in my internship search where I wanted to give up, and when I wondered if I should just stop trying, play it safe, and spend the summer in Athens with my friends.

dc beauty

A view that was worth the hike.

I am so glad I persisted, though. My trip to Italy getting cancelled last year was a blessing in disguise, as was being rejected from other internship positions; I would not have had the experience or met the people I did if it hadn’t worked out this way. Everything really does happen for a reason.

I leave DC in less than a week, and my life will go back to as normal as my life ever is. I will inevitably procrastinate and spend long nights at the library trying to master flashcards again. Days will get shorter, and nights will get longer. But to ever person who helped me get here and to every person I met along the way: thank you for this wild, exhausting, unforgettable, whirlwind of a summer.

On my last day in Italy, I went on a run up to the Piazzale Michelangelo, a square known for having one of the most beautiful, panoramic views of Florence. On my shuffle came “Closing Time” by Semisonic. I’d heard the song many times before, but I never really noticed the line: “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” As much as I hated to say goodbye to Italy and as sad as I am to leave my new normal here in DC, it’s only a matter of time before the next adventure comes along.

IMG_6608

The Little Blue Book

Last Christmas, my brother got me this little, blue, 365-page notebook. It’s a one-sentence a day journal, with enough lines on each page to keep tabs on five years of memories. I just finished Year One.

This journal serves a couple purposes for me: first, it’s a simpler option to a full-page journal (I usually can only keep up with extended journal entries a few times a month before I’m irritated by my own whininess). This journal allows me to take 30 seconds to write the most important thing that had happened that day, or whatever I’m thinking in that moment.

Second, the journal pushes myself to analyze my life decisions. I have a tendency to push out unfavorable memories. I hate being alone with my thoughts, so I fill my schedule to the brim with class, work, and socializing, purely to avoid this alone time.

Pushing some memories away isn’t healthy, though. Not for anyone, and especially not for an aspiring writer. Until I begin to accept every aspect of my life—even the things I don’t like—I can’t really healthily move forward. This little blue book allows me to remember almost everything—the good, the bad, and the ugly. I’m able to look back on a years’ worth of things that have impacted my life.

According to the blue book, some days were more impactful than others—(on May 4, I wrote that I had just slept for 15 hours straight. Riveting.) But other days, things happened that I want to preserve. On January 16, I wrote about seeing a fellow classmate’s open casket after her sudden death. On June 27, I wrote about covering the Cincinnati Pride parade the day after same-sex marriage was declared legal in all 50 states. On June 13, I wrote about an exciting summer day spent ziplining and jumping off cliffs.

As I flip through that journal, I remember that 2015 was full of adventures and heartbreaks. I lost friends I thought would be there for me forever, and became close to people I never imagined would become a huge part of my life. I didn’t have the summer I had planned, but was able to work with a number of selfless and inspirational people between three wonderful jobs. 2015 was full of moments of extreme disappointment and worthlessness—and moments of euphoria and feeling like the world is a place of endless possibilities. In 2015, I wasn’t afraid to tell people how I truly felt about them.

It was a roller coaster of a year, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m ready for 2016 to take me on some twists and turns, and I’ll have my little blue book with me the whole way.

Rallies, Protests And A Surprise Pop Star: My First Month As An Intern

 

As May comes to a close, so does my first month as an intern. I’m realizing just how far out of my comfort zone I really stepped – after all, I’ve worked the same hostessing job for more than two years and babysat the same family for that amount of time. I hardly ever drive further than 15 miles alone. I haven’t jumped into a totally “new” job in years. But everything about interning at the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless (GCCH) is new. I have an office (I share it with the other interns, but still) and an entirely new set of co-workers who are nothing short of amazing.

In fact, my boss—the editor of Streetvibes who hired me as his intern—is Justin Jeffre, and he’s a member of the band 98 Degrees with Nick Lachey, Drew Lachey and Jeff Timmons.

That's him on the right.

That’s him on the right.

This came as a shock to me because I’ve known of Justin since I first interviewed him back in high school. I’ve included his name in speeches and worked at the coalition with him for a month before I realized that he spent a good portion of his life traveling the world and performing with stars like New Kids on the Block, Britney Spears, and ‘N Sync. (Catch him Monday on VH1’s Big Morning Buzz Live Hosted By Nick Lachey. He’s flying to Times Square to be there.)

Besides casually being an awesome undercover pop star, Justin has been great a great mentor. I come into the office twice a week, and so far, there hasn’t been a dull moment. My first day was spent entirely folding envelopes, but it wasn’t your typical intern go-get-the-CEO-some-coffee type grunt work. The entire office worked together, including Josh Spring, the executive director. Any extra hands were appreciated.

Since that first day, I’ve had the opportunity to cover a number of interesting things. Because GCCH is a social work agency with an extremely humble director, many of the work that GCCH does is often overlooked. Alternative paper CityBeat catches some of it, but the Cincinnati Enquirer almost always looks over it. GCCH hasn’t really been keeping track of all the good that they do for the community, and I think it’s important that donors to the coalition are aware of the beneficial changes GCCH makes to Over-the-Rhine.

I sat down with Josh and talked to him about one of his most recent accomplishments. Josh recently helped organize residents of the affordable Alms Apartment Complex into a Residents’ Association. The apartments had a number of dangerous and unsuitable issues that were going unfixed, so he and the association put together a list of about 27 demands for their property manager. Residents said that they were often bullied by their manager – this, along with numerous meetings and then combined with the manager’s questionable history was enough to get him fired. The association is now helping find a more suitable property manager. I wrote about this for Streetvibes, and wrote a reduced version to send with thank-you letters to donors.

Another thing I’m working on is a feature spotlight on one Streetvibes distributor at least every month. The first distributor I’ve written about, Melissa, was one of the sweetest, most down-to-earth people I’ve ever met.

Melissa in front of a vintage clothing store she works at, Mannequin. Mannequin donates their proceeds to seven different charities.

Melissa in front of a vintage clothing store she works at, Mannequin. Mannequin donates their proceeds to seven different charities.

She opened up to me in ways that about brought me to tears, and I hope that her story, which is running in the next issue, allows people to better understand that homelessness is not always preventable or simply the person’s “own fault.” Melissa has been through more struggles in her life than I could conceive, and she told me that looking back, she can’t even IMAGINE a path to a whole and healthy life. However, Melissa is always utilizing her skills in reading, writing and public speaking to make a living, and that’s what’s so admirable about her.

Finally, I covered a Black Lives Matter rally. This rally protested the killing of Rekia Boyd, an unarmed black woman who was fatally shot by a Chicago police detective. The rally and march that followed was centered around the idea that yes, the lives of black men matter – but so do the lives of black women, black children and black transgender women. About 50 people attended of all ages, races and genders, and it was an eye-opening experience to see the number of people that stand up for injustices like these.

Participants held signs like these while chanting "No justice, no peace" and "Hands up, don't shoot."

Participants held signs like these while chanting “No justice, no peace” and “Hands up, don’t shoot.”

I’m already forming friendships with my colleagues, volunteers, fellow interns and distributors, and I’m so excited for the rest of the summer. I hope I can cover as many important events as I can, as well as tell the stories of many Streetvibes distributors. I can’t describe how great of a feeling it is to be back into the swing of things, and it’s even better that my writing and reporting is hopefully raising consciousness on important social issues.

My Summer Internship & An Unlikely Encounter

“People act like homelessness is a choice—but when you lose your place and you have nothing, it’s not a choice. It’s something you have to deal with.”

That’s what Lee McCoy told me in October 2013 when I trotted alongside him as he marched in the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition (GCHC)’s homeless awareness march. After the march, I wrote an article for my monthly high school newsmagazine, Spark. I wove my article around Lee and the issues that he faces with the homeless shelters and gentrification in Cincinnati.

That article later won a national social justice award. I was flown to Baltimore in October 2014 to give a speech about the article in front of prominent media figures like Brian Ross from ABC News and James Risen from NYT. In the speech, I talked about the impact that Lee McCoy had on me.

Lee McCoy works with Streetvibes, a bi-weekly newspaper that covers social justice issues and is put out by GCHC.

IMG_3167

A photo I snapped of Lee McCoy at the Homeless Awareness March in October 2013.

The cool part about Streetvibes is that it’s sold by 50+ distributors – all of which are homeless or extremely low-income. Each paper is bought by a distributor for 50 cents, and then sold for $1.50. All profits go directly to the distributor who sold it to help save or pay for housing, food, etc.

A few weeks ago, I sent an email to Justin Jeffre, the editor of Streetvibes who I had interviewed for my article last year. I asked him if there was any way I could help out, and, remembering me, he quickly replied and asked me to stop by the office when I was in town so we could talk about opportunities.

Yesterday, I braved my fear of downtown driving, made it down to Over-The-Rhine. I wasn’t surprised that a few people panhandled me for money on my three-block walk to from the parking garage to the office, but I was happy to be approached by a Streetvibes distributor asking me to buy a paper.

The stout man wore sunglasses and a hat, and had little gray tufts of hair poking from the sides of his face. Before I could explain to him that I was already fairly familiar with Streetvibes, he gave me the whole spiel and asked if I would be interested in buying a paper.

I pulled out my money and explained to him that I was headed to the Streetvibes office now to talk to Justin.

“Well that’s great to hear miss,” he said, tucking the newspapers beneath his arm so he could shake my hand. “And what is your name?”

“I’m Rachel,” I said, shaking his hand.

streetvibes

Me and Lee and the newest issue of Streetvibes.

“Rachel,” he nodded and smiled. “I’m Lee McCoy, it’s great to meet you.”

Lee McCoy. Neither of us recognized each other at first, but after I refreshed him, he remembered our interview. I told him that he had helped me spread Cincinnati homeless awareness and win this national award in which I talked about him in my speech, and he couldn’t believe it.

“Could you show me that next time I’m at the office?” he asked.

I smiled.

“Absolutely.”

I’m no expert on homelessness, and I’ve really only have a sliver of an idea of the struggles that they go through every day. I start my internship tomorrow, and I can’t wait not only to expand my understanding of the misconceptions of homelessness and share that knowledge with others, but also to help out with an organization dedicated to doing good.

Maybe it’ll be a good summer after all.

An Open Letter To Athens & My Freshman Year Of College

Ten days stand between my “freshman” status and me. After just four more days of classes, a weekend and four days of final exams, I can no longer use the excuse “I’m a freshman” to explain my unwarranted behavior (or my repeated issue of getting lost on the way to the dining halls – which still happens every once in a while).

While I am excited see what new adventures this summer holds in good ole Cincinnati complete with my puppy, my backyard and my best friends, every time I think about classes ending and parting ways with the Athens bricks, I can’t help but feel some pre-summer blues.

It seems like as soon as the ice has melted and every day in Athens starts to feel like heaven, I’m getting kicked out to fend for myself in Cincinnati until August 21 rolls around.

My relationship with Athens wasn’t love at first sight. I’ll never forget the utter fear that overcame me when my parents first dropped me off—What if my roommate hated me? What if there’s nothing to eat in the dining hall? What if I didn’t make any friends?

And—believe it or not—from day one, my roommate hardly said a word to me, I couldn’t find anything to eat during my first dining hall experience and I spent my first night alone in my room spilling hot water all over my floor as I attempted to make ramen.

It certainly wasn’t my dream first day, but I can honestly say that aside from some rough patches, almost every day was better than the day before it.

I watched a community of people crawl through houses on Mill Street on Welcome Weekend. I went on a run with a hallmate down the beautiful Hocking River. I spent hours with my learning community in study rooms trying to master philosophy concepts. I watched the sun set after a rigorous hike up Bong Hill. I attempted to summon spirits via Ouija board at OU’s haunted abandoned insane asylum. I was falling in love with Athens and everybody in it before I even realized what was happening.

I can’t say every experience of my freshman year was perfect, but I’ve learned a number of things from it. Yes, I’ve learned how to give a proper persuasive speech, how to analyze Shakespeare’s poetry in 1500 words and how to break down a philosophical argument, but there’s so much more to college than that.

I’ve learned how to live alone, how to ask for help when I need it and how to manage my time. I learned to value every person I meet, because not all of them are here to stay. I learned to schedule alone time, to keep track of my keys and to balance the amount of extracurriculars I joined (I’m starting to wonder if I’ll get emails from the nutrition, wildlife and running club for the rest of my life.)

I’m not going to throw all this away when I go to Cincinnati for the summer, but I’m certainly going to miss walking through beautiful College Green every day.

So, Athens, I know this isn’t goodbye forever, but I’m going to miss you. I’m going to miss the late nights spent in the library, the late mornings where my roommate and I fill each other in on what happened our nights before, and the occasional tofu lunch option in Shively Dining Hall.

Goodbye, freshman year of college. Ups and downs, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I just have to keep reminding myself not to cry because it’s over, but smile because it happened.

Much love,

Rachel

I’m No Longer Studying In Italy This Summer, But That’s Okay

Last semester, I walked out of my intro to journalism class and straight to the Global Opportunities Office. We had just listened to this speaker – Fred Cook, author of Improvise: Unconventional Career Advice from an Unlikely CEO. He’s traveled to countless places in his career, and contributes a lot of his exciting life to travel.

In the short few months that I’ve been a college student, I’ve grown to love writing more and more every day. And every day since his talk I had this urge to really travel. Cook told us that as writers, we can only write as much as the experiences we’re given. If we’re cooped up on our computers all day every day, where will we get inspiration?

His words were what initially led me to apply to study abroad with a small group in Florence this summer. It was a six-week program, so I didn’t have to give up any semesters at my beloved OU, and didn’t have to give up a whole summer of working. And as a plus, I’d get my required foreign language credits. Also a plus, I’d be getting them while literally being in Italy.

On February 9, I received an e-mail saying I was accepted. (And then put down a $500 deposit, bought plane tickets, and enrolled in a half a semester prep class).

On March 17, I received an e-mail saying the program was cancelled.

The professor had had a serious family emergency, and no matter what the family emergency is, my heart goes out to her. I know she was more heartbroken than the participants about having to call the program quits. My condolences go out to her family.

As for my trip, I can’t say that I’m angry that it happened. Because of course, I made efforts to hop into another Italian program this summer, but the time framing and credits offered just didn’t work out in the slightest.

But all these things happened beforehand that I almost feel like were “signs” that this summer in Florence just wasn’t in the cards for me:
-Days after my interview to be considered for the program, there were these issues with paperwork. Basically, if I didn’t sign a paper almost immediately, I couldn’t be considered for the program. I rushed to get that taken care of.
-As mentioned, the program got cancelled because of an urgent emergency that couldn’t have been foreseen in any way.
-In a group meeting to discuss alternatives, the fire alarm went off and we had to evacuate the building and hold the meeting elsewhere.
-Hours before planning to apply to an alternate program, the foreign language class I needed to take filled up.

I’m not going to attribute these misfortunes to being “just my luck.” My life isn’t a continuous downward hill. It’s a roller coaster. Every time one thing knocks me down, some amazing news comes along and sweeps me off my feet. If there’s anything I’ve learned in my 19 years of living, it’s that.

But I absolutely feel like there’s some reason—some buried, far away reason that I haven’t realized yet—that I’m not going to Italy this summer.

Maybe I would have been kidnapped like something out of the movie “Taken”. Maybe while I’m home this summer, I’ll meet someone that will have some connection to my dream job. Or maybe, should I decide to go to next summer’s program, I’ll be in just the right place at the right time for something extraordinary to happen.

The cards may not have fallen the way I wanted them to, but I can’t complain. My home life of babysitting in the morning and hostessing in the evenings certainly isn’t anything like the extravagant summer I would have had sipping wine in Venice, but I’ll live.

Until next time, Florence – arrivederci.

(At least for now.)

Featured Image via Wiki

 

How Snapchat’s Updates Have Rocked The Future of Advertising and Journalism

I still remember the day that I started using Snapchat. A friend introduced me while sitting at the high school cafeteria table. I added 4 of my closest friends. After school, I used the low-quality camera of my iPod touch to send blurry, 3-second pictures of my cat.

The app, which was originally made so people could share embarrassing pictures with each other without repercussion, has made huge steps for the future of media. Over the years, Snapchat evolved from a picture-messaging app to a platform for something much, much bigger.

Snapchat updated the app and made it have the ability to send videos, and soon after, the introduction of “The Story.” A Snapchat story allows users to post pictures and videos to their own story for all their Snapchat friends to see. The story is viewable as often as desired for 24 hours, and then they’re erased for good. The introduction of “The Story” was also a huge step for celebrities, who could now quickly and easily share life moments with fans.

Not long ago at OU, an account called “OhioUSnaps” was created by a student. This account allows for students across the campus to share funny dorm-room videos, or studying selfies, with upwards of 6,000 people who have added the account to their Snapchat friends.

OhioUSnaps is changing the way that we advertise at college. Besides just silly snaps, students post pictures of lost keys or ID’s and upload flyers of club events to gain publicity. Today, any company can create Snapchat accounts for consumers to add to their friend list. The consumers are exposed to creative marketing that often don’t feel like traditional ads.

Snapchat completely changed the game with their “Discover” update on January 27. (Many people may remember this as the update that removed our loved-and-hated “best friend” feature.) With just a swipe right, the “Discover” feature shows eleven media outlets, ranging from CNN to Cosmopolitan to National Geographic. Every 24 hours, these companies release a new set of content to view.

For instance, if I click on CNN, I’m able to scroll through 6 headlines accompanied by a moving picture or video in the background. If I swipe up, I can read the full story or watch the video. If my sound is on, I can hear a synopsis of the story or even music to accompany it.

It’s handheld and targeted to younger audiences that desire instant gratification and, as Wired noted, doesn’t often connect with traditional media.

Snapchat said on its blog, “This is not social media. Social media companies tell us what to read based on what’s most recent or most popular. We see it differently. We count on editors and artists, not clicks and shares, to determine what’s important.”

Far too often, I see Twitter accounts tweeting out some story or some facts without credible—or any—sourcing. Too many of my Facebook friends and Twitter followers believe everything they see online, regardless of the source. Snapchat Discover teaches us what’s important because we’re trusting the experts. Snapchat Discover allows young people to get credible information from an app that they’re using every day anyway.

From both the journalism and the advertising industry, Snapchat, you’re making huge steps for the future of media, and we’re excited to see what else you’ll do. Props!

This blog was featured on OUimPRessions
Featured Image via Flickr