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Gerald: I recently saw that you have basically touched base all over the world lol. Tell us where you been in 2016 and where you're headed in 2017?
Lauren: Well, 2016 was the year I decided to actually indulge in my passion for travel. Early in the year I started taking small trips on weekends and holidays from work, some of my favorites being New Orleans, Louisiana and Ontario, Canada. In September, I quit my dead end full-time job and moved to Madrid, Spain. I'm working with a government program, so I'll be here until July 2017. I spent my first few months here exploring the regions of Spain, and in November I went to Paris, France for a Chance the Rapper concert. Recently, over an 18-day Christmas/Holiday vacation, my friends and I backpacked across Brussels, Belgium, Amsterdam, Netherlands, Hamburg, Germany, and Milan, Italy. The next trip we have planned is London in February!
Gerald: Was it difficult for you to leave America in your 20's when you'll miss out on fun with your friends?
Lauren: Wow, to be honest I never even thought of it that way. I really love change and exploring new environments, so moving came at the perfect time for me. I was feeling really stagnant in my work social life, so by August I was counting down the days to get on the plane. So far I've been maturing and making great new relationships, so I definitely don't feel like I'm "missing out" in any way.
Well...maybe I did for a few days after the Cubs won the World Series lol.
Gerald: During periods of solitude we can achieve so much and experience so much personal growth. What were your key takeaways?
Lauren: God, I have so many lol. This was a year of incredible growth for me. Seriously, in late 2015 I was at an emotional rock bottom. Eventually I got to a better place, but it took a LOT of prayer and soul searching and realignment, ya know? I think I can sum up my most important lessons by 2 of my favorite quotes.
"A man who works with his hands is a labor. A man who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. A man who works with his hands, his head, and his heart is an artist."
-Francis of Assisi
"The things that excite you are not random. They are connected to your purpose. Follow them."
Gerald: I expressed to you last week that I would drop more of my writing online for people to read. It sometimes feels weird allowing people to know the real me and how I mentally process things. Does it ever feel invasive when you write? Lol, like do you feel you're going too deep?
Lauren: Actually, I feel the exact opposite! I love when writers assert their unique narrative voice. It's what makes the difference between engaging/feeling an article and just reading/skimming for me. One of my goals for 2017 is to be more personal and raw about my experiences. I want readers to feel like they're one of my best friends when they read lol.
Gerald: Your website did numbers in 2016, you had over 80,000 views. Can you tell our readers about your website? When did you launch (Ciao, Chicago!)
Lauren: Before I launched my site I was researching the program I'm with now in Madrid. I found dozens of blogs, but the authors...well, didn't look like me. I wanted the read the perspective and experience of people living abroad as the minority. I wanted to see someone with my brown skin and kinky hair doing exactly what I wanted to do. I couldn't find one, so I decided to make it myself. I believe it was November 2015 when I launched Ciao, Chicago! I called it that because ciao means both hello and goodbye in Italian, so it symbolizes my departure and eventual return to the city. The blog is centered on my experiences traveling the world (with a special focus on all things Chicago) and tips on working abroad, budget travel, and learning languages. I also write lifestyle and ranting blogs, one of which recently went viral. In fact, "People Who Can't Travel With Me" might be responsible for half of my views alone!
Gerald: People like you can bring the gal for other people. Your actions may inspire the next person to act. When you want to quit or when you get home sick, what keeps you going forward?
Lauren: Honestly, the people who reach out to me and tell me how much I'm inspiring them. I've had strangers message me to ask how they can do what it is I'm doing. I've had old middle school and high school friends ask me for advice on international travel. I've had people over the age of 40 tell me that I'm inspiring them to try new things. That's what makes me want to keep going. Plus, I surround myself with people who excel in similar interests. They inspire me, so in turn I want to keep inspiring others.
Gerald: Faith is deciding to take action even when you don't see immediate success. How does your faith play a role in your endeavors?
Lauren: Everything that I'm doing now is because I stepped out on faith. Like I said, I quit a full-time job to move over here to Spain. I left my home in my favorite community of Hyde Park, left my friends of 10+ years, paused my plans for graduate study (for now, at least). Why? Because I trusted that God gave me a passion to travel for a reason, and that this door wouldn't have been open if I wasn't supposed to go through it. I’m very big on energy; I trust signs and follow instinct. Everything about moving to Spain at the time felt right, so I leapt. Now I'm here and I honestly couldn't be more grateful.
Gerald: What countries could you see yourself living for a few years? And what have you had to adjust to the most being away?
Lauren: So far, I could definitely picture living in Sevilla, Spain, Paris, France, or Brussels, Belgium. They are really beautiful cities, diverse with friendly populations, good food, and languages that I love. I could see myself living there long term, or at least for a year or so.
The hardest time I have adjusting to life in Spain is getting used to hearing Spanish at the rate that they speak it. It's so fast, sometimes I don't even understand a word they are saying! And there are also times when ya girl just craves a 3 piece dark with red beans and rice from Popeye’s. Those are some of the days when I think about coming home of the most lol.
Gerald: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Lauren: Yikes, I'm not sure honestly. I've been doing this "living on faith" thing so much that I've kind of stopped planning ahead lol. Currently I'm trying to figure out how to incorporate traveling into my career. I would love to somehow create an opportunity to teach Chicago kids about the importance of travel and language learning. I've also started painting again and I want to use my art to tell my stories. But my first real passion is neuropsychology; so maybe starting a PhD program is in my near future?
Gerald: Any last words for our readers?
Lauren: Inspired by my favorite quote again, pay attention to the things that you are passionate about! If it makes you feel happy, feel productive and inspired; figure out how to share it with the world! You never know whose life you can touch!
Ciao, Chicago! Ciao-Chicago.com
FB: Ciao, Chicago!