Finding Om Chapter One Preview

OMproduct_thumbnailChapter 1
The Need to Escape

“I’m always happy when I’m surrounded by water, I think I’m a mermaid, or was a mermaid. The ocean makes me feel really small and it makes me put my whole life into perspective … it humbles you and makes you feel almost like you’ve been baptized. I feel born again when I get out of the ocean.”

Beyonce Knowles

I am a person of the future. A forward-thinking individual who has the end set in mind and a do-what-it-takes-now attitude to get me one step closer to the future.

Progressive, futuristic, and philanthropic, I knew where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do with my life. To say the least, I was not a sit-in-the-present type of person. I was always on the go with a goal in mind.

Beyond goals, I embraced a progressive lifestyle of enjoying life from living abroad to listening to house music—the progressive beats that the majority of Americans dislike. The ambient rhythms elevated my soul that embraced movement, individuality, love, and freedom. While listening to these soul-pumping beats, the music inspired the 900 visions I wanted to pursue.

Growing up in the wonderful yet traditional Midwest, I grew into the classification of being a “bird of a different feather.”

Some claimed I was liberal, but I proclaimed the word differently, as I knew there was something different about my outlook and perceptions in life. I felt ahead of my time, where my ideas and thoughts were a decade ahead of society.

I was an active and involved student pursuing a sport management degree at Bowling Green State University. In my freshman year, my favorite professor told me that he saw much of him in me, a person who is multitalented, a “Jack of all trades,” but needs to focus and excel in one area of life. Focus on one area? How boring. How mundane. How … average. My visionary soul required more than normal and mundane thought processes. I truly desired freedom.

I enjoyed the collegiate experience of playing rugby and tennis, leading campus tours to prospective college-bound students, and working at a vegan café, Squeakers. Combined with drunken nights and partying my ass off five to six nights per week, life seemed like a traditional Midwest college experience.

Life was pleasant—so one would think—until the fall of 2005, when life seemed depressing and emotionally exhausting. Once 2006 approached, I experienced an extraordinary yet unbelievably messed up year emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually.

To better understand, we must take a walk into the past. In 2005, a sophomore in college, I studied abroad at Griffith University Gold Coast in Australia. My number one goal in college was to study abroad. My second goal was to write and become a published writer.

In January 2005, before leaving for Australia, I spent two weeks with my dad in Hawaii. This trip opened my eyes to the other side of living that I did not experience the last year and a half—nature, purity, and beauty. It inspired me to start writing about life before my Australian journey began.


Date: January 29, 2005

Location: Willoughby Hills, Ohio

Time: 4:40 p.m.

I am finally home from Hawaii and getting ready to pack for Australia. One journey ended (Hawaii) and another is about to begin. My feelings and emotions are mixed at the moment. Part of me is scared to leave my friends and family. The other part of me is excited to explore another world, nervous for class credits to transfer but beyond thrilled to be back in the mountains and ocean. Dear God, I really belong there, especially in the ocean.

Hawaii has opened my eyes to many things, and I have high hopes of reaching my goals. I finally realized what I want to do with my life, and much of that includes experiencing new things and having fun. And maybe on this journey, I can find a decent guy. I met a great guy on the Blue Dolphin Charter Company, and I realized there are guys who will communicate with me outside of being drunk or high. Interestingly enough, being in Hawaii made me laugh at why I cried over all those heartaches. They’re not worth it. What a waste of time! However, when I am away everything is great. But what do I have to come home to? One will never know. But one thing is for sure: no one will get in the way of my explorations. Here I come, Australia—ready to explore and conquer. PS: I really miss my best friend, Katie Finnegan.

On February 5, 2005, my dad dropped me off at Cleveland Hopkins Airport. Later that afternoon, I boarded a Qantas flight in Los Angeles en route to Sydney and Cairns.

While in the air, I noticed many of the eighty-some Americans taking advantage of the free alcohol on the plane, some concocting “slurries”—alcohol mixed with sleeping pills. My only interest lay in writing.

Date: February 5, 2005

Location: Somewhere in the Air

Time: 7:42 p.m. Eastern Standard Time

Well, I’m on the plane and on my way to Australia. I can’t believe I am here; I think reality is finally settling in. Although I have another eighteen hours of travel (yuck), I know it’ll be worth it in the end. I miss everyone already, but am ready to take on the world. I really have no idea what to expect from this journey. All I know is that I am totally pumped, and I hope everything goes smoothly with class, finding an apartment, and making friends. Great news, the BG Newspaper will let me write an article about my experience! I can’t wait to write for them—it’ll be my first published article!

Also, I must say, I am very proud of myself and my successes. But most of all, I am proud of making myself happy! Who knows what the next five months will bring? But here is a list of promises I must keep:

-Do well in class (I am here to study!).

-Travel to Sydney, New Zealand, and Fiji (and other places, but these are the top three!).

-Play and watch rugby.

-Not drink … a lot. (Remember, I’ll be wearing a bathing suit!)

-Waste time on guys who are not worth it.

-Eat healthy and exercise plenty.


-Surf—of course!

-Most of all—have fun!

So what am I waiting for? Get ready to sail away to a new chapter in life.

Thanks to the international dateline, the plane landed on my twentieth birthday—February 7, 2005—in Cairns, Australia. Upon landing, my jetlag was saturated at the first sights of tropical beauty and breaths of swampy humidity.

That evening most students went to get “pissed” at the pub. I declined invitations of “you gotta party on your birthday.” Instead, I spent my birthday night alone writing in my journal at the hostel. I saved my energy for the morning’s scuba session in the Great Barrier Reef—my lifelong dream. I walked to the hostel’s computer lab and wrote a comical e-mail to my family upon my arrival and explained how most of the girls took their fake attitudes, leather-bag tans, and cheap-scented perfume to frolic around the pubs with the boys. But not me.

In celebration of my birthday, and living in a new, exotic destination, I yearned for a rebirth and the pursuit for writing. I felt a transition approaching my life and knew this was not the right time to consume mood-altering substances. I returned to my bed, gazed at the ceiling in the stench-filled hostel, and wrote in my journal. Once my pen hit the page, my soon-to-blossom soul evolved into a budding flower in search for life’s meaning.

On February 8, 2005, I experienced life underwater, and with my first few breaths, I reincarnated into a soulful human being. The graceful beauty of the sea and marine life left me speechless, and it touched my heart and spirit in a different way. The experience was indescribable. The movement and graceful flow of the ocean and its living creatures brought tears to my goggles. No words could express the majestic beauty of the sea, but with one salty tear, I united with the planet, which conveyed my suppressed emotions. With each breath, I reawakened with curiosity to explore and understand this thing we call life.

February 9, 2005

Location: Cairns, Australia

Day: 3

Time: 10:15 p.m.

Well, I am finally here—day three to be exact. I enjoyed every moment! I did not do much for my birthday due to jet lag, but that’s okay. I wish I celebrated with my family, but oh well. I did meet a couple nice girls, especially Laura. I’ve noticed that a bulk of girls here are plastic-looking “cocoa-butter bitches,” which disappoints me (probably the reason why I would never join a sorority). I guess I did not know what to expect, but thought I’d meet more people who are genuine in life transformation rather than worrying about partying and not cherishing what we’ve experienced thus far. Have I matured too quickly? Or maybe I’ve come to the realization that boozing is not a priority right now? Either way, I know there are plenty of party opportunities in the Gold Coast.

Yesterday, we went to the Great Barrier Reef. “WOW” is the only word of expression. The marine life, coral, and colors were spectacular, the most vibrant life-form I’ve set my eyes on. I felt as if I explored a whole new world separate from the Planet Earth that I know. I wish, and hope to, spend more time under the sea. It’s amazing that something as simple as scuba diving makes you realize a lot of things about life. I feel so damn lucky to have had that experience.


Today, we went to the zoo and viewed the Australian wildlife. I fed kangaroos and held a koala. I guess my third goal (hold a koala) can be check-marked off my list. They are these adorable yet squeezable gentle creatures—I want to own one. We also learned about Aboriginal culture, and I must say, the Aboriginal food was beyond delicious and aromatic. We got to experience aboriginal living by throwing spears and boomerangs. I must say it was challenging and certainly a skill. But my favorite part was the didgeridoo music. What I’ve come to realize is that I appreciate their lifestyle, respect their culture, and identify with their philosophy.

Cairns is a beautiful city located in Northern Queensland. It reminds of me a large Kauai. This area homes lush, green rainforest mountains, banyan trees, and tropical flowers … so far I’ve noticed the Aussies are wonderful people. Everyone is laid-back and extremely nice. I find it interesting that the American and Australian lifestyle is similar but different in many ways. I am sure I’ll discover more about their culture as time passes. For now cheers, mate!

Similar to the aboriginals, I too sun-worshiped this sacred land we call Oz. Australia tugged my heartstrings. It was as if I were destined to become another spectacle of this spiritual place. As a child, Australian wildlife fascinated me—kangaroos, wombats, koalas, lorikeets, whales, and marine life. I did not know how, but naturally everything fell into place. I understood the circle of life and appreciated the beauty of nature and its wildlife. No day was complete without the vibrant-colored lorikeets flying, circling, and arching like a rainbow in the sky.

I never identified with a place or a human being more than Australia. To simply state, the locals “got it.” Their culture understood my mentality. And my outlook identified with, and was influenced by, their culture. I felt invigorated and revitalized in the present moment.

I lived my lifestyle with ease—being one with the earth, universe, and nightclub—without judgment or critique. I learned to live a simple life free of worries, stress, and chaos. Living life with freedom was pivotal for my soul’s true self-expression. And I started to break away from traditional American thought processes and patterns.


February 20, 2005

Location: Chevron Island, Australia

Day: 14

Time: 6:25 p.m.

Finally, some time to write and reflect. First, my roommates and I are finally out of that shit-hole apartment, 14E Peninsula. I could “survive” with living there, but the vibe felt dull and draining. We are now in an incredible, ocean-view apartment on the esplanade. I now feel that “life” can begin again, especially since I’ve been eager to get back to a daily routine. Right now, I am sitting on the balcony overlooking the sunset, and it is absolutely incredible. Magnificent hues of warm colors torch the sky with radiance and electric energy. It is almost as great, if not better, as the Hawaiian sunsets.

Little things such as a sunset make me realize how lucky I am. And I have to admit something. I’ve fallen in love—with Australia. I am madly, deeply, and truly in love with this place and never want to return home.

Living on an island has made me realize many things about life.

-Time: It is okay to relax and not be rushed and stressed all the time. I guess that’s why they say, “Take time to stop and smell the roses.” I need to do that more often during this trip.

-Money: Yes, I am on a budget and constantly worrying about my funds, but … it’s only paper! And it’s okay to spend money on things you enjoy in life.

-Life: Life’s a beach! Enjoy it and have the time of your life! You can’t turn back time, but you can change how you spend your time in the future.

-People: Island people always seem happy and over-the-top friendly … did I also mention Australian men are hot? Maybe it’s the weather? But islander’s attitude and physical appearance is primo!

Hmm, well, I did party over the weekend. The partying was so much fun. It’s interesting how partying here feels so different, like a celebration, not a coping mechanism for problems. (And, oh, my word, do I love the Australian accent.) On a brighter note, the beaches are excellent. Every time I plug my toes into the sand, it’s as if I rebirth and shed an old layer of skin. I can’t help but think of the old saying, “There are more stars in the sky than there are grains of sand on all the beaches in the world.” If that is true, then this gift called life is spectacular and special.

Katie and I went surfing today, and poor girl got hit in the face. And, I just found out, we were fifty meters away from a shark yesterday! Scary shit! Well, the sun is finally down and the moon is out. Who knows what will happen tonight?


The future was alive—literally, as Australia was fourteen hours ahead of Ohio, and figuratively, as I spent every night gazing at the celestial paintings in the night sky. I gazed at the clearest skies my eyes have ever seen and teared at the sight of the Southern Cross and the astral powder that dusted the constellations. Only the Milky Way knew my destiny, and there was no fear of what the future held—only excitement.


Date February 25, 2005

Day: 20

Location: Surfers Paradise, Australia

Time: 8:08 p.m.

Exhausted! It’s my only word of expression right now as I just got back from the action-packed, nonstop, thrilling destination, Byron Bay. You want to know what is really incredible right now? Watching the moon glisten over the ocean. It’s absolutely beautiful, a once-in-a-lifetime sight. Maybe one day I can bathe in the ocean underneath the moonlight. Speaking of night … Cheeky Monkeys was a blast last night! I felt so free dancing around. I can tell dancing does something to me that no other gym exercise could do. I also love this electronic/techno music that I hear everywhere. The music, meshed with the sun, inspires my mind to be happy and my body to be free.

The music reminds me of my Polish roommate, Kinga, who said that in Poland, electro music is popular, and the kids would walk miles in snowstorms just to go to a club. I work most of the time at this café that plays lounge music while a projector scrolls through beautiful beach landscapes on the wall. These atmospheres and ambient beats enhance my creativity and increase my energy. At home, I’d be afraid to tell people that I like this type of music as I’d be labeled as some pill-popping clubber. I just like to feel free.

In the modern world, life was “full-on.” I adopted the “no worries” attitude and lived life to the fullest. The nightclubs closed at 5:00 a.m., just in time for the sunrise and the morning surf or yoga class. Life never stopped in Australia, and movement was part of health and vitality. The solo moments of me, my surfboard, and the ocean twinkled in my eyes throughout the day, and then I stared at the stars at night. I united with the earth and Australia in a way that I never thought was possible.

But it was that impeccable energy that encouraged living every day to the fullest. Australia pushed me beyond my comfort zone, and inspired me to live a well-balanced life equipped with equal parts of work and play, although play usually won the battle. Life in Australia was a sensual blend of spiritual and sexual energy to equally balance the yin and yang of life.

The best moments of life were my beach walks with nothing but my bathing suit, sarong, CD player, and plastic headphones. Listening to inspirational beats while grounding my feet into the earth connected my soul with freedom. The sun soaked my body with energy while the rustling waves drenched my legs in happiness. Each walk I listened to a different CD, and every walk I felt a tear stream from my eye. With every footstep, my brain sunk deeper into a meditative oceanic state while my consciousness ascended into the universe. This place, with a capital F, was “Fucking Heaven.”


February 27, 2005

Day: 22

Location: Surfers Paradise (My Balcony)

Time: 12:20 p.m.


Well, where to start? Maybe I should explain my bar crawl situation last night? Besides getting over-the-top tipsy (bad girl), breaking my shoe, and spilling peanut butter and jelly all over my limbs—thanks to a drunken hunger outrage, and then returning back to the bar with PB&J all over me—I had so much fun! Somehow, I scored a dinner date with an Aussie, Craig. He (and the Aussies) made me realize that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself, so I’m slowly breaking away from this American programmed mind-set. Anyways, the Rose & Crown was a blast and played some fantastic electro beats last night. The great news is that the clubs don’t close until 5:00 a.m.! And I actually stayed up that late!


After a bit of rest this morning, I took a walk on the beach and listened to my new CD. My favorite song (I hear it everywhere here in Australia) “I can’t wait for the weekend to begin,” played on repeat for the whole walk. Listening to the music and looking at the magnificent beauty of the ocean, I once again realized, DAMN, I am so lucky to be here! The gorgeous flow of the waves made me realize I do not want to go home. I never want to leave this place. I belong here. Beautiful city, beautiful beaches, beautiful people, fantastic bars—life is just beautiful here. I belong here. It feels as if I have returned home. The people are so chilled here, and they don’t let shit bother them. They dust issues off as easily as the wave that retreats back into the ocean. It’s as if they are more accepting of life circumstances. I’m looking forward to getting involved more with clubs and meeting new people. Until next time: Peace, Love, and Bars are open ’til 5:00 a.m.!


These contemplative feelings at twenty years of age were confusing and scary—but exciting. In search for many things in life, from adventure to spirituality, the one thing I knew is that the Aussies figured life out. Have fun in the sun, party until your pants drop, respect the earth, and move your body. These were the basic essentials of living down under.


The Aussies enjoyed every moment of life and had a smart approach to human existence. Life was a priority before work. Surfers Paradise fused together a healthy blend of urban living amid pristine nature. In my eyes, the Gold Coast evenly balanced the scale of life, which was perfect for my lifestyle choices. Australia cast a deep love-spell over my mind, body, and emotions.

Entrenched in this love spell, my worries and effort to “try” to understand the past, the lack of love in my life, and the issues of my childhood washed away into the sea. I united with the universal vow—love—to accept past issues and people’s faults and mistakes. I and everyone else living a human life were on our own path, and I accepted these things naturally. My visions were grand, alive, and real, but most importantly, I was happy and my physical body felt invigorated. I opened a can of curiosity to explore life, love, and freedom. To say the least, I caught the travel bug. Nature, combined with starting a yoga practice, released unaware emotions. I became intrigued with the power of yoga.

Date: March 5, 2005

Day: 28

Location: Surfers Paradise

Time: 12:02 p.m.

Okay, journal, so I just got home from my class and felt inspired to write. I’m enjoying yoga thus far. I’ve done it a few times in the States, but the gym’s atmosphere was not inspirational. Yoga is very relaxing, and I find that beauty is the graceful flow of the human body. At the end of class, we do this deep meditation. Today, I actually cried during the meditation/final relaxation. I’m not sure why I cried. Part of it is the soothing, ambient music, which is so lovely it makes me emotional. But I think the other reason is because realization hit me. I am in fucking Australia!

This relaxation is helping me with the fast-paced world that I know. In America, we know nothing but being on the go all the time and being stressed; in contrast, the Aussie lifestyle “live in the now.” I’m realizing it’s okay to enjoy the pleasures of life, quit worrying about money, and stop freaking out about school and the need to constantly have my head in the books. Yoga is telling me to have fun as this may be the only time I am going to be in this country. I’m looking forward to continuing yoga. I know this journal is supposed to be about my travel experience, but I think a significant aspect of this trip has to deal with my emotions, thoughts, and daily stresses. Well, time to hit the beach! Peace, love, and remember, you’re in Australia!

Beyond the beaches of Australia, I explored New Zealand, which contributed to my life of leisure and lessons. I found that the beach was my home, but the mountains were my sanctuary.

Traveling New Zealand integrated the depths and heights of this world and life. New Zealand revealed the purest landscapes—something I did not know existed on this planet. The icy blue glacier waters stimulated my eyes where hiking the intense Ben Lomond Trail in Queenstown inspired my heart. The vast landscapes saturated my mind with happiness and strengthened my belief that I can conquer anything in this world.

Date: March 27, 2005

Location: Mount Cook/Aoraki, New Zealand

Day: 50

Time: 1:28 p.m.

On the flight over, my adrenaline pumped with eagerness to explore the majestic peaks. Today, I arose at 7:00 a.m. to take a morning jog along the mountain road. To my surprise this morning, the sun peeked through, and I felt as if rays were following me as I jogged along the roadside. I stared at Mount Cook, a breathtaking sight to see. One side of Cook contains lush green mountains where the other staggers jagged, snowcapped peaks. Located in the valley is a glacier lake, and we took a dingy boat ride through the icy gray waters. The lake got its color from the cliffside’s falling black rocks and floating ice. The water is three to four degrees Celsius, and the tour guide told us to stick our hand in the water. After ten seconds, my hand chilled to the bone and burned, as if frostbite overtook it. We then disembarked from the boat and stood atop a massive sheet of floating ice. Never in my life did I expect to experience this. Plus, the added bonus—our tour guide was really hot.

Off to the adventure capital of the world, Queenstown! To be continued.

March 29, 2005

Location: Queenstown, New Zealand

Day: 52

Time: Around 9:00 p.m.

Yesterday, I took to the world’s second highest bungee jump platform, the Nevis. The highest platform is located in Africa. The drop, or jump, is 154 meters down, which is around 440 feet. Most everyone became nervous. And not going to lie, I had butterflies in my stomach, but I felt more excitement and adrenaline rush through my limbs. The guides strapped my feet, and inch by inch I walked toward the edge of the platform. With a slight drop of my stomach, I loaded into a squat, and with arms wide open to the universe, I plunged off the platform.

In words, I cannot truly describe the feelings I experienced before, during, and after. The experience was amazing and (believe it or not) was one of the most peaceful activities I’ve ever done. The scariest part was the initial jump when your body plunges downward toward the river. I felt butterflies and couldn’t breathe for the first five seconds. The total jump lasted eight seconds.

During those eight seconds, my mind went blank, then snapped back with a quick thought of, “If I’m going to die, I am going to leave with this planet doing something fucking EPIC!” On the way down, I stared at the river. I reached my hand forward in hopes to touch the earth, but then the cord pulled me away and gave me a moment to breathe. Afterwards, my body shook as if I chugged ten Redbulls. The guys at the base told me that my jump was in perfect alignment and that I did a fantastic job.

Next, we did a sky swing, which was a bit freakier than the bungee. Strapped into a harness elevated to tree-line heights, I pulled a rip cord to release the harness and dropped 150 feet in the air, plunging straight downward toward the trees and swinging side to side over the treetops.

Later in the afternoon, we had the chance to do five luge rides. It was pure fun racing down tracks at top speeds. Maneuvering the luge took skill. At the finish line, I and the others laughed as people could tell I hit the bushes a few times due to prickers poking out of my clothes. My life is amazing.

New Zealand encouraged me to live life like the old cliché, “Live everyday to the fullest.” But it was the majestic Australian ocean that forever changed my outlook in life. Every time I looked at the ocean and heard the waves crash to shore, my mind only understood success and the romance of life’s simple pleasures.

I lived each and every day in the moment and bathed in the Australian sunshine for as long as I could. Australia opened my eyes to see that anything in life is possible and encouraged my passport to accumulate more stamps. But I started to overcome the internal battles as a young female.

Date: May 5, 2005

Location: Zarraffa’s Coffee House

Day: 88

Time: 4:31 p.m.

Happy Cinco de Mayo! Tonight, I am going to Shelley’s for a Mexican dinner! I’m really excited for tonight as I get to show my love for Spanish culture (although it’s technically Mexican, I’ll call it Spanish). Speaking of Spanish, I have thought about studying abroad in Spain to complete my minor in Spanish. Or maybe get a work visa to live in Europe. I have this strong attraction for Spain and Greece, and I want to spend much time there. Actually, I’d really like to return to the Gold Coast, but since I’ve already been here, I wonder if I should explore something new. I guess it’s whatever makes you happy, right? But I know I have realized one very important thing: I really do not want a career yet. I want to do more traveling, especially with a mate.

So, the weather has been shitty, and I feel like I’m losing my tan! I hope this weather changes as I am craving to surf. But on the sunny side, I am studying and spending more time on homework (somewhat). In fact, I am going to have a big wake-up call next semester—I have to study for five classes!

Since the weather was crummy, I decided to watch Oprah today. I haven’t watched much television here, since I stayed busy enjoying life—the opposite of most habits in America. As I watched today’s episode, I balled my eyes out the entire program. It was about the life of teen girls. I felt as if it portrayed the story of my “teen” years. Having sex with guys in hopes they’ll like me, being overly obsessive over my weight and every calorie I eat, and living a dream of wanting to be a professional tennis player—I somehow saw myself in every story. My stories were not as intense as the troubled girls on TV, but it made me realize that young minds are vulnerable. Well, I guess through experience, aging, and the wisdom I’ve accumulated, I’ve learned to love myself and accept myself for who I am.

I still have work to do, and I am building more confidence. Sometimes I think I’m still fat and exercise too much for the wrong reason. Exercising is my lifestyle and I love it, but when I do it a few times per day, I question myself. I become exhausted, tired, and sore. Is that really healthy? I know it’s hard to escape drinking without the peer pressure from certain groups; however, these sugary alcohol drinks are what causes the weight problem. But I am proud that I have been refusing or not drinking much when I go out. You know what’s funny? Just because I drink water at the nightclub, everyone thinks I am on ecstasy. But I am not. The music is the drug that moves my soul, and I love this music. I know I need better balance, and Australia has opened my eyes to this, and that I can do anything I put my mind toward. Off to eat some fantastic food. Gotta run. Until next time, adios!

Toward the end of June, closer to my date of departure, my mind “freaked out” not knowing what the future had in store. I had mixed bags of emotions. I was excited to see my family and friends, but I felt as if I wanted to go home for a month and return back to my life here in Surfers Paradise.

Once “uni” ended, many students rearranged their flights to return home early to see family and start summer work. I could not wrap my brain around this mentality, and thought, “Are you joking? Have you not opened your eyes the last six months? What’s the rush to go back home?” I wanted to “milk” this experience for as long as possible.

If this were my only chance to live abroad, I needed to “live it up.” I knew I had to prolong my trip, not shorten it. I accumulated much love, appreciation, and gratitude for this country and its people that it was my duty to enjoy the last several moments. I walked to the Qantas office to extend my ticket. For two hundred fifty US dollars, I added a stopover in Fiji. My friend Kyle and I booked a scuba trip in Fiji’s Coral Coast.

On my last beach walk, I grabbed my Ministry of Sound CD, walked outside barefoot, and had my toes made love in the sand. I reminisced about my memories and wondered if I were a “weirdo.” This was a pivotal moment in which I noticed that my mind-set evolved beyond the traditional American ways and worries.

Was I abnormal for not wanting to go home early? Or did I “get it”? I understood the need to gain money instead of spending money, but I saw this as a limitation in life. How many times in life are we presented the opportunity to enjoy life free from worry, especially while living within the most beautiful landscapes in the world? For some reason, Australia made me realize that there is more to life than money and materialism. I knew from that point that my life required abundance through experience. So I blew a shitload of money on experience, as well as cute Australian maxi dresses.

Most of my life, I felt misunderstood. At times, I asked if people did not “get me”; well, except those expats and crazy Aussies. For the first time in my life, I felt “normal,” liberated, free, and connected with my soul in no other way possible.

In my eyes, to spend an extra five hundred dollars for one to two weeks in Australia would not make a difference once I find myself lying in some death-ridden hospice bed waiting for the next world. Instead of beating myself up, I concluded that I understood a different perspective to life. Australia gave my individual persona confidence and self-acceptance. My broader outlook told me to enjoy what life has given me—a couple of solid weeks of no responsibility and the opportunity to create lifelong memories.

That experience translated into inexpressible memories with nature. And the only way I found pure expression was through emotions and tears. I said hello to many dolphins, sharks, and sea turtles while scuba diving, waved to the swarm of lorikeets flying high in the sky, and tightly held a koala with love on my chest, as if it were my own child. The spirit and magnificent circle of life captured my being into a bottle of happiness. Even the vibratory beats of the didgeridoo inspired me to call my spirit animal and keep me put in Australia.

Throughout this six-month journey, I experienced a deep love and bond with my surfboard. My surfboard depicted an Aboriginal-inspired turtle logo whose shell design embraced a spiral symbol. I bought that particular board because of the symbol.

In Polynesian culture, the turtle represents “The Navigator.” Spiritually, the turtle is Earth’s oldest symbol and creature. It represents wisdom, determination, persistence, the ability to dictate one’s pace, and the ability to slow down and stay grounded in times of chaos. In some philosophies, the turtle represents Mother Earth and holds the world in balance. People who are naturally connected to the turtle have an affinity for the ancient wisdom of the planet and can connect to elements, people, plants, animals, and the earth. This animal encourages those to listen to their guidance and trust their path no matter what.

Each time I looked at that board, I felt as if the turtle tried to send me a message. I felt the urge to tattoo that symbol on the back of my neck, along with my zodiac sign, Aquarius, but surrendered to the need to maintain a pure body. It was strange, but the board and I had a relationship. I took care of the board, and the board took care of me. Trust was our strongest connection. And I desired trust during a time when I had a lack of trust, specifically with men.

Nearing my departure from Australia, I sold the board back to the surf shop. Once the surfer dude grabbed the board from my hands, I experienced a strange disconnection. With one last touch of the turtle, I telepathically said thank you and hopped the bus back to Surfers Paradise.

Gazing out the window, I contemplated the mysteries of surfing. Surfing presents extreme mental and physical challenges with oneself and Mother Nature. It requires endurance, focus, and trust with the beasts beneath the ocean’s surface. And surfing is symbolic toward life’s challenges. No matter how many times the wave knocked me off the board, I stood up with my head held high and tried again. Failure was not an option, and no matter how many times I failed, I pursued the battle. Perseverance was what gave hope to the belief that anything is achievable. I realized that for every successful wave conquered, the failures along the way were part of the purpose and path—to make me a better, smarter, more agile surfer and human being. On the bus, I started sweating in the reality that all good things must come to an end. I held my emotions to show a strong facade. Do I really want to cry over a surfboard? Yes, because that inanimate object taught me nothing but strength, courage, and hope.

Upon departure to Fiji, I sat at my gate in the Brisbane airport, head in hands, with tears streaming down between my legs, creating pools of memories. I could not stop crying. I cried as if I lost my whole family in a tragic car accident. People stared at me as if I were insane. Was I insane? I could not express my feelings in words, only tears. My emotions were jumbled because one year ago, I was slugging down half a bottle of vodka, bonging beers, shoving pizza in my face, and having late-night crying fests on why my “boyfriend” didn’t love me. During this journey, I tried to process and express a different form of love that did not come from a romantic relationship.

At this point, I abstained from sex for a year and a half. I felt ahead of time, mature for my age, and could not relate to guys my age. Between the ages eighteen through nineteen, I encountered every male’s “trick of the trade.” The mind games that men played, whether for play or just to pursue sex, affected my psychology. It made me feel cheap, as if I were a soulless individual. I struggled in the dating world. Each and every male somehow insulted my intelligence with their pursuit to get in my pants. I became exhausted. First, males my age only expressed themselves while high, drunk, or on pills. Second, I discovered I let guys control my happiness and my state of mind, and that was no longer acceptable in my life.

I discovered love outside of drinking and felt complete without a partner. Although my eyes scanned every beautiful Australian male body, I refrained from sex to heal my fragile mind. I struggled at times because I wanted a deep and meaningful relationship, but my soul drank the sweeter juices of life—sun, sand, sea, honesty, and me. Australia and the people I met along the way showed me this other life of purity.

Sad in the airport, I wrote one last journal entry prior to departing to Fiji. I pulled the journal out of my bag, and with a deep breath, I began to write.

Soaking my journal with tears, I wrote one last word of thanks to this country for transforming my life.

Date: July 5, 2007

Location: Brisbane Airport

Time: Around 9:15 a.m.

Day: Last day in Australia—150

One hundred fifty days are gone. At least this is how many days I spent in Australia. My whole trip lasted six months, including Hawaii and Fiji. Shit! Six months gone … that flew by FAST! I can remember the day I arrived in Australia, on my birthday, with ninety Americans. So the last few days have been really rough and emotional. I am a pure wreck right now. The tears cannot stop. This has been one hell of a trip, but I think it affected me more than anyone here I knew. Saira, Steve, Cassie, and Cathy are all beautiful people. They are truly one of a kind. It was so hard to say good-bye to Saira. I can’t stop crying when I think about her. I don’t think she realizes how much she and Steve have changed my outlook in life.

Gosh, everyone is staring at me right now in the airport ’cause my tears are flowing like a water fountain. Anyways, Saira truly is my sister from halfway around the world. She brought out so much good in me. I grew so much because of her. I’m a whole new person now. Although we didn’t hang out a ton, we clicked and we’re happy to have spent the time we had available. Our interests are so much alike from clothes to food and to our looks, such as our big brown eyes. Saira bought me a good-bye gift. She gave me a pair of Bohemian harem pants that we ogled over one day while window-shopping. These pants will forever remind me of this place and her. It brought me to see the good in people and realized that not everyone is out to get me. If only I could have gotten a job at the Crepe Café, I would have stayed until my visa ran out. God, this trip was just amazing.

I guess I have to look on the bright side of things … I had an amazing six months, met beautiful people, made new best friends, grew up, traveled, danced, partied, and had the time of my life. I can always move back to Australia … somewhere … somehow … I am determined to return to this place.

Plus, I’ll have people to visit all over the world. Thank God, I didn’t meet a “bloke” out here. That would have been even more devastating. Well, I am off to Fiji shortly. I need to calm down and put on a straight face. It’s as if my soul is being ripped away from its true home.

I knew I would not return home as the same person who left sixth months earlier. I couldn’t imagine going home—life was average and life was “not normal.” Life was going to be different and the future unknown. And that scared me the most.

I struggled with good-byes. I loved, like a brother and sister, a Fijian couple who owned the Crepe Café. I studied there because it was a quiet place, and I had a strong bond and connection with Saira and Steve. They were my guiding light, and I did not want to leave them. Most of our conversations occurred at the Crepe Café. They taught me valuable lessons about health, life, and relationships. I had a crush on a fellow Bowling Green rugby player, Brian, during my time abroad. Not knowing whether a relationship would blossom stressed my mind in times of contemplation. Saira taught me to live in the moment, and if Brian and I were meant to be together, life would find a way. Her broad and wise approach to life drastically altered my melodramatic American mind that worried about everything.

My South African friend, Nikki, and Aussie dad, “Doggie,” were two people who helped me along the way and took me in as if I were family. One night, close to my departure, Doggie and I went to dinner at a local bar where a couple of rugby gals, Wyz and Vinnie, met up with us for a bit. He brought five hundred dollars out for the evening. Between dinner, drinks, and slot machines, he spent four hundred dollars that evening.

My logical and rational brain thought Doggie needed a “Budgeting 101” class since he was a middle-class Australian. I thought he was insane. He did not think twice about his bills, nor did he regret having fun. I learned that life should be enjoyed and not spent in constant worrying. The Australians lived a simple life so they could enjoy their existence. (He eventually won three hundred fifty dollars back in playing pokies.)

Although not many valuable life lessons are learned through playing rugby, the Gold Coast rugby team inspired me to live like a college student, enjoy the late night, and not worry about studying every spare minute. To them, work paid the bills, but life experience is what wrote the text in the book called life. They were helpful with rides and arranged a “good-bye” bash. They said they would not normally do this for an American, but I was an exception because I was different from most Americans. The people, land, and culture of Australia took care of me and opened my eyes to new perspectives in life—balance, pleasure, vivacity, acceptance, and belief.

I landed in Fiji and experienced culture shock with its developing-country landscape. It took me a day or so to warm up to new places, but luckily the next morning, I fell in love with Fiji. The locals and staff memorize every guest’s name, and when they walk past, they’ll always greet guests by their first name. I met my friend Kyle in Fiji to scuba dive. We were both members of Griffith University’s Gold Coast Scuba Diving Club. Kyle was a good friend and had a vivacious yearning for adventure and photography. He lived true to his centaurlike, Sagittarian qualities.

The scuba diving exceeded my expectations. My two dive guides, Sam and Api, led us to some of the most vibrant reefs in the region. I fell deeply in love with Cliffhanger reef, which was a wall of coral and marine life that sparkled with beauty. Nothing compared to the purity of this reef. It made the Great Barrier Reef look similar to a healthy bowel movement—swirling brown tubes spotted with yesterday’s chunks of carrot, corn, and beetroot, with the occasional sea cucumber floating to the surface. Tourism and human destruction ruined the accessible tourist areas of the Great Barrier Reef.

At Cliffhanger reef, we swam past two reef sharks. As our eyes connected, I remained calm with a deep breath. There was no fear in that moment of meeting with an apex predator. Moments like this made me realize that my mind is stronger than I gave it credit for. Life above water seemed scary and fearful with the unknown of human choices. Below the surface life was majestic, beautiful, and serene.

After the morning dive, I went to the resort’s restaurant to order lunch. My intentions were to sit in peace, stare at the ocean, and reflect about my experience. A group of American teens sat at the table next to mine and ordered food. Life in Fiji is even slower than Australian living; thus, ordering food takes a long time. It’s the true “Island Life.”

The American teens disgruntled my thoughts as they sat and bitched about how it took forever for their food to arrive. The one girl flagged the waiter and asked, “Excuse me! How much longer until our food comes? We’ve been waiting for fifteen minutes already. I mean it’s just a grilled cheese.”

Nervous, the waiter replied, “I’m sorry, ma’am. Shouldn’t be too much longer.”

Snobbishly the girl replied, “How long does it take to cook a grilled cheese? Well, if you can tell them to hurry up, that’d be great. We’re starving.”

My face turned red, embarrassed by the girl’s words and actions. A part of me was sympathetic because of her age, but the other part of me realized the ignorance of the fast-paced American culture. I guess we are all a product of our culture’s positive and negative aspects. Frustrated, I either wanted to scream, “Relax. You’re on island time!” or throw my 1.5 liter water bottle at the girl’s head in hopes to literally knock some sense into her.

Australians did not have the best opinion about Americans because of the Bush administration. Aussies and Kiwis saw Americans as uptight, ignorant, arrogant, sexually prude, and extremely loud vocally. Some Australians claimed that Bush’s political decisions would “ruin” the world. Many locals I met had strong convictions about capitalism and did not want to see Australia evolve into a money-centric culture.

In response to the teen’s behavior, I thought, “What the fuck is wrong with us sometimes? It’s as if we are the only ones who matter at times.” The desire to have “everything fast” bothered my mind because we are humans, not machines.

I took my mind off annoying matters with a beach walk during low tide. I walked the beach and heard a “Hello.” I noticed a Fijian man clam-digging with his right hand and waving hello with his left hand. The local and I chatted, and unknowingly, my beach walk led to his backyard.

I sincerely apologized for “trespassing,” but the guy did not seem to care. He mentioned that he and seven of his family members lived in the beach house. Shocked, I did not understand how eight people could fit into this dorm-room-sized shack topped with a straw ceiling. The local smiled, looked “happy as a clam,” and told me stories about his family. I realized how lucky Western cultures are to have lavish, modern homes.

On my third day in Fiji, July 8, 2005, Kyle begged me to dive with bull sharks. Part of me wanted to explore this adrenaline-rushing experience, but my body ached and my head pounded from the previous day of diving. I needed a break. I declined Kyle’s offer and headed to Nadi to shop.

The resort’s administrator told me to take a bus into town, which cost one US dollar. Waiting at the bus stop, I expected a Greyhound-looking bus. Instead, a blue school bus with no windows pulled up. I sat on a dusty, broken seat. With dust flying into the windows, I could hear nothing but metal squeak and squawk the entire ride. The bus seats wiggled—thanks to loose bolts—as the bus drove over potholes, making us look like “bobbleheads.” A little girl with big brown eyes and long dark hair tied in braids sat across from me. She looked like a young Saira and stared at me as if I were her big sister. She touched me with her innocence.

After several hours of shopping and arguing with shop owners who scammed me, I returned to Nadi’s bus station and tried to figure out which bus number headed back to the resort. Trying to read foreign signs, I heard a “hey.” I turned around to notice the local whom I saw the day prior on my beach walk.

“Are you looking for the bus? It’s this stand here. Bus should be here in a couple of minutes. Wait right here, okay,” he said.

The man walked away and returned two minutes later.

“For you,” he said.

He handed me a bag of crispy Fijian snacks. Feeling guilty, I accepted his gift. The conversion for the snack bag cost around twenty American cents. However, for a guy who lives in a beach shack, cramming eight people in a home the size of a hotel room, a bag of snacks is a big expense. I tried to pay the local, but he did not accept the money. I surrendered to the love and generosity of the South Pacific. In that moment, I thought of Saira and Steve’s friendliness and how much they helped me on my journey.

Once I returned to the resort, I sat in a hammock to watch the sunset. Every beach I visited seemed to evoke the most impressive sunsets. Deep waves of magenta, pink, orange, and purple radiated the sky with energy and vibrancy. Every sunset, I felt a calm presence over my shoulders and gratitude for my life. That night I drank kava kava with the locals and resort guests in a spirit circle for an authentic “chill-out” experience. The next morning, July 9, 2005, was my last day in Fiji.

I arose with the sun to write my last journal entry while abroad.

Date: July 5, 2005

Location: Seashell Cove Resort, Momi, Fiji

Time: 8:53 a.m.

Day: Last day in Paradise—154

Wow! So this is it. Today is my last day in paradise. This six-month journey went so fast. I feel as if it were just yesterday when I landed in Hawaii knowing that this year would open a new chapter in my life. In celebration of my last day, I am going to chill out and enjoy my last day in the sun.

Well, thinking about this whole experience, it’s been one amazing ride and journey. I am glad there are no more tears—except for when I think of Saira and Steve (then I get a little sad). Not only have I transformed, but I also made a huge adjustment and transition when pulling away from something and someone I love.

I keep thinking about my flight back to Australia tomorrow morning. Big wake-up call, girlfriend. You have a ten-hour flight to LA. It’s somewhat weird, but I can’t imagine the American life, nor living in America. Anyways … God, all I can do is look around at my surroundings. I am in complete “awe.” I feel like I can live here. A simple life filled with sun, smiles, and scuba diving. A gym would be nice, but I’m not complaining. Hmm … what else? I am truly sitting in paradise at the moment. I really cannot believe it’s over. Thinking back, I know I’ve said it a million times, but these beautiful sceneries make me realize how lucky I am.

Not many Americans travel, or if they do it’s within the States. But I hope Americans do travel more, and I hope I can encourage people, especially students, to get out of their comfort zones and travel. Now thinking about money, I need to start working ASAP so I can return to Surfers Paradise. Or maybe I should explore somewhere else. It’s a tough decision, but what I do know is that I’ve never experienced the happiness like I did in Surfers Paradise.

I’ll have to write when I return to the US airport to get some true feelings and thoughts out. I know it’ll be a major culture shock and weird returning “back to reality.” I have a feeling I may tear when I see some people, especially my family. I’m tearing just thinking about it. Until next time, only smiles underneath the radiant sunshine today. I’ll enjoy my last day in paradise.

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