Hello (2016)….It’s Me

I’ve never been one for New Years resolutions. I never started smoking so I never had to make a resolution to quit. I know I’m not going to start working out more so why waste a resolution on that. Everything that I want to do i.e. spend more time with family, travel someplace I’ve always wanted to go, have a more positive outlook on things, I can do anytime. Instead of making a promise to myself that I’m going to start doing something on January 1st, I respond better to challenging myself that I’m going to complete a goal by a certain time.

Although 2015 has been full of incredible moments and I’ve been very blessed with certain opportunities to travel and experience things others haven’t, I’m not satisfied with where my life is. A big distraction has been my love, hate relationship with social media. There are days where I have deactivated my account swearing to leave it behind but then I think back to all of the good times we’ve shared. I end up feeling bad for abandoning the relationship I’ve built with it over the last few years and reluctantly sign back in.

If I kept track, I probably wasted months of 2015 on social media. Scrolling through my timeline, constantly checking the responses I get from what I post, trying to figure out the love lives of the celebrities I follow, getting lost trying to figure out why certain people come up on my popular page, creeping on the page of the guy I like making sure not to like any pictures from 2 years ago. A complete waste of time when I could be doing things to work towards my goals.

In an ideal world I would be using social media as a platform to share my experiences and ventures with other people and they would respond in a positive and supportive way. That has not always been the case. It seems as if when you really need people to show up for you, they’re too busy. But if you post a selfie or a video of cats fighting, they have time to engage you.

Then there’s the pressure it creates. Constantly comparing your life and what you have or don’t have to what other people have achieved. Like how everyone I’ve ever known either got engaged, married, or announced a pregnancy this year. Then when I choose to share moments in my life, those moments become everyone’s moment. If things don’t work out the way I hoped, I’m constantly reminded of that by the “What’s going on with (insert disappointment here)?” questions.

The older I get, the more I realize how valuable time is and how it’s not promised to anyone. My time could be cut short tomorrow and I would have to look back on the last year and face the fact that it was mostly spent trolling the internet. I can’t sit here and complain about not being where I want to be in life when I haven’t dedicated the proper time to reaching my goals. There are some things that are out of my control like meeting a guy I actually like (which is harder than it sounds). Until that happens, I need to focus on the other ways I can lead a fulfilling life.

My goals by this time next year is to find a writing job that I’ll actually enjoy and move to New York. Even though all of the jobs that I apply for require 45 years of writing experience that I don’t have, I will write this blog in the meantime. To exercise my writing abilities until I land the job that’s out there waiting for me. If I speak things into existence and have a more positive attitude, my chances of success are greater. I think I read that somewhere.

So even if I don’t have the personal life I desire, I’ll have a professional life that will distract me from feeling like I’m missing out on something. I guess if I had to make a resolution for this year, it would be to stop allowing distractions or set backs keep me from focusing on what I want to achieve.

Dating and Sex Tips from an Expat

Prior to moving to Berlin I considered myself an open and knowledgable person when it came to dating, relationships, and sex. By no means would I consider myself an expert but I went around saying crap like, “You can’t surprise me, I’ve seen it all”. Little did I know, I had a lot to learn while navigating dating and mating while abroad.

While on dates, among friends, or in social situations I’ve always liked to discuss with people their experiences, preferences, and habits when it comes to matters of lust, love, and sex. Sometimes people enlighten me and other times I surprise myself and discover clever tips of my own.  Over the past few months I’m grateful to say that my thoughts and experiences have been broadened. Here are some of those gems of knowledge.

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Don’t expect men to do all of the work

Social interaction while in Berlin has been something quite confusing and has required a bit of adjusting. When asked about flirting tactics that I’m used to in the US, I describe it as one word: aggressive. Whether I look interested or not, whether I make eye contact or not, whether I even knew that this guy existed before he came up to me, it didn’t matter, men usually made the first move. It could end up being a welcomed interaction with someone engaging or a pesky nuisance that I would have to escape from.

The expectation for men to always be the initiator does not apply in all places. The men in Berlin will catch your eye, maybe smile, or sometimes stare but will almost never speak. This could go on for a while because they don’t think the first move is their to make. From what I’ve gathered, the women here don’t welcome men approaching them at bars or while they’re out and some may find it offensive or intrusive. Unlike in the US, or in Italy where apparently the women only make the first move once they have liquid courage, the men here are well aware of women’s boundaries and respect their space.

So as a female, if you think a guy is interested, you better get off your bar stool and say something because he will let the moment pass by. This also means that you may want to come with your own funds to buy yourself a drink and even offer to get his. While women have set spacial boundaries, they have also made it clear that they don’t need a man to pay for their things. Days of a man coming over and saying “Can I buy you a drink?”, the equivalent of saying ‘Can I offer you a drink in exchange for conversation?’, is few and far between. We said we wanted equality, right?

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Just like your age, your partners ain’t nothin’ but a number

I’ve had a friend say that he wouldn’t date someone if they had sex with more than a handful of men, all the while he was using dating apps to hook up on a weekly basis. For a long time I’ve seen images of the male bachelorette painted again the female slut. The behavior of both could be the exact same but men were praised for their behavior while women were branded with a scarlet letter.

What always got me was if someone said they had slept with 1 or 1,000 people, how would you ever be able to verify that number? It’s an arbitrary figure that causes people to react. The amount of partners that someone has doesn’t make them any less worthy of love or respect.

The largest adjustment I’ve had to make while living in Berlin is to stop making judgements about others or my own sexual activity. It was quite liberating to stop watching what I said, wore, or did for fear of being looked down upon. Sex between two consenting adults should be celebrated not chastised. To stop overthinking physical acts made life a lot more enjoyable and carefree. However you get it or how often you get it doesn’t matter, as long as it feels good.

Time to Make Sex Magnificent! By Julie Sibert Article

The D Clock

The other night, after having way too many beers, I became very passionate about a particular concept that had suddenly dawned upon me. I drunkly yelled my theory at two of my friends, three guys we had just met, as well as everyone at the bar who was within earshot. Even though I came up with this elaborate thought process on the spot, all of those involved agreed that I was spot on. I affectionately call it: The D Clock.

Men and women have varying degrees of sexual relationships. Such classic and well known terms such as ‘friends with benefits’, ‘booty calls’, or ‘one night stands’ among others are used to describe such encounters. Whether you’ve dated someone but decided to call it quits, you met in a bar and decided to go home together the same night, or from the beginning you’ve had an understand that your relationship is purely physical, things aren’t as simple as writing a suggestive text and hitting send. Timing is everything.

At some point during the day you may scroll through your phone contacts or maybe you get inspired by a post on social media and you start the process to set up your rendezvous. You may be going out with friends or have a work dinner to go to but you want to secure someone for later. When you start this process has connotations attached to it.

Let’s say you split a clock into quarters. If you’re discussing having sex with someone from 6 am to 9 pm let’s face it, you’re in a relationship or at least you should consider it since you’re lusting after this person during daylight hours. After the sun sets is when the most decoding needs to be done.

Those earlier hours of the evening are when you consider who would be most enjoyable to have in your bed. From 9 pm to 12 am is the prime time for you set up sex.  This consist of, let’s say, your starting lineup. Given that you have options, you go down the list until you find someone who is free and interested. Once the right guy hits you back, you’re set.

If it’s after 12 am you still haven’t secured the D, you slide into the 12 am to 3 am time slot. There isn’t necessarily a need to panic but you need to take into account that during this slot, the creme of the crop has been secured as someone else’s first round D pick. The closer to 3 am it gets and a guy is still DTF then you may want to flatter yourself and say he was “holding out for you to message him” but more than likely it’s because he’s just a 2nd round D pick.

Once the clock strikes 3 am and you are still digging into your archived chats, social media DMs, or checking the clubs or bars for stragglers, you may want to consider throwing in the towel and waiting the next day for some fresh meat. Those who jump at the chance to jump in your sheets after 3 am is like going for the expired poultry because it’s marked down. Sure, it may get the job done but you take the risk of it being poor quality.

After speaking with those of opposite sex they asked if I thought this clock went in reverse if women were on the receiving end. For example, if you hit a girl up at 3 or 4 am, and she is available, does that carry more significance than if you hit her up at 10 pm and she’s down. There is a variable in which a girl is waiting on one particular guy to hit her up and if she says yes during the wee hours of the night, then that guy is you. But more times than not, the same theory stands that she just hadn’t found anyone else yet.

As with every other thing I write or say, these are my opinions gathered from my experiences. I will never attempt to impose my way of thinking onto others. All situations have different variables to consider (like the clubs in Berlin close at noon the next day while in DC last call is at 2am so maybe you are messaging someone at 9 am for sex). At the end of the day, we are all individuals and we should live our lives that way. With that, our dating and sexual adventures should be tailored to suit us as individuals. No one should ever take away your ability to live your life the way you choose, whether it be your family, friends, society, or especially the person you’re dating or sleeping with.

Mother’s Day Without Mom

Anyone who knows me or has ever seen my social media knows how close I was with my mom. We’ve only been on rocky ground during my two week teengage rebellion phase where I would act out because that’s what all of my friends were doing. I quickly realized my unnecessary behavior was hurting my mom’s feelings. So instead of continuing to act out, I let my mom in and from then on we weren’t only mother and daughter but the best of friends.

My mom and I lived together until I moved out on my own at the age of 24. Looking back on that decision I could’ve stayed with her much longer but I was itching for independence. Despite living separately we spoke on the phone every day and saw each other at least once a week. We had become so inseparable her own parents would frequently call us each other’s name.
When I made the decision to move to Germany last year I was going to be missed by a lot of friends and family but none more than my mom. She asked me, “What am I going to do without you?” We had never lived more than a 45 minute drive away from each other so a 13 hour flight was going to be a huge adjustment. After my move, the only thing that changed was having sleepovers and going to our favorite restaurant to order the same meal every week. Regardless of the time difference or a couple of hefty cellphone bills we still spoke to each other everyday.
I would call her while I was cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, on the way home from a bar or date. Not too long ago I told her, “I’m the most productive when I’m on the phone with you,” because I got the most writing or research done when we talked. When I would get quiet she would ask, “Are you writing?” We would spend up to two hours on the phone at a time. She would put her earpiece in while she was working so no one would detect she was on the phone. Many times I would call her and she would say, “How did you know I was on my break?” Because that’s how in sync we were.
As with any best friend, I flew home to be by her side while she was recovering from knee surgery. I had so many plans for us to go out to eat, chauffeur her around from appointments to my grandparents house, and maybe even catch a movie because we hadn’t been in so long. A friend picked me up from the airport, I headed to my grandparents’ house, and rushed my mom to get her stuff together because as usual, even though I told her when I would arrive, she wasn’t ready.
Early the next morning I peeled myself off the couch and told her I would drive her to her first physical therapy appointment. “If you’re too tired I can drive myself,” she told me. I had flown all this way to spend time with her, I could sleep later. As I watched her walk into the doctor’s office I said to myself, “Look at her walking without her crutches, she’s fine.” Then as the door closed I drove off to get us breakfast and coffee.
A few minutes later my mom collapsed inside the doctor’s office and never regained consciousness. Unknowingly I sat outside waiting for her to come out for another hour and half until I walked inside and didn’t see her. That’s the moment I knew something was off. We were so close, I felt like I should’ve known sooner, in my gut or my heart, that something was wrong.
When my grandmother got ahold of me and told me that my mom had been rushed to the hospital I thought maybe she was lightheaded because she hadn’t had breakfast. There was no part of me that even considered I would never see my mother alive again. Until they took us into the room without windows outside the emergency room.
After a prolonged explanation of what happened, when the doctor told my grandparents and I that my mom had passed I let out a scream like my insides were on fire. I wanted him out of the room because now, to me, he was evil. He was somehow responsible because he’s the one who told me this unbearable information. He offered to leave but first asked us if we wanted to be with her.
I wasn’t ready to face it. I couldn’t accept that this was my life. Despite knowing that this is how things will end for all of us, I couldn’t imagine a life without my mom in it. As my grandfather dragged me down the hall because my feet wouldn’t move and the doctor showed us into her into her room, when I turned the corner I let out another gut wrenching scream and fell to the floor.
What kind of cruel world would take the life of a beautiful 50 year old woman who worked hard, loved everyone equally, volunteered and advocated for missing children, and had finally found love? My mother was robbed of her life and I was robbed of my mother’s love. I didn’t know how or why but this was an injustice. My family and I demanded answers because we needed someone to blame.
The next day, we realized whatever the answers were,  it wouldn’t bring her back and it wouldn’t ease our pain. We were forever changed and no medical or spiritual explanation would reverse that. My grandparents never thought they’d have to bury their child. My uncle had lost his only sibling. And I had to face a life without my mom and best friend.
I had been irrevocably changed. Nothing looked, felt, tasted, or smelled the same. What I went through was trauma to me. From watching her walk into the doctor’s office to only a couple of hours later being told she was gone forever to seeing her on that hospital bed. Those 24 hours replay over and over in my mind as I think about how different my trip was supposed to be.
Instead of finding different restaurants to eat at I was finding funeral homes, burial plots, and the last outfit my mom was ever going to wear. I went from daughter to beneficiary which required dozens of calls and forms. After the worst day of my life there was never a moment of peace.
The stages of grief are a real thing. I went through denial for a few days then settled on angry.  I was angry at people who told me ‘she’s in a better place’ because my mom’s better place was with me, her family, and friends. I was angry at anyone elderly because I didn’t understand why they got to live so long and my mom didn’t. I was angry at my friends who said they were going to be there for me but in my mind somehow fell short because my mom never fell short. No matter what day, time, or place my mom was always there for me.
So I wanted to be there for her. Seeing someone just after they pass, gives you this illusion that maybe someone made a mistake and there’s still life in this person. But seeing someone as they are about to be buried is an entirely different experience. When I saw my mom at the funeral home I asked my grandma, “Who is that?” Because that wasn’t my mother, my mother was full of life with a smile that brightened every room.
I had made the decision early on to do my mom’s makeup for the funeral. Looking down at the body that my mom’s spirit used to occupy, and never having touched a body with no life in it before, the love I had for her helped settle me and guide my hands so that I could make her look more like herself.
The sudden loss of my mom was unimaginably painful. Add to that being weeks away from Mother’s Day where every place I entered bombarded me with images and text of ‘Celebrate Mom’, ‘Show mom how much you love her’, ‘Moms are your best friend’. Everyday was Mother’s Day for my mom. She always knew how much I loved her and I did things for her without needing a reason.
I would give everything I had for my mom because she did the same for me when I was born. I’m still angry that my mother isn’t here for Mother’s Day. I don’t know if I’ll ever get past the stage of anger. Some people say, “Talk to her, she’s still with you,” which I believe is true. But for someone who feels robbed of time and experiences with their mother, it’s not good enough.
If you’ve read through this, you’ll notice I never use the ‘d’ word to talk about my mom. It seems so cold for someone who was so warm. My mom was my everything. She gave me life, then as I grew she gave me purpose, and no matter what encouraged and supported me. For those of you who are blessed to still have your mothers around, please cherish them. Not just today, but everyday. Because now that my mom is gone, I find comfort in the fact that she knew how much I loved her.

Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

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While there are many upsides to living in Berlin, there is one consist gripe from newbies and authentic Berliners alike: the weather. The summer months, albeit brief, offer ideal weather conditions however the longer felt winter months includes primarily cloudy, rainy weather. Even in May there’s still a chill in the air.
Since the lack of sun and warmth, along with some bureaucratic stress, was giving me the blues I decided to take a trip to Cagliari, a small city in the south of Italy that seemingly no one I knew had ever heard of. Although I’ve been to Italy before, I hadn’t had the pleasure of seeing the coastal region. I contemplated traveling to a country I had never been to before but the weather in most of those countries would be just as cold as Berlin, and that would defeat the purpose of my cold weather escape.
One of the many perks I wanted to take advantage of while living in Europe is the ease of traveling to a totally different country within a couple of hours. There were many places I wanted to see but also wanted to be conservative with how much I paid for a trip. So before I decided on this city, I had to narrow my travel options by searching for flights first.

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There are many European “budget” and “no frills” airlines that supply you with nothing but a seat, seatbelt, and storage for one modest sized bag en route to your destination. For a trip of a few hours or less that’s all you really need. My airline of choice is usually EasyJet simply because I’ve downloaded their app but there are plenty of others.
I choose my destination solely based on what cost the least and what days the airline is offering flights. Since I don’t have a job with set hours, flexibility works in my favor for cheap travel. After searching several countries, some of which didn’t have flights during what was then considered “off season”, I decided on Cagliari because I had never been, it was sunny, there was a beach, and the round trip flight was under €140.
Before booking my flight I also needed to consider where I would be staying. So with my flight app open I switched to my Airbnb app. Many travelers moving from country to country prefer to stay in hostels because they’re cheaper and it’s an easy way to meet people to accompany you around a new city. I have been traveling by myself for over 10 years so having my own space to sleep, eat, and do whatever I wanted in my free time so my own flat would always be my preferential accommodation.

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It’s always good to do a quick Google search of what the city you’re traveling to has to offer. Is there a particular area where there is a large amount of attractions near each other? How well connected is their public transportation? When looking for a place to stay I try to balance price with convenience. Usually you can find a place where you won’t have to travel far to see the sights or at least there will be a short trip to some form of transportation.
When staying in a sunny, beach city I’d like to have a nice view of the water. After including that criteria while also narrowing down my price and room preference and adding wi-fi, which is a must when traveling to a foreign country, I found a room for €27 a night. So once I confirmed my flight, I requested my room.
The upside of traveling to a lesser known city in a foreign country is that it isn’t full of tourist crowding the streets, the downside is that less people there may speak English. While my most valuable spending is done on traveling, it would also pay off to learn some new languages. Unfortunately, I’m only currently fluent in English with German being my next language to master since I’m living in Germany. Armed with no knowledge of the Italian language in Cagliari, while everyone was very nice and helpful, our communication was limited and relied on a lot of hand gestures.

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Being the solo wanderer that I am, the lack of interaction didn’t bother me. It gave me more time to see the city on my own and to take in the crumbled buildings, graffiti, ocean views, and innovative architecture alike. With my Canon in tow, almost everywhere I looked was picturesque.
Many European cities are very walkable. Luckily Cagliari had an easy and frequent train and bus system. One way to and from the airport was only a €1.50 train ride. The bus from the city to the beach was €2.10 (including a €.60 activation fee) and the rest of the time I traveled by foot. There’s never really a need to rent a car or take a taxi unless you’d like to travel outside of the local system. But even a train ride to Rome was less than €40 and took less than 40 minutes.
The only other thing I had on my itinerary was to eat. Sure there’s pizza and pasta everywhere but not like in Italy. When it came time to look for good eats, it seemed that Cagliari was late to rise. Most places were closed for the day when I arrived on Sunday and the kitchens of restaurants that were open didn’t start serving food until noon or 1pm. As a lover of breakfast I was given the choice of a pastry or starvation. However, espresso was available anywhere at any time.

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By the time I made it to a restaurant with a functioning kitchen it was time for lunch. I sat outside in the sun then ordered a pizza and a glass of Italian wine, perfect first day food. Then as I saw the pizza walking towards me it was so large the entire thing couldn’t fit on the plate. I got a pizza as big as my body for only €5. With large portions and low prices, eating good and plenty doesn’t have to eat away at your funds.
Whenever I travel I try to do everything that I want, whether it be a bus tour in Barcelona, or a boat trip from Rome to Capri, but instead of wasting money on impulsive purchases, I research the city and find the best way to maximize my experience at a minimal cost. Seeing the world is a very obtainable goal. I recommend that everyone travel to a different country, take in a different culture, and do it all without stressing about the financial aspects.
All photos by Serita Braxton

F for Friendship

I’ve seen this meme floating around for a while that goes, “Shout out to low maintenance friends who you don’t talk to for months because you’re both out living life but when you meet up there’s nothing but love.” I find this to translate to, “I don’t make our friendship a priority in my life and you should be ok with that.” Every one on earth is busy at one point or another, but does wanting someone to put effort into your relationship mean you’re high maintenance?

This is a tale as old as time, people using other excuses to justify why they don’t make time for you because they don’t want to say, “You’re just not a priority to me.” They’re busy with work, they’re tired, their family is in town, their kids keep them busy, they were abducted by aliens as soon as they were about to return your phone call. While all of those may be true, it’s been proven tried and true that people make time for the things that are important to them. So as a matter of deduction, if they don’t invest time in your relationship, you’re not important to them.

Our relationships fall somewhere on a scale of ‘I don’t know her’ to ‘Until death do us part’. So there are some people near one end of the spectrum that we don’t really care to keep in touch with such as a person who only calls to asks for money, the person who keeps sending you chain messages on Facebook, or maybe the coworker who always wants to stop by your desk to make an inappropriate joke. Then there are the people who you take vacations with, you know each other’s entire family, and you’ve spent several evenings together drinking shots of tequila and sharing your deepest or most embarrassing secrets.

We live in an age where you no longer have to coordinate schedules to find a time to be by your rotary phone in order to talk to your friends. Not only can you send them a text message but every single social media platform we regularly use has a messaging feature. Which means that there’s really no excuse not to communicate with someone.

From speaking with Europeans about their perceptions of Americans there’s a consistent assessment. While Americans are very friendly upfront, they invite you to their home or to join them at events, they want to share stories about their lives with you and always show you a good time but in the end there is no substantial friendship that comes out of it. After a while, you never hear from them again or when you really need them, they’re not there.

The quality of our friendships at times can use more substance. Now a friend just means that you are friends on Facebook, follow them on Instagram, and like most of the post that they share. But outside of that no time is invested in truly getting to know them, being there for them emotionally or physically, or making sure that your friendship withstands any amount of time or distance.

By moving to another country I’ve made it considerably harder on my friends to keep in touch with me. There’s no more meeting up for brunch on Sundays or drinks in the evening and add in a 6 hour time difference which may delay our response times to each other. But I’ve realized that for many people, if I don’t message them, they don’t message me.

Friends that I’ve had for years I haven’t talked to in months. People that I’ve laughed with, cried with, or spent time with each other’s families for celebrations and holidays. When I’m having a bad day or have exciting news, I no longer include them. While I can go weeks without talking to someone and that doesn’t tank our relationship. I’ve realized that some people don’t have a genuine interest in you as a person, your friendship is a matter of habit.

Relationships are like plants. In order for them to grow, you have to water them. You water them by caring for them and making sure they get enough sunlight by brightening their day. It doesn’t take a grand gesture to show someone you care. Instead, the tiniest of gestures can make an even greater impact. The value of a simple, ‘How are you doing today?’ can go along way when you actually care about the person’s response. So if you can’t spare the seconds it takes out of your day to type a message, do you really consider yourself friends?

I believe in showing people how much you care about them while you still have the chance to do it. No matter how tired or busy I am, even if I have things going on in my personal life, I make it a priority to make sure that my friends know that I support them. While I may not always ace it, I do my best to make sure that I don’t get a failing grade in my friendships.

An artist’s struggle with expectations

For years, my creative self was trapped inside the body of someone who spent their time chasing a more “sensible” life. Ever since high school I had been interested in writing and painting but left it behind to follow a path I didn’t really want to go down. I moved to because being here inspired me to explore and build my artistic abilities but deep down inside I was also running from the pressures of where I was expected to be as a thirty-something-year-old woman.

In school, my artwork was always praised by my art teacher and he believed in me so much that he pushed to a higher standard than most of his other students and eventually submitted my work for different contest, one was selected to hang in our county’s school superintendent’s building. I wrote poetry before I even started painting and my work was selected as apart of a published compilation of poems. When I left high school I wanted to attend college to study art but doubt of that not being a “stable and consistent” profession influenced me to study the only other thing on earth that interested me at the time, Criminal Justice.

Fast forward a decade and a half and a hand full of jobs covering different sectors later, here I am, back where I should’ve been all along: exploring and improving my painting and writing abilities. Although I didn’t go to school for it and, prior to starting an internship at the sole English language publication in Berlin, I had no tangible experience to show for it, I wanted to follow my heart instead of a hunger in my pockets. But as much as my heart wanted it, my brain didn’t truly see me getting past a girl who used to paint in high school.

After I arrived, when I should’ve been getting art supplies and seeking out workshops, I realized I wasn’t taking myself seriously. I thought, ‘People like my writing, people like my paintings, but without a fancy degree, apprenticeship or large portfolio, will that translate outside of my inner circle?’ There are many successful people without professional training whose raw talent alone afforded them opportunities, but did I have what it took to be one of those people?

What if I had taken a risk only to be knocked down even further than where I started? Not only were there these expectations about where I was supposed to be professionally at this point in my life but also personal achievements I was supposed to have. I did want a family, a healthy relationship, a house to call home and the ability to travel or buy whatever I wanted without having to stress about whether I could sell enough art to do it. What if I end up spending the next two, five or ten years trying to establish myself as an artist that I miss out the opportunity to have a family?

Then someone said to me, “Right now is the youngest you’re ever going to be.” While I wish I had done things differently two, five or ten years ago, the only thing I can control is what I do right now. I could let fear and uncertainty push me back to my old life. I could find some office job with benefits and a regular schedule and go to happy hour every other day and take up painting classes on the weekends. Then I could find some nice guy to settle down with that covers maybe 75% of the things I actually want in a partner. But that wouldn’t make me happy and I’ve spent enough time settling for this idea of what I “should be doing”.

There comes a moment in one’s life where they look back and think about all of the things they would change and make a promise to themselves that things will be different in the future, whether it’s about career choices, the partners they chose to date, how they treat people, how they treat themselves or how they utilize their time. Although it would’ve been nice to have followed my heart all along, if I did, I wouldn’t be the person that I am today. A person who has lived a lot, loved a lot and learned a lot.

If I doubt myself now, I can’t imagine what kind of nervous wreck I would’ve been at 18. I now have the self assuredness that I didn’t have ten, five or even two years ago. I stopped caring (as much) about what people thought about me, I realized that I don’t want to put off what I could do now until later and that life is unpredictable but it should be a beautiful, challenging and fulfilling ride. It doesn’t have a roadmap, there’s no directions at all and no two paths will be the same.

In life, you may (or not) be able to have it all but what’s important is to focus your efforts on the goals that are important to you, whatever they may be, no matter how unattainable or difficult they may seem to achieve. Being creative is important to me. I can’t say what the future will hold but I would rather be doing something that makes me proud, something tangible that I can hold in my hands and say that I created, something that can last long after I’m gone and am no longer here to stress over things I can’t control.

Ghosting

Somewhere on some social media platform I said that I didn’t have a New Years resolution. Now that I’ve had a couple of weeks to think about it, I’ve realized that I have a major flaw that I need to address. I am a ghoster. Not just occasionally, but with reckless abandon.

I would get so irritated, annoyed, confused, and hurt after I started talking to a guy, maybe even gone on a date with them and then they went ghost or in simpler terms, disappeared. I would stress over why. Did I do something wrong? Was it something I said? Was I giving off the wrong energy? Did I offend them? And I could curse them for being so rude as to not just say, “Hey I’m not interested.” Or “I met someone else.”

Now look at me. Guilty as sin of doing the same exact thing I would be disgusted at someone else for doing. (You wouldn’t believe the names I’ve called them.) But I recently realized I’m no better and maybe even worse. I met a guy from a dating app and when I walked in I was disappointed to see he was a good 20 lbs heavier than in his photos. He wanted to talk about Trump, race, politics all extremely disinteresting and uncomfortable topics for a first date. Then when I told him I needed to leave to meet a friend he told me it was rude of me not to set aside my entire night for him.

As I stood in the bathroom, miserable, contemplating sending my friend a SOS text I knew what I had to do. I went out, looked him in the face and told him… Sure, I’ll have another drink. Then I proceeded to tell him we would hang out again and gave him my real number.

Instead of having the balls to say, this date isn’t going well and I’m going to leave I lied and bargained my way out of it. As he text me after I left, I had another opportunity to be honest but instead I just blocked him so I didn’t have to deal with it. That same night a guy followed me out of the bar of my horrible date and accompanied me to my next destination. He grew drunk and obnoxious so instead of dealing with him I left while he was in the bathroom.

Yes, as I type these words I realize how horrible I sound. Yes, I know that I deserve to be called every named I’ve called guys who ghosted me in the past. It’s not an excuse but I am an avoider. Unless I’m emotionally invested in you I don’t feel like addressing why we shouldn’t talk anymore. If we are on a date and you can’t tell that I’m not having a good time then why should I bring it up? I have spent hours with a guy, maybe even over multiple dates, and then realized I just don’t want to spend anymore time with them and POOF I’m gone.

I don’t set out to ghost guys. I really just don’t like telling someone why I don’t like them or being in uncomfortable situations. I would rather tell you I’ll talk to you later, leave, then block you on every social media platform, Whattsapp, Viber, Skype, MySpace and my personal cell phone so you can’t contact me.

After ignoring text messages or in some cases blocking them, I’ve had guys find me on Instagram or Facebook and message me like “Hey how have you been?” As if I hadn’t been blatantly ignoring them for several weeks. You may think the effort is endearing and I would respond to their messages but I don’t.

In my head, I think, don’t worry this guy probably did it to someone else and this is his karma. But what about my karma?? I’m tired of being a ghostee. If I meet a guy and I think things are going well but he doesn’t I want him to have the decency to tell me things aren’t going any further instead of falling off the face of the earth. So I owe any guy I date that same decency.

So here is my pledge for 2017 and beyond. I will no longer go on a date with a guy and at the end assure him we will have another date unless I mean it. I won’t text my friends during dates telling them to call me so I can bail. I won’t instantly block someone just because I don’t want to go on another date with them. I will maturely tell them it was great meeting them but I don’t think we are compatible. If I can make this change, maybe I can offset the cycle of ghosting in some small way.

But maybe I should still keep the option to block them if they’re annoying?

Cloud of Ignorance

Growing up in the United States my view of the world was generally limited. In grade school, our history lessons were solely focus on the history of the US. Sure, they made a brief mention of the other countries that existed but the content was centered around an inaccurate, glorified, man made view of the country’s history.

Thanksgiving is a prime example. Many people, or at least myself, aren’t too proud to celebrate a day we were originally taught to believe was about a jolly dinner between the Pilgrims and Indians when really it derived from a massacre of Native people. Now that I know that I can’t run around in a Pilgrim costume celebrating on that day. I completely understand it’s a day dedicated to giving thanks, but we should be doing that everyday.

On the other hand, there are some people who live in a world clouded by ignorance. By definition, ignorance means lacking knowledge or information. We are all are ignorant about many things. There are many things I didn’t know before traveling abroad.  but I knew very little about the cultures and climate in other countries. But there’s a difference between not having information and not wanting to acknowledge the truth.

I was at a gathering in honor of Thanksgiving at a friend’s house here in Berlin. She insisted on cooking and having people over so I joined her for the wine and home cooked food. After several hours of cooking a small group of us sat down and began to talk about the tradition of Thanksgiving. A German native said that he believed Thanksgiving to be the most popular holiday in the US. To which I responded that it may be his perception however the popularity of the holiday had definitely declined, especially with what was going on at Standing Rock.

My friend, who was hosting the gathering, proudly proclaimed that Thanksgiving was in celebration of “the Natives and Europeans breaking bread over dinner”. I didn’t want to depress the room with the truth about the day so I did my best to bite my tongue. Albeit disappointed, I wasn’t surprised that this girl said that since she already told me she had no idea what was going on in Standing Rock. She chose not to be informed about what was going on in the world, even in the country she came from. She had no reason to be affected by the conditions surrounding the Natives fighting against a pipeline or the shootings of Black people or the increased hate crimes against Muslims. She was a blonde, white woman who had the luxury of thinking that all was right in the world.

I can’t say that I’m not guilty of ignorance. Living in the US I had no idea what was going on in the rest of the world unless it was a terror attack highlighted across the news. The information given on world news was usually limited, biased, or purely negative. I stopped watching the news because it was depressing. However, while traveling and living abroad I gained a different insight about what was going on in other countries.

Most profoundly I realized that as Americans, we weren’t alone in experiencing a surge in discrimination. Aside from the Brexit, right wing politicians and racist rhetoric was rising in several countries including Austria, Spain, France, and Germany. I would hear stories from people who were feeling the same worry and shame about the hate speech coming from their homelands. Luckily the near miss of electing a right wing politician in Austria halted the projected downslide of Europe after the election of Trump.

There are so many refugees who are fleeing unthinkable conditions in their home country but are then being faced with racism and roadblocks in the countries they are running to for help. Which has also led to harassment of people who, in a nutshell, aren’t white. Especially in international cities like London where people are told to go back to where they came from, even though they came from the UK.

At my work holiday party, along with everywhere else I seemed to go, once people found out I was from the US they wanted to ask my opinion about Trump, the future of the country, and the racial climate. I felt like I was getting interviewed everywhere I went. The girl sitting next to me, who was a white woman from the UK, acknowledged that she never had to worry about someone questioning where she was from or having prejudices about her because of the way she looked.

Then she told us about a friend who had been asked while in London, “Where are you from?” To which he responded, “From London”. But the person kept probing, “No, where are you REALLY from?” As if being born and raised in London didn’t grant him the right to say he was from there because, somewhere down the line, his family came from Africa.

I’ve been asked on a weekly basis at my former job, “Where’s your accent from?” or “Where are you REALLY from?” Unless you’re from the south of the US or somewhere like New York, I don’t have an accent, but I do speak, as many have described, like a white girl. So people would probe me about where I grew up and where I went to school because they seemingly didn’t except me to speak “properly” or told me I looked “exotic” like an animal only seen in its natural habitat.

Since they weren’t satisfied with my answers they would proceed to guess different places or countries. “You’re from the Caribbean, right?” “Are you Spanish?” “Ok so, where are your parents from?” “What are you mixed with?” I tried not to think too much about it because if I did, the inquisition into my ancestry, especially while at work, would’ve angered me to the point of an outburst.

While there are many things I don’t know about the world, I can’t afford to live in ignorance. I must learn about things that are going on in other countries because it all has a continuous effect. Whether people of color are suffering, being discriminated against, or enduring violence in the US, Africa, Europe, or the Middle East I want to know about it, I can’t ignore it, because that could be me. I can’t breeze through life not thinking about the suffering of other people. I don’t have the luxury of being shielded by a cloud of ignorance.

 

 

Who Am I Now?

When I came to visit Berlin a few months before I made the move I met a girl from New York at a bar my date took me to. She and I stayed in touch and reconnected once I got settled in. Everyone in the Berlin was interested in the US Presidential election and there were many bars that hosted viewing parties for expats and locals to watch the results unfold. Naturally, the two of us headed out together to drink beers and celebrate the election of the first female president of the United States.

My friend said to me on the walk there, “Hillary will win Florida pretty quickly and we’ll be out of there by 2 am.” To gain some perspective, Berlin is 6 hours ahead of the EST, so the coverage started around midnight here. We found excellent seats in a crowded room of people waiting for the results to roll in.

When Donald Trump took the lead from the start I said to my friend, “It’s interesting that all of the Republican Party results are coming in first”. She assured me, “It’s early, and of course those midwestern states are going to vote for Trump”. I looked at her and could tell the reassurance was more for her than me.

As voting times in state after state began to close and the numbers for Hillary weren’t increasing I started to lose hope. It had only been an hour but I had this horrible feeling that this wasn’t going to be the blowout we expected it to be. I looked over at my friend and she was feverishly texting a friend back home. At first they were sending her confident messages, “Florida is definitely going to vote for her”, “New York is all blue”, “Don’t worry”. As the night went on the messages turned into “maybe” and “we will see”.

More and more people left the bar after it turned 2 am. Those that remained cheered for every blue state but those cheers were few and far between. Then the crowd grew angry as more and more states came up red. We could even tell the announcers were stunned. At the beginning of the broadcast they were so cheerful and optimistic. As time passed, they were trying to find the words to make sense of what was happening.

At 5am I decided I didn’t want to watch anymore. America was hurting my feelings and I wanted to go home and escape it. I tried to go to sleep with a small ounce of hope left but I couldn’t. I woke up a few hours later and wanted to check my phone like I always do when I first wake up but I didn’t. I waited about thirty minutes before looking at it and saw the alert that Donald Trump was elected President of the United States.

People have their reasons for why they voted for him. “He tells it like it is.” “He ran on ‘pro life’.” “He will protect the interest of the wealthy.” “He says he’ll bring jobs back to the US even though he never said how.” “He’s going to make America great again by riding it of all those pesky immigrants because this stolen land is ours now. Gotta preserve the tradition of keeping people that don’t look like us down and taking their things.” There were so many people who saw the negative effect this man’s rhetoric had on the country, they knew it was wrong, but since it didn’t affect them they were fine looking the other way.

Long before this election I had stopped feeling all warm and fuzzy inside about being an American. I had faced the fact that as a woman I wasn’t respected in America. I saw that Black people weren’t respected or valued in America unless it was for their music and culture, but definitely not their lives. I knew for a long time that America wasn’t the happy, progressive, blended family that they portrayed to the world.

However, my friend from New York wasn’t ready for the US to pull its mask off and show its true colors to every other country in the world.  She took it really hard. Crying all night and morning. Getting frustrated with people who blew this event off as just another day. Struggling to find the words to accurately express how deeply disappointed and hurt she was. Then she said to me, “I don’t know who I am now”.

When people ask me where I’m from I don’t want to tell them. Once they find out where I’m from I no longer hear “What a great country! We love your President”. Now I hear, “I can’t believe your country elected Donald Trump as President, you must be so upset.” On every single form I have to fill out certain identifiers: age, race, gender, marital status, and nationality. The way that the US has been so divided and tarnished, I don’t want that to define me. I don’t want to proclaim that I’m from the country that doesn’t respect its citizens whether they be Black, female, Muslim, Hispanic, Asian, LGBTQ, the list goes on and on. I don’t want to say, “I’m American” because it doesn’t mean the same thing it meant a week ago.

Everyone is always “so sorry for me”. Like I was a victim of a tragedy. Which I guess I am. Not just the fact that a presidential candidate ran on a racist, hateful, sexist, and elitist platform but that so many people in the country voted for him. A country that many used to admire has become either the butt of a joke or a rude awakening about the direction the world is going in.

Like my friend, many of us are going through the same stages of grief after this election as if someone died. We are in denial that this happened. We want to isolate ourselves from others out of fear or because we can’t bring ourselves to face this reality. We are angry with the hateful responses of some of the American people. We are bargaining with the government to save us and elect Hillary based on the popular vote. We are severely depressed about what this means for the future of our country.

Some people want us to accept it, but it’s going to take a long time to accept that this is what America looks like in 2016. The hurt and disappointment people feel is real and they need to deal with that in their own way. In many ways we did experience a loss. Some have lost their pride in their country. Some have lost faith in the electoral system and politics in general. Some of us have lost faith in humanity. Many of us feel like we’ve lost our country. Then there are those of us who feel like they’ve lost part of their identity.

Locations that Don’t Require a Visa for US Citizens

Tomorrow is November 8th, 2016. (Please note that Election Day is not November 28th, unless you’re planning to vote for Trump then go ahead and wait.) For several months the ugliest side of the United States has been displayed and the entire world watched as two of the least desirable candidates divide a country that had been doing a great job of covering up how ugly it could be.
One candidate ran on segregation, hate speech, encouraged violence and sexual assault, suggested tracking people like prey, kept his financial records and ties to other countries hidden, and all with absolutely no political experience. His actions caused racists to no longer keep their comments behind closed doors, now they were free to go online, go to rallies, or post on social media how much they hated the people who make up the United States.
As others in the country banded together to support the potential first female President, her poll numbers were knocked down by emails that were private, or maybe confidential, that were definitely illegal, but then determined that they weren’t illegal, and may or may not have anything to do with politics. She was also crucified for her part or compliance in the actions of her husband. Because you know, that’s all we women are….an extension of a man.
Many are fearful for the fate of the country. It’s like the band-aid has been ripped off and we can’t stop the bleeding. The country has taken several steps forward over the last few decades but knocked itself back just as many steps in a matter of months. Dependent on the results announced tomorrow night you may feel the need to take a 4 year break from the US.
As United States citizens we are pretty lucky in the sense that we are able to travel to many countries without obtaining a visa prior to entering. It seems that the world as a whole is making a shift for the worse i.e. Brexit, refugee discrimination throughout Europe, and Nazi resurgence here in Germany. However there are places within every country that represent positive and negative attributes whether they be big or small. I’ve compiled a list of countries that allow citizens with US Passports to stay without a visa for a certain amount of time (so you have enough time to figure out how to live there).
Argentina
90 days or less
A frequently visited country with Spanish and Italian influence who’s southern border faces Antartica.
Aruba
30 days or less but can be extended to 180 days
*Must prove proof of onward/return tickets, sufficient funds, and lodging accommodations may be required.
The Dutch and English speaking island is small but relaxed.
Austria
90 days of less within a  180 day period
Known for it’s northern Bohemian forest, eastern vineyards, and famously beautiful mountains.
Bahamas
90 days or less
Close enough to Florida where you still feel like you’re in the US.
Belgium
90 days or less
The languages spoken are Dutch, French, and German and they’re famous for beer, chocolate, and waffles.
Bulgaria
90 days or less
US Dollars go further in this country.
Canada
180 days or less
Seems to be the first place Americans think to go since it’s close in proximity.

Chile
90 days or less
*For tourist only, all others must apply for a visa prior to entry. If you stay longer, you can’t leave without a fine.
There’s beautiful, historic landscapes and the entire country runs along the ocean.
Denmark
90 days or less
The have the oldest fairground in the world, the original lego land, and The Little Mermaid statue from 1913.
Dominican Republic
30 days or less
*Must purchase a tourist card at the airport for 10 USD upon entry or online prior to travel
Enjoy white beaches and blue waters while selling handmade bracelets on the island.
Equatorial Guinea
90 days or less
View the country’s 5 offshore volcanic islands, wildlife, and Spanish architectural influence.
Estonia
90 days or less
Note that you are required by law to wear small reflectors on clothing during the dark, winter months and there are fines ranging from $50 to $500 USD for not wearing one.
Finland
90 days or less
See the Northern Lights and play in the snow as you visit the “Home of Santa”.
France
90 days or less
Great to city to be in love or fall in love in with your pick of great food and wine.
French Guiana
No visa is required
Combination of French culture with South America’s climate.
Germany
90 days or less
Known for beer enthusiast, bratwurst, and world famous techno parties.
Greece
90 days or less
Although it has faced recent financial struggles, the country’s historic ruins and pristine beaches continue to impress.
Hungary
90 days or less
A place with amazing sunsets over the plains, traditional way of living, and central Europe’s largest caves.
Ireland
90 days or less
Known for it’s historical landscape, friendly people, and love of stout beer.
Italy
90 days or less
From food to fashion to scenery you can’t go wrong in this country.
Jamaica
90 days or less
Listen to reggae and dancehall while enjoying authentic Jamaican rum.
Japan
90 days or less
While you may feel like a local celebrity due to some staring or locals asking for your photo if you are Black, many are drawn to this country for the amazing food, impressive architecture and technology.
Latvia
90 days or less (within 6 months)
With one true major city and not a lot of tourism, this may be the perfect place to start over.
Lithuania
90 days or less
A great place for nature lovers with 5 national parks and 30 regional parks.
Mexico
180 days or less
While there is a threat of violent crime in certain areas, there’s plenty of relatively safe cities where you can improve your Spanish, drink tequila, and enjoy quality tacos on days other than Tuesday.
Mongolia
 90 days or less
A location for those seeking a rural and quiet life boasting a naturally beautiful landscape.
Netherlands
90 days or less
Popular destination for 420 enthusiast, it’s a diverse country that was the first to legalize same sex marriage.
Norway
Not required for stays under 90 days
Proclaimed as one of the most beautiful countries in the world.
Poland
90 days of less
The country isn’t particularly diverse however it has a lot of history.
Portugal
90 days or less
Home to some of Europe’s most beautiful beaches and exciting nightlife.
Romania
90 days or less
Full of medieval castles but still reeling from communist control.
Serbia
90 days or less
While the country also doesn’t experience a lot of diversity the people are friendly and the parties are wild.
Spain
90 days or less
An especially great place for those who enjoy Futbol, amazing nightlife, and beautiful architecture.
Sweden
90 days or less
Winters may be brutal but there’s plenty of cozy cottages to go around.
Switzerland
90 days or less
One of the most developed countries in the world with the highest rate of wealth per person and home to the Alps.
Thailand
30 days or less
Avoid the Burma and Cambodia borders as well as the southern region.
Trinidad and Tobago
90 days or less
Best of both worlds: the city side, Trinidad, and the blue water beach side, Tobago.
United Arab Emirates
30 days or less
One of the favorite locations of celebrities and the world’s most wealthy.
United Kingdom
90 days or less
It’s an expensive city to live in but full of historic sites.
The State Department has designated the following countries dangerous and they may have less than desirable living conditions. However, there are plenty of people who may still be interested in relocating to these places that also don’t require a visa prior to entering the country.
Armenia
Not required for less than 180 days in a year
Although crime is generally low, the US can’t provide assistance to its citizens in certain areas, there are frequent earthquakes and landslides and certain borders are closed due to Nagorno-Karabakh Area and Conflict.
Belize
30 days or less
Criminals frequently target tourists. Crimes such as sexual assault, armed robbery, and murder, remains high as well as sexual harassment and/or assault of persons traveling alone or in small groups.
Botswana
90 days or less

Crime is a serious and growing concern. Petty street crime is common. Home invasions, theft from vehicles, and muggings at knife point have also been reported. Crime is not only prevalent in urban areas but also in tourist and remote areas. Visitors are advised not to walk at night and avoid walking alone during the day.

Central African Republic
180 days or less
*Some airlines may still require a visa

Crime is common including Petty theft, armed gangs violence, violent demonstrations, looting, burning of buildings, and roadblocks as well as checkpoints staffed by armed actors seeking bribes.

Columbia
90 days or less
Robbery and other violent crimes, as well as scams against unsuspecting tourists, are common in urban areas. Firearms are prevalent in Colombia which may result in muggings or robberies quickly turning violent.
Costa Rica
90 days or less
*Return ticket required
Crime is increasing especially against US tourist. The biggest concern is theft.
El Salvador
No visa required
*You must purchase a tourist card for 10 USD upon arrival and show proof of sufficient funds to cover your stay.
U.S. citizens may not be specifically targeted by criminals, however, crime and violence are serious problems throughout the country.
Ecuador
90 days or less
Tourists have been robbed at gunpoint. It is recommended to store any valuables in a hotel safe at all times. Express kidnappings where criminals enter a taxi and force victims to withdraw money from ATMs and may include beating or raping victims.
Georgia
No visa required
There is a threat of terrorist attacks, assailants are frequently armed with firearms and U.S. citizens have reported occurrences of sexual assault in Georgia. If visiting, avoid Russian occupied regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Guatemala
90 days or less
The number of violent crimes reported by U.S. citizens and other foreigners has remained high due to large scale drug and alien smuggling and reports of sexual assault.
Guyana
30 days or less
The per capita murder rate in Guyana is three times higher than that of the United States.
Honduras
No visa required
*Must provide evidence of return or onward travel
Since 2010, Honduras has had the highest murder rate in the world and the government doesn’t have the resources to improve violent crime rates.
Indonesia
30 days or less
Threat of terrorism and petty crime

Israel, the West Bank and Gaza

90 days or less
Demonstrations, terrorist attacks, and violent clashes resulting in death or injury to bystanders are commonly reported in Jerusalem and the West Bank. U.S. citizens are also warned against travel to the Gaza Strip, which is under the control of a foreign terrorist organization.
Madagascar
90 days or less
*A visa can be purchased at the airport upon arrival
Madagascar has experienced a dramatic spike not only in the number of crimes, but also in their severity and type, including armed attacks. Increased reports of home invasions, robberies and assaults.
Malaysia
90 days or less
Continued risk of armed terrorist and criminal groups operating and planning attacks against foreigners, including U.S. citizens.
Moldova
90 days or less
A separatist regime controls the region and access to U.S. citizens is difficult. The U.S. Embassy may not be able to provide assistance in certain areas of the country. Non violent crimes and scams are common.
Morocco
90 days or less

Crime in major cities and tourist areas is a concern. Aggressive panhandling, theft of wallet, purse, or valuables, harassment of women, street robberies involving the use of a knife and violent break-ins are commonly reported.

Nicaragua

90 day or less
*Must purchase tourist card once arrived at the airport
Violent crime occurs throughout Nicaragua including vehicle burglaries, pick-pocketing, and occasional armed robberies. Tourist’s activities are subject to monitoring.
Panama
180 days or less
Outside the city limits, the Mosquito Coast (Caribbean side) and the Darien Region (Colombian border) are particularly hazardous due to their remoteness and the presence of criminal organizations.
Peru
90 days or less
*Free tourist visas are issued at the port of entry. Overstays will result in fines.
Many areas of the country are restricted and there are terrorists groups targeting US interest.
Philippines
30 days or less
Kidnap-for-ransom gangs and terrorist groups are common.
Senegal
Visa can be obtained once you arrive

Street crime is very common in Senegal. U.S. citizens have been robbed at knife-point and residences of U.S. citizens have been burglarized. Terrorist groups frequently target those from the west.

Tunisia
90 days or less
 Terrorist group Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AAS-T) has expressed anti-U.S. and anti-Western sentiments. Criminals have targeted tourists and business travelers for muggings and scams.
Ukraine
90 days or less (within a 180-day period)
Tourists may be perceived as wealthy and become easy targets.  The police are poorly paid, and historically known for corruption and soliciting bribes. U.S. citizens have been specifically targeted by gunmen representing the self-proclaimed authorities and threatened, detained or kidnapped for hours/days. Small-scale bombings and terrorism incidents occur.
It’s important to do research on crime, economy, resources, and racial climate of any country you visit. The State Department (where most of this information was obtained) provides a map of the world with pertinent information regarding visa requirements, crime, and resources within each the country.
Many countries in the Middle East, South America, and Africa require a visa prior to entering. So if there’s a place you’d like to escape to that isn’t on this list, it means you need to start planning now.

Voluntary Immigrant

While working in hospitality for over 5 years I had the pleasure of meeting and working alongside people from all over the world. People from places that I had never heard of or knew little about. They all had one thing in common, they risked everything, leaving behind family, friends, and even children to seek the opportunity to build a better life.

They told me stories about how their families would frequently be denied access into the country to visit them. They would go years without seeing their loved ones. They missed births, birthdays, holidays, weddings, and funerals. They struggled to find the words to express themselves and were ridiculed by others for where they were from or how they spoke. All of that was worth it to them to be in the US to work and have the opportunities they didn’t have back home.

Many people leave their home country out of necessity due to war and other unlivable conditions. They pick up with only a few items and no money and start out with only the faith that there is something better awaiting them on the other side. The smallest things, things that many Americans take for granted, bring them such joy.

There are things as an American I never had to think about. I didn’t have to worry whether or not I would qualify to rent an apartment. I didn’t have to think about going into a business and being able to communicate with people in the room. Applying for a job simply entailed going online and filling out an application. Feeling secure with my status within my country. These are all things I took for granted.

Moving to another country where the language is completely different is challenging enough. But the realization that I am now an immigrant with second class citizen privileges is a startling position to be in. I can’t just apply for any job I want. I can’t go into a store and communicate freely with people in the room. I can’t feel secure with my place in this country.

I don’t take for granted that I voluntary chose these struggles. I wasn’t placed her, I wasn’t forced here, I’m not running from horrible conditions. There are refugees here that were taken in by the government but are being pushed out by the citizens. They have no where else to go and no means to make another way but they are being abused and outcasted.

The German government is very good about taking care of refugees. They don’t even call them refugees they have a nicer way of saying it that basically translates to people who come from a tumultuous country. They assist them with safe living accommodations, the opportunity to work, and other public assistance. They deserve all the help they can get. In turn, voluntary expats are given no easy way into to staying in the country.

As a US citizen we still are allotted several benefits that people from other countries don’t get. We can stay in the country for 90 days with no visa and we can travel to and from other countries within those 90 days. Many people speak English so it’s possible to get by knowing little to no German but that’s only in Berlin. Many people sublet their apartments but you can’t sublet from a landlord without their version of a credit history called a SHUFA and 3 months worth of pay stubs.

However, working is tricky. I did much research on working in Germany before coming here. I’ve heard of people hiring attorneys and translator to apply for a work visa and still getting denied. It’s not enough to want to come here and work and be a contributing member of society. They make you beg for it.

The immigration office here is called the Ausländerbehörde. The people there are tasked with assisting all non German citizens with their resident permits, work visas, and all others permissions needed to live in Germany. You would think that you would be greeted by people who want to make the process as easy as possible for you. That’s not these people. It’s like they get joy out of telling you no. And if you don’t speak German, you’re at a huge disadvantage.

I’ve gotten lucky in other official offices but not at this place. I’ve been there 4 times, one day I waited for 3 hours only for them to tell me there’s nothing they can do for me. Online appointments aren’t available for 2 months and even if you have one they continue to give you new forms or documents you need to bring back.

While I was waiting in line, outside in the cold, for those 3 hours, the woman in front of me started up a conversation. She was surprised that I was having such a hard time getting approval to work. “So many women come here, have 4, 5, 6 babies and just want to live off of the government. All you want to do is work. You would think they would want more people like you.” What I gathered from that was that I needed to get started on popping out some kids because that would be easier than the route I had been on.

There are a variety of ways to get a work visa here, the easiest is to have a job to sponsor you. Problem with that is that you have to have a set a skills that would justify them giving you the job over a German citizen. You can apply for a freelance visa but you have to provide proof that your freelance work is enough to reach their monthly standard of living. If you want to live with a family as an Au Pair you can go that route but only if you’re under 26. There are visas to study German or at a University but you’d have to show proof of enrollment or first be qualified by a University to study.

Once you receive a visa in a particular field you can’t just move to any job. They are very specific about what field you can work in and if you want to change fields, you have to go back and apply for another visa. I never thought getting permission to work would ever be so challenging.

They say anything worth having is worth working hard for. There have been many times in my life where I seriously doubted whether I would accomplish my goals. Again and again I was faced with setbacks, road blocks, and disappointing news. The moments I wanted to give up, I somehow convinced myself to keep fighting and in the end, achieved the goals I set out for. No matter how many times they tell me no or turn me away, I’m not going to let a few people stand in the way of what I’m trying to accomplish: being an employed immigrant in Berlin.