Looking back on the year

And with that last Canvas submission I have completed my junior year of my undergraduate career. Recently I have been really, really scared. “The real world” is right around the corner, and I have very little confidence in the direction my life is headed. But on top of being scared, I have also been thinking a lot about how amazing this past year has been. A lot of things happened. Some were good, some bad – some amazing.

If you’ve ever read my blog posts or seen my Facebook or talked to me for more than like 20 seconds, I have most likely talked about Camp Kesem in some way or another. Have I tried to get you to donate? Probably. I am rounding out my second year as a Development Coordinator for Camp Kesem at UofM this summer, and it has been a wild and rewarding ride. As of last weekend, we have raised over $100,000 for camp this summer. That is almost all of our 210 campers, and it’s only April.


I’ve met truly met my people through this organization. Like classic Grey’s Anatomy “my person” type of person, except there’s several of them and I cannot be more thankful that I have these incredible humans to travel the rest of my crazy life journey with by my side.

We’ve had our up’s and down’s this year. There were so many successes that came along with their fair share of failures. There were tears. There was laughter. There was love and loss – but I wouldn’t choose anyone else to go through all of this with. I know for sure that no matter where I end up after graduation next May, I will always look back on this incredible group of people as my people and the most inspiring and loving human beings. Thank you for teaching me what I am worth. Thank you for loving me and teaching me how to love.

I really began to find my passions this year. I served as a group leader for a course called Project Outreach in the Psychology department where I spent my second semester in a row going to Monroe County Youth Center every week to lead art workshops for the juveniles in detention there. From this course, I received an internship with the Washtenaw County Juvenile Court and spent this past semester helping to start a creative arts workshop for the juveniles on probation in this county as well as working alongside probation officers in the sexual offender treatment program at the court. I can really see myself doing this kind of work for the rest of my life, and that is the most confident I have ever felt in anything about my career probably ever.

In addition to all of this, I have traveled to some pretty amazing places this year. I spent a month traveling around Europe with two of my best friends. We visited 9 different countries in less than 29 days, and it was absolutely incredible. We had a bonfire in a valley town in the Swiss Alps. We swam in the Italian Riviera in the most picturesque coastline towns in Italy. We picnicked with wine and baguette sandwiches under the lights of the Eiffel Tower. We casually saw the Queen and the Royal Family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. We learned how to make sangria and Paella in Barcelona. It was the most amazing month, and I still talk about it almost every day.

I spent a pretty awesome week on a cruise with my family and my grandparents in the Caribbean. We zip lined over a water park in Costa Maya. We swam with dolphins in Cozumel. My dad, sister and I spent a way too long day shopping in Belize City. I practiced my Spanish to perfection after snorkeling all day in the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef (the largest Barrier Reef system in the world)!


I took a cross-country road trip with my best friend and showed her everything from my home state. We ate so much food our stomachs were in so much pain. We drank hurricanes on Bourbon Street and Cajun danced our hearts away.

I could go on and on about the incredible things I’ve done this year, but most importantly, I have made new friends and traveled the world and learned to cope with loss and grow from it. I have learned so much about my abilities, my passions and myself as a person. I look forward to my summer – an internship at a really awesome Detroit-based organization and traveling the state with my friends. Cheers to another year of learning and loving and exploring!



Before I Die…

Before I die, I will accomplish my goals.

Before I die, I will love unconditionally.

Before I die, I will find inner peace.

Before I die, I want to change someone’s life.

Before I die, I want to travel the world.

Before I die, I want to overcome the struggles.

Before I die, I want to see a cure.

Before I die, I will find someone.

Before I die, I will live.

Estoy Saliendo de Guatemala

It’s so sad to think that my time here in Guatemala is over. I absolutely loved every minute of it, and as I sit in the airport in Guatemala City with a sunburn on my shoulders and hopes for some internet soon, I can’t imagine having a much better week than the one I’ve had.

From the second our shuttle from the airport dropped us off at the volunteer center, I absolutely loved everything about this city and this country. I spent my mornings strolling around Antigua with no agenda, nowhere to be, a few Quetazles in my pocket and no need to rush anything. I spent my afternoons volunteering, spending time with some of the most loving children I’ve ever met. 

So since I didn’t get a chance to write yesterday, I should write about my last day at my volunteer placement. I had to go to Dueñas alone since my other volunteer friends were out of town on a weekend trip. I hopped on the chicken bus alone and walked down to Vida for my last day. Carlos, one of the guys who started the organization, asked if I could spend my day in the classroom with the older kids because their teacher was home sick for the day. I absolutely loved working with them. When it was time for me to head home, I went to say goodbye and the teachers presented me with a huge posted signed by all the younger kids and individual cards from all of the older kids. I was crying. It was so cute. 

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I then said goodbye and all of them were screaming my name and hugging me and kissing me on the cheek. There were lots of “Te queremos! Te queremos!” and “Adios Sydney! Hasta luego!” It was beautiful. When I got home, I read the letters and notes from the kids. It made me realize how much of an impact I had on them even though I’d only seen them for 5 days. It was such a good way to end my stay here. 

Then came my last day in Antigua. Saturday morning we got up and spent the morning sipping coffee and reading on our terrace at our house. We eventually ventured out to climb up to La Cruz with an astounding view of Antigua.

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Then we went around to grab some lunch and head over to a hotel with a beautiful poolside bar and restaurant. “Just pretend we’re staying here. We’re white. We look like we belong.” – the motto of the kids just trying to spend a warm day by the pool with daiquiris and nachos. It was beautiful. After resting the day away in the sun, we headed back home in a tuk tuk (such a far walk ugh) and got ready to head up to San Cristobal – a restaurant with the best view of Antigua. 


We caught a shuttle up to the restaurant and I honestly had to blink tears out of my eyes as we took in the view. It was one hundred percent the best view I have ever seen. You could see all three volcanoes surrounding the city with clouds sitting delicately on top of them. They grow all of their own food for the restaurant on the property, so we wandered through the greenhouses and gardens then settled down for some glasses of wine and some appetizers overlooking the city.

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It was honestly the best possible way to spend my last day in Antigua, and I am going to miss this place and these people so, so much. This was such an incredible week, and I could not have chosen a better way to spend my Spring Break. I can’t wait to come back to Antigua soon. It’ll always hold such a special place in my heart. So thank you to all the volunteers I was able to share my week with. Thank you the volunteers and kids at Vida, because you have changed my perspective on so many things. Thank you to the staff at Máximo Nivel for helping me to feel so comfortable in a foreign country alone.


Until next time, Guatemala – Hasta luego.

Does your Marshmallow taste Lava-y?

Yesterday was pretty amazing. I spent a pretty relaxing morning hopping from coffee shops and cafés to get a different view of the city, and then ate some amazing nachos (like honestly the most beautiful nachos I’ve ever seen) before heading back to our homestay for our trip to Pacaya Volcano. 


It was about an hour-long shuttle bus ride from Antigua to Pacaya. We were packed in car with 13 people – a couple from Germany, one from Sweden, two guys from the West Coast, three guys from Australia and a guy from Norway. It was a beautiful drive, and I had a really great conversation with the Norwegian guy, Odd. (Yeah. His name was Odd. Apparently that’s a normal name in Norway). 

Upon arriving at the volcano, I realized that my body being accustomed to really low altitudes and slightly asthmatic tendencies was not going to do well hiking 8500 feet up for 2500 meters. A really nice guy from the nearby town, San Francisco, offered to let me ride his horse up to the top for only 50 Quetzales. The rest of the time up was spent practicing my Spanish with this man. He was so nice, and I loved being able to talk with him and practice my Spanish (which is slowly but surely getting better). 

When we reached the top I was absolutely blown away. It was absolutely gorgeous. On one side, there was the huge volcano covered in dried lava and ash from the most recent eruption (last year), and lots of lava leftover from the huge eruption back in 2010. On the other side, there were rolling green hills, with lakes at the bottoms of the valleys. The clouds were rolling in to make the towns and mountains in the distance non-existent. It was just us and the nature around us. It was beautiful.

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We then walked (or more like skied) down the side of the volcano to roast marshmallows over the active holes that lead to the volcano’s lava. It was actually really, really cool to watch the marshmallows toast beautifully on the end of our sticks. With our obvious energy boost from the sugary treats, we walked up the last bit to the highest point yet. It looked like we were in an airplane, completely above the clouds. It was surreal. 

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Then we hiked down and got on our shuttle home. It was an absolutely amazing day and I will never, ever forget the incredible views and breathtaking scenes. Guatemala holds such a special place in my heart, and I am very excited for my last day and a half in Antigua.


Reflections over Guatemalan Coffee

I have a little extra time in a coffee shop this morning. My volunteer placement doesn’t begin until the afternoon, but I still enjoy waking up early to take in the town. This morning after breakfast (banana crepes covered in chocolate and fresh watermelon – yum!) I headed down to the artisan market by the bus station. They have honestly every single thing you could possibly want. I had to fight myself not to spend all the Quetzales I had in my pocket on fresh fruit and handmade knick knacks, but I ended up buying a messenger bag to carry around my laptop and other necessities. The best part about the market is how easy it is to haggle the prices. I got the bag for 55Q (about $7.25 USD) instead of the original 115Q.

dia3_4(This is 14 Quetzales — $1.84 USD. This would be like $6 in the US) 

So now I have some downtime before I need to grab some food and head back to catch a “chicken bus” (as they are called in Guatemala – more on those some other time) to go to Dueñas for my placement. I figured I would use the time to write down some more thoughts running through my head. 

I can honestly say I have never been happier than I am here right now. Yesterday, while I was sitting on the roof terrace at our homestay with two new volunteers looking out on the town, one girl said, “That’s what I love about traveling – it’s nearly impossible to wake up in a bad mood. Everything is new and different, and you aren’t around anyone long enough to be annoyed or upset. It’s wonderful.” She’s right. No matter how little sleep I get or how loud the streets are in the morning, it is so hard to be upset about anything here.

As I was walking down the street this morning, I was just taking in the beautiful view. There was a gigantic volcano with little white clouds floating at the very top in front of me. There were buildings of all shades of yellow, pink, orange, blue and green on each side of me, cobblestone streets under my feet and the warm Guatemalan sun shining on my face. There is so much life and joy here. I can’t help but smile and say ¡Hola, Buenos dias! to people on the street or in shops.

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It’s only day three and I am already absolutely dreading leaving this place. The real world seems a lot less exciting. I saw a photo of Ann Arbor covered in snow this morning and my friend and I laughed about how we had forgotten that the real world existed. Leaving is going to be hard, and I’m going to miss this place a lot, but I am so excited for my next few days here.


I will also be posting my posts and other photos at my Tumblr page here: http://sydneystraveljournal.tumblr.com/

On Being Spontaneous

If you know anything about me, you probably know that my favorite book of all time is Paper Towns by John Green. I can still remember when my friend, Camille, told me how amazing it was way back when it had first come out. I borrowed her copy and figured I would try it out. I had never read any of John’s books, so I wasn’t really expecting anything. He hadn’t gained a lot of popularity yet, so he was still a pretty unknown writer. I took the book home and started reading it that night (remember what it was like to not have homework or studying every single night? Me neither). 

A few hours later, I closed the book (305 pages later) and exhaled what felt like every bit of misunderstanding and pressure I had ever felt out into the space that made me feel so small. I had heard people say “This book changed my life,” and I thought I understood them. I had many books that impacted me a lot – Harry Potter, Lord of the Flies, Speak, the list goes on. After reading the last sentence of this novel, I knew I definitely understood them. My life had changed. I felt as if I had just read a journal I had written but somehow I had not written it. Now, I could go on talking about this book forever, but I want to focus on how this book recently re-changed my life. 

I bought a new copy of this book from Amazon to give to my friend for Christmas. When the new copy came in the mail, it just looked too new for my liking, so I picked it up and re-read the story for the billionth time overnight while writing little notes and highlighting my favorite parts. All of the old feelings it gave me came flooding back – it was overwhelming. Margo (the main character) still resembled that person I longed to be – vivacious, not comfortable with being comfortable, different, spontaneous.

Fast-forward a month later to about a week and a half ago – I still longed for that spontaneity. I longed for the change that Margo longed for.

“ I’m in love with cities I’ve never been to and people I’ve never met. ”  

So I sat in my room one night while procrastinating the reading I had to do for class the next day, and I applied for a volunteer program in Guatemala – set to start less than a month later. The next day, I was accepted. The day after I paid my program fee and all of a sudden I was going to a new place – alone – serving – exploring, and I was overcome with excitement.

I have had an amazing time this year – it could definitely be considered my favorite year so far. Even though this year has been pretty awesome, it’s also been a pretty rough year. I’ve been struggling with a lot of things, and the thought of being able to go on this trip in a place I’ve never been to and experience a new culture while serving in a way that I have always felt appealing has made me so overjoyed.

So, thank you Margo Roth Speigelman. I don’t know if you would have ever decided to volunteer in Guatemala for your spring break, but without you, I don’t know if I ever would have. Thank you for helping to make me adventurous. 

“You shall no longer take things at second or third hand…nor look through the eyes of the dead…nor feed on the spectres in books. I tramp a perpetual journey.” – Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

I set up a GoFundMe page for my trip to Antigua, Guatemala. If you have a few dollars to spare and you’re interested in contributing to my volunteer trip, you can do so here. http://www.gofundme.com/anitguatrip2015 


On the Improbability of Existence

What exactly does it mean to exist? Do you ever think about how surreal this experience of existence is and how incredibly strange it is that we are here at all? A popular indie rock band Neutral Milk Hotel has a song called “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” (linked here) that makes me ponder these questions quite often. My favorite line from the song is at the end, “How strange it is to be anything at all.”  This line was called to my attention when one of my favorite authors, John Green, quoted it in a video he posted on YouTube back in 2012 (linked here). In this video, John shares his thoughts on the improbability of human existence. There are so many different events and people that affect our lives every day that are so improbable.

John ends this video by saying, “How improbable are we? How strange and how lovely it is to be anything at all.” I like to reflect on that quote a lot. Not only is our existence strange and surreal, but the important word there is that our being is lovely. Despite how we see ourselves physically or mentally, the fact that we exist and survive is lovely. I think a lot of times we get so caught up in everything happening in our lives that we forget how bizarre it is that we are even living. Just take a moment to think about the fact that you’re alive. Think about the fact that you are able to breathe in and out and move your body around. Take a moment to reflect on how surreal the mystery of life is.

This reflection draws me to a different vlog that I was watching once. The idea of the vlog was to make you think about the planned things that happen in our lives and, more importantly, the unplanned or the improbable. Being human, we love to plan our lives; some of us more than others, but we all love to plan what we will do with our present lives and our futures and everything in between. This vlog makes me think about all of the unplanned things that have happened in my life that have taught me things that I could never have experienced if I had planned every little detail.

For example, last spring I went on a mission trip to La Isla de Encanta, Puerto Rico. [Don’t worry. I’m sure I will write an entire blog post on this trip in the future. This is a condensed version]. This trip was something different than anything I had ever done before. I was a mere month or so from my high school graduation and I was going to a different country (Well, sort of) with my best friends and people that I would be moving thousands of miles away from in a few months’ time. When leaving for this trip, I remember recalling this video and thinking, Leave the door open for things that you can’t plan that could be WAY better than the things that you can plan. That was probably the best decision I could have made about this trip.


During the week I spent in Puerto Rico, I challenged myself to remain completely open to new experiences and opportunities for new stories. I allowed myself to go completely outside of my comfort zone. My friend and I had somehow turned into the translators of our group being that we were the only two that knew much Spanish. I let myself accept and do any job that was asked of me. I can remember painting lines in a parking lot for about 3 hours in the baking sun one day and skipping lunch to finish building a fence on another, but I would not have asked for it any differently. Because I allowed myself to be open to new experiences, I have so much of a better story than I would have if I had not challenged myself to leave the door open.


At the end of the vlog (linked here), Julia challenges us to “Leave space open for some awesome, amazing and miraculous things to come into your world that allow life to write a better story for you than you could have ever written.” I think that if we allow these new experiences to enter our lives we can really take advantage of how miraculous and surreal our lives actually are. It is so unreal that we exist and so, so very lovely that we have the opportunity to do so.