CultureTravel

Wanderlust coursed through my 15-year-old veins when I was given the option to travel and either explore the depths of a few European countries or the few hotspots of many countries. Of course, I chose the second alternative. Perhaps it was the naive desperation to check off more countries on my map of travelled places or the craving to be impressed by Europe’s must-see cities. But I then realized that I just wanted to witness Rome’s grandiosity as one of the birthplaces of classicism and breathe the glamorous Parisian air. London lingered in my thoughts with an image of wild print on fabric, charming accents, and tea breaks in-between exciting landmark sight-seeing tours. But London was not my favorite destination. Neither was Rome or Paris or Madrid. Maybe I was lucky, but having three free days Spain gave me the opportunity impulsively decide to take a stranger’s advice and visit multiple towns in Asturias, a northern region of the country. It turns out life has more treasures than the ones sitting in the chest.

Bruges may have had me at whimsical Spanish moss floating over unaligned, rustic, and ancient brick roads; but Cudillero had me at that dead-end parking spot, making walking our last resort into the vehicle-prohibited town. In order to reach the boardwalk that led to the town, walking through an unusually located car show between two cliffs was obligatory. Miles away from Cudillero’s entrance, “Stereolove” by Edward Maya & Vika Jigulina almost pulverized my eardrum. There were about 200 teens, young adults, and middle-aged men and women who were all undoubtedly there to display their unique Lamborghinis and Ferraris, mingling, and somehow chattering through the music. An amalgamation of two stark different atmospheres is what I had yet to notice. “Completely historic, not quite; absolutely modern, neither; wannabe Barcelona in the middle of nowhere, definitely,” I thought as we managed to squirm around the car enthusiasts.

A long narrow path sandwiched between cliff and sea awaited us. Concrete sidewalk corrupted the untouched serene water that held homage to the picturesque sailboats. The sun was fogged away by the opaque clouds. White sailboats sat beside wooden canoes latched onto the wooden docks by a ratty beige rope. Step after step, I snapped picture after picture and stood facing the silent water as I ingested the novelty that was somehow before me. From a totally bizarre car show to an impossibly picture-perfect scenery, I still couldn’t believe there was a sea of 3-D printed Van Gough sailboats to my left, psychedelic beats behind me, obscure fog 100 feet in front of me, and towering cliffs to my right. I wondered how this combination was even conceivable.

A few feet away was a scruffy fisherman who lightly tossed his turquoise cloth bag behind his shoulders. Behind him was a tall man impeccably dressed in a white suit who held his lover’s hand, garbed in eye-snatching Gaultier couture.  And I, in my emerald suede flats, truly effortless jeans, and plain H&M sweater marveled at what kind of place this was. Surely, this boardwalk led us all to the same panorama – a ginormous fungus-infested concrete ramp that brought the colorful building squares with matchless windows into the sea. It was the oddest place I had ever been to with only one primary entrance. Anyone who entered the town came out the same way – over the now-modernized narrow bridge. Vibrant neon moss stuck itself to the bottom of my flats and outlined the edges like a piece of abstract art. Cold, humid air reached the depths of my lungs like two strangers meeting in symbiosis. I could say that this was the beginning of an experience to an indescribable dream, but one thing was for sure: there was no place like it.

I never would have expected my journey to an unheard of village to be more enjoyable than a trip across Europe. The next time you plan a trip, don’t forget to leave a few days open for hidden gems. Their anonymous nature may seem like quite the dare, but here are a few tips to make them happen and to make the best of them:

  1. Never be afraid of unplanned detours.

Say you have your trip planned down to the minute. Incorporate free time into your itinerary. Take a minute or two to ask a few locals about their favorite places to visit in that country (or area). Chances are that it is not a tourist hotspot. Grab a map, do some internet research, and begin filling in that free time.

  1. Reservations have their cons.

Restaurants, activities, and lodging bookings may sound comforting when travelling to an unfamiliar place, but the fine print? They may tie you down. Always expect the unexpected because travel delays and mood shifts will always happen. Embrace a bit of spontaneity and don’t be afraid to show up in a town or city with an open agenda. Unless you’re in Russia during the next World Cup, book your night stay on the day-of and take the freedom of paving your own journey day-by-day.

  1. Expect unconventional means of transportation, breath-taking scenery, and authentic everything.

Prepare for anything when it comes to methods of transit as they are endless and still very much alive. Ferries, canoes, trains, mini-planes, and even walking may replace driving. This journey will certainly teach you a little something about photography, so always keep a camera on-hand. If you’re abroad and leaving the tourist centers, it should go unsaid that not everyone will speak your native tongue and that’s always a fun challenge. Once again, don’t worry – it’s amazing to see where other forms of communication can take you.

Food, of course, is important to many. You may find ease in that safety dish that happened to be Americanized such as the margarita pizza, but take a chance and leave your comfort zone. Taste the culture! You may remember that Italy has great pasta, but you will never forget that tiny, almost unnoticeable, trattoria that served that one-of-a-kind basil-sautéed penne with herbs that grew in that restaurant’s own garden!

Off-the-map doesn’t mean off-your-trip. If you really want to get to know a country, visit the outskirts.  They definitely make for the most memorable, exquisite, and unexpected adventures!

SpotlightYouth Spotlight

As the former president of Zeta Tau Alpha at New York University, Nicole Gartside has really learned how to manage her time and energy. Being a sorority president is a huge responsibility, but Nicole takes care of business with grace and an upbeat attitude. While also being a student and writer, Nicole has worked on figuring out how to balance her schedule while also having a bit of fun. Since she has stepped down from her role as president, Nicole is now working as an editorial intern at Good Housekeeping magazine, has become a member of Order of Omega (an academic honor organization for Greeks), and will be gearing up for graduation in May! Read on to learn more about Nicole’s motivations, how she manages her time, and how she got involved with Greek life in the first place.

Name: Nicole Gartside
Age: 20
Education: Current Student at New York University
Follow: Twitter | Blog | Zeta Tau Alpha NYU

How do you define ‘seizing your youth’?

I think that when you’re young – especially in this day and age – there are so many different opportunities arising. I think seizing your youth is seizing those opportunities and not waiting until you’re older. I have a lot of friends in college back home who just want to party with friends and worry about real life later, and I guess in their mind they’re seizing their youth. However, in my mind, seizing your youth means taking advantage of the opportunities you get when you’re younger before you have actual responsibilities to deal with, such as paying bills.

What are you majoring in at New York University and how did you determine what to study?

I’m majoring in English and Journalism. I came into college not knowing what I wanted to do when I graduated, but I know I like writing and I’ve done interviewing and journalism, so I figured that was a good place to start. I wanted to do something general enough so I could go wherever the wind takes me.

Where have you interned and how did you go about securing those internships?

I’ve interned at a bunch of different small companies throughout the year. I interned at a local online publication in my hometown where I did profiles of people in my community. I got that internship through a friend of a friend who worked at the magazine.

I worked for an online magazine for women in college called Her Campus. A friend of mine had written for Her Campus so I applied online and sent in some clips from my blog. I actually had articles get picked up by The Huffington Post and U.S.A. Today, which was really cool.

I interned last semester at Seventeen Magazine. I was a beauty intern. I just Googled “How to apply for a Seventeen Magazine internship” and sent in my application in the mail, which no one does anymore.

This semester I’m taking off from interning so I have a little more time for school and Zeta stuff. I do part-time voice-over work for law school online classes, which is so fun.

How do you balance interning and being a college student?

For me it was a matter of prioritizing and being realistic of my time schedule. If I don’t have a lot to do I tend to be a procrastinator and I’ll take forever to do them. But when I was interning from 9am-6pm, I really had to factor that into my day and get my assignments done.

I also try not to over-commit myself to too many things. It’s more important to me to commit to a few things rather than commit to a lot of different things but not doing them very well because of lack of time. I lost my mind when I was doing too many things last semester, which is why this semester I took a step back. If you’re going to commit, commit all the way.

Where did you study abroad? What was your big takeaway from studying abroad and do you think it was worth it?

I studied abroad just in the summer in Madrid. I wanted to go because I wanted to finally work on my Spanish. I’ve been studying Spanish since fourth grade. I went to live with a host family. I thought studying abroad was worth it so I could study another culture, feel more comfortable with the language, and learn to be on my own. It was terrifying at first but I learned a lot and I’m really glad I went.

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You are the president of NYU Zeta Tau Alpha (ZTA). What does being president of a sorority mean and what do your presidential duties entail?

The actual title and duties are to make sure that everyone is satisfied with their overall Zeta experience and to make sure all the positions are doing their job. The better everyone else is doing their job, the less I actually have to do.

I have to be the liaison between our chapter and the fraternity sorority life community at New York University, the U.S. office, and the international office. I go to meetings with all the other Greek presidents and with the fraternity sorority life directors, and make sure we are meeting deadlines and filling out the proper paperwork. I oversee the positions on the executive council – there are nine other positions. I make sure they do their job, that events and recruitments are going well, and that everything is going according to plan. I oversee a lot and meet with many people. I probably send and receive 50 emails a day and 150 text messages a day about Zeta.

What was the process of rushing like and how did you choose which sororities to rush for?

My process was actually a little bit different because I was part of the Alpha pledge class so we founded the organization on campus. I really wanted to be in Greek life. I went to a bunch of different meetings on campus during welcome week and talked to a couple of different organizations.

I missed the deadline for recruitment my freshman year, but then Zeta recruited after formal recruitment. I went to check Zeta out and attended some of their events and I loved the idea of being able to start an organization from the ground up. It was nice to come in without any preconceived notions and reputation. It was hard because there were 90 people originally in our pledge class, but it was nice to be able to make the organization what we wanted it to be.

How do you become president of a sorority?

Since we’re a new chapter, we don’t do direct elections for four years, so the way that we do it is that we first elect a slate committee. Each grade elects a representative for their slate committee. You apply for a position and list your qualifications and interview, and then they pick who gets the positions. It’s a long process.

What does a day in your life look like?

This semester most of my classes are in the afternoons so I usually try to wake up at 9am or 10am and get my work done in the morning. I like to do my work first thing in the morning. Then I’ll try to get to the gym or go for a run. In the evenings I usually have meetings or a Zeta event, and then I’ll spend my night usually answering emails and finishing up paperwork. That’s my typical weekday.

What activities were you involved in throughout high school? Were there any experiences that were most memorable or life changing?

In high school I was on the cross country and I was captain my senior year. I was on the swim team, I was involved in honor choir, and I did the musical every year. I wasn’t always accepted because I didn’t want to conform to the norm and I didn’t really care what other people thought. Then I remember my senior year I was voted homecoming queen, and I remember thinking, “This is what happens when you don’t let people tell you who to be. This is what happens when you are yourself. People end up liking you.” It was a life affirming moment in high school.

Besides interning and being Zeta’s president, what other activities are you involved in?

I’m pretty busy with school and Zeta. I work part-time during the semester. I was in hall council my freshman year and was a representative my sophomore year. Now I am not as involved since my meetings conflict.

What has your experience been like going to college in New York City?

It was hard at first because it was totally different from where I grew up. I grew up in a tiny town in Colorado and I wanted something different for college. I came up here and didn’t know anybody. At first it was exciting like I was on vacation, but then I realized that this is where I would live for the next four years. It was a bigger transition process, but now I’m really glad I came here because I feel like I became very independent and that I could go anywhere else in the world and feel comfortable and figure out where I’m going. It’s been hectic and sometimes a little stressful, but in the end I’m glad I came.

What motivates you in your everyday life?

I have different motivations for different things. Especially for Zeta, my friends and sisters in the organizations motivate me. There are some days when I’m working all day doing Zeta stuff and I get exhausted, but then I realize I’m doing it for all of my friends, and that motivates me.

I’ve also always been a self-motivated person. I like to stay busy and keep going and think about my post-college life. I want to have enough experience to make money and support myself. I am past the living-with-my-parents stage in my life.

Who is your role model?

This was actually my entrance essay for college and I picked Walt Disney. I remember my first line being, “I am Walt Disney’s fairytale princess.” I think he’s a good example because I love the fantastical aspect of all of his work. Nothing was too much or too absurd to be a story. He was also a great storyteller and that’s one thing I would love to do, whether it’s fiction or journalism. He’s definitely one of my role models.

I’m also not someone who idolizes other people. I think everyone is flawed and I respect other people for what they’ve done, but I don’t necessarily idolize celebrities or anyone. I could try to live up to certain things they’ve done in their life, but I’d rather look up to the me that I can be.

What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?

Stop stressing so hard about everything in life. I tend to over-analyze and find the stress in everything. I would tell my 15-year-old-self to take chances. At that age I liked to take safe choices. I would tell myself that it is going to be okay eventually, but that it is going to get worse before it gets better.