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  • Writer's pictureLara Draxler

2 years in Wales

I have waited to put this experience into one entry of its own because it is so foundational to my life and to my travel story. I have alluded to the fact that I lived in Wales for almost two years following my graduation from college. As a young girl who had a little international travel under her belt, I had NO idea what it would be like to LIVE in a country vs. visiting a country as a tourist.

This experience was ESSENTIAL to my formation as an adult, as a Christian, and as a human being. I learned more about myself in the almost two years that I lived in abroad than at at any other time in my life.

My old therapist told me I crammed 40 years worth of life into an almost two year span of time living overseas. LOL Was it crazy?! Heck yes. Was it the biggest adventure of my life? Absolutely. It was chocked full of highs, lows, and many of my firsts-first true love, first time being away from home for a year, first time living in a foreign country, first time opening a foreign bank account and getting a visa, first time living in a place with more sheep than people...

Was it EXACTLY what I needed to become a fully functioning independent adult who could cook, clean, pay bills, drive a manual (sort of), move to a new country, learn a new language, and learn all the skills of "working with diverse people and personalities 101?" YES and YES!

I don't even really know how to encapsulate this story, so for brevity's sake, I will say I applied to a nonprofit through my church that offered 2 year programs for folks who had just graduated from college to live and work abroad, somewhat like the peace corps. When I was hired, I was given a literal BINDER full of potential places that I might go to for an assignment. I narrowed it down to Western Europe and from there Wales in the UK. I accepted a very pioneering position with a minority storytelling project.

I was told to live in the country, study and record things about the culture, interact with native Welsh speakers and learn the language myself, and work on recording stories in Welsh with mother tongue speakers. A bit of a tall order, but I took it. I would say on the whole, I was successful in many ways with the assignment, but I learned so much more that had nothing to do with what I was being paid to do there. I can't wrap all that up in a neat tidy list with a bow, but as I reminisce, I am reminded of some amazing things that happened while I lived in Wales.

  • learning a Celtic minority language to about an 8th grade level of use. One of my bucket list items is to return to Wales and do more Welsh language courses

  • living in South Wales (Cardiff) for a summer for Welsh school and then moving to the North and living in Caernarfon

  • falling in love for the first time-I had been on dates, I had had crushes, I went to prom blah blah...but I had NEVER been in true love before I went to Wales. I can truly say I have been in love 3x in my life. I could NEVER love anyone as I love my Chuck, but I would not have been ready to meet him had I not fallen in love/experienced relationships/my own issues in relationships that I experienced before I met him. I won't go into great detail here to protect my privacy, but I will say that it was ESSENTIAL for me to go to Wales and fall in love, and experience heartache. I would not have known myself or God in the ways I needed to had this not occurred. I certainly wouldn't have been prepared to love Chuck in the ways I need to today.

  • doing mundane things in a foreign country that became big things-paying bills, opening a checking account, driving a stick shift car on the left side of the road, buying groceries and learning to cook in another country, etc etc. ALL of this showed me how to be independent and unafraid to make mistakes. It also made life seem so simple and straightforward when I returned to the states.

  • people skills-during my time abroad, I met and worked with many various people and shall we say, "personality types." Some were glorious and some were very hard for me to deal with. I realized I had come from a very sheltered, secure, loving home, and not everyone I met was the same. It was hard and frustrating, particularly to my faith, when I encountered those who were less than Christ like in their dealings but proclaimed to be "working for God." Those things are hard for me to type. And I went to therapy for years working out some of the hard things I dealt with on an interpersonal and work life level when I lived in Wales...but the plus side, God was ABUNDANT in giving me the most beautiful Welsh friends. I have never felt so loved and seen as when I experienced my first Christmas away from home in a Welsh home, when I went to get a hair cut and was shown the kindest friendship from the stylist, and when my driving instructor put up with ALL my anxiety and emotion in the car. Those people are gifts of grace who showed kindness to me. I am forever grateful. I will never forget them, and I can't wait to introduce Chuck to many of them.

  • travel to other places-when I lived in Wales, I took full advantage to travel to other places in Europe, some for work, some for fun. While I lived in Wales, I spent extensive time in Ireland and in the Netherlands. I also traveled to London, Germany and Greece. My love of Europe was solidified, and I will always want to return for repeat trips.

I could go on endlessly about this 2 year experience, but I can mainly just express what an education it was !!! I am so thankful. I would highly recommend a gap year or time abroad to ANY young person. You will learn MORE than you ever could in a class.

I think it was Tennyson who said "I am a part of all that I have met." That is Wales to me. A huge chunk of my heart that I can never ever let go of. The Welsh have a word "hiraeth." It is almost impossible to translate to English but it loosely means a longing for home. 'Hiraeth' is a word which cannot be completely translated, meaning more than solely "missing something" or "missing home." It implies the meaning of missing a time, an era, or a person - including homesickness for what may not exist any longer.

I feel so much of that for Wales. Hiraeth that will never be fully quenched. I have visited since I lived there and I can't wait to visit with Chuck. But, this long sappy post is huge THANK YOU/Diolch yn fawr iawn to Wales and the beautiful people I met there who shaped my life forever.

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