Thursday, January 26, 2017

An American Road Trip: Floridian Fun in the Sun

The two years that I spent in South Florida as a member of AmeriCorps were full of some of the most memorable moments in my life. The work and the people that I meant during my service are things that will stick with me for the rest of my life. The thing that has continued to amaze me is the quality of friendships that I made while living in one of the richest areas of the United States. A handful of those friendships helped bring me back to the beaches, heat, and palm trees.

When Trisha and I parted ways at the airport in Austin, I headed east to Fort Lauderdale. I was picked up by Ryan, the husband of one of my roommates during my second year, Kourtney. While I was really excited to see Kourtney and Ryan, I will selfishly admit that I was actually more amped about seeing their dogs, Taz and Zoey. These two were a huge part of my service both years and I had missed their energy and sloppy kisses while I was in Colombia. Needless to say, some much-needed puppy therapy was in order during my stay.

Kourtney and Ryan were gracious enough to let me stay at their apartment, which was absolutely beautiful. I had a great few days catching up with them and, of course, soaking in quality time with the pups. But those four weren’t the only reason that I went down to South Florida. I made a stop at the Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County to see my former bosses, Brad and Audrey (or Braudrey as they were known during my service). It was great to fill them in on my comings and goings, while also getting an update on the current AmeriCorps group. I wish that I had had more time to spend with them, but other places were calling my name.

For lunch, I went back to my second-year service site, EdVenture, and met up with my former counterpart, Carly. It was a blast not only being able to see her but most of the other staff that I served with during my time at the charter school. I was also able to meet the current AmeriCorps members that are serving at the school and got to share some of my AC and PC experiences with them. After school was done, I accompanied Carly back to her gorgeous house and we did some more catching up.

For dinner that night, I went to the house of one of the families that I used to tutor for. We had a very lively discussion about my time in Colombia and my thoughts on lots of topics (ranging from education to the recent election to cultural differences). Angelina’s mother (the girl that I used to tutor) is from Peru and it was very interesting to compare my experience in Colombia with hers growing up in Peru. The night ended with several pleas for me to move down to South Florida (including an offer to just live in their spare bedroom!)

The rest of my time in South Florida was spent relaxing with my two favorite furry friends, going for walks and runs around the neighborhood, and cooking up a storm to express my gratitude for the hospitality Kourtney and Ryan extended to me. As my time in South Florida came to an end, I was able to spend one last night with Brad, as we went to a brewery down by the airport. He dropped me off and I readied myself for the next leg of my trip: up north to Tampa.

Tampa presented me the opportunity to cross paths with multiple people from different parts of my life. I was picked up at the airport by Cassie, another AmeriCorps survivor from my second year. She and her boyfriend Ryan have a cute little apartment near downtown that offered the perfect accommodations for my stay. Cassie currently is teaching 6th grade Language Arts at a charter school in the Tampa area and invited me to come and present to her students about my time in Colombia. While a bit rambunctious, the presentations went well and I think the students learned quite a bit about life outside of the United States.

The next path that I was able to cross (on the spur of the moment) was my friend Kevin. Kevin and I first met while participating in Camp Adventure Child and Youth Services in college. The summer that I spent in Italy Kevin was in Germany and we were able to meet up twice that summer (in Rome and in Salzburg, Austria). Since then, he has become an Occupational Therapist and is currently located in a community north of Tampa. It just so happened to be his birthday, so Cassie and I headed up to a brewery to meet up with him and a few friends to help celebrate his big day. We played multiple rounds of Cards Against Humanity and reminisced about the good ole days of Camp A.

The third path that I crossed during this trip was with my friend Donna. Donna and I first met in Korea through the volunteer group Mannam. She was a science teacher on the military base located in Seoul and opened up her home to us multiple times for parties and other get-togethers. She has since moved back to the Tampa area and is currently teaching Language Arts at a local school. We went down to the Riverwalk and had a very enjoyable lunch at a restaurant right on the water. Afterward, I was able to accompany her on a few of her dog-sitting stops. A massive lover of pets, Donna has become involved in animal shelters and pet-sitting for owners while they are on vacation.

My time in Tampa was wrapped up with another visit from Kevin at a brewery that was decorated like a giant aquarium. We played darts, drank some delicious brews, and ended up at a burger joint that was the perfect way to end my brief time in Tampa.

I’m excited for my next trip down south. Not only is it warm and sunny, but some of my favorite humans make it a place that I will always enjoy visiting.

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