Incandescence

There’s something about the light. It seems to stream through the trees like melted butter, gliding through the air and infusing it with a soft, yellow glow. Now, it could just be the romantic in me glorifying my new home.  But, to me, there’s a certain je ne sais qoui in living by the ocean, surrounded by palm trees, brilliant people, and that incandescent glow that adds an element of magic to what is my Hogwarts.

So, yes, it is indeed the East Coaster in me being a dork over her cross-country move. I say it’s much better to be dorkily excited than cool and collected when it comes to starting the next chapter of my life—it’s validation that I’ve made the right decision.

Let me show you that little something extra I’ve been telling you about—it’s truly beautiful. Then again, it doesn’t necessarily hurt when you make friends with a kick-ass photographer, either. Owen’s talented; if you need any further proof, just keep scrolling.

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We started out at Royce Hall; it’s an iconic spot on UCLA’s campus, and its architecture is truly beautiful. It makes me want to sit in one of the arches all day, textbook in hand, playing the role of Hermione Granger at my dream school.

Next, we headed to the top of Janss Steps, another hallmark on campus—this is what I meant about the light. It adds an element of life that is all its own.

Now, let me tell you, I am sincerely proud that I am sitting here telling you the story of how I scaled a ladder up the side of a building wearing heels. Just for that, you can call me UCLA’s very own Bond Girl. But look at that sunset—the risk was entirely worth it.

And there’s a quick peep into the magic of my world. As for if I’m pulling off the whole Hermione Granger thing, I’ll let you know after midterms….

Huge shoutout to Owen, guys; I was really lucky to be able to work with him. Check out his Instagram at o.wen—you’ll be glad you did.

Until next time,
Aliana G. (G for Granger)

Back in Business

I know. I know, I know, I know.

It’s been a hot minute since I posted last. The whirlwind that has been the past few weeks is finally beginning to die down, and I am happy to say that I am back in business.

Ah, where to begin? Between saying goodbye to friends, packing my things, spending every last second with my family, cuddling my dog until the moment I got in the car to make my flight– it’s something I wanted to be fully present for. And then, man oh man…school has been BUSY.

Between classes, making friends, and getting involved in extracurriculars, it’s been a hefty amount to juggle. However, I am happy to say that I am a new member of Kappa Kappa Gamma, as well as a new campus representative as part of UCLA’s VS PINK Street Team! I have yet to hear back from a few other opportunities, so stay tuned 😉

But, I’m back, and I’ll be sharing what I’m up to! Until next time…

Aliana

I Am Insecure

I don’t know if this is something someone blogs about. I don’t know if it’s too personal, too weird; something people will look at just to snort irritatedly and look away, or to subsequently stick a label on me. But I started this blog with the intention of communication. I want to be able to share my experiences so that maybe, someone can relate. So that hopefully there some feeling of belonging between people no matter who they are.

And so here I am, labeling myself in the title of this post and then wondering if others will put labels on me in turn. To be fair, I did do it first, so I can’t entirely say much to each and every person that forms a judgement after reading this.

All I’ve truly sought for in my life is love. Love and its subsidiary, acceptance. I want more than anything for the people that I love to love me as much as I do them. It can be difficult when I have an image in my mind that I’ve created, and when something doesn’t abide by that image, especially when that image is the fantasy that the care I have for others is reciprocated.

I use the word fantasy because I would daydream about this all of the time. I wanted praise from my favorite teachers, I wanted people to be my friend as much as I wanted to be theirs because for much of my life my circle has been incredibly small. And I tried so hard to set these fantasies into motion, to make them reality, that I became, and still can be, the person that I think people want me to be.

Academics is only a singular example of the validation that I sought. I tried. I tried so hard, I tried to make the teachers like me by always giving more than what they asked for. In fifth grade I spent the entirety of recess adding to the free response portion of a chemistry-based science test we had been taking in the prior period. I wrote everything I could think of, connecting my facts in what I thought was brilliant fashion, thinking my teacher would love it. Instead, she irritatedly asked me to finish many times as I fact vomited onto that test for all of recess and the next five minutes of the class afterwards. It felt like someone had dumped water on my head; I had produced my absolute best in an effort to impress her and was met with indifference. In sixth grade, I gave my English teachers stories that I had written. She didn’t care, and so from that point on? I haven’t written creatively in six years.

Other examples? Friends. I spent all of middle school trying to impress one group of people in the hopes of being accepted. I bought the same clothes, the same lunchbox, begged my mom to buy the same food from the grocery store. I was rejected sometimes subtly, other times not as much; I remember some girls sneaking onto a bus, so that I wouldn’t know they were hanging out after school. I found solace in the very foods I asked my mom to buy me and put down bagels and pop-tarts as quickly as I could sneak them into my room. I just wanted them to like me.

I was blessed to become very close with someone I loved unconditionally in my high school years. This was the love that I’d always wanted. But I changed, again, like I always do, without even thinking about it, because all I wanted, and all I want, is to love.

Every person on the Internet and in real life would tell me that I first need to love myself. That’s beautiful in thought when in reality it feels like the equivalent to being told to draft the solution to world peace. There isn’t anything about myself that I haven’t once questioned, my body, my face, my mind, and there have been countless times where I have sunk into something deep, dark, and scary while I was too overwhelmed by it. It’s safe to say that from where I am standing in this moment, it’s hard to catch glimpses of sunlight.

I’ve messed up friendships, I’ve messed up relationships. I have done a lot wrong in my 18 years, and I have accepted myself to be what it is that others love. That’s all I’ve wanted to be, and it’s my biggest insecurity. And in this, I’ve let that insecurity lose friends and more because I have never been strong enough. To be my damn self. Only that I don’t know who that is. And there are so many things I wish I had done so very differently.

There you go. I don’t know what I sought out to accomplish by writing this, or if I should really post it because I have a little voice in the back of my head reminding me about appearances. About strength, happiness, having friends, feeling like you belong; when in reality, I have very little of each of those things.

I don’t quite see the way out of this mess in my head, but I’m hoping, to any God, that there is one. I want to be me, and I want to feel free, without feeling like a shriveled, dehydrated version of the person that I am supposed to be.

I’m sorry if any of you didn’t enjoy this or thought it was weird, pathetic, or anything else. That’s the people pleaser in me hoping that uploading this is the right thing. But I’m not sorry for sharing it. That’s something I want. I think. I desperately hope.

And to anyone that has any kind of battle with insecurity, you’re wonderful. I know you are.

Thank you for reading,
Aliana

See-You-Soon’s

It appears as if we as a society have deemed that goodbyes no longer exist.

With every parting of ways these past few weeks, the term goodbye has become exceedingly scarce. At least this is what I’ve noted; instead of using the age-old term “goodbye,” we have consciously thrown it out for the much lighter version of  “see you soon.”

Each of us has somehow been connected to this phenomenon, whether saying “goodbye” to a brother, sister, friend, best friend, boyfriend, parent, aunt, uncle, niece, or one of the many other variations that exist. It may just be in my experience that the popularity of “see you soon” has risen in popularity of the collegiate move-in polls (you can expect to begin seeing this on the nightly news), but I too have fallen victim to its allure. It allows for the softening of what is, and should feel like, a particularly sticky Band-Aid being ripped off: all the familiarity of life, our glue, is gone as we are exposed to a startlingly new environment.

And so, in my hardest goodbyes, I have been the one to stop mid-emotional turmoil and state: “This isn’t a goodbye. It’s a ‘see you soon’.”

The issue with this is that some goodbyes may be see-you-soon’s and vice versa. If we thought that the conclusion of high school would unveil who our true friends are, who we are still texting by the first week of July, then this is the ultimate test. Who will we be reconnecting with over breaks? Will the Snapchat streaks survive the brutality of distance, busy schedules, and full class loads? In the most cliché way possible, only time can tell.

I’m going to miss those that I’ve been close to, especially during this last summer. Some of these friends I know I’ll keep for a long time, and that we’ll support each other as we start our new lives.

Hopefully, I will see you all soon.

Aliana

Major Changes

I write to you now from the window seat of row 8 on an American Airlines flight to San Diego. I am one day away from my eighteenth birthday, about to meet one of my two roommates for the first time, be her guest for a few days, but not before spending three days at orientation at UCLA- the last day of which requires that we sign up for fall quarter classes promptly at 9 AM. You see, the interesting thing about signing up for classes is that in doing so, you are choosing what you are going to study. The unique thing about being at UCLA is that I already have a major: Neuroscience. But that isn’t what I want to major in. So what in the world am I supposed to be signing up for?

I’ve known this little fact for months; that’s a lie, more than just months. I applied to TJ, my now ex-high school, with an application geared for neuroscience. My personal statement was filled with little nuggets raving about how I had found my interest for the brain in my love for reading, letting my imagination run rampant as I stumbled across telepathy in my favorite fantasy novels. It was perfect in angling to me to ultimately end up in the neuroscience research lab my senior year: which is exactly what I did. But when the time came, five years after my acceptance to TJ, and all kinds of biology, chemistry, and physics classes later, I couldn’t finish.

Researching became something that I could barely force myself to do. My proposal was interesting, I had plans, equipment, all of the resources I could need, but what I lacked was the desire. I didn’t want to do it; I didn’t like it. In that, having already been accepted to UCLA as a neuroscience major, I realized I had created a very large problem for myself.

Is it my fault? Yes. I, the humanities kid, went to the most vigorous science and technology school in the nation. Good call? Oh, great call. Terrific call. I’ve graduated with a sort of science-phobia and a craving to finally, after so many years, put my heart into exactly what I love. The crux of this beautiful, inspiring and freeing decision is that until yesterday, I didn’t know what the hell I wanted.

Yup, I didn’t so much as grace the course catalog or list of majors more than once or twice in the months since my commitment to UCLA. All I kept saying to anyone who asked is that I wanted to switch my major out of neuroscience, but I couldn’t say to what. I was spewing all kinds of negatives while never affirming what my (obviously, very well thought-out) next step would be. So, yesterday, one day before I left, and under a ton of heat from my parents, I sat down in front of my computer screen with some purpose. English? History? As much as I love them, my parents made it clear they aren’t financing something they aren’t confident will put me solidly on my feet once I graduate.

A lot of researching, a lot of listening—to my parents, other counselors, and myself—have me in a spot where I actually just might be comfortable. I know that I find the brain interesting, but I also know that I’m allergic to the hard science that it can easily turn into. I have a love for writing that hasn’t died out since I was young, and I want to be able to use this time in my life to cultivate it for the first time. And, of course, there are simply things I want to learn; I am determined to study Italian, as well as live in Italy for some portion of my life. So, the grand result? Cognitive science, communications, and Italian. I might double major or double minor with two of these, no one knows for sure; but I’m done making sacrifices, and I will dedicate my time and hard work to what I love.

All that remains is that I talk to my advisors once I get to school and actually make this major change happen, petition and all. But the best part of how strenuous these past 24 hours have been is how calming it is to finally have some stability in mind. I went from the kid who never knew what she wanted—and I’m not joking here, seven-year old me’s indecision was pretty impressive, too—to a T-24 hour adult, finally spitting out the words that I have always been choking on.

The one thing I truly have to say following my high school experience, as I move into my college one, is this: free them. Don’t let the words die in your throat. They will accumulate and softly begin to suffocate you, until one day you try to inhale and can’t because your hopes and desires have wilted in the dark. You deserve more. We all deserve more. Let’s give ourselves everything we’ve got.

Aliana

Plovdiv & Sofia

Bulgaria is making a comeback! Especially since Plovdiv was named the European Capital of Culture for 2019 (bet you didn’t know that, huh?), all of the history and vibrancy that has simmered beneath the surface is finally coming to light.

We came, we saw, we conquered…that is, “we” being nearly everybody else in the region. Bulgaria has been conquered by the Greeks (so we have amphitheaters), the Romans (we’ve got stadiums), the Ottomans (mosques? check), before existing as a Communist state until the regime’s collapse. Each period of Bulgarian history is unique in its own right with each change of power and names. For example, Plovdiv? Say it to a Greek or Turk, and you might as well be referencing a crater on the moon. Phillipopolis, however? Philibe?

“Ahhhhh, yes, I know it!”

It’s a truly colorful land, patterned with different streaks of history, that has laid dormant for far too long. Let me show you around a little bit!

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The park located in the Center is newly renovated, complete with fountains, statues, and little kids running rampant up and down the paths. It was a lively atmosphere where not only would you find the aforementioned kids, but people of all ages out with their friends, whether it be for a stroll, to catch up, or have a smoke.

#plovdiv2019! This is also a new installment, courtesy of the funding the city is receiving having been named the European Cultural Capital. The Center of the city is especially transformed; there are new additions such as this, fountains, the restoration of the park, not to mention the Roman stadium, which you can see below…

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It runs for nearly a kilometer UNDERNEATH the city. Plovdiv is built on two ancient cities that came before it; thus, there is nearly constant excavation. Dig a little over here, some over there, oh hey, it looks like someone’s house from a few thousands years ago! It’s truly incredible, and the history of this place has laid beneath the surface not only in spirit, but as literally as possible. The streets are finally coming alive.

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There you can see our resident 13th century church and the amphitheater! Both are still completely functional. In the traditional Orthodox way, my mom, sister, and I entered the church to light a candle. This is where you can send up a prayer or make a wish- between the three of us, we aren’t religious, but I believe in the spirituality that accompanies such encounters.

And, though you may not have guessed it, the amphitheater is still in full swing! There are operas and shows held nearly regularly at night, which is especially beautiful due to the fact that it is not only in such a setting, but also that the city can be seen behind it.

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Before I knew it, the time had set on my time in Plovdiv…it was terrific being able to see my family after so many years, and for the first time to truly experience my culture with clear eyes and an open heart.

But never fear, the adventures don’t stop here! (Since I know you were positively terrified, of course.) Next the three of us, and my mom’s best friend- one of the most fantastic people I know- hopped on a bus to Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital. We waved our goodbyes to my grandparents and uncle, watching as their faces became specks the farther we traveled from the bus station.

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Now, this building is a five minute walk from the hotel in which we were staying. It was the previous center for information during the Communist era in Bulgaria. My mom used to work here, once she moved from Plovdiv to Sofia to become a student; and in doing so, learned things she didn’t know existed. The existing propaganda had left her blind to what was truly going on: the arrests, beatings, the work camps. She took action; but this is a story for another time, one which I promise to tell.

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On a happier note, the Center of Sofia is as beautiful as that in Plovdiv. It’s filled with people walking, riding bikes (you might’ve picked up on that), and is filled with shops, restaurants, and cafes of all kinds. Cafes are an epidemic here- I swear I always had at least five or six in my line of vision. I noticed this in Plovdiv, too: at all hours of the day, you can find people simply sitting in cafes, talking to friends, on their phones, or literally just sitting, I kid you not.

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That is the Supreme Court! I loved how many trolleys I saw running up the streets- it maintains Bulgaria’s culture as a fusion of past and present.

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The historic theater is right at the edge of a beautiful park, one in which my mom remembers studying as a student at Sofia University. Which leads me to…

 

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We stepped in and took a look around! My mom mentioned she remembered studying linguistics in that building- her dream was to become a diplomat. She was also an activist at the time, participating in strikes and more, some of which took place in the square with the statue that you see above. Like I said, her story is coming!

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And finally, the last highlight I have for you is the Russian Orthodox church. It’s truly magnificent and regal; the interior is as grand as the exterior. I wish I could have taken some pictures, but, of course, no photography was allowed.

That sums up my time in Bulgaria! I hope you might’ve learned a thing or two, and that you might even pay us a visit sometime 😉

Ciao!

Alianka

The Life Within the Wrapping Paper

People are fascinating— there is a certain mystic beauty in trying to piece together someone’s life, a story entirely their own, simply by catching a few seconds’ worth of them, or perhaps by sneaking in a photograph that you can then look back at. It’s a guessing game, one entirely based on judgement, one that can be extremely accurate based on the opinions of the person making the judgements. However, it makes no story any less unique or worthy of being presented.

I admit that I’m guilty of having taken a few thousand pictures these past few weeks, many of which are of myself and family, but when walking down the street my lens feels magnetized to the energy of the people around me. The individuality of life is so alluring, and I want to capture it if, and when, I can.

I have two days left before I not-so-happily have to come home. However, I still want to share some of the pictures of those around me that I’ve already taken, some after I’ve shamelessly asked for their photograph, and others that have caught my eye from a distance. It’s not quite like “Humans Of,” as I don’t have their stories to share with their images, simply where I was when the photo was taken.

You’ll also note that I included some shots of animals that I found as I wandered. They are nearly all strays and survive off of the goodwill of the people around them.

What I’ve learned from taking these pictures, and looking at them again, is that life is truly a gift. It may come in different wrapping paper to different people— some in paper, others perhaps in a Cartier bag. Yet we are all blessed with the fact that we are alive, and in this life, have the opportunity to influence other people’s lives. It’s never too late to be humbled, to help others, and to be the best people we can be; and we can never be reminded of this too often.

These span from Plovdiv, Sofia, Athens, Santorini, and Istanbul. Use your imaginations…

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Plovdiv, Bulgaria/A girl and her pretzel sticks

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Plovidv, Bulgaria/A boy with the puppet master

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Plovdiv, Bulgaria/Two boys playing in the fountains

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Plovdiv, Bulgaria/The turtle that lives in our house in the village

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Plovdiv, Bulgaria/A little girl dancing at an outdoor concert

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Plovdiv, Bulgaria/A cat dozing outside of a shop

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The Old Houses, Bulgaria/A lizard…being a lizard?

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Sofia, Bulgaria/Posing for the camera 😉

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Athens, Greece/On the tram en route to the beach

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Santorini, Greece/A Chinese bride and groom on their wedding day

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Santorini, Greece/A stray dog sleeping in the streets

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Istanbul, Turkey/Two boys running a corn stand

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Istanbul, Turkey/A woman feeding a flock pigeons (all of which are not pictured)

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Istanbul, Turkey/A waiter since the age of 9.

For this last photograph, I do have a story. This is Batuhan. He is 14 and about to start his first year of high school, a memory I’m sure many of us look back on with a mix of anxiety and excitement. The reason he is dressed in a waiter’s uniform? He has worked at a fish restaurant since the age of 9 and takes care of his younger siblings. The other waiter at the restaurant, the same age as Batuhan, is the 11th of 16 children.

I hope you enjoyed this photographs, and have managed to craft your own stories to accompany each one.

Humbly,

Aliana