home sweet home

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This recipe isn’t really anything spectacular.

I mean, it’s chocolate and Oreos and cheesecake, so you can’t go wrong…but while it’s certainly delicious, the recipe was just taken off the back of a very un-gourmet box of Baker’s chocolate.

BUT (and here’s a really big but) this cheesecake is pretty special to me because I made it on the eve of my departure to Ireland, where I spent the semester studying abroad in Dublin. So this makes me a little sentimental, and I would prepare yourself for some emotional mushiness as I reflect and ramble about my thoughts for a little while. Bear with me…or just X out and wait for some beautiful Barcelona pictures in a couple days, it’s up to you haha. It’s gonna be a long one.

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I made this cheesecake in January, just three days before I left, and it was the last thing I’ve made in what seems like an eternity.

What a difference a few months make.

It’s crazy when I try to wrap my head around it all. Part of me doesn’t even believe all the places I went, things I saw, food I ate, experiences I had, people I met… any of the things that happened to me over the past few months.

But now I’m back home, and it’s even more ludicrous when I think about how different the world seems to me now–how much has changed in my life and how much I’ve changed as a person since that day just a few months ago.

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I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thrilled to come home. I can tell that many people think I’m a little bit insane to have been glad to return to boring little Pennsylvania, and not to have wanted to stay in Europe forever, travel to exotic places, and have endless adventures. But I have to admit that I was SO ready to go home. I was tired of traveling, tired of living in a place where I was never quite fully comfortable, and most of all, I missed my family and friends too terribly.

I am so blessed to have had the opportunity to live abroad for a semester and travel to nine incredible countries, and I’m sure the memories I made will last a lifetime. What I am even more thankful for is the better person that I’ve become and the new perspective I have towards the world. One of the more obvious and expected changes is becoming more independent. This semester abroad was something way bolder than I’d ever done before. Honestly, going to college nearby and going home frequently was not such a huge step for me; this was a gigantic leap outside of my comfort zone. I had to learn to navigate in foreign lands, stay safe and vigilant, take charge of unfamiliar situations, deal with unexpected changes and curve balls (something I am HORRIBLE at). I was not used to taking care of myself, nor was I used to taking completely responsibility for everything I did since I was on my own, especially when things went wrong. Basically, this was a much needed crash course in being a real person, and although it was frustrating and scary sometimes, I don’t think I’ve ever grown so much.

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It sounds so cliche, and I’m cringing as I type this next part but…this semester was life changing. I saw more than I have ever seen before in my life, and yet there is so much more to see. It was a strange lesson in perspective, because even though I felt so much bigger to be independent and succeeding at it,  I felt tinier than minuscule at the same time at the vastness of the world. Everyone knows that “there is so much out there,” but I don’t think I really understood until now. It opened my eyes to it all, but being away also allowed me to finally see things clearly about myself.

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It made me realize what’s really important to me–that what matters most is my loved ones, who they are and how much they really mean to me. I was floored, again and again, by the amount of love and support I received. It’s hard to find people who will love you no matter what, and it was overwhelming (mostly in a good way) to realize who will actually be there for you despite the distance. How being hundreds of thousands of miles away from people you love can amplify the sadness of missing them that much more, but knowing that you are so loved can also make it bearable.

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I expected the homesickness, and I knew it would be rough at times, but of course you can never truly prepare yourself for what life has in store for you, much to my chagrin (and not for lack of trying). Even though I became stronger and more independent, at times I felt more than a little lost. But my friends and family were tremendous. When I didn’t (and still don’t) know what to do and feel like I’ve lost my way, they know me better than myself.

This is what I learned: I chose my friends for a reason, and those reasons really shined this semester. I knew my friends were fantastic before, but now I see that they care about me and my happiness more than I can fathom, and I cannot thank you all enough for everything. Mistakes, failures, and hard times are inevitable, and the people who stick by you during those times are people to hold onto. They can recognize when you’re happy or not, so if you’re coming to them for guidance, pay attention to what they say.

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Going abroad is, at this point in my life, probably the best thing I ever did for myself. I took classes with international students, experienced major culture shock, learned to fend for myself, got my heart broken, traveled to over twenty cities…the list is infinite. I can say without a doubt that I’ve never lived and learned so much in five months.

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This experience changed me for the better in many ways, but at the same time I haven’t changed at all. It’s crazy because you don’t notice anything different from day to day, but when you look back, everything is different. I know I’m a better, stronger, more independent person, which is what I set out to become at the start of this semester. I was so thankful and so anxious to go home–something I did not expect. It’s a wonderfully bittersweet feeling to miss and be missed. It was one of the most valuable (and most drastic) learning experiences, and I needed to be put out there.

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Finally, I am happy as a clam to be back in my wonderful home, to be reunited and bask in the love of my family and friends, and to spend the summer is a much loved and familiar place. It’s also scary to spend the summer at home, preparing for my last year of college and life afterwards. Most of my friends are scattered all over the place, making it feel like we’ve already grown up and left. For someone who hates uncertainty and is obsessive about planning, the future is the scariest thing, and it’s hard to know when you’re going about it the right way or if all the ups and downs will lead to what you’re hoping to find. But this semester has made me feel a little more at ease about this whole growing up thing.  I think you need to know what you want and try to get it. That’s the only thing you can do. The other part is not in your control. You have to have faith in yourself. Faith in trying and failing, losing and still being alright. And even when it seems like everything is going the worst it could possibly go, it’s always for the best (sorry for the sappiness).

So it’s back to reality–which means back to baking (hooray!) and back to working and studying (boo). Ultimately, I couldn’t be happier.

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By the way, if you want this recipe…check the back of a box of Baker’s chocolate :)

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