Brussels Recap | The Unexpected Lesson I Learned at Faces2Hearts Training + What's Next

I know what you’re thinking… TWO POSTS IN TWO WEEKS!? Who even are you?

Don’t worry. It’s still me, guys! - your favorite lazy blogger… though, lately, I’ve been feeling far from lazy.

I still haven’t been too active here on the blog, but I’ve been feeling super inspired, and motivated, and I am working hard behind the scenes to bring some pretty big plans to life.

As excited as I am for everything that’s coming up in the rest of this year, I figure it’s well past time to bring you up to speed on what’s been going on lately.

If you read my last post, then you know I was recently selected to be one of 20 vloggers on this year’s Faces2Hearts team - a project sponsored by the European Union which will take me to SIERRA LEONE for a month next year - (more on that here)!

Less than two weeks after the ambassadors were announced, we were off to Brussels for a week of training… and WHAT AN AWESOME, HECTIC, TRANSFORMATIVE WEEK it was.

Here are some of the highlights, the unexpected lesson I learned, and what’s next.

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The metaphorical first day of school

Arriving in Brussels for training felt a bit like showing up to the first day at a new school.

I was filled with an unsettling combination of excitement, nervousness, and anxiety… which I guess makes sense given the circumstances.

It hasn’t felt like the first day of school in a LONG time! It has been a long time since I travelled solo… since I met this many new people at once… and a longggg, LONG time since I had the opportunity to be a part of something so much bigger than myself.

Plus, when I arrived in Brussels, (at the tail end of Ireland wedding festivities and a short but sweet sister visit in Malmo) it had also been a very long time since I had a solid night’s sleep… So, that was the first order of business. As soon as I arrived at the hotel, (at about 3 in the afternoon) it was LIGHTS OUT.

I woke up a few hours later to my phone buzzing with messages from the other ambassadors. They were making plans to meet up for pre-training drinks that evening.

I wanted to go and knew that I should… but I almost didn’t because I was THAT damn nervous.

After nearly letting anxiety get the best of me, I got up, put on some pants, and went out to get the “first day of school” out of the way… and I’m so glad I did.

We met for drinks and chats and what ended up literally being a FIRE sunset.

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If I had to describe my first impressions using a single emoji, it’d be the shocked, bug-eyed, speechless one… Because I was like, “HOLY COW THESE PEOPLE ARE AMAZING HOW IN THE WORLD DID I GET HERE!?" And, “How cool is it to be sitting in a group THIS size… and no two people are from the same place!?” And also, “We are casually chatting about our upcoming trips with the EUROPEAN UNION to Pakistan and Bhutan and SIERRA LEONE! WHAT IS THIS LIFE!?”

I have never felt more out of my league in my entire life… In a good way.

Turns out, sometimes it takes being out of your league to be in the right place.


A BATTLE WITH IMPOSTER SYNDROME

One of my favorite Confucius quotes says, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, then you’re in the wrong room,” and this has never been more relevant.

I can confirm with full confidence that I was not the smartest person in a single one of the training rooms or conference halls I found myself in while in Brussels. I did, however, FINALLY feel like I was in the RIGHT room… and heading in the right direction.

…but brains are complicated.

As happy as I was to be IN the (at this point, metaphorical) room, I was also seriously questioning my place in it. Anytime it was my turn to talk or introduce myself, my heart rate quickened and my palms grew sweaty (knees weak arms are heavy). I had a MASSIVE case of imposter syndrome.

Research shows that 70% of people experience these feelings of self-doubt at some point in their lives… even the most successful, powerful, and seemingly confident.

It’s wild isn’t it? How we can want something with all of our hearts, work towards it tirelessly… then feel like we don’t deserve it once we’re finally there.

I’d love to say the imposter syndrome went away… but it didn’t. I struggled with it (and was low-key defeated by it) for the greater part of the week. I was also being defeated by some wicked allergies, which made for one heck of a double whammy.

Truth is, I was so nervous and in my head about whether or not I belonged there, that, in the beginning, I was hardly showing up as myself.

That’s the funny thing about imposter syndrome… when you give in to it, you BECOME an imposter.


European Development Days Conference

A few days into training, it was time for the European Development Days Conference, and, yes, my imposter syndrome was THRIVINGGGG.

This is the first conference I have ever attended, and what a place to start! - Rubbing elbows with presidents, diplomats, and young leaders from around the world… Oh, and a queen! Super casual.

Day one was overwhelming, surreal, and I again felt way out of my league.

My lack of sleep was finally catching up with me, and the exhaustion had joined forces with my seasonal allergies. I wasn’t looking OR feeling hot, but there was no time for self doubt or being under the weather. As luck would have it, we had our photoshoot that morning. It was time for pics! And time to vlog!

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Our on camera presence, interview skills, and ability to produce under pressure was put to the test… and, in just two days, we produced our first two videos as duos.

It was intense to say the least, but with only a week to train and practice working in pairs, it was necessary to be in “GO” mode at all times.

While producing our video, we didn’t have much time to attend talks at the conference, but we DID explore some of the 100+ stands in the Global Village. Each one showcased successful projects and ground-breaking reports from around the world, but one in particular caught my eye… A stand serving up a next generation, gender-sensitive cup of coffee (which is something I seriously needed and was intrigued to find out more about).

Thankfully, two of the stand’s representatives from Trias and Tropix Barista were kind enough to fill me up with coffee and agree to being interviewed for our video.

Something about diving into this video project brought me back to myself a bit. I still had my doubts about my own abilities and our ability to work together as a team, but I was reminded why the heck I was here in the first place.

We took our final shots of the coffee stand, and one of our interviewees asked me, “So how long have you two known each other?”

She was shocked to discover that we met a few days prior and commented on how well we worked together. I’m SO thankful for her very unexpected compliment. The little vote of confidence was just what I needed to stop stressing and overthinking things.

On day two of the conference, as we finished up our final video edits, my imposter syndrome started packing its bags and slowly vacating my brain space. Perhaps it was the creative juices, or maybe it was just a caffeine rush from all the coffee… but I was feeling reassured… more like myself… and more like I was right where I was supposed to be.

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In the midst of all the EDD madness, we had an impromptu Q&A session with the 1-minute video legend, Nas Daily.

He was asked to do a video takeover for EuropeAid’s InstaStory, and, just before the recording started, said a bit nervously, “I’m shy on other people’s cameras.” I thought to myself, “Noooo. Way. How does this confident, outgoing guy who makes videos EVERY DAY expect me to believe he’s even a little bit shy!?”

…Turns out, he was kind of reserved in person, and shy when put on the spot… which made me realize that THIS IS NORMAL (and then I felt a bit better about having been a shy little chicken for the greater part of the previous few days).

Nas may have pronounced North Carolina towns incorrectly, but he gave us a lot of inspiring advice about creating, finding your passion, and wholly devoting yourself to pursuing whatever that is.

One thing he said that really hit home was, “The act of creating is the sexiest thing in the world,” and I felt that to my core… it’s about to get real sexy over here because the creative juices are flowing strong.

I’m already looking forward to going back for the 2020 EDDs, and seeing all the video magic each team creates between now and then.


Vlogging… Lots of vlogging

I know I literally JUST talked about how much video making we did during training, (something I probably should have expected given the whole project is centered ENTIRELY around video)… but I’ll say it again because it was easily the biggest challenge I faced all week.

Ironically enough, even though this edition of Faces2Hearts is technically a vlogging project, most of the ambassadors don’t consider themselves to be “vloggers,” myself included.

Being in front of the camera is actually still WAY out of my comfort zone. Building my confidence and learning to not take myself so seriously is going to be a challenge… but it won’t be the only one.

Turns out, working in pairs to make a video is NO WALK IN THE PARK.

There is a 100% that each team had some issues, and there’s a 100% chance we’ll all have issues again.

The whole thing is going to be a huge challenge… but it’s also an awesome opportunity for learning and collaboration that I highly doubt I’ll ever get again. I for one am fully prepared to get off my high horse, step out of my creative box, and open myself up to learning, growing, and doing things differently.

By the time training in Brussels came to an end, my camera was out of auto mode and I had finally started learning my way around shooting manual. I also gave Spanish Premiere Pro on my partner’s computer my best effort… butttt that didn’t go quite as well. It’s hard enough in English, ya feel me!?

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Exploring Brussels

As hectic as the week was, we somehow had time to explore the city, too!

This was my first time in Brussels… but it definitely won’t be the last.

I indulged in quite a few Belgian beers (obviously)… more than my fair share of waffles (I now understand what all the hype is about), and, of course, Belgian fries… (which, if I’m being honest, were just okay, but this was 100% made up for by the Andalouse sauce on the side)!

Maybe it’s because we had a few F2H locals showing us around, but, I found Brussels to be pretty underrated. Mannaken de Pis on the other hand is not underrated. I’m not sure what makes this baby statue peeing into a fountain so special… but it still manages to draw a very large, inevitably let down, crowd on the daily.

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One place in Brussels that should get MORE hype is the Parlamentarium… No, seriously…

I’m not usually a museum person, but this interactive exhibition was really interesting. It put things into context in a clear, comprehensive way, and I left with a much greater understanding of how the European Union came to be and how it works today.

More importantly, after taking a little walk through history, I was reminded that World War II really wasn’t THAT long ago… and that peace and stability in Europe is a pretty recent thing… a thing many of us so often take for granted… (lookin’ at you, Brexiters).

The exhibition, which can be experienced in 24 languages, is open to the public seven days a week… and, here’s the best part - it’s completely free… making it a must visit if you like free things or just want to learn more about what the heck the EU actually is and does.

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Surprise FAMILY VISITS

Of all the training week experiences I’m thankful for, I think this one takes the cake.

Originally, my family was going to come to Sweden after Rachel’s wedding in Ireland. It would have been the first time they’ve visited me abroad since I left home in 2015, so I was pumped!

Then I got the F2H news (which I was obviously still pumped about)… but, being selected meant I would be in Brussels instead of Sweden when they planned to come visit. Ya win some, you lose some, eh?

We enjoyed the family time we had together in Ireland, Rachel came to Malmo for a visit (that I was here for likeeee 12 hours of), and then we said our goodbyes… the inevitable part of living away from home that has yet to get any easier.

It wasn’t until after I’d arrived in Belgium that my little sister told me she and her boyfriend had booked a trip to Brussels for a few days! Before Ireland, I hadn’t seen Bethany or the rest of my immediate family in nine months… so it was so nice (and a bit surreal) to see her again in Belgium of all places.

When I wasn’t busy with training or out with the other ambassadors… I was soaking up some very unexpected quality time with these cuties!

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The unexpected lesson I learned at training

Training week was eye-opening (big, bug-eyed emoji style).

It was refreshing to be among so many people who, despite our different countries, backgrounds, and cultures still have so much in common. They are some of the most talented, inspiring, photo-loving humans I have ever met… and I’m so thankful to be among them.

The biggest lesson I learned at training didn’t come from a seminar, a museum, or a panel of experts. It was a sense of clarity and direction that evolved thanks to them…

I am amazed by their backstories, their experience, their video skills… and their ability to seamlessly switch back and forth from one language to another.

Many of them are already doing the things that I’ve been talking about WANTING to do for ages - having their work published, producing professional videos, working with NGOs around the world, and using their creative skills for things that actually matters.

I AM out of my league here… and it’s time to level up.

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Sooo, What’s next?

Well, among other things, language learning!

I’m runnin’ a sweet 29 day DuoLingo streak and am more committed than ever to learning Spanish, Swedish, French and whatever other lingos I can fit into my brain. I’m trying to challenge myself and start using my brain to its full capacity… because I definitely hadn’t been. (Plus, I really want to take another crack at Spanish Premiere Pro).

In terms of HallAroundtheWorld, I’m going to keep writing… but I want to focus a lot more on film and producing content that will actually make a difference.

When I started this website, I had no intentions of being a “travel blogger.” Lately, the whole genre has become so oversaturated, superficial, over-copied (sometimes word for word)… and I am kinda over it.

Training in Brussels was hectic, but it gave me sense of clarity about my “what” and “why” that I haven’t had in a longggg time. I’m still working on the how… but I guess the secret in getting where you want to be is to just BEGIN somewhere.

My journey to Sierra Leone is a long way off, and, in the meantime, I don’t want to lose this sense of direction. Soooo, I’m going to start walking the walk… to go for it and keep going for it until I figure out exactly what “IT” even is.

WHEW! That was a long post! Thank you for listening to my TED Talk…

Nowwww, if anyone needs me, I’ll be escaping the cold, dark Swedish winter in my happy places… and working on video and writing projects that actually matter… even if it means going for broke for a bit.