When I graduated college in May of 2015, it was the culmination of any and all plans I had made for myself. After graduation, what was supposed to come next? I had never planned that far.  I come from a single-parent, low-income household and I knew the way out of my small town was to get an education. At that point,  my singular focus in life was to be accepted into and graduate from college. Along the way, I changed my neuroscience major to a double major of International  Studies and Media and Cultural Studies. I saw the world. I had the good fortune to travel to Peru, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Panama and Spain through scholarships, education grants, and my own hard earned money and determination. My desire to travel only grew as my final years of college came to an end. Where was I to go next? Would I enter the workforce? If so, in what field and in what city? I decided to throw caution to the wind and follow my passion for travel and discovery.

What came next was a year of free falling through Europe in an attempt to figure out what I truly wanted to contribute to the world. This year was to take a step back, inhale, exhale, and find focus.


I began my new life in an English-teaching program called Auxiliares de Conversación in Vigo, Spain. For those of you who do not know where this is, well, neither did I. I began researching my new home as soon as possible. Vigo is the largest city in the region of Galicia. In Galicia, they have their own language called Gallego, their own customs, and their own cuisine. I learned a new language (graciñas Galicia!), taught over sixty immaculately dressed Spanish children, tried octopus, drank tempranillo, enjoyed the beach life, and met friends who will stay with me the rest of my life. I did all of this while still trying to find myself along the way.

Dressing up like mad scientists at our school on the outskirts of Vigo for our Carnival Celebration.
Patos- a beach about an hour away from the city center of Vigo.
Ilhas Cies – an island off the coast of Vigo.

Then, the rain came. Vigo is well known throughout Spain for it’s rainy season — that’s what makes it so green. Even though rain and sun, Vigo was our home, but my friends and I knew we wanted to take advantage of living in Europe. So, we packed our bags and followed adventure.  During the week of Semana Santa, the holy week following Easter, we decided some hiking and sun would do us good and so we set off for the small Portuguese island of Madeira, for one of the most beautiful weeks of my life. Madeira’s own motto is Das Ilhas as Mais Belas e Livres  — “of all the islands, the most beautiful and free.” I couldn’t agree more.

VEREDA DA PONTA DE SÃO LOURENÇO – A beautiful hike located on the eastern end of the island.
A man burning his crops on the northern part of the island.
Along the coast driving to our hike we stopped in a aldeia (small portuguese town) and I leaned over and captured this moment from the Madeira coast.
VEREDA DO PICO RUIVO – Our hike to find the staircase to heaven. Hint: we found it.
VEREDA DO AREEIRO – One of the most challenging hikes on Madeira. This beautiful, yet challenging, walk involves tunnels, steep ascents and descents with intimate views of the central
core of the mountains.
VEREDA DO AREEIRO – One of the many staircases in the clouds.

After discovering Madeira, I felt the familiar tug of an adventure beckoning. I traveled to Toulouse and  Barcelona before my year in Europe ended. Here, in these vibrant cities, I found beauty in the details.

In Toulouse, the pain du chocolat is still unmatched to any I have had in France. The streets were lined with roses. In the center of the city was a park, at the center of this park lay a gilded merry-go-round. I could not help myself but to think back to carefree childhood summer days.

Palms trees stood mighty above us in Barcelona as we walked on the outskirts of el barrio Barceloneta. With the sea breeze kissing our faces, we walked for hours through the city. . In Barcelona you find yourself slipping away into the beauty of the city, never wanting to leave the comfort and ease that this gorgeous, seaside paradise offers.

The last few months in Vigo passed by at a light-speed pace. On the weekends when the sun came out, a few friends and I took to the streets with our cameras and captured a few stunning moments. Vigo allowed me to be creative and to turn my imagination into a reality. This year was special because it offered me ample time to reflect on myself and to give me focus about my life plans. I finally started to be able to answer those year long questions. Using my friends as models allowed me to channel my creative energy into beginning the long journey towards a career in photography and video work.

I am immensely grateful for this past year of free falling. It allowed me to let go of the nail-biting anxiety surrounding finding employment after college. It allowed me to find confidence in not only myself, but in the world surrounding us. When it comes down to it, what made my year so special was not Vigo, Madeira, Moaña, Barcelona, Toulouse or any city I traveled to. It was the people who joined me on my journey, people who helped me find the beauty in the small things and in myself.

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Anna Andersen
Anna Andersen is the alumni of Macalester College where she majored in Media and Cultural Studies and International Studies. During her final years at Macalester she jumped into the film and photo world of Minneapolis by working on "Transagenda;" creating promotional videos for Mizna, the Arab Arts organization based in the Twin Cities; and collaborating on "Lifestyle Deathmatch" as part of the Fringe Festival. In 2015, Anna moved to Vigo, Spain to teach English and pursue her dream of travel photography and video. In Spain, Anna found herself rejuvenated and inspired by the beauty around her. Anna currently lives in New York City doing freelance video and photo work.

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