Finding purpose during my Gap Years


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1. Pain & frustration lead me to venture out

2. An adventure worth while

3. I move to Colorado

4. Finding my Solemate

5. I move to Brazil

6. We travel back to America

7. Marcos meets the family

8. Marcos goes back to Brazil & the challenges we faced

9. Marcos lands job in England​

10. Marcos’ family visits​

11. Marcos Proposes

12. I start my Grad Program​

13. My final thoughts on my Gap Years

Pain & frustration lead me to venture out

After ending a toxic relationship with an ex-boyfriend, I felt so distraught and helpless. I ended a relationship with a person who left me feeling drained –  emotionally and financially.

I had also just recently graduated from the University of Tennessee, so needless to say, I was also trying to figure out what my next steps were for my life. With these two factors factors in mind, I knew that I needed to do something – something new and different.

So I reached out to some people who had also felt the same way I was feeling. They worked at High Country Adventures – a white water rafting company that I grew up around – they were Raft Guides. I grew up around the white water rafting company, because my aunt and my mom had both managed the retail store at High Country Adventures for many years – my aunt for 10 years and my mom for 13.

As I was obviously around High County Adventures, because my family had worked there, I had formed strong friendships with many of the employees – the Raft Guides and the retail store employees.

After growing up around and even working at High Country Adventures in the retail store – and the fact that I was in an unprecedented situation – I decided that I wanted to follow in some of the other Raft Guides footsteps — to venture out to Colorado to work at another white water rafting company.

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An adventure worth while

Upon getting a contact from one of the Raft Guides, I got in touch with this person who managed a Rafting & Zipline company in Colorado — Arkansas Valley Adventures. Fortunately, after speaking with him, I was able to secure a job as a Sales Associate working in the retail store at Arkansas Valley Adventures.

So I packed up my bags, stuffed my car with clothes and camping equipment, and then drove 17 hours  to Colorado —  all by myself  —  ready to take on this new adventure.

Traveling Jess with bluetooth on
Cooler with food and drinks for the road
My Packed Car
My Bible
My snacks for the road

It was honestly the craziest thing I had ever done. I literally drove straight through – for 17 hours  — while taking a few hour nap at a rest stop. Once I arrived in  Colorado, I was mesmerised. It was the most beautiful place I had ever seen.

Beautiful Colorado ‘Rockies’

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My arrival at Arkansas Valley Adventures in Idaho Springs, Colorado

When I first arrived, I immediately started working in the retail store at Arkansas Valley Adventures. As I have worked at a number of retail stores – from Victoria Secret to High Country Adventures, not only did my customer service skills kick in immidately, but so did my bubbly personality.

I’ve got to say, I truly worked with some of the best people – additionally, I made lifelong friends with many of them.

What made us such good friends?

Well, it was probably the fact that we were all just “trying to figure it out”. We had all been dealing with our own personal difficulties and traumas – and honestly, we just needed a break from life and a chance to embrace the beauty of the planet that God had given us and to “find ourselves“.

Me & the girls
My sweet Tennessee friend Kelsey
Lifelong friends with Lynsdsey
Friends at first sight with Sarah
Lifelong friends with Naomi

About 20 of us lived our tents  – and sometimes even out of our cars at times – for three months. There were also many times where we crashed with other people, whom we knew, who actually had a home. 😂

Now I know what you’re thinking at this point, “these people sound like they just wanted to be homeless”, but honestly, we were just trying to live the greatest adventure of our lives. We truly didn’t have a care in the world, and we lived life to its fullest that summer.

Funny, but true story, I was the one with the most obnoxious tent. It was big enough to fit about 20 people (it had two rooms), plus I also had a huge blow-up air mattress as well.

Because I knew I was going to be living out of this tent for three months, I figured I would at least “try to be comfy”. Although, I did have to have my friends help me set up the tent every time we moved to different campsites – yeah I was “that person”.

Even though we were living in one of the most beautiful places in the world – the Colorado Rockies – we still had to be careful, because we were, of course, living amongst the wildlife: such as bears and mountain lions. Fortunately, though, we never saw any mountain lions (although, I swear I heard them at times). On the other hand, we did actually see bears as we approached  one of the campsites where we relocated to – that made me a bit nervous, needless to  say.

On the bright side though, all 20 of us stuck by each other’s side during our camping experience/outdoor living. We cooked together over camp fires, took care of one another, visited gym facilities to shower, and ultimately we just enjoyed each other’s company.

Aside from these great friendships I formed, I also made some really great memories with them as well – we went hiking on the snow-filled mountains of Colorado, we Ziplinned through the gorgeous tress of Colorado, and last, but not least, we went rafting a lot on the Upper Clear Creek, which featured Class V Rapids – they were seriously the craziest and wildest rapids I have ever seen.

Me with Raft Guide Rachel and guests

After about 3 months of enjoying this amazing adventure, I decided that I loved Colorado too much to leave. So I needed to find another job in Colorado, as my seasonal summer job with Arkansas Valley Adventures was coming to an end.

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Finding my Soulmate at Vail Marriott Mountain Resort

Fortunately, I was able to find another job and continue living in Colorado — in Vail, Colorado at the Vail Marriott Mountain Resort a ski resort.

I was hired by Vail Marriott Mountain Resort to work as a Front Desk Agent. Additionally, employee housing was available at the resort – so I decided to also take that opportunity to live in employee housing as well.

Me in my Front Desk Agent uniform with my colleagues who were dressed up as Santa and an elf

I’ve got to be honest, it was so nice to not be living out of my car/tent like I had been for three months. It was fun while it lasted, but I was ready to get back to normalcy.

The employee housing, where I lived, was so big and beautiful – and I quickly made friends there. Many of them actually worked at the same place where I worked – Vail Marriott Mountain Resort.

On the other hand, little did I know, because I made the decision to stay in Colorado, this was just the beginning to finding my soulmate, and my destiny.

As I began working at Vail Marriott Mountain Resort, I made many friends. Additionally, I once again got in touch with my superb customer service skills. But more than this, I meet the love of my life  —  Marcos.

Marcos worked at the restaurant as a Server at the Marriott Mountain Resort where I worked. He knew many of the people I knew and we quickly became friends from the very first time we hung out. I wish I could say it was love at first sight; however, I was very cautious about getting involved in another relationship after the last few toxic ones I had before.

However, it didn’t take him long to convince me that he was truly one in a million.

As I got to know this amazing man in Vail, COwhom I now call my husband – it seriously went beyond anything I could have ever imagined. He was always kind and such a gentleman. Therefore, it did not take long before the ‘L’ word was said.

Marcos told me he loved me into the first week of us dating – and me, being scared and hesitant about getting into another relationship, didn’t exactly say it back; however, I quickly realised my feelings for him and the next day I told him, “I loved you too”.

During the first month of us dating, we truly had the time of our lives getting to know one another, barely leaving one another’s side. We went on many adventures during our time together in Vail – from skiing, to going to concerts, and we even took a trip to see the X-Games competition with some of our friends. We seriously made the best memories during our time in Vail!

While our feelings were very strong for one another, I knew he was going to have to leave to go back to Brazil to finish his Degree in Engineering.

So after about a month of us dating and enjoying every moment we had with one another – it was time for him to go back to Brazil. But even though he was leaving, we knew this was not goodbye. We both knew in our hearts we would be together again real soon. But in the meantime, we settled with many many FaceTime calls until we were reunited again.

Mine and Marcos’ FaceTime calls

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Heading to Brazil for 6 months to be with ‘My Love’

After about 6 months being a part, I began to make plans to reunite with Marcos; therefore, I had to go to the Consulate General of Brazil in Atlanta, Georgia to get my Brazil Visa. The visa was only for 3 months; however, I was able to renew my visa for another 3 months, while I was in Brazil. I was beyond excited about this next adventure I was about to embark on – and I was ready to be reunited with my love, my soulmate Marcos.

Now, I had never travelled outside of the United States before; on the other hand, I felt confident that Marcos was going to take excellent care of me and help me to adapt to this new culture, which he did.

When I first arrived, he showed me our new home. Marcos worked especially hard to make sure our first home was perfect – and it was!

Once I got settled, Marcos took me to meet his family. We actually had to travel all across Brazil to see most of them. We travelled to IndaiatubaBrasília, and São Paulo – we drove to and flew to some of these places.

When I did finally get to meet his family, I fell instantly in love with them, because they were much like Marcos – sweet, kind, caring, and loving.

And then, after meeting his family, we went on many adventures. Marcos took me to see so many places in Brazil. First, we went to Monte Verde where we stayed in a beautiful chalet. There we also went horse back riding, sunset four-wheeling, and hiked a beautiful Brazilian hiking trail.

Aside from all of our adventures, I was also his “cheerleader”, because he was a Formula 1 race car driver for his University – he was on the EESC USP racing team. He and his teammates actually got to participate in a Formula SAE Competition – which they won.

Marcos also took me to see some of the things I greatly enjoy – such as parks and zoos. I seriously love anything that involves nature and animals.

Video featured below: Our adventures we went on once we were reunited in Brazil.

Pursuing my dream to write a book

Marcos was also so amazing, because from day 1 of us dating, he has always supported my hopes and dreams. Therefore, during my time in Brazil he encouraged me to pursue a dream I have always wanted to do – which was to start writing my book. Therefore, he set up a nice big desk in one of our bedrooms, so I would have plenty of writing space. I actually got most of my first book wrote while I was in Brazil. I spent everyday writing in it, when we weren’t travelling that is.

Marcos 100% supported me in this dream of mine, so he made sure I had a  nice size desk and whatever else it was that I needed.

I dedicated half my day – everyday – to write my book (when we weren’t traveling that is). I actually got most of my book written during the time that I lived in Brazil. I am currently in the process of getting it finished now – and hopefully I can find a publisher soon so that I can get it published.

My book that I am writing is about my life and the many challenges I have had to overcome. One of the main challenges in my book is how I survived 28 brain surgeries and what kept me going.

As for Marcos showing me all that you could see in Brazil, he sure did not disappoint. He took me on so many adventures all across Brazil. We visited Brazilian beaches and took trips to São Paulo and Brasília.

Video featured below: Adventures we went on during my first 90 days in Brazil with Marcos – my love.

Our first home, our first time living together, was an adventure I’ll never forget!

Marcos always went above and beyond to let me know how much he loved me. He would always leave me cute notes on our bathroom mirror before he went to school and he would make me my favourite Pão de queijo, Brazilian cheese balls.

One things for sure, Marcos did not disappoint!

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Time to go back to America

Unfortunately, my time in Brazil had come to an end. It was the best experience living with Marcos for the first time in our fist home. We made so many great memories during my first time in Brazil – memories that will always be remembered.

I was sad to leave Brazil – on the bright side though, Marcos did go back to America with me. He was finally going to meet my family face-to-face, instead just speaking with them through a mobile device on FaceTime.

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Marcos finally “meets” my family

Up to this point, Marcos had only communicated with my parents using  FaceTime; however, he was now finally going to officially meet my parents – face to face, not on a mobile device, in Tennessee – and they of course loved him!

He not only got to meet my parents but he also got to meet everyone – from close of ours family friends to many other family and friends. There most certainly was not a dull moment! We sure did have fun!

Marcos even got to meet my grandparents in Florida as well.This was so special – as I love my grandparents dearly and I definitely wanted Marcos to meet them.

As we were opening presents together, my grandma shared with us the story of ‘why’ she hides her chocolate. To hear her story watch the video below.

Shortly after our visit to Florida, Marcos had to go back to Brazil to finish his Engineering degree and I had to stay in America until we could figure out a new game plan. Once again, we knew we would be back together again – unfortunately, we had to endure more time a part and continue on with our long distance relationship, which meant – lots more FaceTime calls.

Video featured below: Marcos and I said our farewells at the Groom transportation where he was getting a lift to go to the airport.

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The challenges we endured while we were apart

During our time a part, it was extremely hard. We did of course did many FaceTime calls, but we of course missed each other like crazy. Since I stayed in America living with my parents, I decided to get back to work. So I got a job working at High Country Adventures as a Photographer.

I honestly really enjoyed my photography job – that is, up until I got injured in a car accident while driving to go take rafting photos.

Car after accident

I tried to continue to work; however, I was not well enough and had to stop.

Eventually, after having many shunt-malfunction related symptoms – severe headaches, nauseous, and extreme fatigue – I eventually found out after getting a CT scan that I was indeed experiencing a shunt malfunction, which meant I had to have brain surgery to get me well again.

And I wish I could tell you it took just the one surgery to get me fixed, but it  took not one, not two, not three, but four brain surgeries before I was feeling well again; however, I didn’t know I needed that fourth surgery until I visited Marcos in England, but I’ll get to that…

1st Surgery in Nashville, TN following the car accident (September 12, 2016)
2nd Surgery in Chattanooga following the car accident in Chattanooga, TN (September 30, 2017)
3rd surgery in New York following the car accident (May 17, 2017)

Fortunately, Marcos was able to visit me several times, in America, while I recovered from brain surgery. He was actually able to be there for me during one of my surgeries that I had done in New York. Marcos and my dad drove from Tennessee to New York, while my mom and I got flight assistance from Angel Flight.

I was so very grateful for all of the support I got from my family, friends, and of course Marcos. Honestly, having support like this helps me get through the unprecedented times of brain surgeries – as well as my faith.

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Marcos gets a job in England

After Marcos spent about a month with my family and I, he went back to Brazil. He was applying for jobs like crazy and fortunately, his dreams came true – he was offered a job with Jaguar Land Rover in England, which meant he was moving to England – and I was going to go with him!

Once I recovered a bit more, I bought a plane ticket to go visit him in England. It was such an exciting time, he was getting his dream job and we were finally on our way to getting our future figured out.

Provided medical assistance during my travels to England

When Marcos and I were once again reunited, I was beyond excited!

It had been a pretty rough year of constantly having to have brain surgery after brain surgery, and honestly I was just ready to relax and enjoy my time with Marcos.

Marcos once again choose another beautiful home for us, plus we live in the middle of the city centre, which makes it easy for me to get around with considerations to the fact I wasn’t going to to attempt to drive at that time.

Unfortunately, our happy reunion in England was short lived as I began to feel unwell again. I experienced severe headaches, vomiting, and I was even loosing control of other bodily functions. It was very scary; however, I am so very grateful that Marcos listened to his gut instincts and got me to the hospital, because I was indeed having another shunt malfunction and my shunt was 100% broken. It had to be replaced immediately. It was the matter of life and death!

Another brain surgery

4th surgery in England following the car accident (January 30, 2018)

I was so very grateful to the NHS for taking such good care of me!

Granted it was still a scary time for me, because I was in a foreign country having another brain surgery, with consideration to the fact that I wasn’t exactly used to the accents or the verbiage that they used over here; for example, instead of saying, “we are taking you to the OR (operating room)”, they said, “we are taking you to the Theatre” – and this was of course very confusing to me. I may have been having a shunt malfunction, but I do remember thinking, “wait I’m having a shunt malfunction, it’s not time to go see a movie.”

On the bright side though, my brain surgery went very well! The NHS doctors and nurses took excellent care of me – as well as Marcos who came to visit me as often as he could, coming right after work to spend a few hours with me before visiting hours ended.

I ended up spending a week at University Hospital Coventry & Warwickshire. They monitored my progress and made sure I was well before sending me home. Fortunately, I was doing well after surgery number 4 (post my previous car accident), so they decided to send me home. I will forever and always be grateful to the NHS for taking such good care of me – and to Marcos who was very supportive!

A time to recover

During my recovery time, Marcos made sure our home was a peaceful environment – and of course supported me in any of my hopes and dreams that I had for the future.

As my faith has always been the number one thing that has gotten me through many of my brain surgeries, I decided that Marcos and I needed to find a Home Church in which we could start attending regularly. Fortunately, we were able to find one – Christian Life Ministry. It is such an inviting church and we felt very welcomed there.

As I continued to recover from my brain surgery, Marcos tried to get me out of the house as often as possible.

We took walks in our city centre and we even ventured out by taking trips to London. Marcos and I are typically adventurous people anyways, so it’s only natural for us do things like this, plus I think it really helped speed up my recovery.

Seeing how Marcos and I weren’t married yet, at that time, I couldn’t exactly get a visa through Marcos in order to stay in England with him. So, that’s definitely when I started putting the pressure on Marcos, “where’s my ring!?!”.😂🤣😂

Personally, I knew I couldn’t take doing the long distance thing anymore. I wanted us to figure out a more permanent solution. However, little did I know, Marcos was cooking up “a plan”. But in the meantime, Marcos’s family came to visit us.

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Marcos’ family visits

While I was visiting Marcos and recovering from my England brain surgery, Marcos’ family came to visit us. We not only took his family for a tour around our city, but we also hopped on the train and took them on a tour of Birmingham, London, York, and Scotland.

Our Fukuchi group was a group of 12 of us – running around all over England and to other countries – Scotland and York on trains – having the time of our lives. It was honestly an adventure I’ll never forget.

It was so exciting getting to see some of my Scottish heritage, because I am  part Scottish myself. I remember growing up, I always wanted to visit Scotland when I was younger. I grew up making my grandmothers Scottish Shortbread and writing essays about the Scottish culture. So needless to say, it was a dream come true to be able to visit a country that I feel so connected to.

While we were in Scotland, I got to see so many castles, agriculture, and famous attractions. We also wondered the streets of Scotland and even saw some street performers as you’ll see in the video below – a street performer performs a levitation act dressed as Gandalf in front of Edinburgh Castle.

I was actually seriously confused as to how this street performer was doing this. It didn’t make sense to me how he was doing this. I still to this day don’t understand how he performed this levitation act.

While we were in Scotland, we actually rented a car so that we could see more of the country side of Scotland. We got to see the beautiful mountains of Scotland, as well as its agriculture.

The Hairy Cows were probably my favourite. They were so big and beautiful. I could have stayed there forever looking at and petting these beautiful creatures.

We seriously had the best time hosting Marcos’ family in England as well as exploring the European continent! It was beyond one of the funnest adventures I have been on, besides we did have the best company – Marcos’ family! Marcos’ family is very special to me and I will forever be grateful for how they have welcomed me into their family!

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The Proposal

While I was in England I began to contemplate whether or not I should go back to school to get my master’s degree in journalism. So after giving some serious thought, I decided to apply to Birmingham City University for the Multiplatform & Mobile Journalism Program. Once I submitted my application, I realised I was going to need to go back to America to get my student visa sorted.

On the other hand, I hadn’t been yet accepted, but I just had a good feeling about it and I knew I had to go back as school would be starting soon and I didn’t want to waste any time. So I began to pack.

As I was packing, Marcos came into the room and told me, “I got us tickets to visit a castle – Warwick Castle.”

At first I was like, “Marcos I don’t think I have time to go visit a castle. I still have so much packing to do.” Fortunately, though, he managed to convince me to go. On the other hand, I still gave him the hardest time in his attempt to propose to me. For example, I wanted to see this bird show; however, Marcos – with the ring in his pocket – kept trying to get me over to this spot in front of the castle, so that he could propose.

Since I was being so stubborn and impossible, he didn’t want to give it away what he was trying to do, we ended up seeing the bird show before he “popped the question”.

All I have to say, I am so grateful that Marcos is such a patient man.

Eventually, he got me over to the spot where he wanted to propose to me – directly in front of Warwick Castle. Additionally, the spot where he proposed to me was at that moment closed off, but we talked the lady who was working there to let us take some pictures of the castle real quick. Needless to say, when the lady saw Marcos get down on one knee, she definitely wasn’t pressuring us to leave. We actually got a round of applause from across the pond when others saw what was happening – Marcos proposing. It was super romantic!!!

Video featured below: Marcos Proposes to me in front of Warwick Castle.

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Accepted into the Multiplatform & Mobile Journalism MA Program

Fortunately, in the midst of me running back to America to get my visa stuff sorted, I did get a phone call from the head of the MA Multiplatform and Mobile Journalism Program, Professor Paul Bradshaw. After speaking with him, he confirmed that I was  indeed accepted into the MA Multiplatform & Mobile Journalism program at Birmingham City University. So needless to say, Marcos and I were well on our way of officially being together on a more permanent basis.

I was beyond excited to start this next chapter in my life – just knowing that I was going to be with the love of my life permanently and pursue a master’s program in journalism, it was beyond anything I could have ever imagined.

Birmingham City University

Journalism has always been at the root of my heart; therefore, I knew taking this next step of getting a master’s degree in Multiplatform and Mobile Journalism was only going to help further my career in journalism.

The start to my Grad program

I started off my Grad Program with meeting some really incredibly sweet people. Even though I was a long way from my native country – America – my colleagues made me feel right at home!

At the start of our program, my Professor Paul Bradshaw sent us on a mission – an exercise – to get our Journo brains going. It was a rather fun exercise – Platform Publishing, because I was able to bond with a colleague of mine who will be a lifelong friend, Fahima Khatun.

Me and my colleague Fahima Khatun

The idea behind platform publishing was that we were going to learn “how to do journalism” by publishing content on social media platforms.

Platform Publishing essentially consists of:

🎥 A video interview with a newsworthy individual (e.g. a councillor/politician, police officer, business owner, local celebrity, participant in newsworthy event). 🎥 Practical content: show how to do something (satisfying an information need).                                                                                                                               🎥 Infographic: what people need to know about X.                                               🎥 Translation: making documents and data accessible to the community that those documents/data affect.                                                                                       🎥 Create discussion.                                                                                                    🎥 Event coverage.                                                                                                         🎥 News story: using social techniques (e.g. use a sequence of images or video clips or a Twitter thread.

With platform publishing, I learned just “how to do journalism” by communicating important or useful information to an identified audience. Furthermore, Fahima and I were sent out to the city of Erdington. We were told to use the Twitter platform in order to send out live updates – aka tweets – to update our audience.

It was exciting to get out there on the streets of Erdington with Fahima to get the inside scoop of stories as we began our Grad Program.

Going back to school to get my Postgraduate degree in Multiplatform & Mobile Journalism, after exploring the world during my Gap Years, was most definitely the best decision I made.

During my studies at Birmingham City University, I learned about the Fundamentals of Journalism in the the digital age: trends, tools, and technologies. After gaining this knowledge in Multiplatform & Mobile Journalism, I feel more prepared now more than ever to pursue a career in Journalism. I also feel more confident in myself and I know now that I can  do anything I put my mind to and pursue my Journo ambitions – to become a Presenter/Reporter at a Broadcast News Station.

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Final thoughts on my Gap Years

Taking advantage of my Gap Years to travel led me on the greatest adventure of my life – I found my soulmate, travelled and lived abroad, ended up getting my Postgraduate degree in Journalism, and I’m now living in the UK with my husband.

I have grown in so many ways – I learned more about myself and I have grown even more so in my faith. I’ve also learned, sometimes in life, even when things seem impossible, there is still hope – you just have to believe in yourself, be courageous, and the sky is the limit!

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