Ariana Brodsky is a close friend in my circle. We connected as exchange students in Germany in 2005-2006 and have stayed in touch since. We make great travel and discussion companions and I am so fortunate to have her in my life. Ariana is dedicated, thoughtful, intentional, smart, deep, compassionate, and fun.

In 2005, right after I graduated high school, I was an exchange student through Rotary International. Rotary youth exchange is a wonderful, well put together program. For almost a year, I lived in the Frankfurt area and remained close to the other exchange students, like Ariana, in my area of Hessen. I won’t take up space in Ariana’s piece to gush about the beauty, challenge, and adventure of my exchange experience. (Perhaps I’ll save this for another blog post.) It was one, if not the most, most influential years of my life.

Ariana and I spent time together while on exchange – visiting each other and catching up at the various Rotary functions. Our quirky personalities meshed really well - we had a lot of fun and good conversations.  Although I am still connected to many fellow students from my exchange year (mostly over social media), I have stayed in really close touch with Ariana.  

 Ariana is from Illinois. After her exchange year during high school, she went on to get a Bachelor's degree in Germanic Languages and Literatures. While in college, she spent a year in Latin America – Argentina and Mexico. While she was in Argentina, I had the opportunity to visit her! This was my first (and, well, only) time in South America. We stayed with her lovely adopted host mom, Alicia, who fed me like a queen. (Mostly because she was excited to have a fellow meat eater in her home. But, dang, those empanadas. .. . I am NOT complaining!) We celebrated Christmas in Argentina and then traveled to Chile’ for New Years.

That trip was full of so many wonderful and hilarious memories – like visiting the Argentine Ear, Nose, and Throat Doctor, only to discover I had not, in fact, lodged anything in my ear, getting my beautiful back tattoo (with Ariana doing all the translating/talking with the tattoo artist), almost passing out from said tattoo experience, experiencing lemon mint chocolate chip ice cream (holy yum!), making lots of guacamole, walking in mountains, buying and eating pounds of local, low-cost fruits, and playing with Alicia’s super cute dog, Camilo.

Ariana has a love for languages and learns them at (almost) every opportunity. Her recent focus has been on Dutch, which she absolutely loves. (Dutch is always fascinating to me because, when I hear it, it sounds like someone is speaking German but exclusively with words that are not in my vocabulary. Ha ha.)

Currently, Ariana works as a freelance translator and language tutor. She has been living with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disease (SEID) for the last four years, which, she says, has been very hard but also very fruitful. She became a Christian somewhere between her sophomore and junior year of college, and being sick has forced her to grow in her faith like nothing else could. So, she says, she wouldn’t trade the experience. Eventually, Ariana wants to move to the Netherlands and do Christian ministry there - perhaps in the red light district.

I admire many of Ariana’s traits. I think partly because of her personality and partially due to her illness, Ariana is very slow, steady, and relaxed. Essentially – the opposite of me! She is mindful and careful in a beautiful way. Ariana is bright and has a fantastic mind. I admire her linguistic abilities. Ariana is also a strong individual. For the longest time (maybe years!), Ariana would visit the doctor and describe her symptoms, but they could not identify a diagnosis. They’d simply send her away and insinuated that she was making it up. In her own strong and steady way, she pushed back!

I align with many of Ariana’s views on life and the world. I love that, spiritually, our views may differ but we always find points where they connect. We have some great talks! Also – I love the dorky German things we do together (that most Germans would never do) – like watch the German Children’s News and listen to “Ich Kenne Nichts” on repeat!

I have visited Ariana in Champaign a few times and hope to visit again soon. I enjoy spending time with Ariana and love our catch-ups over the phone. Ariana is someone I will always have in my circle.

 Read about what and who inspire Ariana! Also, her words of advice below. . .

 What inspires you? And, what do you care about deeply?  

I care about people. People as individuals. I care that the people around me have their needs met. I care that the people around me feel safe enough to express their needs. I care that people feel at rest in their own identity and at peace with themselves and with God. I care about knowing people deeply and being in relationships marked by love, generosity, forgiveness, transparency and vulnerability. I'm inspired by the early church, where ‘all the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts...’

I'm not sure why, but one of the pictures that inspires me the most is the bishop in the beginning of the recent Les Misérables movie. Jean Valjean, the main character, has just been released from a brutal 19 years in prison in France in the early 1800s. He stumbles around trying to find someplace he can sleep and some way to get food. Just when it looks like he's done for, a bishop takes him in and offers him food and shelter. But during the night, Jean Valjean gets up, steals all the silver from the bishop's cabinet and runs. He's caught by the police, which is basically a death sentence, or at least imprisonment for life. The police bring him back to the bishop, dump out all the silver and say, "He had the nerve to tell us you gave him this." The bishop then says, "That is right. / But my friend you left so early / Surely something slipped your mind." He gives him the two silver candlesticks left on the table and continues, "You forgot I gave these also; / Would you leave the best behind?" Every time I think about that, I am greatly moved by that picture of the apex of generosity. Jesus said, "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." That is the kind of 'abundance of the heart’ I want to have. And I want to see more of that in the world.

What women in your life or throughout history inspire you?

Women who inspire me... a lot of different women inspire me. Mostly women I know personally. I think once you get to know someone well enough, everyone has something in them that you look at and think, "Wow, that's an incredible character trait/talent." I think I'm especially inspired by women who are wise. Women who pierce straight to the heart of matters; women who see things clearly from many different angles; women who can be simultaneously loving and impartial; women who are excellent at formulating practical solutions to problems; women who somehow always say exactly what you need to hear to be comforted or challenged or both; women who absorb wisdom from others and have a treasure trove of sage words to draw from; women who rarely get angry because they exercise such understanding towards others... there are a lot of ways that wisdom expresses itself, and they all profoundly impress and inspire me.

If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be and why?

One piece of advice for my former self. I think I would say, "Let it be." Like the Beatles song. I was always trying really hard to fix things, specifically in my relationships, and I think my life (and my friends' lives) would have been a lot easier if I had learned to step back and just let things be. Not that I do that perfectly now, but I'm learning. :)

This March, I am celebrating all the amazing women around me! Sharing women who have influenced me and make up my personal history. As the month goes on, you can see all my Inspiring Women posts here!