Reflections On Returning – I’m Back!

Well hello there, everyone, it’s been a while!

On August 23rd, 2013, I boarded a plane headed for Brussels International Airport. It was one of the most exciting and terrifying moments of my life, knowing that the next 10 months would be spent in a French city that was entirely foreign to me. Nine hours later, we touched down on Belgian soil and began a very stressful 3-hour journey to our final destination, Lille, France.

Starting with that first train ride from the airport to Lille, there were many moments during my past year abroad when things did not go as planned. Over the course of those 10 months, a plethora of missed stops, misunderstood sentences, frustrating encounters, and worn-out shoes rattled hard on the boundaries that had previously contained my comfort zone.

My experience of living in a different country taught me countless things about myself and other people, but one of the most important lessons I now realize I learned was how to become comfortable with living uncomfortably. Now, of course, I don’t mean that my rented room was literally uncomfortable (I quite liked my 9-square-meter space). But, by default, existing in an environment where many things are out of your control and do not go as planned means that you will have those awkward encounters with strangers, those stressful conversations with the bank and immigration office, or perhaps the frustrating exchange with the residence office insisting that you have indeed already paid your rent for the past two months, thank you very much (true story). Personally, I had to learn to adjust my expectations and focus on goals as opposed to achieving them smoothly. Sometimes, you just have to walk in blindly with fingers crossed.

It would be impossible to write a summary of my year in Lille that would accurately express everything that I experienced and saw, but I can say that I am so entirely grateful for those moments of being uncomfortable. As individuals, we do not have power over how everything goes in our life. Sometimes, you have to fight for what you want in a language that you still aren’t 100% fluent in with someone who is treating you rudely when you’re exhausted. It happens. And you will get through it.

For moments like this, it's all more than worth it . (Greystones, Ireland)

For moments like this, it’s all more than worth it . (Greystones, Ireland)

Ultimately, I couldn’t be happier that I was lucky enough to study abroad. All of those stressful moments were more than worth it, and I wouldn’t take back any of them for a second.

Summer in Mexico

More than 300 feet in the air...and I was even brave enough to hang upside down!

More than 300 feet in the air…and I was even brave enough to hang upside down!

It was May 20th, 2014 at 6:05am. I was sitting in seat 25D of a Delta flight headed for Atlanta and, later, Mexico City. I had just finished my freshman year of college a week prior and now here I was on my way to Mexico for a 10 week adventure. That’s right I was headed to Mexico for 2 ½ months. I was there primarily for academic purposes; I took classes at the local university for a month and did an internship for the last 6 weeks. Of course, that wasn’t all I was going to do- traveling, eating tacos, and taking siestas were all on my very long “Must Do in Mexico” list. Now that I’m back, I can tell you that my “What I did in Mexico” list is far more amazing. I traveled, ate tacos, and took siestas but I also went ziplining, visited incredible Zapotec ruins at Monte Albán, and watched the sun rise over the tallest mountain in Mexico as I hiked up it. And the whole trip, 10 week trip, was free.

That’s right, I went to Mexico all summer and the only things I paid for were things I chose to buy, like artisan market souvenirs and delicious street food. When I applied to Juniata College, I received a scholarship called the Eagles Abroad scholarship, which covered the cost of the summer in Mexico. In the spring of my senior year of high school, my Juniata admission counselor let me know that I was being considered for the scholarship because of the level of Spanish I’d had in high school. I, along with many of my peers, interviewed on campus (partly in English, partly in Spanish) for one of a few scholarships. I remember the cold April day I got the call that I’d gotten the scholarship. I was excited, but I had no idea just how much this opportunity would change my life.

The sun rising over the Orizaba Peak, or Pico de Orizaba, the tallest mountain in Mexico.

The sun rising over the Orizaba Peak, or Pico de Orizaba, the tallest mountain in Mexico.

After the first four weeks of classes, some of the people on the trip went home. Me and two of my peers stayed for the optional six week internship. We were set up with an internship that was related to our POE; since I’m an Early Childhood and Special Education POE, I was interning at a private school for four weeks and a social work agency for the last two weeks. At the school, I started out just observing the teachers and helping individual students; by the end, I was teaching full time and designing my own curriculum for the two week English intensive summer course. At DIF, the social work agency, I helped plan and run workshops for a week-long summer day camp for over 100 children and adolescents. On the weekends, I attended fiestas, traveled, and explored the outdoors (ziplining, hiking, etc.). By the time the ten weeks was up, I felt very attached to the city and so confidently independent that I didn’t want to leave.

Me with some of my students on my last day at the school.

Me with some of my students on my last day at the school.

But rosy retrospection is very real and the Mexico I like now is the same Mexico I sometimes hated when I was there. The earthquake we experienced the first night there didn’t help the homesickness and culture shock at all. If anything, it made them worse. There were moments when I got really annoyed with Mexican culture and just wanted to live in a place where I felt 100% comfortable and safe (a.k.a. Juniata). I felt horribly guilty that I didn’t get to watch my sister perform in her dance recital (this was made worse by the fact that I had danced with her at that studio for 10 years and this was my first recital as an alum). I didn’t spend the summer at Girl Scout Camp like I have every summer since I was six. I missed my best friend like crazy.

Overall, though, I’m so glad I did it and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. Leaving the comforts of life in the US and, more specifically, my normal life was really scary. But the friendships and memories made there made it all worth it! Plus, my Spanish was pretty bueno before I left but now it’s fantástico!

This Week at Juniata: Week 3

Lobsterfest 2014

Lobsterfest on the quad.

Lobsterfest on the quad.

This past Saturday was Lobsterfest. For those of you who don’t know, Lobsterfest is a Juniata College tradition established in 1988 in which students have an opportunity to join a variety of campus organizations. Registered student organizations line up on the quad and offer other students information about the club and a chance to sign up. Then, lobster is served for dinner (steak, chicken, and a vegetarian option are available, too).

Lobsterfest definitely attracts a lot of students to the quad. As a freshman, I remember feeling a bit overwhelmed not only by the amount of clubs available, but also by the variety. With over one hundred clubs and activities to choose from, it’s easy to find ways to get involved. Personally, getting involved with Eagle Ambassadors and the Juniata Activities Board really helped me to make some friends as a freshman. Juniata has organizations for students interested in art, advocacy, club sports, communication and business, culture, the outdoors, science, service, and spirituality.

The best part about Lobsterfest is that it is an event that is inherently Juniatian. Everyone is friendly and welcoming; if you want to join a club to learn a new skill, that’s not only acceptable, but is also encouraged. If you’ve never touched clay in your life and you want to join the pottery club, go for it. If you want to learn the art of beekeeping, there’s a club for that, too! Also, Juniata students are characteristically very passionate about their interests. Lobsterfest is a way for (especially new) students to find students who care about the same activities that they do and to be welcomed to a part of the Juniata community.

This Week at Juniata: Week 2

This Week at Juniata: Week 1

The People You Meet

Lauren web cropped.fwGoing to college is all about new experiences, even if it also feels like you’re leaving things and people behind. As a senior in high school, I knew I wanted to attend college, but I knew that I would need a job on campus to help cover the cost. I wasn’t looking at a job as this perfect way to meet people since I was leaving my great high school job. I thought I would just look for anything available and make enough money to support myself.

After a little searching, I found a job in the Post Office on campus. At first it was just a regular job where I worked with other students and supervisors, but they were quickly beginning to feel more like friends than just co-workers

I soon realized I would need more experiences in my field to write on my résumé, and so I looked into internships. I went to an English alumni panel, where I met Genna Kasun. After I listened to each alum discuss what they enjoyed about their jobs, I was very interested in Genna’s work with the Marketing department. She mentioned she was looking for interns, so I contacted her about an interview. She immediately recognized me as “the post office girl,” which was a surprising benefit of working at the post office because you meet lots of faculty and staff by delivering their mail. After a lot of crossed fingers and toes, I had a second job as Genna’s intern.

As a Marketing intern, an employee at the Post Office, and a full time student, I have learned the importance of managing my time well and taking naps. Naps are very important. While working for Genna, during the school year and over the past two summers I have been able to let my voice be heard. I’ve found myself writing for the Admission and Alumni magazines, attending conferences at other colleges, researching grant funders, editing grants, and so much more. She has given me so many amazing opportunities and provided me with skills and experiences that I will definitely use in my intended career as an Editor ─ I am forever grateful.

My job at the Post Office has also shown me how important it is to never stop forming relationships with people. Even though I knew I was leaving some great people by going to college, my supervisor Lori Hughes has become so much more to me than just my boss. She gives me such insightful guidance that goes beyond just being an employee at the Post Office. She always encourages me to pursue my goals, she says, “You should be happy in whatever you do in life, so don’t be scared to make the big life decisions.” When you meet someone that just gives advice and truly cares about your life, it is an incredible experience.

It’s an amazing thing when you walk in the door looking for a job and meet inspiring people that you might never have otherwise. What I didn’t realize then, is that the process of meeting people that will have a remarkable and significant impact on your life never really ends.

Best or Worst Week?

Relaxing with friends at Finals Blowout.

Relaxing with friends at Finals Blowout.

Finals week can be the best or worst week of the year. It can be the best because somehow the gods blessed you with not having any finals. The other poor souls, including myself, have exams or a project due for almost every class. Luckily, the Office of Student Activities provides a week of stress busters that usually come with free food.

Even if you are stressed beyond the point of remembering to take a shower, going to the stress busters are a requirement. One of the best stress busters is called Finals Blowout. At this one, there are free t-shirts, create your own stuffed animal, board games, a giant inflatable obstacle course, and tons of free food. This one is the best one because it’s later at night, allowing students to study all day.

One of the best stress busters is when the humane society brings puppies or kittens into Ellis Ballroom. A room full of adorable puppies and kittens is the perfect cure for an overly stressed college students. Another bonus is that there are also cookies and donuts.

These stress busters really do help Juniata College students relax. Not having these stress busters would result in students over exhausting themselves and believing that not sleeping is a good thing. If you are one of the lucky students who had hardly anything to do, my only advice to you is that you shouldn’t expect that kind of luck every year.

End of Freshman Year

A lot of people say that you change when you go to college. I expected myself to change; Juniata College was listed in Loren Pope’s Colleges That Change Lives. I just didn’t know how I would change. A graduating high school senior hears so much about college that he or she has no idea what is true, what is an exaggeration, or what does not apply to that specific school. While I haven’t finished my college career yet, I have finished one year and I can already see a difference in myself and how I view the world.

Juniata’s environment encourages healthy change. The professors are available and willing to talk to students about their academic interests to help them find a direction to head in or their personal problems to help them make the transition to the college lifestyle. Additionally, there are plenty of students who have great consciousness of issues and plenty of students with open minds who are willing to learn more. Juniata is a great place to have a casual and intellectual conversation. It’s a friendly place to get used to living away from home and to get a taste of the “real world.”

The most major change that I see within myself is my new awareness of the world. There are global issues that I’ve never heard of or discussed before, problems that individuals face in other countries and in our own, and a lifetime worth of literature to read from non-English speaking countries. I never thought that reading literature in translation would be this rewarding until I took World Literatures last semester. You could say that I had a fairly sheltered life. I never watched the news. I never picked up a newspaper. Now, when I hear about something I read news articles myself and I talk to people who are always on top of the latest news. The friendliness of Juniata’s students is really helpful in these situations, since other students are often happy that you are willing to try to understand these issues and will help you out as much as they can. I’ve made friends from all over the United States and also from other countries, and I’ve come to realize that every one of these people has had different life experiences up to this point and that I can learn something from every person I come in contact with. Most importantly, I’ve learned that the standard advice of acting friendly toward everyone is very true and very important and that you should approach every situation and opportunity with an open mind.

Life Changed

Well. This is it: my final blog post. Seems like my life is full of endings lately; the last day of internship, a final choir concert, and last house dinners. My parents took a lot of my furniture home with them after convocation, yesterday. However, I had a friend tell me when I was feeling down about all these great things coming to an end, that my life is still in its beginning chapters. And that really made sense  and  comforted the book nerd in me.

So in those terms, these past four years at Juniata College were just the beginning of my life story. But, what an amazing start! If you would have told me four years ago that college would be this fantastic experience, I probably would have agreed with you; but I don’t know if I would have said that I expected college to change me.

I know that is has though; I started to fully realize this during this past semester in probably one of the strangest ways. I re-watched early episodes of “Glee”  on Netflix with my housemate, who had never seen the show before. I was obsessed with the show in high school and while I kept up with the show when I could in college, I haven’t seen the early season since they aired. As I was watching them this past semester, I could easily remember the first time I saw them. And I realized what a different person I was back then.

Freshman me at my very first visit to the Cliffs.

Freshman me at my very first visit to the Cliffs.

In high school, I just wanted to blend in. Despite my love for vintage clothes, I wore jeans and Hollister tees to fit in;  I didn’t want to cause a stir. I also didn’t stand up for myself, which resulted in me getting emotionally hurt. Juniata, however, changed all that. I found amazing friends who didn’t care what I wore – in fact, liked the unique clothes I started to collect. I took classes and talked with professors who gave my thoughts validity. Without realizing it, I became a much stronger person; someone who could say what she believed, wear the clothes she loved, and have a goal of helping women and girls in harmful relationships. Juniata and this community made all of those things possible.

These are friendships that last a lifetime.

These are friendships that last a lifetime.

Sure, Juniata isn’t perfect, but what school is? Really, what home is? Because that is what Juniata has become to me: my home. I know that it is going to be hard to leave (I mean, I’m tearing up writing this – graduation day, I will probably be an emotional wreck), but I know that I will always have the memories of my time here, the strength and knowledge that I learned, and the support of  my Juniata friends and community for the rest of my life. I know that my life is going to keep on changing, but I know that because of Juniata, it is going to keep on changing for the better.

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