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Unpacking Me: A Personal story of Identity and Passion

There are a lot of things if your life that you must learn how to unpack. The hardest will be unpacking your passions. Especially as a high school senior, college student, college graduate, and many times as an adult you are going to have a dark night of the soul when you have to ask yourself what you want to do for the rest of your life. Its normal.

 

For me, I came to Juniata and I knew that I wanted a career that would allow me to travel the world and get paid for it. However, after my trip out of the U.S. it took me a long time to unpack that experience and understand it in terms of my own passions. And to be honest I still do not fully understand the impact it had upon me as individual.

 

For a Juniata student, I think that it is even more difficult to admit that my study abroad experience wasn’t one of the best experience of my life, because at a school where most people study abroad, all you hear is “my study abroad experience changed me,” “It taught me who I am and what I want to be”. After a lot of unpacking, I can honestly say that my study abroad experiences were not the best experiences I have had over my college career.

 

My study abroad experience challenged me, it helped me grow, it broadened my horizons and it did make me understand what I didn’t want to spend my entire life abroad. However, unpacking my last 4 years here at Juniata. I can honestly say my defining moment that helped shape me as the person I wanted to be happened on October 30th, 2014. That was the day my grandfather died.

 

When he died, it was echo that pushed me outside of the reverberations. For me it was like superman died, and very slowly all I saw were cracks in my foundation. For so long I was convincing myself that traveling was my passion, but it wasn’t. When he died, everything started to crumble and it was in that suffocating mess that I realized the void he left.

 

Being raised by my grandparents I was raised in a legacy. We were farmers. We raised cows. We gardened. We canned. That was our identity. After his death, I was fighting for that to stay my identity. I grew a horrible garden, but I grew a garden. And in many ways I thought that maybe I could connect the pieces of my life that seemed to fall through the cracks, but it wasn’t enough and it wasn’t good enough. Because gardening wasn’t the only part of my identity I need to unpack.

 

Little Old Man on Top of the World

Two summers ago, I told myself, was going to be the best summer of my life – a whole summer in China. Being 20 years old at the time, the toughest thing about life is doing all the right things in order to ensure that after college you have some sort of job waiting for you. For most college sophomores and juniors summer is about trying to put something amazing on your resume. I was thinking of teaching English, interning or doing anything to make my resume pop. Before I hopped on that plane I was excited, because this summer was the summer that I wasn’t going to sit at home – I was actually going to do something that may land me a job someday. Little did I know at the time, I would be coming home a month early with little to nothing to put on my resume. However, traveling is not always going to be about another bullet point on your resume, but learning about yourself.

One of my greatest experiences in China was climbing Wu Dong Mountain. For everyone who hates the stairs or the steppers at the gym – ME- this is all out-of-shape people’s biggest fear – a 3 mile hike ALL UP STAIRS. 30 minutes into this hike when all of the track and field stars and gym fanatics wiz passed you – you feel the tenseness in those muscles from the hips down, and the burning in your abs. It’s one of those moments when you hate yourself for not taking the cable car. As you ascend, the steps get steeper and at some places you are pulling yourself up the mountain, the chains clicking with lovers’ locks. The sun has a chance to rise and peak through the trees, covering you in its unwanted heat. I made it to the top sticky, out of breath, and surprised by the shops around me selling tea eggs and starchy corn.

There is a mist covering the trees, making it feel like only the clouds and soaring birds were higher than I was. The view from a top takes the last remaining breath I have out of me. The view isn’t very clear at all. I found that no matter where you are in China- in the cities, on the mountain tops – you always have the feeling that China is hiding something from you.

Wu Dong Mountain View from the Top
Wu Dong Mountain View from the Top

Hidden here at Wu Dong Mountain for 20 years is a Daoist monk named Hermit Jia. He is a little old man with wrinkles and a huge smile that touches your heart. He lives in a cave overlooking the world in a place where it seems like time has stopped. There is no television, cellphones, jeans or T-shirts. If you’re a fan of Chinese movies you have seen his outfit, the black and white curled up shoes, loose pants and a traditional three button shirt.

He is befriended only by bees buzzing from inside of the cabinets with yellow honey comb shining through the cracks of the wood. A boy asked if he was ever stung by the bees – he smiled and everyone couldn’t resist to smile with him. No, he answered, I leave them alone and they leave me alone.

I traveled half way around the world, and I came upon this little piece of paradise and a smile that was so welcoming you didn’t need to speak the same language to understand the simple, simplistic but very powerful life you could have as long as you did what made you happy. Sheltered only by a dark cave this man on top of the mountain lived by one philosophy: being.

Hermit Jia
Hermit Jia

I wasn’t able to find a job or any “resume poppers” that summer; however, my discovery of a little old man on top of the world was the greatest treasure of my summer. In many ways this man reminded me of grandfather. Both men with heart melting smiles, and the courage to do what they loved most. For my pap it was gardening, for Hermit Jia is was simply being. In this big bustling world we live in we become human doings instead of just human beings.

 

From Lille to the DNC in Philly: A Summer Well Spent

Wow! I can hardly believe that it’s week 4 of college already. It felt like only yesterday that I was studying abroad in Lille, France, last June, and attended the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Philadelphia the following month! As an Eagles Abroad Scholar for French, I am required to study in a French speaking country, which I started by participating in the European Summer Program (ESP) at The Catholic University of Lille or La Catho for short. I enrolled in a French level 10 course, which, as a Francophone, allowed me to improve my writing tremendously. My professor was very dynamic and gave us many opportunities to discuss our ideas and debate in French. We talked about various topics ranging from Francophone cultures and arts to racism and politics, given our various countries of origins such as, Burundi, Colombia, Syria, Canada, Côte d’Ivoire, India, China, the Philippines, the US and so many more. In addition, I took an elective course called European Integration: Borders in Turmoil, which taught me about the functions of the EU and its potential future; the course was a great supplement to my politics studies as it provided me with a unique insight on the EU from an actual European, and particularly French perspective.

Figure 1A collage of my adventures in France with my Friends. The pictures were taken during our various travels!
Figure 1A collage of my adventures in France with my Friends. The pictures were taken during our various travels!

Of course, I did not miss out on the amazing French cuisine. Every day, I got breakfast from the local boulangerie-bakery- right around the corner of La Catho: croissants, brioches, pain au chocolats and hot choco were life! Every so often, I would also visit an Ivorian restaurant called La Main Magique: Chez Josie, which I absolutely adored! Knowing the popularity of the appetizing attiéké dish of Côte d’Ivoire, I pointed the restaurants out to other Africans that I met in Lille. We visited the beautiful cathedral, Notre-Dame d’Amiens-Our Lady of Amiens-and ate some delicious crêpes! We also traveled to the beaches of Normandy, the Palace of Versailles and Mont Saint-Michelle!

While I was sad to leave Lille, I was also excited to come back to the States and attend the DNC in Philly, 2 weeks later! The DNC was indeed an experience like no other. I had the pleasure of meeting the CEO of the Democratic National Convention Committee, Leah Daughtry, an amazing and charismatic speaker. She inspired me with her saying “In their minds, this is not a ceiling. It’s a starting point.” I felt empowered to pursue endless opportunities knowing that the sky is not my limit but rather my starting point. Daughtry also made me appreciate and acknowledge the efforts of those who paved the way in order for me to be successful.

Figure 2Leah Daughtry, First African American CEO of the Democratic National Convention Committee (DNCC), and I at Temple University
Figure 2Leah Daughtry, First African American CEO of the Democratic National Convention Committee (DNCC), and I at Temple University

I had the chance to work with the State Department Foreign Press, which gave me access to the convention hall every nights. I had the opportunity to meet various foreign journalists whom I interviewed for my article assignments. Indeed, the work load was very demanding, but I had fun doing interviews, visiting the city of brotherly love, networking and meeting my favorite journalists, The Young Turks! I will never forget the moment when Hilary took the stage on the last day of the DNC. The crowd roared and cheered and I never felt more fortunate in my life; I was witnessing history in the making and breathing the same air as the first woman presidential nominee in the history of the United States!

Figure 3I watched the ball drop at final night of the convention!
Figure 3I watched the ball drop at final night of the convention!

My summer experiences make me so proud of being at Juniata and thankful for such wonderful opportunities. I am happy to announce that after the DNC, I will be attending the 2017 Presidential Inauguration and witnessing history in the making once again, regardless of whom she might be!!!

Figure 4Dr. Plane (far right) and me among other Juniata students at Temple University for the DNC!
Figure 4Dr. Plane (far right) and me among other Juniata students at Temple University for the DNC!

Returning from Cork, Ireland

When I was walking around Huntingdon on my first day back at Juniata College, I couldn’t help but smile. Even if I had an amazing time in Cork, Juniata was still home.

 

Here is UCC’s most photographed building – affectionately deemed Hogwarts. I studied Old Irish (c. 600-900 AD) in the left portion.
Here is UCC’s most photographed building – affectionately deemed Hogwarts. I studied Old Irish (c. 600-900 AD) in the left portion.

I spent my entire junior year studying Irish language and literature at University College Cork in Cork, Ireland. Talking about study abroad is tricky – you don’t want to downplay the opportunities and experiences you had while there, but you also don’t want to sound arrogant or pretentious. In terms of school, UCC is much larger than Juniata. UCC has just under 20,000 students, around 2000 of which were international students like me. Compare that to the approximately 1600 undergraduate students at Juniata.

Most of the classes I took were within the Celtic Civilisation department (yes, civilization has an “s” instead of a “z” in Ireland). These classes had small, discussion-based approaches like at Juniata. This was not the case for other students in larger departments. I was happy to learn about Celtic linguistics, Old Irish grammar, and Otherworld literature as part of the 30-credit Certificate in Irish Studies that I earned.

This is me receiving my certificate for Intermediate Modern Irish.
This is me receiving my certificate for Intermediate Modern Irish.

The primary difference, for me, between Juniata and UCC was the workload. Juniata students are driven by a deep desire to learn that comes from somewhere within them. Most work abroad was done right before the heavily weighted final exams. I suppose they would think our structure was strange if they came here, though. Additionally, a huge difference upon returning is working. I have a few campus jobs, and I love working for Juniata. I couldn’t work at UCC because I didn’t have the paperwork to be eligible, and the shift from not working to working has been an adjustment these past few weeks. However, that adjustment is a welcome one. I really missed working in the Writing Center while abroad, and I made sure to meet up with some tour guide friends who were abroad to catch up with them.

UCC has an arch, too! No one storms their arch, though.
UCC has an arch, too! No one storms their arch, though.

One of my favorite aspects of Juniata is that it has offered me opportunity after opportunity, and one of the greatest has been the chance to study abroad at UCC. I came back with so much academic, personal, and cultural development, but I am thrilled to be at Juniata again. I’ve had so much fun (and I’ve learned so much) talking to other students who were here last year and who were abroad, and I love seeing the way their eyes light up when they tell stories from abroad, or talk about an event on campus that they orchestrated, or dive into the developments they made in their research. You could say that what I missed the most about Juniata was the passion in the students.

Go raibh maith agat, a Chorcaigh, ach táim sa bhaile anois.

Thanks, Cork, but I’m home now.

The Multicultural Storyfest

Each year, Juniata holds a Liberal Arts Symposium—a day when all classes are cancelled and students have the opportunity to present their research to the campus community. Oftentimes, international students are not able to contribute to the symposium because many of them study at Juniata for only one semester. For this reason, Grace Fala, special assistant to the President for diversity and inclusion and professor of communication, developed the “Multicultural Storyfest.” This event takes place during the Liberal Arts Symposium and invites international students as well as other interested students to share parts of their heritage with the community.

This year, I am receiving two credits to serve as the intern for the Multicultural Storyfest. I have been working very closely with Grace and a few other students to help coordinate the largest one yet. We will have a total of 19 performances representing the following cultures and co-cultures: African, American Indian, Amish, Burmese, Buddhism, Chinese, Indian, Irish, Italian, Filipino, German, Japanese, Korean, LGBTQ, Maori, Middle Eastern, Pakistani, Salvadoran, Thai, and Vietnamese.

shalen1
Thida Win ’17 from Myanmar talks at the 2015 Multicultural Storyfest.

Personally, I will serve as the emcee for the event and also be a part of the performance representing Maori culture in New Zealand. One of my best friends studied abroad in New Zealand, so we are going to incorporate what she learned into our performance. We will be teaching about common greeting words and customs used by the Maori people. Other students will be dancing, singing, playing instruments, modeling, and reading poems.

shalen2
Andrea Morillo ’15 from Honduras performs at the 2014 Multicultural Storyfest.

All in all, I have gained so much valuable experience and many budding friendships from organizing this event. I have been able to meet and talk to people from all over the world!

If you’re interested in attending the Multicultural Storyfest, it’ll take place on Detwiler Plaza on Thursday, April 21st from 1:30-3:00 pm. I hope to see you there!