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It’s often said of young people that we don’t appreciate the value of family. In our early twenties we are most concerned with distinguishing ourselves from our families. We strive to a new life and a new character apart from the people with whom we spent the first 18 years of our life. These are admirable—and necessary—goals for college students. But that doesn’t mean a life entirely set apart from our family works best. In fact, most of the people I know at Juniata retain a healthy amount of contact with family.
What one defines as “healthy”, of course, varies depending on the sort of person you are and the circumstances you find yourself in. Many of my more extroverted friends keep in near-daily contact with their family from home, usually through the magic of text or online chat services. Some of my peers live close enough to campus that they either commute daily or, more frequently, spend the odd weekend at home. About half of our population here comes from within the state, so whether they live in Amish country or Appalachia home isn’t so far.
But for myself and many others, home is a long way away. I live in Massachusetts which—though thankfully on the same coast as Pennsylvania—is a nine-to-ten hour drive away. With the exception of Thanksgiving, I spend my breaks and free time exploring in-state or elsewhere. Many more students spend Thanksgiving here, especially those of my friends who live on the left coast. And for the ten percent of students who come from abroad, home is further away than many can appreciate—both in physical and cultural distance.
Thankfully, we are no longer living in the age where telephones require booths and quarters to operate. There are a variety of apps and services which allow one to send messages, images, and voice chat for free over any internet connection. I personally used Viber, a WhatsApp clone, while I studied abroad in New Zealand so as to save on cellphone bills. While I’m in this country, I share a group chat with my nuclear and extended families where we post pictures and musings from our daily lives.
Today more than ever students are traveling further and further away to go to college, something I believe to be an admirable trend. Distancing ourselves from where we grew up allows us to see a new way of life and gives us a chance to redefine who we are. For those of us who find ourselves flung far away from home, even with other oceans or continents between us, our modern age has at least some of the solutions. Now if I could only figure out how to get my cat to Skype me…
After the Democratic National Convention (DNC) last summer, my latest experiential learning was the Presidential Inauguration program with the Washington Center (TWC) along with 10 other Juniata students. The two-week seminar started on January 8th, and I had the privilege to learn from experts in various political fields from economists, environmentalists, historians, journalists to lobbyists. For instance, if it were not for this seminar, I would not have been exposed to dynamic speakers like Eric Dyson and Greg Carr who represented the perspective of Black people on the potential outcomes of Trump’s presidency. This was very important to me because, as a liberal arts college located in rural Huntingdon, P.A., and a predominantly white school, Juniata College has only a few People of Color in its faculty body.
I have been living close to D.C. in Germantown, M.D., for 9 years. However, I had never fully known the District until the inauguration program. I was able to see the amount of power in D.C. I enjoyed the D.C. bus tour and learning about the District’s history. Visiting the both the Holocaust and New African American Museum was a worthwhile experience, which made me humble to have such amazing opportunities available to me. Just like the DNC, the seminar was a great career opportunity to network. I was invited to an alumni reception at the French Embassy, and I met four dynamic students from Science Po (Institute of Political Studies) in Strasbourg, France, currently studying at Georgetown University! Did I mention that I was very excited to interact with them because I too will be living and interning in Strasbourg next year? Not to mention that I made sure to get them all tickets to the inauguration itself. Indeed, this is a connection that I look forward to develop.
Living in the Nation’s capital allowed me to visit my senators and representatives and interact with them as well. Our small group discussions also put me in close contact with my fellow Juniatians hailing from conservative backgrounds, whose voices often gets lost in this predominant liberal institution. During the weekend, our group also got together to attend two very different but equally formidable theater productions: Capital Steps and Confucius—the latter was my favorite because it was produced and choreographed by the 77th direct descendant of Confucius, Kong Dexin, and was visually breathtaking. By far, the craziest part of my experience was meeting Malia Obama at the club on my birthday night! Although I did not get a picture with her, seeing her was the best birthday gift.