Reality is a lovely place, but I wouldn’t want to live there.
I wouldn’t wanna live there.
These words penned by Owl City (or to the true OC fans, Adam Young) have been a sort of mantra for this gal for many years. As an idealist and a *bit* of a perfectionist, I love sitting in my imagination and fantasy of how future events will look/feel like. Graduation, for me, was one of those things. After working so hard throughout school, one can look ahead toward the goal of graduation and feel as if it is unattainable. Yet, here I am, 4 long (boy, do I mean long) years later with my B.S.N. Looking back, reflecting on all the events and challenges that I’ve faced in those four years, I feel so incredibly grateful that I’ve graduated from Hope College a different person.
As I finished the last days of my internship, I soaked in every moment knowing how much I had learned and grown as a nurse. Even more so, I was eager to become an independent nurse. Yet, what really captured me, as Lizzie (my Mercy perioperative buddy) and I were offering our appreciation and saying goodbye to the nurses, was that I had come to feel like a part of the Mercy family. We Hope students were the first to complete a full semester of leadership in this unit at Mercy; so, you could say that we were the guinea pigs who figured things out along the way. I grew in my assertiveness as a future independent practitioner, confident in my nursing abilities, and learned how to advocate for patients of various backgrounds, races, socioeconomic statuses, ages and cultures.
As I sat through my last class of undergrad ever, it felt unreal that this was “it”. My roommates and I were so sad to leave each other and return home. We had gone on so many adventures and explored so much of the city together. This having been the first time I lived with people other than my family, I was so incredibly grateful to have shared a living space with two patient, kind and generous people. The semester was a difficult one for me, and they supported me in matchless thoughtful ways.
Returning home, I was eager for the excitement of commencement and pining ceremony. For those of you who don’t know, graduating nurses are pinned by another nurse to show the effort and dedication the student has put forth toward the profession and honor their diligence. The whirlwind of moving back to Holland, where I live, and the two days filled with celebration had me feeling all kinds of exhausted. Not like the bad kind though. The wow-I-am-actually-done-with-my-BSN kind that ends of a deep, contented sigh.
Jacob Guyer (my geriatrics buddy) and I, after commencement
Caroline (my best nursing bud) and I, after pinning.
To be frank, my life has become less organized and more uncertain as I emerge into the world as a new graduate, but the potential that lies ahead of me is too great for me to have a stinky attitude. My plans for the next few months are to 1) pass the NCLEX (nursing boards) to obtain my licensure 2) find a job 3) enjoy my summer filled with the joys of weddings, new beginnings and the start of graduate school. For me, starting my “real” adult life is pretty scary and daunting. Yet, there is a certain peace that I find in knowing Whose I am and that He has a magnificent plan for my life. Fear of failure, while not reserved only for me, is an aspect of moving forward in life that I believe serves two purposes: 1) to remind me that all the achievements and accomplishments can only be attributed to the goodness of my Savior and 2) let’s me know that I am heading toward the tremendous blessings of my Father.
To all those out there who aren’t graduating, keep persevering because “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23, ESV). The Lord has a plan so perfect and full of immeasurable purpose for YOU. Don’t forget that or allow anyone/thing derail you from maintaining your focus on Him.
To all those who are, we made it! Despite the terrors of the world as we know it today, I see a generation rising up for the sake of Christ and creating a world that looks more and more like heaven every day. Therefore, I will leave you with this:
“Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.”
As you can tell from the title, this post will be on a slightly heavier subject. However, I by no means want to end this incredible semester with a sad topic so there will be one more post following this one so that we can end on a happy note. I write this because I know that there are many other people out there who may fear going abroad because they are afraid that something will happen to a loved one while they are away, and I hope that what I write here may be of encouragement to them.
The third of February, 2019. I got up, showered, had breakfast with Katherine, and proceeded with my normal Sunday morning routine. I wandered back into my room to find that I had a missed call from my mom. What time is it over there? I wondered to myself. I was about to call her back when my phone started to ring in my hand again. There was something wrong. I knew it because my parents always let me call them back when I had the time, usually figuring that I was busy and would call when I could. When I opened FaceTime, my fears were confirmed. My mom’s face was red, the way it normally is when she’s upset, and my dad’s blue eyes shone even brighter than normal, something only seen when he’s exhausted. Passed the formalities and they informed me that my aunt, Nancy, aged 63, had passed away just hours before.
This was the moment that I had been dreading since I went to college. Nancy was diagnosed with a rare type of brain cancer just two weeks before I left Minnesota for my first year at Hope. At the time, I didn’t realize how serious her illness was, what odds she was up against, but as time passed and her condition worsened, the gravity of the situation started to sink in. I soon realized that there would come a day… I may be at home or school or even in France when she would finish her journey on this earth, and I may or may not be able to be there with her when she does.
A year and a half later and it was January 5, 2019; hours before I would get on a plane that would take me incredibly far away from home. I hugged my aunt and kissed her on the forehead. As I looked at her in her bed, she was not peaceful and she wasn’t without pain. Words cannot explain how difficult it was to convince myself that it was okay for me to leave, that she would be so upset with me if I didn’t get on that plane and go have the adventure of a lifetime. So I got up the next day and I got on the plane, fully aware that I most likely saw my aunt for the last time the night before.
Now was the day that I had been dreading for so long and I was without words. I cried, of course, but I also felt so relieved. Nancy was not in pain anymore and she didn’t struggle to form a coherent response to the simplest of questions. She was no longer holding on to a body that had failed her. She was free.
At the end of that phone call, my parents told me I should do something for myself that day, something that Nancy would have loved to do with me. I went and got coffee. I walked around for over an hour on a Sunday when everyone is brunching in the cafes until I found a place that seemed suitable. I sat under the awning with the classic Parisian wicker chairs that faced the street, and for the next two hours I watched people pass by as I sipped on the most expensive coffee I have ever purchased. The whole thing is laughable to me now because Nancy would have thought it was the most absurd thing, but she would have loved to just sit and people-watch for hours. After I finished my ridiculously overpriced coffee, I decided to go for a walk and, oh boy, am I glad I did. When Nancy got sick, she started to go for really long walks and I think she would have loved this one. I walked for what seemed like ages, but I couldn’t convince myself that it was time to go home. I followed to streets to Place de la Concorde and there I saw the most beautiful sunset that I have ever seen in Paris. The sun blazed orange along the horizon but the sky remained a pure blue, the clouds a glorious purple. At that moment I knew, that after everything that I had seen my aunt go through, she was okay and I truly believe that that sunset was the surest sign to let me know; to reassure me that everything was going to be okay.
The reason for my delay in writing about this loss is because for the longest time I didn’t feel like what had happened had really sunk in or that I was really prepared to talk about mourning, in general. For a while, I almost believed that when I got home I could just pop over to my aunt’s house for a chat, and play with her cats while enjoying a coconut La Croix together. It scares me to know that my world over here in France has existed entirely separately from my world at home. So, I fear that going back will be like learning the news all over again because I will finally see for myself that she is no longer there. Despite how difficult it has been abroad and how difficult it will be when I return home, I wanted to write about this because I know that there are many other people like me. People who are afraid to go abroad because they fear something might happen to a loved one while they’re gone. I want to let all of those people now that we can’t put our lives on hold just because we are afraid of missing something. I know that if I had missed out on going abroad because I wanted to be at home with my aunt that she would have been so mad at me. Life happens regardless of where you are, but when it comes to losing a loved one, you can’t let that fear keep you from following your aspirations.
Some days I feel the loss more strongly than others, but I know that Nancy would not want her death to be an excuse for me to sit inside and watch life pass me by. When grief hits me like a ton of bricks, there are some things that I’ve noticed help immensely:
Do the kinds of things that you enjoyed together. I’ll go for long walks, runs, drink coffee, or read for fun, literally anything that I know that she would want to do. At first, it’s really weird to do these things on your own because you desperately want your loved one to be there with you, but it’s a great way to honor and remember them.
Treat yourself with kindness. This means getting out of bed, showering, eating food in proper amounts, and getting some kind of exercise. Grief, believe it or not, puts a lot of stress on the body so it’s really important to take care of yourself. Your loved one would want to know that you are treating yourself well.
Talk about it. My sister (who was also studying in Europe) and I were able to get together and be able to talk about what that day was like for each of us, and it was incredibly cathartic for the both of us. Keeping all of those complex emotions bottled up isn’t good for anyone so it’s important to try and talk about them. It doesn’t even have to be another person. I monologued to myself in the shower about all of my feelings frequently trying to put into words I was experiencing. From doing that, I feel more at ease like I know the situation better.
Allow yourself to be sad, if you want to. I know that Nancy would not want me to be sad and grieve over her loss, but it is a completely natural response to a loss so if you start to feel those emotions, let them out so you can start to process and heal.
Closure. When I told a friend that my aunt had passed away, they asked me if I was going to fly back home for the funeral. Nancy didn’t want a funeral or a memorial service. No, she wanted a party and thankfully this party is taking place when I get back home so I don’t have to feel like I missed out. However, funerals, for a lot of people, are a means of closure and remembrance, so a lot of people feel like they have to be there in-person. I’ve talked with some friends about what has/would happen if they were in the situation of being abroad when they lost/lose a loved one. Most of them said that they would stay abroad, and they’d just Skype in to the service or whatever event was held in that person’s honor. There is no right or wrong choice and, ultimately, it has to be yours. Whether you want to be there in-person or not, you know yourself best and what would best help you to start healing.
These are just a couple of things I have done that have helped me start processing through my grief. Obviously, what works for one person might not work for another so it’s important that you listen to your emotions and do what feels right for you. A lot of study abroad programs also have counselors or can arrange for you to meet with one should that be something that you feel might be helpful.
I’m still apprehensive about going home and facing the new family dynamics, on top of the reverse culture shock I will no-doubt experience as well. I won’t lie, dealing with this loss while abroad has been difficult. Yet, I believe I made the right decision in studying abroad and I know Nancy believed so too.
Me, Monse, and Saira at their Alpha Gamma Phi formal last year.
We all know about Hope culture, and the Hope “Hi!” It was one of the things that attracted me to Hope when I was a senior in college. I knew it was the right environment for me and because of it, I made so many friends just that way. But being abroad is a completely different atmosphere, especially when you’re in a program with students from all over the country, different backgrounds, levels of maturity, school culture, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made friends here despite its difficulty, but it’s still not the same as having the people that I have spent the last 2 and half years getting to know at Hope.
In a study abroad program, you find that in the first few days everyone is in survival mode, literally. It’s like freshman year, but the pressure is kicked up because you are tired from jet lag, being in an unknown place/culture, meeting new people, possibly speaking or using a new language, and ultimately, you are stressing out. I had a strategy from day one; be kind to everyone, if you find a small connection see it out, and trust your gut. There’s plenty of studies that tell you that in a matter of seconds you have already made your judgment about a person you meet for the first time. Often, it’s used to talk about job interviews and how you should dress for them, but I think it can also be applied to the way you live and choose friends. No, you can’t know everything about a person in a matter of seconds, but people definitely show you who they are deep down in small instances from the time you meet them. We all have gut reactions to people and our bodies pick up on it way before our mind usually does, in my experience. I mean, I know what it feels like to really want a person in my life, I describe it as a warm glowy feeling that just makes you light up. This is then amplified as you begin to get to know the person and they affirm your feelings with actions that build trust. So this was my strategy. Who do I trust?
At the beginning, it was easiest to try this with my housemates, but as you know that didn’t turn out the way I had hoped and I knew it was best for me to leave the situation. However, there have been some consistent characters in my study abroad experience. Those people over time have showed me that I can trust them, and gave me some hint of a glowy feeling. Another thing to keep in mind is that sometimes people give off signs that they don’t mean to emit. I would say two of the people I trust the most in this program were not showing their true selves in our first encounter, but over the course of the program and multiple encounters, I’ve found them to be the people who help me keep my sanity as a person of color in this program. As you might guess, they are also people of color and we share the experience of being minorities within a minority while studying abroad in Spain. We are able to build trust and our relationship over that shared experience and others that we go through as students in PWIs (predominately white institutions) in the US. If you think about it in another way, it’s the thing that makes us feel most alone in the world that brought us together and gave us a deeper connection. In that way, I am grateful for the experiences I had at the beginning of the program that were not so genuine because its made me go out of my way to find the right people for me and my study abroad experience.
About two months ago, I was really feeling that loneliness kick in. I was the only person of color in my apartment and most of the students were not understanding. Of those who were, they offered minimum support. Like I mentioned in a previous blog, I had already been in contact with program directors about what I was experiencing and it helped me change my environment. Although, what really helped me was my internship. I’ve made so many friends of color in Madrid from various ethnicities, nationalities, and ages. It’s made my experience richer in ways that the average study abroad student might have to fight for a connection so profound. I remember praying on a day that I didn’t have classes, I was affirming the idea that what is meant for me, God will bring it into my life. From that day on, I met new people of color each day, specifically African Americans and Latinos who are either studying abroad or teaching abroad. It made me feel like I finally was out of the minority ad, if anything, casted into a positive and affirming space that gave me time to reflect on my experience from a non-white perspective/narrative. I felt free.
Although I’ve made great connections here, at the end of the day, I still miss my friends from back home. Those are the people who were there for me during some of the hardest times of my young adult life. Love has always been an interesting concept to me and a feeling I didn’t truly understand, but this experience abroad has definitely helped me sort through the complexities of this feeling. Love takes trust and trust takes love. I trust the people that I’ve developed deep and honest relationships with from Hope, and it’s made me love them for the support they continue to give me even while I’m abroad. I will say the drawback is that I can’t see them when I want or share this amazing experience with them in the same way that I can with my new friends here. However, their love for me and mine for them is felt across the big blue pond that separates us. The friends that I felt the greatest connection with are the ones who are easiest to stay in contact with and it says a lot about our feelings toward our friendship. It has shown me who I care about most and who cares about me.
To my friends who are reading this, thank you for being here for me. I’m grateful for having you in my life and our senior year is gonna be amazing! I hope you all have a great summer 🙂
One of my primary motivations in choosing to study abroad in France, as opposed to anywhere else in the world, was to improve my French. Before I came to France, I had studied French for 5.5 years, 4 in high school and 1.5 in college. From those many years of studying the language, I was able to carry out conversations on pretty much any subject with minimal difficulty recalling vocabulary, and I was capable of reading and comprehending relatively simple novels with ease. I could also understand about 80% of what a French person would say in conversation.
So what’s changed?
Before I arrived in France, I had constantly been told that English is so well-known here that French practically isn’t necessary to get around. Well whoever told me that clearly has not had to live with someone who only knows the English words “yes,” “bye” and “stop.” When I got here, I was immediately dropped in the deep end, but my French is so much better for it. Instead of being able to just drop an English word here and there whenever I didn’t know something, I suddenly had to speak all French all the time and look up what I didn’t know. Over the span of four months that gets to be a lot of new vocabulary, resulting in better, more fluent French.
There is also the matter of grammar. While I tend to be able to get away with plenty of grammar mistakes with Katherine, my professors at CIEE, especially MC, fix grammar on the spot. That, too, overtime tends to iron out the kinks in my French. Grammar remains my primary struggle in French. Although, I find myself being able to form sentences with increased ease and, on very few occasions, I don’t even have to think about what I’m saying, the French just comes out and it’s right!
As of right now, I can’t exactly tell what has changed other than these more obvious factors, but it will be interesting to see what will be different when I return to French classes at Hope. I do believe there are other aspects of my French that have improved, though it’s hard to really measure or quantify those qualities of my French. For example, my accent. I’ve been really lucky to have had several great French teachers who all speak the language either as their native tongue or with an incredibly good French accent. From listening to those teachers, I was able to grasp the basic sounds of French so I have been able to speak with a relatively good French accent. Since I’ve been in France, I’d like to believe that my accent got better and more natural-sounding, but I can’t really be the judge of that.
To someone who doesn’t know French as a first language or even at all, I likely sound like a native speaker. However, to the French, I most certainly do not. I remember my first day of class at French university with my professor who is Russian. She speaks perfect French, and I had absolutely no difficulties in understanding her. Yet, soon after she started speaking, she made a comment about her being a foreigner and having an accent. All of the French students in the room nodded their heads. It was completely ridiculous! I couldn’t hear an accent, but to these French students it was clear as day! So no, I don’t sound like a native speaker to the French, but I have been told that I sound like the next best thing: German! I’ve actually had probably three conversations, all with different French people, where I’ve been asked if I was German. I replied “no, I am American,” which is always shocking to them. I asked a man that I met why he thought I was German and he said it was because I spoke French quite well with a good accent. I asked if he’d met many Americans that could, but he said that they generally don’t. Of course, it made me feel good to know that my accent is good, but only time will tell how much it has actually improved. I suspect when I get back to Hope that the French professors will have a thing or two to say about it.
There is also the matter of speed. Generally, I don’t speak very quickly in English so I definitely do not in French. However, the French people seem so driven by talking ridiculously quickly that I had to try to learn to do that as well. Overall, I find that French-speakers speak significantly quicker than English-speakers, but I find that a lot of it is very situational. The situations where I hear people speaking the quickest are on the radio and also in in-class discussion at school. I tend to think this comes from French people’s habit of speaking over one another when they have something to say. I guess they feel it necessary to speak as quickly as possible so as to say everything they want to say and avoid being interrupted. I found that when I spoke in class at French university, the professor and other students were much more respectful. They let me talk without cutting me off because they could tell very clearly that I was foreign, but when a French student spoke there were absolutely no limits. I remember a class discussion I didn’t even try to participate in because the French students were just talking over each other the entire time. There was no way that I would be able to jump right in and say what was on my mind. However, I have found that I am now quicker at organizing my thoughts and being able to speak off the cuff without mentally rehearsing what I’ll say (though sometimes that has ended in a grammatical disaster).
There is also the matter of using the ‘f-word’… fluency. I have never before said that I was fluent in French because I never felt like that accurately described my language ability. My family has been describing me as fluent in French for quite a while now, even though they had scarcely heard me speak it at all. My parents just assumed that, based on how long I’d been learning the language, I was probably coming up on being fluent if I wasn’t already. However, after they came to visit me in France and actually heard me speak French they said that I definitely was. Fluent, to me, meant flawless. Let me be the first one to say, my French is not flawless. But fluent, by definition, does not mean flawless, not even close. To be fluent means simply to be able to write or speak in a language with ease, so, by that definition, I guess I am fluent.
Truthfully, I still tend to stray from using that word because it brings a sort of intimidating expectation with it. If I say that I’m fluent in a second language, there are two responses: 1. That’s really cool! 2. How do you say… Sometimes when people ask me this second question and it’s something that I have no idea how to say, I feel like a complete fraud because I can’t “prove” my fluency to them. But, something that I wish was more evident to people is that being fluent is not the same thing as speaking at a native-level. I know and have accepted the fact that I might never speak French at a native-level, but that doesn’t mean I can’t constantly continue to improve my abilities.
Bottom line: language learning is a long and complicated journey and there is no definite way to determine your progress. But, there are little tests here and there like stopping to give directions to someone or checking out at the grocery store that reassure me that, yes, my French is getting better.
Also, for your entertainment, here’s a list of fun words or phrases that I learned throughout my time here in France:
I just like how it sounds.
Literally translates to “flying deer”.
Dodo: nap; sleep
This is a fun one because it’s actually the little kid way of saying sleep so it’s English equivalent is something like “sleepy time” or “beddy bye” (Katherine actually uses this one all the time).
Yaourter: to make up words when singing
I need to explain this one. So there is this show on French TV where people compete by singing songs with difficult lyrics and they have to try to remember them, but if they mess up then they lose (it’s weird but stick with me). So when the singers don’t know the words they will yaourter. I would also like to mention that the literal translation of this verb is “to yogurt”.
I hear this word all the time, especially in reference to the 10th, 11th, and 20th arrondissements. I will also say that a hipster in France is usually a millennial with a job so bobo-style is more high-end, but not bourgeois.
Katherine frequently calls me “mon petit chou” which can literally translate to “my little cabbage” but it is generally a term of endearment.
Katherine also uses this one as a term of endearment. She’ll say “ma cocotte,” but it literally translates to “my chicken”.
It’s only been a few days, my semester in NYC feels like a dream, and I’m already missing the people I met there! But there will be no sadness in this post, only fond memories and a celebration of my time in NYC! Here’s how my semester wrapped up:
During my second-to-last weekend, my roommate and I decided get dressed up, do our makeup (i.e. she did both hers and mine because I know nothing about makeup), and go to the Museum of Illusions and take fun pictures together!
And as always, my roommate and I concluded our weekend by meeting up with the local chapter of the international writing group, Shut Up & Write!. The group meets for an hour every Wednesday and Sunday evening where participants literally gather to write silently for an hour. This group has been key in helping me complete my final project.
For those of you who don’t remember: the NY Arts Program is a little different than most off-campus programs in that instead of enrolling in classes, most of your time is taken up by internship(s). This is paired with seminars, artist talks, journaling and a final project. Final projects can be anything that you want them to be, as long as they’re in-depth and you’re applying something that you learned over the semester.
For my final project, since I was interning at a science fiction & fantasy publishing company, I decided to continue working on the next draft of my fantasy novel (a story I actually started in Dr. Trembley’s Novel Writing class last spring!). I ended up turning in 100 pages to my advisor! This was not even the first quarter of my planned out plot, but that’s okay because if my internship with DAW Books has taught me anything, it’s that fantasy books can be SUPER long. (As in, google “list of longest books” and you’ll find a DAW book on that list.)
In between my last two weekends, my roommate and I managed to snag some lottery tickets to the Broadway show, Beetlejuice, on its last night of previews! It was such a bizarre, but hilarious performance and I’m so glad I was able to see another Broadway show before I left NYC (I saw Anastasia the first weekend I was there).
Now, for my final weekend in NYC, both my parents flew down to help me pack (I had way too many things, and this didn’t even include the many books I accumulated over the semester and had to mail home) and explore the city. We visited Central Park and simply walked around for a couple of hours and caught up, which was so gratifying and refreshing. We also went to this chocolate restaurant called Max Brenner, stopped by the famous Strand bookstore, and visited the Statue of Liberty. Here are a couple of pictures, most of which my father took, because he’s much better about taking pictures than I am:
My parents and I flew back to Michigan on the morning of April 29th. As I said before, I was sad to leave the people I met in NYC, but I was very much ready to return home. It has been weird readjusting (I have to use a car to get to places now?! Omg, there’s so much green grass everywhere!), but I’m glad to be back for the summer. Seriously, how is it already summer?? I don’t understand–time flew by!
My time with the NY Arts Program was an amazing experience and have no doubt that I made the right choice by enrolling in it. I learned so much about the publishing industry and grew in so many ways.
New York was an incredible trip, but I can only hope that it was the first leg of a longer journey, and that I’ll be able to find my way back there in the coming years.
May someone please explain how it is already May? It’s officially finals week—finals week in more than the traditional college sense. Classes finished this week and the preparations for final exams, projects, and essays have begun. My friends at Hope are all moving home, starting summer jobs, and taking May terms. The weirdest feeling ever is that I will be home in just two weeks and be joining into that life, once again. It is the week of all the lasts in Ecuador, and it feels surreal.
The plan is to study a little, and spend lots of time walking and eating while exploring Quito one last time. Studying abroad is one of the experiences I wanted most out of my college career. It is something that I have been looking forward to since high school. As this chapter of my education is closing, it honestly just feels quite strange and I am not sure how I am going to process it yet. Pulling out the suitcase to begin to pack just doesn’t feel quite right. I thought that the time would never come when I would be getting ready to go back home. In January, May sounded impossibly far away. Then, what seemed like just a few weeks later, I woke up and May was already here.
This past week I began to say goodbye to the people that have had the most influential impact on me this semester. It just didn’t feel quite right, it felt too soon. My service-learning placement has been the highlight of my semester with Edwin and Lili, and Tuesday was my last day with them. They thanked me and celebrated the incredible semester we had together by driving me up to the top of Illaló, a mountain that overlooks Cumbayá, Lumbisí, and Tumbaco. It was a beautifully clear day, and the feeling of gratitude and utter awe of God’s goodness and faithfulness mutually filled our hearts. We took pictures, they laughed at my not so funny jokes, and I just smiled. It’s funny how our connection began with my decision to serve them, but ended with them serving me. God truly does create, transform, and love on people who are simply ready to open their hands and wait for His plan to unfold.
Next week is a week of continuing the lasts and saying goodbye. More than that, it is a week of smiles and laughter of the memories from the semester, and wonder of the God who led me from the fear of the unknown in January to the beauty of the most transformational experience in May. I am at a loss for adequate words as my emotions feel confused. The words I do have are thank you—thank you to all the people who have encouraged me and supported me here in Ecuador physically, but also to those from my community in West Michigan. Thank you to a God that surpasses my understanding and sees me wherever I am. Here’s to the final week in Ecuador—a country that has provided me with a life-changing transformation.
Three days! Three weeks have quickly become three days until the end of the semester. The end of my experience in the city. The end of nursing school.
The beginning of my *official* adult life. The beginning of a new start. The beginning of finally contributing to society in a larger way.
Don’t get me wrong, the last few years have been a perfect blend of sweet moments and wrestling to keep my head above water. The thought of going out into the world, where I feel I’ve been well-prepared, eases the anxiety of these new beginning stages of life. Despite my looming to-do list that continues to grow, I have been finding joy in the singular moments of peace and busyness during this last week. To be able to enjoy each second left in the city has been my goal these final days.
In the beginning of April, there was supposed to be an event with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, but they went on strike. With the main performance being cancelled, I went to a lunch-break concert at the Chicago Temple. The sanctuary was so beautiful as a quartet performed some of the greatest composers: Brahms, Mozart, Beethoven. It was an excellent break in the day.
I was roughly three weeks from the end of the semester, and I still hadn’t visited the Lincoln Conservatory or Park Zoo. So, I decided to make a day adventure out of it. Since my apartment is only about 1.5 miles away from both, I decided to enjoy the warm day and walk there. While I had been to the Garfield Park Conservatory, I enjoyed the small, quiet spaces of Lincoln Park.
I love taking an entire day to sit with my own thoughts and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation around me. There is so much green space in the city, which surprised me. I’ve been trying to take advantage of it as much as I can. Not the best at directions, I wandered around the zoo for a couple of hours, just enjoying each of the exhibits. For the history buffs out there, the Lincoln Park Zoo has been around since 1868 thanks to Lincoln Park Commissioners. Since then, it has expanded its conservation efforts to a variety of exotic animals. As you might be able to tell from the picture, the weather was perfect for a visit. Others from the program had visited the zoo back in January and mentioned that not as many of the exhibits were open. So, I was thankful that I picked a warmer day to go.
The next weekend, I had been planning to go to Atlanta, Georgia for the National Conference for Undergraduate Research at Kennesaw University. The weekend was filled with thousands of students’ research projects of all different studies and disciplines. Among these thousands, Hope College sent nineteen. My research involved investigation of the relationship between a past medical history of psychiatric diagnoses and the incidence of delirium in an acute care non-intensive care unit. Throughout each presentation and poster that I visited, I could not help but be impressed at the work and diligence that the students had poured into each project. The culmination of their hard work reminded me of the unique contributions that diversity offers to exploration of the world. Being open enough to new ideas and perspectives is more and more evidently important to any field an individual may be pursing. At least, that is what I have found. In addition to listening and viewing others’ research, I went to a Braves vs. Mets game at the SunTrust Park (that’s baseball for the non-sports fans out there).
NCUR Hope College Group
Me and My Poster Presentation
One of the more structured parts of the weekend was a visit to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Row, in downtown Atlanta. There is a street that holds his birth home, the church in which he grew up, and a memorial center that includes his and his wife’s, Cordelia Scott, burial tombs.
I was able to visit his birth home which was unique because his mother redecorated it, after the national parks organization bought and restored the house. While I could not snap any pictures, I definitely wouldn’t want to. In the generation of picture-perfect moments and Instagram, it is nice to be able to preserve a piece of history in one’s mind instead of a camera roll. While I had learned about MLK Jr. in middle and high school, it was good to understand a bit more deeply on the enormity of his social and civil justice work, and the hallmark events of his life. It’s in these moments that I can begin to feel as if I could never measure up to someone as great and influential as MLK Jr. To have done so much at such a young age, he seemed like a superhero. Yet, it is these “super human” ideals that can hinder one from reaching his or her full potential in life. It is here where I am constantly reminded of Paul’s thorn in 2 Corinthians 12. While we should absolutely take pride in the work we accomplish, we cannot forget Who bestowed to us these gifts of intellect, influence, and power. Additionally, it reminds me that even in all my shortcomings and faults, God is a sovereign King who uses my weakness for His glory and purpose.
On the academic front, it was a very exciting week when the nursing students all gathered for breakfast to commemorate their last (EVER!) nursing exam. How glorious and relieving it was to be done with it! Celebratory coffee and naps!
While we’re on the subject of food (again, I know. I’m such a foodie), I found a coffee shop while trying to find another place (yes, perpetually still getting lost, even at the end of the semester), called Dropshot. I snatched an iced coffee with lavender syrup. Oh boy was it tasty! Another interesting restaurant that one of my roommates and I ventured out to is called Yassa, a Senegalese Restaurant. As part of the case study I was working on for my nursing seminar class, we had to visit a restaurant that was representative of the culture of the neighborhood of interest. For me, it was Bronzeville.
One of the many things I’ve consistently enjoyed throughout the semester is the ability to go to more ethnically diverse restaurants than I could’ve imagined. A piece of advice to students coming to Chicago, invest in your relationships with your coworkers. They are the ones who have lived in the city for most, if not all, of their lives. Three months is a long time to spend with people, and I enjoyed becoming part of the hospital family. In this, they shared their favorite restaurants, entertainment events, and neighborhood advice (that is, which ones to visit, and which ones to avoid). So, to visit a Senegalese restaurant was very cool for me (yes, it was recommended by one of my coworkers). Not only was the food delicious (and very spicy), but the waiters were so friendly. They offered their traditional drinks and talked about each’s cultural importance. Learning is a process I hope never ends.
Another famous place in Chicago for good eats is called Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinders. They serve their 1.5 pound pizza pot pie steaming hot, chock-full of cheese and tomato goodness. As you can tell, I’ve been gorging myself on a ton of delicious foods and finding out culture via my stomach.
In these last few months, it has been a good chance to reflect on what I have learned:
1) Becoming an active member of your community is not necessarily easy, but it is important. Understanding the exhausting daily grind of a full-time job, I have come to realize how much effort it will take to be involved in community events. Yet, there is something about giving more of yourself to the world that somehow, magically allows you to gain even more of yourself back. I included the picture of the blue ribbons because as I passed it on one of my many walks, I remembered my passions in life and why I chose the career I did.
2) Becoming a part of a work family was so incredibly special. While I was still a student, I couldn’t believe how welcoming the staff were at the hospital and how much I learned because of them. They offered their time, efforts, and a slower day to teach me how to become a better nurse. To make someone feel at home is a special kind of talent that cannot be measure in gold or any other monetary equivalent.
3) You don’t have to live in the city to like being in the city. During my time here, I learned more about myself: what kind of and how much alone time I needed, what areas I needed to grow in, and how much I love people. I consider myself to be a fairly reflective individual of my personal preferences, but I love that I can be continually learning about how to function in the world at my optimal performance. My intentions in the beginning of the semester was to consider staying in Chicago if I liked it, but I figured out quickly that the city life was not for me. I could’ve easily pitted myself to not enjoy the city, but I attempted to make the most of the experience and the opportunity. I feel as though I have succeeded. In this, I have taken away lessons that will apply to wherever I land after graduation. Do I have this whole “life” thing figured out? Absolutely not. But, I do see a beautiful journey ahead of me.
Blue ribbons representing the number of children who are victims of abuse
I’ve been abroad for almost three months now, and so much has changed. As you could imagine, my perspective on life has changed, but I’ve undergone other huge changes as well. So many that I don’t know where to begin.
For about a month in a half, I was in a shared apartment with 4 other girls: three white Americans and one Spanish graduate student. Quite frankly, this was a recipe for disaster. Many white Americans are just not culturally competent enough to live with a person of color(s) without a lot of tension. To be more specific, in a majority white European country, there is an added level of cultural pressure on the person of color. I could never catch a break because I was constantly in an environment in which I was seen and treated differently because of the color of my skin and/or the culture I was raised in.
“Did you just say, “The Italian?” said one of my housemates, who we’ll call Jessica. She often made remarks about me speaking Ebonics to the point that I would just answer all calls to my family behind a closed door. “You say your opinion a lot,” said Karen, another housemate, to me because she didn’t understand why I would actually talk about conflict when it arose. “Yeah, she said you’re such a b-word,” a friend told me after overhearing Dawn, another housemate, complain about how sassy I am. “The Sassy Black Girl” or The Angry Black Woman” stereotypes have been given to me so much I stopped responding to it with concern and realize this was unacceptable for me to have to explain myself and undergo constant cultural rejection and micro-aggression. This was not the right environment for me. Week two of the program, I talked with one of the coordinators and it was followed up with a meeting on week five in which I was given the option to move into a homestay. I moved out less than a week later.
In my homestay, there is an older Spanish woman who’s inherited a luxurious apartment with a terrace in the center of the city. She’s never been married and does not have any kids apart from two neighborhood kids who come by every weekend. Like any typical Spanish person, she loves to talk, stay up late, smoke and drink beer. Although she sometimes mothers me more than I’d like, she is an amazing woman who has lived a very full life and still has so much more ahead of her. Physically, I am in a completely different environment and full Spanish immersion because she knows very little English.
The first week in my new home, I took a trip back to Valencia to visit my host family from over the summer. They haven’t changed a bit. I realized how well I got to know them and missed them even in my time away. It felt like I actually had a family here in Spain. We spent time together in the city on Saturday, and a few hours at home on Sunday. It was nice to see that I made an impression on them when I sometimes don’t seem to notice that I have that effect on people.
It’s interesting now to compare the two experiences I have had in Spain with two different families. To give your more of an idea of that experience, I’ll give a comparison to the US. Imagine having lived two months with a family in New Jersey and a separate set of months with a family from Alabama. It would be pretty different right? This is exactly my experience here. My host family in Valencia speaks a different language, it’s similar to Catalan, and Spanish as a second language. I could understand a good amount of it because of my background in French and Spanish, however, I would have to concentrate way more than with Spanish. When they would switch back to speaking Spanish it was as clear as someone speaking English to me, and my head would hurt a lot less as you could imagine. They live closer to the sea so they have a lot more traditional seafood dishes worked into their diets. In contrast, my current host mom is from Andalusia which has its own culture and dialect of Spanish that is spoken. I understand them pretty well because I have a lot of friends from Seville, but sometimes it can be difficult because of the different words and phrases that they use on top of the accent. All in all, it’s really beautiful to see how their history affects their culture and changes my experience as an outsider. I can tell you more about this in a different blog because I learned a lot about how these cultural shifts came to be, through my Religion and Society class. Just stay tuned. Also, I’ll upload another video of my time in Valencia on YouTube so check it out when you get the chance!
I was stuck inside all day studying for one of my finals. After hours of reviewing, I decided I’d finally had enough and I ought to go for a walk to clear my head. I laced up my tennis shoes and headed into the metro without a specific destination in mind. I eventually landed at the Eiffel Tour and decided to walk along the Seine, maybe I’d end up at Place de la Concorde, maybe I’d walk further depending on how I was feeling.
I walked quite a way, just enjoying the sunny spring evening in Paris. The sky was a pristine blue and there was scarcely a cloud in it, except that one… that’s a really odd-looking cloud… no wait, that’s smoke!
Normally I try to be really casual about weird things that happen in Paris because, well, it’s Paris and plenty of strange things happen here. However, this cloud of smoke caught my attention because it was huge! I followed the smoke which just happened to seem to be the direction of the river, in my head trying to figure out what it could be, an apartment building fire maybe? As I got near, I noticed that the stream of smoke seemed to be growing, something was not right.
The river curved and so I followed it and I was struck with the oddest view. It looked like the smoke was coming from Ile-de-la-Cité right next to Notre Dame, Paris’ oldest and most well-known church. I kept walking, determined to see what it was, and I saw flames directly on top of the cathedral. If I wasn’t already stressing out and panicking, I was at this point. Notre Dame is on fire?! How could this happen? Notre Dame is made out of stone, how does stone burn? Why is the fire getting bigger?
I was in shambles: tears wet my cheeks and my nose ran incessantly. What I felt could only be described as shock. This was a church I walked by at least three times a week and it was now in a complete state of distress. All I could do was stand by and watch as Notre Dame was ravaged by flames. A few minutes passed as I looked at the beautiful cathedral on one of her darkest days. I eventually came to my senses and realized that I didn’t know what caused this. It could have been an act of terrorism and there could have been more planned so I decided it was best that I return home to safety. I was also concerned about the metro as that was my only way home. I wondered if it would be closed as sometimes is the case when there are calamities in the city.
Thankfully, I made it home in one piece with no difficulties. As soon as I opened the door, I blurted out what I’d just witnessed to my host sister, Astrid, who is in her thirties. She was stunned and immediately turned on the radio which was already reporting of the fire raging on the roof of Notre Dame. The rest of the evening I struggled to concentrate on anything other than the fire. I scoured the internet for any kind of information I could find on how it started or if it could be put out. News outlets were predicting that the cause of the fire was in relation to the ongoing renovations happening on the roof, where the fire started, not due to terrorism which relieved me immensely. For a while, I switched between several livestreams to follow the advances of the fire and my heart nearly burst out of my chest as I watched the spire fall. Eventually, I fell asleep, but woke up every couple of hours to check any updates I could find.
Finally, in the early morning, I saw that Paris firefighters had contained the fire and that the structure of the church was, by and large, saved. I breathed a sigh of relief; Notre Dame wouldn’t be completely destroyed. I proceeded with my morning routine and checked my phone to find that I had so many messages. I had messages from friends and family checking in to make sure that I was okay and expressing their condolences. I made sure to respond to them all and thank them for their concern.
I spent the morning in a daze and picked up a 20 Minute (free newspaper in the Paris metro) that displayed the title Le Drame de Notre-Dame and a photo of Notre Dame in flames. I couldn’t read it because I had a three hour exam that I had to study for during my commute. Thankfully, the exam wasn’t too terrible, and I then had the rest of the day to process through all that I’d seen. I read the article on Notre Dame on my way to see her for myself.
Once out of the metro, I was bombarded with people. Tourists, Parisians, and journalists alike had flooded any street with a view of the Cathedral, all anxious to catch a glimpse of what remained. I managed to push my way through the waves of people to find a place where I could see her well. I was surprised to see that she didn’t look as desolate and destroyed as I’d thought though, at the same time, she was somber. Notre Dame lost her spire and roof. To the untrained eye she looked a little rough, but not terrible. For those of us who’ve seen her more than a few times, you can tell by looking at her that something is different.
Why does this matter?
Notre Dame is one of the most well-known churches in the world. It actually is the most-visited monument in the city, beating out the Eiffel Tower by nearly twice the number of visitors annually. With Notre Dame now closed to the general public, for at least the foreseeable future, there is going to be a swarm of visitors flocking to other various tourist locations around Paris so it will have a huge impact on crowds. Although, I’m certain they’ll make a point to see her from afar.
Also, there is the matter of preservation of history. Construction on the cathedral started in 1163 when the first stone was placed in the presence of the pope Alexander III. It wasn’t finished until nearly two-hundred years later, in 1345! Since then, plenty of updates have been made to Notre Dame including renovations to keep the building updated in the 850 years since its construction. Most recently, a 150-million-euro renovation was being done on the roof and spire as it had experienced some normal wear-and-tear. It was to be expected from a building that has been around since before the middle ages.
However, it isn’t simply a matter of Notre Dame being an incredibly old church that draws in tourists. After the fire, I saw a lot of posts on Instagram and twitter about how Notre Dame stood through two world wars. Yes, that’s true, she did, but that’s only in the last 100 years. But these posts didn’t even mention the fact that she stood through the French Revolution, the Black Plague, and was around long before most of our ancestors left Europe. A lot of people who haven’t really gotten to know France and the culture tend to think of Notre Dame as being merely a really old and really beautiful church. Maybe they think of it as a setting for a famous book or Disney movie, but for those of us who really knew what she meant to France know better than to simply attribute those titles to her. She survived through so much and continued to stand and represent France and the French people. As the literal center of Paris, Notre Dame embodied the heart of Paris and France as a whole, and to see that go up in flames was to see a piece of the identity of France turn to ash.
Whilst scrolling through all of those posts about the incredible loss of Notre Dame, I was bothered by a general lack of reverence and comprehension of the importance of this monument displayed. I would like to point out that when an event like this happens, it is so incredibly important to research and understand what something symbolizes before posting about it or don’t post at all. I don’t believe posting a family vacation photo in front of Notre Dame with a caption explaining how “lucky you were to see her before this accident” is appropriate to memorialize the monument given the weight of this terrible event.
What do the French think?
The French reaction to the fire at Notre Dame is fairly mixed. In my experience, a the people who were most affected were the adults, Catholic, and non-French. When I got back to my apartment, Astrid, whom I introduced earlier, was shocked and watched the news until late in the night to follow the updates at Notre Dame. Katherine was also heartbroken over the fire.
On the other hand, in one of my university classes at Diderot, the professor (a Russian woman) asked what we all thought about the Notre Dame fire. Most of the students (all in their first year at university) didn’t seem to care, yet these were people who’d lived in Paris their whole lives. My professor seemed much more affected, as were many of my friends in my study abroad program. I’ve also been in several Catholic churches since then and have seen signs up asking parishioners to pray for Notre Dame.
Essentially, I believe that the people who were most affected by the fire were those who were capable of understanding the importance of Notre Dame. My university classmates are so accustomed to having an old church on every street corner so I assume they viewed it as any other. The adults with whom I’ve spoken on the subject appear to be far more invested in what will come of this event.
In the 24 hours following the start of the fire, three billionaires donated a total of 600 million euros for the reconstruction of Notre Dame. France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, declared that they would rebuild and later said that it would be done in 5 years’ time. This was actually quite a shocking statement given the immense amount of work that will have to be done in such a small time span so we’ll see whether that statement is followed up with action. Essentially, the entire roof and spire are completely destroyed so it will be rather precarious work given how high the ceilings are. Needless to say, it will be interesting to see what happens next as we continue in this new chapter for Notre Dame.
After a semester of adventure, my weekend trips have come to a close and I am enjoying my last couple of weeks bouncing around between my hometown of Cumbayá and the capital city of Quito. I am so thankful for some extra time to relax and enjoy my favorite places in town! As I am walking around with my fellow international students each day, we are always thinking of our favorite restaurants, coffee shops, and walks that we can’t leave without doing, at least, one more time. Our list is getting quite large so it will be interesting to see how we attempt to fit everything in.
We are heading into our last week of classes at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito with a week of final exams to follow. This weekend will be one of wrapping up last assignments for the upcoming week, and continual reflection on the semester as a whole. Anyone who has been following my blog posts this semester knows how crucial my service learning placement has been for me over the past 4 months! The goodbyes begin on Tuesday, as it will be my last day there, and wow will that be tough one. I’ve realized what a blessing hard goodbyes, or rather see-you-laters, are because they represent the strength of the relationship that was formed! It is crazy that the weeks of all the “lasts” is already beginning.
You may not be surprised that college students in Ecuador love coffee shops, just like they do in West Michigan. It is the place where we can socialize with our friends and get some homework done at the same time (or at least attempt to). This past week has included lots of coffee shop time as everyone begins to feel the stress and time crunch at the end of the semester. Without the travel component, my weekends now feel a bit longer and I accomplish more academically, and in taking care of myself. I realize how content I feel to just rest, in these last few weeks, knowing that reverse culture shock may be just around the corner. This semester, rest has been such a blessing of healing that I was not able to recognize, arriving from a culture that is constantly busy being busy. Being intentional is going to be necessary to implement ways of changing my previous lifestyle at home to mold a life of increased personal connection with those around me, and to better care for myself.
Here’s to enjoying the calm, the relaxing, and the coffee shops. Here’s to learning how I can mesh the benefits of a very laid-back culture in Ecuador with the benefits busy of United States’ culture. Both cultures have positive and negative aspects. It is now my job to learn from them, and learn to implement them!