Graduation and Beyond!

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.

All the CS nursing students with Michelle (our instructor) in the lab coat
CS (most*) students on the last day of classes

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

My roommates, neighbors, and I all pointing on the Chicago map where our internships were
Last roomie pic ever

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.” 

-II Thessalonians 3: 1-5, ESV

 

 

Final Moments in the City

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.

Chicago Temple

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).

SunTrust Park

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.

Memorial fountain with MLK Jr’s words inscribed
Ebenezer Baptist Church where MLK Jr’s father preached and he grew up in

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

At 6 o’clock is a nem: a fried egg roll with ground beef, chicken, shrimp, and vegetables. At 2 o’clock is nataya, a spicy, deep fried salmon patty
Chicken Kebobs with Djolof Rice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Mediterranean bread bigger than all four of our faces

Jerk Chicken with coconut rice and beans; Beef brisket with jerk mac and cheese. Both with po-boys and white bread
Lamb Shwarma with cucumber salad and hummus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Pick a Favorite?

Every Monday, the classroom is filled with chatter about what everyone did the previous weekend.

“How did you like [insert city name here]?” “What did you do there?” “Oh, I loved/didn’t like that city” “What’s your favorite place you’ve been so far?”

Of course I participate in these pre-class discussions. How could I not? The problem, my answers tend to all be the same: I honestly loved all the places I traveled to. And pick my favorite city? How could I possibly do that? Every city was beautiful to me, each in their own ways.

Berlin, Germany

The first trip I went on. It wasn’t originally on my list of places to go when I was abroad, but I’m so glad we went. There’s so much history in Berlin, and it was cool being able to learn about a lot of it. For example, there’s a square in Berlin where there are two identical churches that face each other. The story behind it was that the two church communities (French and German) didn’t want to worship together, so they built two of the exact same churches in the same square.

The food in Germany was absolutely to die for. The pretzels, apple strudel, schnitzel, and currywurst…oh my goodness, we ate so much on that trip. We all tried new foods in Berlin. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I did, but now I want to go back and eat more!

Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona was on the top of my to-travel-to list. I’ve been dreaming of traveling to Spain since forever, and it was the first plane ticket that I bought.

One of the reasons why I was so excited to go to Barcelona was that I was able to see two of my friends from Hope who were also studying abroad in Europe. We planned to meet up there, and it was such a wonderful weekend.

We woke up early and went for a little run on the beach, followed by a delicious brunch (where my sandwich had a guacamole syringe in it)! Then we wandered around the city for hours, admiring the Gaudi architecture. La Sagrada Familia was even bigger and more impressive in person. After snapping many pictures, we found a small shop where we spent some time eating gelato and churros and enjoying the warm air.

The best part was by far getting to see Grant and Anna. It was wonderful getting to see familiar faces, and spend time with each other exploring a beautiful city.

Florence and Rome, Italy

Spring break in Italy? Yes, please! Oh, Italy was so sunny and warm–a nice contrast from the chilly February air in London.

In every city we traveled to (in and out of Italy) we always found something to climb that offered a view of the city. After filling ourselves up with pizza, we hiked up to the top of the Duomo in Florence.

463 steps to the top…so totally worth it. The view from the top was breathtaking. You could see the entirety of Florence. With the combination of the view and the warm afternoon sunshine, my friends and I spent close to an hour at the top of the Duomo.

Rome was also wonderful. It had history that I’d loved learning about since middle school, and sights that never seemed to end. But the best part of Rome was the pasta dish Gircia. A.k.a my new favorite pasta. It was pasta, pancetta, and percorino cheese. If only I’d taken a picture. Oh I could have eaten that pasta forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Belfast, Northern Ireland

We had a very specific reason for traveling to Belfast: Game of Thrones tour. When we found out that many of the filming locations were in Northern Ireland, how could we pass up the chance to see them?

We went to the place where they filmed Winterfell, got to meet the dogs that played direwolf pups, and ate lunch at the hotel where the cast stayed while they were filming. It was a day filled with fangirling, costumes worn by extras, archery, and lots and lots of smiling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Malaga, Spain

Not going to lie, although I said I couldn’t pick a favorite, I loved Spain enough that I went back. This time to the south coast: Costa del Sol. Boy, did that name deliver. It was 70 degrees the entire weekend; warm enough to wear shorts (much to the locals dismay). We hiked up to the top of the fortress, went and experienced a flamenco show, and even took a day trip to Seville.

The Alcazar in Seville was stunning. The vibrant colors and smells that perfumed the air made the experience even better. I wanted to turn that scent into a candle so I could have it with me always.

On our last day, we spent the afternoon on the beach. I hadn’t been to the beach in so, so long. One of my favorite parts of going to the beach when I was younger was looking for shells. That’s exactly what I did.

So yeah, I can’t pick a favorite place. Each of these cities were beautiful in their own way. Honestly, they couldn’t compare to each other. It would be a shame to choose any of these over another.  I wish I could’ve spent weeks and months in these places, exploring every little nook and cranny and experiencing everything they have to offer. Maybe one day I’ll return…or I may be adventuring in a new city. I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

Cherish la Sevillana

I spent the weekend in Seville! CIEE organized a planned weekend trip to Seville, Spain. Sevilla is a part of the Andalusian region of Spain. It used to be populated by people mostly from the middle east and home to three of the country’s most practiced religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Today, you can see so many remnants of its past and the way in which those things are still a part of the culture today. For example, there used to be mostly Arabic speakers in this part of the country and that affected a lot of the town names, colloquial terms, and the accent. Andalucía was previously known as Al-Andalus to the former Arabic-speaking inhabitants. If you think is cool, you’re gonna flip when I tell you that I went to the royal palace of the famous Catholic King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. Fun fact: it is still used as a palace for the Spanish monarchy when they make visits to this region. There’s a beautiful culture and history to unpack here in Andalusia and I’m going to tell you a little bit more about what I learned!

One of the classes I’m taking this semester is Religion and Society and we focus on the three main religions of Spain. It’s such a great class because we are able to not only learn about the religions, but how they were created, intertwined with society, and understand more about their structure. Often, classes on religion can become more preachy than teachy; however, this class gives us actual accounts of the facts, beliefs, and societal perceptions over time. I love it! What makes it better is that over the weekend I was able to visit some of the sites we discussed.

We left around 8:30 AM Friday morning for Sevilla. I slept most of the ride there. About 5 hours into our drive, we stopped for lunch. This was the first I had a traditional Spanish meal since the summer. Next, we made a stop in Cordoba. Ever heard of it? Well, if you were to ask any Muslim at the height of their expansion into the west, and specifically Spain, you would know that it held one of three important Mosques of its time. It was the central Mosque for Muslims in Spain. However, as I learned in my class and during our tour of the mosque, it did not remain a mosque. After many years of oppression, relentless efforts by the Pope and catholic rulers throughout Europe, all of these religious spaces, including Jewish synagogues, were “Christianized.”

To give you a clearer picture, let’s talk about the royal palace in Seville. It is almost entirely decorated in Arabic script and constructed in Islamic style architecture. When you go deeper into the palace and its many salas you would be suddenly struck with byzantine Christian imagery. I’m talking about all the stuff that Muslims would avoid to remain their founding principal of equality. You will see paintings that reach all four corners of a wall adorned with golden elaborately designed frames. Angels, Jesus, saints — if it’s Christian, then it is present in any of the Christianized religious buildings. In class, I learned that this kind of complete take over and hierarchical power structure that we find in Christianity is deeply rooted in the political and societal structure of Ancient Rome. For me, it cleared up all the conflicting ideas that were present in Christianity. I could honestly write a whole blog on just how much I’ve learned about these 3 religions’ fundamental and structural makeup. I’ll leave you here this time and pick it up in a later blog. Now it’s story time!

While in Cordoba and Sevilla, we visited some off site locations such as the medieval Jewish neighborhoods that once occupied so much of these cities. Upon walking away from the palace, we find ourselves in one of these beautiful and historical juderias (Jewish neighborhood). This isn’t any ordinary Jewish quarter because it is the actual location in which a story of star crossed lovers met their fate. I am really trying to make this interesting and suspenseful. Is it working? Okay, let’s keep going haha. There was a young Jewish girl and young Christian boy who shared a forbidden love for each other. One night, the young Jewish girl planned to meet her lover in the neighborhood square. She heard her father talking about planning an attack on the Christians who lived nearby. When the Christian boy got word of this, he decided to tell his comrades in order to prepare themselves for the events to take place that night. In the end, everyone is slain except the couple. It was such a deadly battle and it caused the Christian boy to want nothing to do with the young Jewish girl. She was then without parents, without a lover, and without any place to go. She goes to the church, and yes, I mean the catholic church, to ask for help. They tell her that they will help her, but only if she converts to Christianity and joins the convent as a nun. The young Jewish girl then lives the rest of her life as a Christian woman.

Everything I’ve told you to this point is an actual account of history in this neighborhood that happened thousands of years ago, if I remember correctly, it happened in the 15th or 16th century. However, the legend goes on to say that before she died, she asked that her head be separated from her body and placed in her childhood home as a lesson to young Jewish children not to disobey their elder or betray their people. Although the story is unfortunate, it has been kept alive for generations and the legend has taken the shape of a narrow street and a tile decorated with a skull. The street of the dead who were killed that night of the battle and a skull to remember the “wishes” of the young Jewish girl. This was all told to me in Spanish by the way. It was pretty amazing to be in this spot in which it all took place so long ago. Then, as we exited, I began to admittedly critique the character of the young Christian boy who abandoned his star-crossed lover. Que tonto era! He was such a jerk!

Before I get upset again about this 15th/16th century Justin Bieber wannabe…let’s just look at some pretty pictures in the video below haha.

Episode 3 of Annie Explores Chicago

Hello, friends!

Following along the journey of a nursing student continues. On today’s episode of Annie survives Chicago, we will see a short, Asian young lady attempting to blot away her worries with beautiful conservatories, visits by her best friend, lunar new year celebrations, and bubble tea. Don’t be fooled by her long work days; she continues to live her life to the fullest.

All joking aside, the last few weeks have been an excellent balance between work, home duties, cooking (because food is paramount), and exploring new parts of the city. Although I feel like I will say that in every post, there truly is something new in the city every time I step foot out of my apartment. The streets are filled with evidence of rich culture and history of the city’s people. I cannot believe that Saturday marks six weeks since I’ve moved to Chicago. I’ve settled into my routine (and, of course, mixing it up every now and then) and continue to figure out the teeter-totter of balancing adult-like responsibilities while still adventuring in the city.

When my friend visited from home, we had planned our entire weekend to the “t”. And, how fortunate was it that she came the weekend of National Pizza Day. That Saturday, we went to a Puerto Rican restaurant called Nellie’s Restaurant and ate their breakfast special: omelet with chorizo and veggies topped with plantains, french white toast, and coconut oatmeal. All were delicious! I was initially apprehensive about the coconut oatmeal, but it ended up tasting like cinnamon rice pudding.

After we thoroughly stuffed our hungry (which quickly turned to not-so-hungry) stomachs, we scurried over to Garfield Park Conservatory. I can’t say much more about it other than it was breathtaking. I’ll just let the photos speak for themselves. Plants are pretty.


The next day was filled with Chinese New Year celebrations! After church, we decided to grab lunch in Chinatown at a Cantonese restaurant. It’s pretty typical to order several entrees and the entire party share. The custom is fairly common in Asian countries. Among the entrees we ordered, there was egg drop soup, vegetarian egg rolls, Mongolian beef, curry chicken, orange chicken, and chicken fried rice.

 

One of my (and everyone else in China’s) favorite part about the lunar new year is the red envelopes. If you don’t know what I’m referring to, red envelopes are what kids receive for Chinese New Year and have money inside (I’m sure you can now see why it’s everyone’s most anticipated part of the holiday). There was a parade, which we ended up missing because we thought it would last at least an hour. By the time we finished eating, the parade had just finished…so sad. We at least got to see the countdown. After the countdown was finished, we went to buy rolled ice-cream and bubble tea. Weekends always fly by quickly, but I’m thankful for the fun I pack into them.

On the internship side of my week, I’ve been slowly growing comfortable in the operating room (OR) both circulating and scrubbing in on cases. There are so many nuances and multitasking skills needed in the OR that can only be gained from experience in the OR. I’m so incredibly thankful for the nurses and surgical technicians who have been patient enough to take the time to teach me how to open surgical instruments, teach me the names of instruments, and the specifics of how to scrub and circulate. I’ve learned so much about surgical services and I continue to analyze my weaknesses and grow from my mistakes. I appreciate how the nurses are able to point out my mistakes and forgive them even more easily. I’ve always been a believer that learning from your mistakes is the best way to grow.

One of the fanciest events that I’ve attended thus far is the opera, Elektra! It was so fun this past Friday to dress up in fancy attire and listen to really talented people paint a beautiful ancient story with their voices. It captured the rawness of humanity and vulnerability in its true form.

Overall, I’m still finding myself in each part of the city and simply enjoying the ride. Bonus material: here are some cool murals I’ve found around the city. Ta-ta for now!

Fresh Air is Good for the Soul

Ever since I figured out what I wanted to do with my life, I’ve dreamed of living in a city.  Getting an apartment in New York or Chicago, taking public transportation to work every day; it all seemed like the dream. And living in London was the perfect trial run for it.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am loving living in the city. There’s so much to do and see every single day. It really keeps you on your toes too. The other day as I went by on the bus, I saw a man serenading some people very enthusiastically with his saxophone. But one thing I didn’t anticipate was how much I was going to miss grass and trees and air that doesn’t smell like bus fumes all the time.

This past weekend we had a field trip to go see Stonehenge and spend a night in the city of Bath. I missed most of the drive up due to being asleep, but once we arrived at Stonehenge, I was surprised at how green everything still was. I’m so used to everything being brown and dead-looking in the middle of January.

After we walked around the stones for a while, my friends and I decided to not take the bus back to the visitor center and hike along the path through the hills instead. It was a bit blustery, but eventually the sun came out, and it was gorgeous. It was then that I realized how much I missed my shoes slipping in the mud while hiking, and the damp smell the earth gives after it rains.

In Bath we had a similar experience. The line to be able to sit in one of the baths fed by the hot springs was much too long, so once again, we decided to walk around. As we looked around the city, we noticed a large park that was situated a bit higher up than the rest of the city. We had no idea how to get there, but we were determined to find it anyway.

We walked out of the city center, into a neighborhood just outside of the city (accidentally walking through a few people’s garden paths in the process). Soon, we found the park. It’s green carpet was a vivid difference in comparison to the pale architecture of the rest of the city. We made our way up.

All of us decided not to look at the view until we hit the very top of the hill. As we stood with our backs facing the city, panting slightly from the incline, there was no doubt that smiles were plastered on all of our faces.

“One…Two…Three”

 

 

It was worth the biting wind, the muddy shoes, and forty-five-minute hike. If nothing else, it made me realize just how much I loved exploring in this capacity. It was refreshing to be able to clear our lungs and take a moment to appreciate this amazing journey we’re on.

Wes

Today a close friend of mine died.

 

He seemed to be ever present, ever entertaining.

 

He was a calming presence and knew just when you needed a lift up.

 

In a word, he was consistent.

 

He will be dearly missed.

 

He was a wasp named Wesley.

 

My wasp friend, though we never really spoke, did bring a sense of meaning to my life (and of all the lives who came to his funeral). I think it was his consistency that did it. Every morning, sitting down to breakfast, Wesley greeted us with a buzz. Now I’ve seen plenty of wasps in my time here and none have meant anything to me.

 

I think the difference is consistency and I think this consistency gives meaning. I’m going to talk a bit about why I think this is based on my summer experience and then dive into how consistency is a huge part of the Oregon Extension (which we call the OE).

 

This summer, I lived at the base of Rockies in Boulder, CO. Coming from the flat farmland of Indiana, the landscape was breathtaking.

 

Every day, as I drove home from work; I was in awe of towering figures crowding the sky.

 

Why?

 

Was it the fact the landscape was so unusual?

 

Coming home to Indiana after a long summer away, I cherished seeing the red bricks, red porch, and red car I associate with home.

 

Why?

Was it the fact the landscape was so familiar?

 

In either case, I think consistency is the bedrock fo our source of meaning and wonder.

 

Without my lifetime of exposure to the flat farmlands of the midwest, I would not be shocked and awed by towering mountains.

 

Likewise, without my consistent exposure to and then absence from, home, I would not give meaning to silly things like bricks and deck paint and car color.

 

Here in Oregon, this sense of consistency is deeply present. You stay with the same 25 people for a whole semester. You are in a new, breathtaking place.

 

You are consistently challenged in your thinking (yes even in the first week).

 

You are consistently cared for by professors and peers alike.

 

There’s a stability here. A calm.

 

I hear the same gravel crunch on my way to class every morning, hear the same rooster interrupt lecture an hour later, see my favorite dog (her name is Kuma) shortly thereafter during discussion at a Prof’s house and I make a killer meal with my cabin mates to end every day.

 

Our days are full of good books, good food, and good thinking. It’s odd because I worry if I will be able to bring these consistencies home.

 

But maybe I shouldn’t worry so.

 

Wesley, a wasp I only knew for days, imparted enough meaning for me to write about and remember him. I think the chances are good I will remember the consistent thought and care I give and am given here.

 

WWOOF – World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms

In my freshman year at Hope I had the opportunity to participate in an immersion trip that went and did some volunteer work in Jamaica over spring break. The trip had been advertised to me by a friend as an opportunity to experience all the benefits of a vacation while also doing some good for others. As I started planning a trip for this spring, I couldn’t help but recall that trip and the lasting impact it has had on my life. I still see a lot of value in simply traveling to new places and participating in touristy activities, but I knew that I wanted to do something a little different (at least for part of my break). So, I created a WWOOF account.

WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) is a volunteer organization that connects willing volunteers with farms and smallholdings. In exchange for accommodation and food, volunteers work for about 4 hours each day. I saw this as an opportunity to travel around and do some good at the same time, with the added bonus of saving money and seeing parts of the UK that you would not ordinarily see as a normal tourist.

I searched the WWOOF website for farms and smallholdings with good reviews and characteristics that matched the type of site I wanted to stay at, and I contacted the WWOOF hosts at these locations. After lots of research and communication with these hosts, my girlfriend, Gabbi, and I packed our bags and headed off to a farm in Ayrshire, Scotland, where we spent a few days before picking up again and moving to a farm in southern Wales. In between, we were able to stop for a night in Manchester and a night in Liverpool. I could talk about my experiences at each farm and in each city for hours on end, but I will only touch on each because the break was filled with so many activities.

At the first farm, I spent most of my working hours raking leaves, cleaning a polytunnel, cleaning a chicken coup, and potting plants. I also held a chicken. So that was cool.

Then, in the afternoons, the host would drive Gabbi and me to the nearest bus station and we’d travel to whichever cities in the area sounded the most interesting. For the first two days we were there, this resulted in us exploring the cities of Irvine and Kilmarnock.

On the third day, our host insisted that we take the day off and take the ferry across to the Isle of Arran. The Isle of Arran, sometimes called “miniature Scotland”, is an island west of mainland Scotland. From the farm we were volunteering at, you could see the peak of its highest mountain, “Goat Fell”, across a small strip of the Atlantic Ocean. Instead of working on this day, we woke up early and took the ferry across to the Isle of Arran where we managed to spend almost all of our time hiking up the majority of Goat Fell.

View of Goat Fell from the first farm
A panorama of me partway up Goat Fell

After returning each evening from our miniature adventures, I could always count on playing fetch with the host’s puppy until my arm was so sore I could no longer throw her ball.

Asha, the puppy from the first farm

As I said, after leaving the first farm, Gabbi and I made our way to Manchester for one night: the night of the Manchester City versus Manchester United game. For anyone who doesn’t watch much soccer, these are two of the best teams in the world and are also huge rivals. We stopped into a restaurant that was playing the game and got to experience some of the rivalry first hand. It was incredible. It was crazy. These people take their soccer very seriously.

The next day we were in Liverpool, which is a beautiful city with an interesting history (which I got to learn all about at the Museum of Liverpool). After waking up early the next morning for a run on Albert Dock (where we’d watched the sun set the night before), we headed off to the second farm.

The Royal Liver Building in Liverpool
Sunset from Albert Dock
Beatles statue on Albert Dock

At the second farm, we split and stacked firewood and helped put a new cover on the host’s polytunnel which had torn over the winter. There was less accessibility to public transportation on this farm, so we spent most afternoons playing board games with our hosts or walking through the rolling hills of Wales. One evening, I even learned the basics of knitting!

Polytunnel from the second farm with its new cover

On our way to London to begin the second half of our break, we stopped in Burry Port (where a nice lady in a family-run market gave us free Welsh cakes!) and Swansea. The entire, crazy experience of hopping from city to city and helping with odd jobs on farms was one which I will always remember.

Me eating a free Welsh cake in Burry Port

Emprendiendo Viajes: Starting Journeys

Español:

Hoy llevo ya unos días aquí en Madrid. La verdad es que se me ha hecho mucho que procesar porque solo hace un par de días estaba en la ciudad de México y hace unos cuantos más en Austin, Tejas. Voy un poco atrasado en lo que he querido escribir sobre todo desde antes que llegara a Madrid pero ya que estoy un poco mejor situado en la ciudad quisiera darles una probadita de lo que ma ha sucedido estas últimas semanas. Si quieres seguir leyendo quiero que sepas que este blog se tratará sobre mis experiencias mientras estudio en el extranjero y mis reacciones a diferentes experiencias, sean buenas o malas. Has quedado advertido. Sea como sea, espero que sí te guste lo que escriba y quizás se te haga hasta placentero leer mis blogs. 

Dejando Michigan: 

Como muchos de ustedes sabrán, yo estudio en Holland, Michigan, en una escuela privada llamada Hope College, o sea Colegio de Esperanza, un nombre muy poético, yo creo. Si no la sabías ahora los sabes.

He estudiado allí por un poco más de año ya. La verdad es que me ha gustado vivir en un pueblo que es bastante diferente a la ciudad de donde provengo porque me ha permitido ver el estilo de vida Americano desde otro punto de vista. La verdad es que el patrimonio Americano se vive más profundamente en el pueblo que en la ciudad. En los Estados Unidos los puntos de vista del gobierno son muy prominentes en el carácter de uno. Lo que pasa es que en los EEUU hay dos partidos que predominan el país. Esto causa una situación que no se vive en muchos otros países. Por decir, en México históricamente el PRI ha dominado la mayor parte del gobierno de la república. Lo mismo sucede en muchos países. Por eso la gente se ha acostumbrado a tener el mismo punto de vista de la política en estos países, un punto de vista que suele ser uno de cero importancia hacia la política. Mucha gente en estos países consideran a su gobierno corrupto y sin escrúpulos en todo caso. Esta es la realidad en muchos países. Por lo tanto yo muchas veces pienso que es una bendición que en los EEUU tan siquiera tenemos la posibilidad de elegir entre dos partidos que tienen el mismo nivel de importancia. Pero bueno a final de cuentas solo menciono esto porque lo veo como una gran diferencia entre mi vida en Austin a lo que he vivido este año y medio en Holland. También es un tema que quiero explorar en España. 

Quise tomarme una ultima foto antes de salir del ártico de Michigan. I wanted to take one last picture in the Michigan arctic.

Volviendo a Austin:

Bueno, me desvié un poco. Pero si acabé mi último examen en Michigan el 15 de diciembre y me fui con un amigo que vive en Detroit para quedarme la noche porque mi vuelo salía por la madrugada a Austin al siguiente día. 

Alrededor del medio día, tiempo de Austin, llegué a los brazos de mi mamá tan querida. Nos abrazamos y le dí un beso en su mejilla como vengo haciendo desde chiquito. Llegué a ver a mis hermanos que llevaba tanto tiempo sin ver y sí me dio mucha alegría ver a mi familia que tanto había echado de menos mientras estaba en la universidad.

La navidad se celebró como es típico en mi familia, todos mis tíos y nosotros reunidos en la casa de mi tío en noche buena. Tomamos muchos ponche y comimos chivo y pasamos un buen rato. 

Mis hermanitos tan hermosos. My beautiful brothers.

Al igual el año nuevo se paso muy bien entre familia en nuestra casa como se hace todos los años. Todo fue muy bueno al regresar a Austin, pero lo mejor fue estar de regreso con mi familia que tanto amo y que ya extrañaba tanto de no ver en Holland. 

English: 

I have now spent a few days here in Madrid. The truth is that it has been so much to process, because a few days ago I was in Mexico and a few days before that I was in Austin. I’m a little behind on what I wanted to write about even before traveling to Madrid, but now that I am a little more situated in the city I wanted to give y’all a little taste of what has happened to me over the past few weeks. If you want to keep reading this blog it will be over my experiences while I study abroad and my reaction to different experiences whether they are good or bad. You have been warned. Either way I hope that you like reading what I write and perhaps it may even be pleasant.

Leaving Michigan: 

Like a lot of y’all know I study in Holland, Michigan, at a private school called Hope College, a name that I believe to be pretty poetic. If you didn’t know, now you know.

I have studied there for more than a year now. The truth is that I have liked living in a small town that is so different from the city I am from because it has allowed me to view the American lifestyle in another way. The truth is that American patriotism is much more prevalent in a small town than in the city. In America your political views are very prominent in your personality. In the U.S. there are two parties that dominate the country. This is a situation that is not as common in other countries. For example, in Mexico historically the PRI (a Mexican political party) has dominated most of the country’s government. The same happens in several countries. That is why many people in other countries have the same political stance, they really don’t care about politics. Most people in these countries consider their government as just corrupt and without morals. This is the reality for many countries. For this reason I think sometimes, although the political system isn’t perfect in the states, it’s a blessing to have at least two options. The only reason I bring this up is because I see this as a big difference between life in Austin and what I have experienced over a year and a half in Holland. It is also a topic that I want to explore while I am in Spain.

 

Returning to Austin:

Well, I got a bit off topic. Anyway I finished my final exam in Michigan on the 15th of December and I left with a buddy who lives in Detroit to stay the night, because my flight left very early the next morning.

Around noon Austin time I arrived to my beloved mom’s arms. We hugged it out and I kissed her on the cheek like I have done since the time I was very little. I arrived to see my brothers that I hadn’t seen in so long, and I was so happy to see the family that I had missed so much while I had been in college.

Christmas was celebrated with family like we typically do, all my uncles and us congregated at my uncle’s house on Christmas Eve. We drank a lot of ponche (Mexican drink), ate goat’s meat and had a very good time.

Todo mundo viendo a diferentes lados, como es costumbre en mi familia. Everyone looking in a different direction, as is typical with my family.

Likewise, New Year’s was spent in an awesome fashion with my family at our house like we have done for years. Everything was great upon returning to Austin, but the best part was that I was back with my family, that I love and missed so much while I was in Holland.

Hostels for the Holidays

This past Thanksgiving was the first time I have spent a major holiday away from my family. Chileans may be familiar with “el día de la acción de gracias,” but it is certainly not celebrated here. Seriously, I couldn’t even find a box of stuffing or a butter ball turkey on the shelf of the local supermarket. It was definitely strange to be away from home on such a significant holiday.

All semester I have pushed myself to learn and adapt to Chilean customs and traditions. This is something I really enjoy doing and is a large part of the study abroad experience, but it can be exhausting being out of your comfort zone for so long. Sometimes you just want someone who understands, who you don’t have to explain things to, and who relates to the feeling of misplacement and homesickness on a day like Thanksgiving.

Throughout Thanksgiving day,  I  yearned to be with my own family on one of my favorite holidays of the year. I even felt guilt for not being home– who else was going to make the sweet potato casserole, or set the table, or take care of all those leftovers in the fridge? I can’t even bear to think of how lonely the dessert table must have felt without its most loyal visitor.

Despite my wishes, I had set very low expectations for my Thanksgiving in Chile. It was supposed to be a travel day from Puerto Natales, Chile to Calafate, Argentina. However, we ended up not being able to get seats on any of the buses, so we learned mid-day that we would be stuck in Puerto Natales for another night. After scrambling for space in a hostel, we finally found a couple spots in a dorm and made our way over.

We set our things in our room, met our American roommates, and I hopped on Instagram and began scrolling through stories of food spreads, full plates, and family games. It was practically taunting, but was the dose of FOMO I needed to realize I didn’t have to miss out on one of my favorite holidays just because I wasn’t in the US.

We went to the grocery store, bought chicken, instant mashed potatoes, and ingredients for pebre, a Chilean salsa served at nearly every lunch (so maybe our meal wasn’t exactly “traditional,” but it worked for us!). After preparing everything in the hostel’s shared kitchen, we took our plates into the living area and joined the other guests snacking on salami, peanuts, and other trail snacks as they prepared for their Torres del Paine treks. Realizing we were all Americans, everyone raised a glass in the air and exchanged a “Happy Thanksgiving!”

It sure wasn’t my normal celebration, but I certainly was thankful.