As promised, hello from Poland! I have spent the last two weeks with my classmates exploring Warsaw, Lublin, and Lodz, visiting the historical and cultural landmarks, attending class discussions, and of course, eating some very delicious food. I am taking a course entitled, “History, Memory, and the Holocaust,” in which we are examining the politics and factors that determine how and what we choose to remember and memorialize in history. As I write this, we are heading to the last city we’ll visit, Krakow.
Due to a heavy course load and pre-vet requirements, I won’t be able to study abroad for a semester or a year. The Maymester program has offered me the opportunity to still travel and learn – an incredible, life-changing opportunity that I will be forever grateful to have experienced. An introvert at heart, the trip has certainly demanded of me a newfound adventurous nature, but the results have been far better than I could have expected.
While we spend weekdays as a class, visiting relevant sites, memorials, museums, and taking tours of the city, the weekends are free for us to explore on our own and in smaller groups – and explore I have! I’ve spent my days wandering through the cities, visiting various churches (they are all GORGEOUS), and of course, being as much of a tourist as possible.
Someone out there said that pictures are worth a thousand words, so… I’ll let you all see for yourselves what I’ve been up to 🙂
The simplest way to say this is that I am not the person that I was a year ago, because of you. When I packed a van (very) full of stuff and pulled out of my little Dearborn driveway, I thought I knew what it was going to be like here. I had everything planned; I thought I knew exactly what I was going to do, who I was going to be. Really, I had no idea.
Nothing could have prepared me for the joy, love and care from the students, the professors, and the faculty that would envelop me. My joyful and fantastical daydreams of college friends and parties pale in comparison to the genuine community that found me, loved me, and accepted me here. I am leaving this year a far better person than when I came, and I can only credit that to the people around me this past semester – the people who welcomed me to the hill, accepted me without question, and showed me what it looks like when you love and serve unconditionally.
My first post on this blog was a reflection on how I ended up here – specifically, that, without the hand of Christ, which coincidentally stands tall on the steps of Dinand every day to remind me of that reality – I would have never even known about this college, let alone chose to come here. I think it’s fitting then, to tell how that same hand has shaped my year here, in ways I could never have imagined.
I met the person that would introduce me to my closest friends on an afternoon Kimball shift – a shift that, had my computer not crashed while I was signing up for shifts, I never would have chosen. Over a break on our first shift of the semester, he invited me to a Students for Life meeting. I brushed off the invitation, not planning to go, but the night of the meeting, he saw me in Kimball, eating dinner with my friends, and invited me again. Still not planning on going, I once again brushed him off. Walking up the hill, though, I passed him again, this time right outside the meeting place. Without an escape, I conceded and went to the meeting with him. The people in that room would, within weeks, become my best friends.
One meeting turned into two, then three, and meetings turned into dinners, then study sessions, evening rosaries, daily masses, Thursday night adoration and Saturday evening movie nights. My professors introduced me to ideas that I am sure will form the basis of my vocation in the future, and my friends taught me to grow and evolve, somewhere along the way becoming a better version of myself than I ever thought would exist.
To sum it all up, a year ago, I had no idea what to expect coming here, and would sit daydreaming of what life might be like in the future. Now, I have an answer: life is good.
The next time I write will most likely be from Warsaw, Poland, where I’ll be studying on a Maymester. See you there 😊.
The end of March has meant a multitude of exams, assignments, performances, and the long-awaited arrival of weather, but for me, and a small group of students here, it also meant the opening of the spring Alternate College Theatre (ACT) production: Ride the Cyclone (RTC). Certainly, tech week rehearsals and the final push before spring break could be described as a cyclone of events and responsibilities — one that we all had to ride, like it or not.
Although hectic, and some might say crazy (free time became more of a theory than a real thing), RTC brought me back to the happy days of nutcracker pit orchestra rehearsals back home. I remember, as we all struggled to learn the 70+ pages of Tchaikovsky, let alone play it well, that our conductor said, “It’ll sound like we won’t pull it together right until the last rehearsal. You’ll be convinced we’re not ready, that it won’t work, right until the last rehearsal. But by that first performance, we’ll be ready.”
Of course, we were ready for our first performance, and it went well. But getting there? It certainly felt like we wouldn’t be. A similar experience happened with RTC — we only started rehearsing with the cast three days before opening night, and yet somehow, everything fell into place.
I think that such an experience as that applies to much more than music. As an easily-stressed perfectionist with a tendency to procrastinate, I’m frequently convinced that things won’t work out, that I won’t be prepared, or that full-on disaster is going to strike. Perhaps, I ought to just take a lesson from the show I’ve watched so many times now: “it’s just a ride.”
This past week was spring break, and while for many others that meant vacations to the beaches of Florida or time spent with their families, some of us had other plans. For us, spring break meant an early morning flight, a crazy connection, and a drive through the mountains to rural Virginia. What am I talking about? The infamous Spring Break Immersion Program (SBIP). As a freshman, I’ve heard the stories and recommendations for all sorts of clubs, programs and initiatives, but SBIP was one that always impressed me. Students who had gone before insisted that, despite intense work and a chaotic schedule, it was one of the best experiences they had ever had (so needless to say, my expectations were high).
Now, having joined the ranks of the SBIP veterans, I can attest that its reputation is far from an exaggeration, and much more than an intensely-planned marketing scheme (if it is, it is one I am happy to succumb to). The week I spent in Ivanhoe with my group far surpassed all expectations, and will remain in my memories as one of the most peaceful, joyful, and refreshing weeks of my life.
Yes, we slept on the floor, the work was hard, and we went days at a time without showering — but never before have I experienced such a rapid and profound human connection with those around me — both in my group and in the local community. They welcomed us with gratitude and love, opening their homes, their hearts, (and their refrigerators) to a motely group of New England college students, and in doing so, reminded us what life is really about.
One of the major themes of SBIP is the idea of one’s heart being ‘broken open.’ Although this sounds like a painful and uncomfortable experience (and in some ways, it is), the idea is that entering and so quickly leaving a community is bound to hurt. It hurts that we can’t do more, that we can’t know them better, and that we can’t stay. Our hearts are irreversibly opened, and through a little pain, we learn how to serve more selflessly, to care more deeply and to love more freely. Mine certainly was, and I hope it never closes.
It would be easy to write about the devastation of social inequity, the economic disparities, the failure of the healthcare systems and the poor city infrastructure that has left that little town the way it is now. Yet, what struck me more — and opened my heart — was not what that little town lacked, but rather what they had: a community.
‘Community’ is a word that is often thrown around, and can mean so many different things, but this past week showed me that a true community is much more than a mere gathering of people, united by some common characteristic or situation; it is a bond like no other, a space in which all are seen and known and loved to the fullest extent.
To process and understand everything I felt, learned, and experienced this past week will be the happy work of the many weeks to come, but I feel confident that the blessings of this one week will continue to grow and flourish for some time. With our dear site coordinator joining the ranks of my pen pals, and a newfound group of friends by my side, I have no doubt that I am bringing a small piece of that incredible community back home with me to the hill.