July 22, 2009

The Haul

As I was nearing my departure from St. Louis, I was getting increasingly sentimental. After all, it's been the place I've called home for almost two years. I left on Saturday when the weather was sunny and beautiful, and I won't be back until January when the weather is cold and dark. Between now and then I've got quite the adventure, but I still had a hard time saying goodbye to SLU. What's funny is that on my second-to-last day, it was so gorgeous outside. I explained to my friends that the weather reminded me of Nova Scotia weather ( aka perfect ). Later that day, one of my friends told me that I must be a good meteorologist, because the Weather Channel had said that it was indeed a Canadian front pushing through. I guess that meant it was time for me to go home. On my last day on campus, I thought it was fitting that the weather was so nice. I had a walk around SLU and realized how much I'll miss it while I'm away. It really is a beautiful place. Through all this, I grew even more excited about my semester in France, because I know it will be there waiting when I get back.

Here I am with my friend Mary ( who is also studying abroad in France next year) right before I got into the car and headed home. please excuse my undone hair... I didn't put much maintenance time in before a 12 hour car-ride.
This past weekend, my dad flew down to St. Louis to help me pack up my apartment and drive up to Toronto... I don't know if he was prepared for the amount of stuff that we had to pack in the car. His comment was, "What do you do... collect clothes?!" Well... I guess you could say I have quite the collection. Oops!
Here he is tucked away in the driver's seat with my stuff in the back.

Then, once I got home, I had a whole car to unpack. Then I had to repack and reorganize. It was not a short process, as I was going through ALL of my stuff. I had to go through not only what I brought home from school, but also what I had shoved into the closet and drawers back at home. The Salvation Army is doing well this week because of all the donations I'm making. So, for the past two days, my life has revolved around packing for China, packing for the trip to Nova Scotia after that, and organizing my things for a semester in France. I'm glad my mom wasn't here to witness this chaos:

Now, I'm awake in our kitchen sipping on some coffee and getting ready for the next day of traveling. My bag is packed, my other stuff is organized, and now I'm just killing time. I woke up super early this morning so that I could be tired by the time I get on the plane... this way I'll be able to knock myself and hopefully get a good 7 hours of sleep. I'm a bit anxious, because I've never flown for more than 7/8 hours. This will be an all-time high at 14 hours! I've got a lot of traveling to do, but by this time tomorrow I'll be in Shanghai!

July 15, 2009

SLU 101

As the last session of SLU 101 starts tomorrow, I sit in my half-packed room, inspired to write a bit of a reflection on my summer experiences. I've grown so much as an individual through my time as a SLU 101 leader, and I realize that it truly comes from dedicating myself to serving others. SLU 101 is the time during which parents and first year students come to Saint Louis University for a two-day session to register for classes, get informed about college, spend the night in the residence halls, talk to current students, meet members of their new class, and have a good time. All of the participants walk in to registration on the first day with similar amounts of anticipation accompanied by nervousness, anxiety, excitement, curiosity, fright, and confusion. As a SLU 101 leader, I do my very best to combine all of those emotions and transform them into something a little more subdued than the chaos that the caffeine-induced-panic-attack mother/daughter combo tends to bring to the table. I call it preparedness.

SLU 101 has given me the opportunity to build my own skills tremendously. For example, approximately 3 times during each of the nine sessions, I am required to walk up to a table of 6-9 strangers, sit down for an hour-long meal session with them, and facilitate a great conversation. Sometimes my efforts result in making some neat connections with people, and other times they result in me trying my best to shovel food into my mouth in order to avoid any more painful and awkward moments. All of these experiences have led me to be much more confident when engaging in conversation with strangers -- also known as mingling, or "schmoozing."

Another skill at which I have grown more adept is public speaking. Every session, I am assigned a small group of Freshman students (usually 5-10 people), and I am their leader. I facilitate icebreakers, and I serve as their personal contact throughout the 2 days. Not only have I had a blast meeting so many incoming students, but my public speaking skills have gotten so much better. I was amazed at how much I tend to take for granted when I first attempted the task of explaining "College" to a group. Didn't they all know what they were there for? The college transition is self-explanatory, right? Wrong. It actually requires a great deal of clarification. I get to do that clarification. Each session has three small group meetings, and we cover various topics at each one: what they are supposed to do during SLU 101, how they are supposed to get involved in college, and what the first year is really like. It's an honor and a pleasure to talk to all of the freshman about the years ahead of them, and I have learned how to phrase things more clearly in the process. I was once a victim of the "shaky voice" when talking in front of people, but now I find that it's not nearly as intimidating to me. I can speak to a group with ease, and I actually enjoy it.

At times I felt like I was stretched to my limit throughout SLU 101 sessions, but as the very last one approaches, I realize that my boundaries are farther away than I thought. I know myself a bit better now, and I will take away some useful skills from my experience. I will miss the first-years' curiosity, jokes, awkwardness, and excitement, and now I am looking ahead to my next journey with a few more tricks up my sleeve than before.

July 5, 2009

Keeping Up and Letting Go

For those of you who have moved before, you know the situation well. I describe this situation as the Keeping Up vs. Letting Go. It occurs when you leave a group of people, for example coworkers, classmates, neighbors, or even a whole community. Due to the new displacement, you find yourself trying to comb through your former group and find those people with whom you'll always keep up. The others, who may have just been a part of your world out of convenience, get let go. Those in the "Keep Up" category get phone calls, emails, Facebook messages, and visits in person. Those in the "Let Go" category either disappear immediately, or after a series of successively shorter and less frequent calls, messages, or texts. However, usually, there remains a category of people that you never want to let go of but don't keep up with. This has become my expertise: building a group of people in my little world with whom I never want to part, but still make a minimal effort to keep up.

Situation: Going to college
Team Keep Up: 5-10 on a very good/talkative/nostalgic day
Team Let Go: unfortunately many
Team (please don't ever let go!... but I probably still won't ever call you): ... unfortunately many

The reason I have decided to reflect on all of this was sparked by my good friend Allison coming to visit. She is on Team Keep Up, which is demonstrated by the fact that on her 4 days off for the whole summer, she payed me a visit in good ol' St. Louis. We were in the process of cooking dinner, and my good friend/roommate called (important detail: I have failed to make any contact with her all summer). Needless to say, I was very excited to hear from her. Unfortunately, I had spaghetti boiling, sauce simmering, and the table was set... so I had to hang up prematurely so as to attend to my dinner with Allison. Not even five minutes later, my very best friend from the ripe age of 8 months old gave me a buzz. What a coincidence! We hadn't talked in a shamefully long time, even though she's the Captain of Team Keep Up. We've always been best friends, and always will be. However, the spaghetti was just being strained, the sauce was simmered, and the table was still set... so I had to hang up prematurely so as to attend to my stomach and company.

I found myself surprised at the amount of catching up that I had to pass up, only in order to catch up with the friend in my presence. It was almost silly how two good friends, neither of which I'd talked to recently, called me in the same 20 minute window of time. It just-so-happened to be the 20 minutes during which I was eating dinner with a good friend from high school.

I get overwhelmed frequently at the amount of people I have to keep up with, and I tend to get scared away from it altogether as a result. This is why I have such a large population in my "Please Don't Ever Let Go!.... but I still probably won't call you" category. Keeping up doesn't happen easily, and letting go happens, too often, unwillingly.

Hopefully, in time, my "teams" will even out.