Love and Villanova

When Valentine’s Day rolls around, you run into individuals with very different opinions of the holiday. For some, it’s a day to celebrate with their significant others. For others, like myself, it’s a chance to go out to dinner with the girls and pick out a rom-com to watch. I think Valentine’s Day has become a chance to celebrate love in your life, no matter what form it takes. At Villanova, I’ve formed some of my greatest relationships with roommates, friends, sorority sisters and fellow tour guides. I’ve found that I’m surrounded by love every day, often evidenced by something as simple as a phone call with my parents or when one of my roommates gives me advice.

Villanova has gifted a lot of people with relationships that have lasted long after graduation. One of my family friends, Rachael Ponge, graduated in 2011 from Villanova. This past December, she married TJ O’Donnell, who she met through mutual friends during their first weeks at school. They have since relocated to New York City, but more than 70 Villanova alumni attended their wedding in Syracuse, New York. One of her bridesmaids, Kate Wroblewski, got married just two weeks before to Ryan Verfurth, who also graduated from Villanova in 2011.

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TJ and Rachael O’Donnell got married in Rachael’s hometown of Syracuse!

One of my favorite aspects of Villanova is how genuine the friendships I have made here are. I think Kate and Rachael’s stories are no exception to this idea. Since graduation, Rachael and Kate’s friend group has been able to keep in touch, and their memories have managed to extend from exciting times as college students to memorable moments as working professionals. I got to talk with both Rachael and Kate, and they shared a lot about the awesome adventures their friend group has experienced since graduation. Not only did they talk about how grateful they were for the friendships they’ve made, but the education and experiences Villanova gave them as a university.

I think Villanova is special for everyone in different ways. For me, It was a great group of lifelong friends, a husband and the base for a great nursing career.” – Rachael Ponge O’Donnell ’11

Rachael and Kate’s friend group has managed to get together as often as they can, despite being spread out between New York, New Jersey and even Chicago. From getting together to watch Villanova win the 2016 NCAA Championship to rotating apartments for “Friendsgiving,” they’ve traveled as far as Las Vegas and Puerto Rico together.

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Ryan and Kate got married here at Villanova University!

“Villanova will always have a piece of my heart, not only because I got married there, but because I got to meet the most wonderful people and received an incredible education. I will always be thankful for the experiences I had at Villanova that have helped shaped who I am today.” – Kate Wroblewski Verfurth ’11

I actually got to know Kate through her younger brother, James, who was one of my first friends here at Villanova. It’s funny how making friends with one person can open doors for that many more opportunities. It’s been inspiring to talk to Rachael and Kate, seeing how Villanova has given them not only the great education of a well-respected university, but friendships and even relationships that have been genuine, long-lasting and fulfilling.

Thinking about Valentine’s Day this year, I might not have the same experiences as Rachael and Kate, but their stories just make me appreciate the people I have gotten to know at Villanova thus far. I don’t know exactly what the future holds, but the people I have met and the experiences I have had at Villanova lead me to believe that it couldn’t look any brighter. As another Valentine’s Day passes, I’m excited to see what life will be like next year, but until then, I’m happy spending the night with some great friends wondering what incredible adventures we’ll have after our graduation day has passed.

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Go Cats, Go You, Go Class of ’22!

Could you imagine Christmas coming twice a year? It does here at Villanova! That warm, jittery feeling that makes you too excited to sleep, the overwhelming excitement that almost everyone is enveloped with on Christmas comes to Villanova’s campus for Early Action Candidates’ Day. Once you experience this Villanova holiday, you will never want to leave!

 

Early Action Candidates’ Day has been perfected over the years to provide the perfect glimpse into the Nova Nation for admitted students. It allows you to see where you fit in at your “new home” through the various events planned throughout the weekend. Some of our featured events include going to a first-year class, grabbing dinner with Blue Key members in their blue shirts and going on campus tours. You’ll have an amazing time no matter what you do, and you’ll feel like a real student here. You may even fall in love with the school!32726201801_a5c4fa7f15_o.jpg

 

This will be my fourth Early Action Candidates’ Day, and each one has brought me so many memorable experiences. My first was during my senior year in high school, and it may have been hard to wake up early on that cold Saturday morning, but I was soon jolted awake in the best way possible. As we drove down Lancaster Avenue, there were what seemed to be hundreds of students, all showing off their Nova spirit. The energy and excitement that was displayed by these students was electric! They had signs that said “It’s a great day to be a Wildcat” and “Welcome Wildkittens,” and all the while they were screaming with excitement and glee. So much passion, excitement and energy were on display. It captured my heart, and I knew that I had to call this my new home. There was a positive, loving energy around campus, and I could tell that the students were passionate about the school and their fellow classmates. It really felt like a fantastic community!

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The next two years I was involved in Early Action Candidates’ Day as a Blue Key member and Candidates’ Day Committee member. I loved getting to know the admitted students through dinners and tours. Perhaps the most outstanding moments were talking to students on campus who ended up coming to Villanova because they talked to me. It warms my heart that my passion, energy and love for Villanova can be passed to a new generation of Wildcats!

 

But this year is special—I am serving as the co-chair for Candidates’ Day, meaning that I am one of two students who make sure everything is executed perfectly. I help make sure our Blue Key volunteers are in the right places, tours are leaving promptly, campus is decorated perfectly, clubs are present at the Activities Fair and performances are phenomenal. My job is to cultivate all these experiences for you, the admitted students, to welcome you to the Nova Nation and make sure you feel at home. I hope you enjoy the opportunity to get to know the Nova Nation, and if you see me around, say hi!

 

Talking about Candidates’ Day still gives me the chills. Love and excitement permeate from everyone involved. You could tell Villanova students genuinely love being at this school (not only this day, but every day). Please come and experience the ultimate Villanova holiday for yourself. I can promise you that you will not be disappointed.

 

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Groundhog Day – A Californian Experiencing East Coast Winters

My senior year of high school, I was giddy with excitement to tell my friends and family where I decided to enroll for college. There is such a buildup in the month of April when it comes to college decisions—making last minute visits, creating lists of pros and cons in your head and, if you’re anything like me, polling your family members on where you should go.

When I finally made the decision to go to Villanova, my family was overjoyed, knowing it was the right choice for me. It was everything I wanted in a school and more. And when I told my high school classmates I was going to Villanova, they were thrilled for me. They always responded with a huge hug and congratulations. Then came the joke: “Don’t you think you’ll get a little cold in Philadelphia?” Being from San Francisco, California, I know I’m spoiled when it comes to the weather. I get it. “Cold” for me at home is around 40 degrees, while “cold” for me in suburban Philadelphia usually entails a snow day.

Before coming to Villanova, I’d never experienced a snow day in my life. I never really considered the weather when compiling my college list, because I decided if the school was right for me, the weather wouldn’t matter. But everyone else’s concerns over the cold winter temperatures on the East Coast made me a little more concerned.

After two full experiences of an East Coast winter, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not the biggest fan of snow. For a week over winter vacation, sure. But not week-in and week-out.

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The first ever Groundhog Day was held over a hundred years ago, predicting either a longer winter or the early arrival of spring!

That’s why, this coming Groundhog Day, I’m hoping that Pennsylvania’s own Punxsutawney Phil will not see his shadow. I am more than ready for spring to come early, and I’m hoping Phil will pull through for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love a beautiful snow day. A blanket of white snow is always welcome, especially when I’m able to stay inside with my friends, enjoy a cup of tea, read a book and catch up on some work. The snow is not so welcome the days after, with bitter winds that make my walk to class feel like a trudge through the arctic tundra.

My first-year roommate, Brooke, is from Los Angeles. She had never seen snow before in her life, which I truly could not believe. People would ask me if I’d seen snow before coming to Villanova, to which I always said, “California isn’t just one big beach! We have mountains and skiing too, okay?” Brooke reinforced their notions, however, that some Californians really didn’t know what the snow had in store for us.

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My freshman year roommate Brooke and I loved our experience in Good Counsel Hall!

The first snow day we had at Villanova, Brooke and I were truly in awe. We woke up to alerts in our Villanova student emails that the school had been closed for the day due to the snowstorm. It seemed surreal. Both sitting in our beds, we didn’t know what to do with ourselves. One whole day off from school?! This is paradise. What does one do on a snow day?

We eventually ventured out into the cold as we realized we needed some food. The short walk from Good Counsel Hall to Donahue Dining Hall on South Campus was filled with a lot of jumping and playing in the several inches of snow. Utilizing our Snapchat stories, we played to the fact that two Californians were having a ball on their very first snow day.

What took me a year to realize, however, is that the fun and excitement surrounding snow days was short lived. After our first snow day, Brooke and I realized what snow means for one’s daily operations. Snow is only beautiful for the first few days or so, which is a fact I was naively unprepared for. I imagined a winter wonderland from the months of December to March, but I have come to accept this may not be my reality. After the first day of a major snowstorm, people need to get on their way to work or school. The snow is then a nuisance. The trucks come out, prepared with salt, to move and melt the snow. What once was the snow Brooke and I played in quickly turned to slush.

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St. Thomas of Villanova Church surrounded by a blanket of snow!

Now in my junior year at Villanova, I’ve realized that being on the East Coast has made me adapt. I always contended that I would do just fine at a school that would have all four seasons. And once I enrolled at Villanova, it was time for me to live up to that. So to answer the question of whether I’d get a little cold in Philadelphia—yes. I have gotten a little cold in Philadelphia. It’s been more than worth it, though.

The cold winters are not as big a deal as everyone makes of it. I got a big coat, a nice hat and a good pair of boots. These additions to my wardrobe quickly remedied my hesitations about dealing with the cold. I didn’t want to limit myself by staying where the weather was always nice, because then that just means I would have stayed home. I wanted to explore something new, go to a different coast and see what I thought about going through a real winter. Snow is not my favorite, but Villanova is.

 

Inside and Outside the Classroom

One of my biggest fears going into Villanova was that I wouldn’t be able to stand out in the classroom. At a small high school, I got to know all of my teachers easily. Every student was able to participate often, and I felt like I was able to really develop my own voice. As I headed to my first class of my first year, I was nervous that I wouldn’t feel as confident as I did in classes back home. To my surprise, however, my time in classrooms at Villanova quickly became just as engaging and comfortable as my time outside them.

As a student at Villanova, of course I am challenged to succeed, but I also feel encouraged to use the knowledge I write down in my notebooks and apply it to everyday experiences. My professors have enjoyed getting to know me, as well as other students. I feel that the professors and advisors I have worked with genuinely want me to succeed, both during class discussions and also in the field I hope to work in someday. My time at Villanova has allowed me to explore classes I may not have originally wanted to take, and many professors have not only made those classes easier to understand, but quite interesting as well.

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The Philadelphia Museum of Art is a great place to visit.

Outside of the classroom, my professors at Villanova have supported and even organized trips to different areas of Philadelphia to see our PowerPoint lectures and discussions come to life. In my Augustine and Culture Seminar, a foundational course for all first-year students, we saw the words of Jane Austen come to life during a class trip to a local performance of “Sense and Sensibility.” My art history class recently visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where I was able to study the characteristics of Medieval and Islamic art and locate examples of both throughout the exhibits.

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I loved my ACS class during my first year at Villanova! 

I remember introducing myself my first day of my first year, and immediately wondering if I would want to participate in each of my classes. While no two professors teach exactly the same way, I have learned that the best way to learn is to speak up. If you don’t understand, ask a question. If you have something to say, raise your hand. My time in Villanova classrooms have been rewarding in the sense that I have not only learned more about subjects like astronomy, the Italian language or news writing styles, but I have overall developed a new-found sense of confidence.

While not every day is perfect, and of course, assignments can be challenging, I appreciate my time spent inside and outside of Villanova’s classrooms. I’ve learned to explore subjects I once thought to be far too outside my comfort zone. I’ve met some of my best friends and greatest inspirations through my time at Villanova. I respect that everyone’s academic goals are different, and each professor has the choice to teach in a way that he or she sees best. In doing so, I try to find the positive aspects of each course and run with them. As I progress through my third year here at Villanova, I remind myself that I am very lucky to attend this university, and when that seems like a lot to handle, it’s the small moments that make it the most worth it. It’s seeing your professors and saying hello while waiting in line for coffee. It’s raising your hand and nailing a question you remembered from your reading. 

I may not remember the details of every course I take here at Villanova, but I will remember the great relationships, the enthusiasm and the successes I have taken away. With the help of knowledgeable professors, eager students and a variety of programs, I know I am walking away with an education derived from both equations and experiences alike.

Return and Readjustment: Back From Abroad

It’s 5:30 a.m., and my parents are driving me to San Francisco International Airport. They help me unload my bags, and I check two of them. The airline employee comments, “Wow, you’re really cutting it close here,” referencing how unbelievably large these bags are. Little does he know that they contain four months worth of clothes, covering the winter and spring seasons of the East Coast. “Where are you going?” he asks. “Philadelphia,” I respond.

The last time my parents dropped me off at the airport in August, I was embarking on a four-month study abroad experience to Copenhagen, Denmark. That goodbye was filled with nervousness and uncertainty for what the next few months would bring, living in a city I’d never been to, with people I’d never met. This goodbye was different, however. Filled with anticipation and excitement, I could not wait to see the campus I’d parted with for about seven months.

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As I sat on my cross-country flight, my mind started to race to all of the unknowns. I hadn’t seen campus since May of 2017, and I’d wondered how it had changed. How was it going to be living on West Campus? Did people miss me? How was I going to acclimate back into the rigorous course load I had? Now that I’d opted out of a meal plan, how would I get a caramel iced coffee every morning from Holy Grounds? They were all hard-hitting questions. Nervousness set in, but was offset by excitement to see my roommates, who had all studied abroad as well.

After I land in Philadelphia, I collect all the boxes I’d left behind over the summer to finally move into my on-campus apartment. Exploring the contents of these boxes resembled going through a time capsule, recalling the last few days I was able to spend in Sheehan Hall my sophomore year. I was now more fully transitioning from residence hall life to apartment life. There was no longer just a need for a hamper and a desk lamp, but for kitchen supplies and living room decorations.

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My roommates and I eventually get the majority of our things unpacked, and decide to take a walk around campus to see what we’d missed. We quickly recognized all of the changes that were made in our semester-long absence. Mendel Field was in the middle of being transformed into a pedestrian-friendly green space. What was once a parking lot that ran along Lancaster Avenue was now the construction site for new student housing. We saw that the bridge connecting South Campus directly to St. Thomas of Villanova Church was fully constructed, getting final touches of stonework completed.

Despite these changes, there were many things that remained constant. I was still in awe of the Church’s beauty. I missed seeing the Oreo (or, more officially, “The Awakening”) in the middle of campus. Connelly Holy Grounds still seemed to be a safe haven for my caffeine obsession.

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And by the first day of classes, it was apparent that the physical growth on Villanova’s campus profoundly reflected the personal transformations I’ve seen with my friends and classmates. I’ve talked to numerous people who have joined new groups on campus, lined up exciting internships for the summer or are pursuing leadership roles in those groups they are already passionate about. People have made new friends, and grown closer to old ones. The people I’ve come to love the last two years at Villanova were evolving in their own, unique ways.

“How was abroad?” is the most common question I receive when reconnecting with people. This question is a simple one, and yet I never feel like I answer it to the fullest extent. Abroad was incredible for countless reasons. Living in Europe for four months will always be one of the best experiences of my life, not only because of what I learned while there, but also for the appreciation it gave me of everything I have at home. And which home?

I always find conflict within myself when trying to define what “home” is. I know it’s San Francisco, where my parents, siblings, dogs and childhood house are. But I also know that it’s here, at Villanova, where I learn about myself and where I learn about my community. It’s the place that gave me the opportunity to study in Europe, and the place that made me so excited to return.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned at Villanova is that every semester, and every experience we have within those semesters, teaches us something important. My semester abroad is no different. It taught me about independence, taking chances and cultural differences. These lessons have changed me for the better. My semester abroad also reiterated a point that has impacted me the most in coming back—Villanova is home.

 

A Thanksgiving Abroad

I maintain that Thanksgiving is one of the most underrated holidays. You either like the food, or you don’t. (Hopefully you do!) There are no gifts. That’s a big one for a lot of people. You almost always see extended family and receive some overly personal questions about school or work or social life. It starts at “What’s your major?” and evolves into “So why don’t you have a boyfriend?”

(Because I haven’t found the right guy, okay?)

Yet being in Europe for this Thanksgiving, I realize just how much I’m missing out on. For starters, I’m missing out on Thanksgiving as a holiday. It’s a harsh fact of life that Europeans don’t get a day off to spend time with their families and eat delicious classics like turkey and pie. Their founders didn’t sit down with Native Americans for dinner.

Thus, there was no delay in full-fledged Christmas mode here in Copenhagen. After Halloween, the city set up Christmas lights over the main pedestrian streets. Christmas stalls were set up to sell everything from hot chocolate to gifts. Stores redecorated to incorporate wreaths and signs that read “God Jul,” which means “Merry Christmas” in Danish. All of this would be severely upsetting to my mother, because she has very strong feelings about not putting up Christmas lights before Thanksgiving.

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What I really miss about Thanksgiving at home are the things I didn’t know I’d be missing. I miss football. Football! I’m not a huge football fan, but there is something about watching NFL games in my family room over Thanksgiving break that makes it really feel like Thanksgiving.

I miss the low-level stress my family has around our Thanksgiving meal. I miss debating over our division of labor, who has mashed potatoes and who has Brussels sprouts. I miss making the pecan pie from what I thought was grandma’s recipe. (I was recently informed that that recipe is actually from a random person my dad met at a Thanksgiving meal he had with his friends in Washington, DC right after he graduated college.)

Although that doesn’t tell the beautiful grandmother-granddaughter story that I believed for 20 years, I think it still has good wisdom in it. There is someone out there that had dinner with my dad 30-plus years ago, when a group of recent college graduates from out of town decided to make Thanksgiving together. I don’t know who you are (on the off chance you read this), but thanks for giving me the best pecan pie recipe in the world. I make it every year. I hope your family makes it, too.

I even (very minimally) miss having to clean up with my siblings. Although it can be a very high-stress environment, there is always music and a lot of laughs. Hopefully my mom doesn’t see this, though. I might be on dish duty more frequently.

What I miss the most about Thanksgiving is the comfort. It’s the ease with which I can talk to my family and really, truly feel at home. When they say there’s no place like home, that’s no joke. It’s true, and it’s never been truer around the holidays. I’m blessed to be able to have such a wonderful meal every year. I’m blessed to have a family I love, and a family that can see each other on these holidays.

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You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. So, if you’re dreading going home for Thanksgiving because you’re going to see that random aunt from forever ago, I challenge you to embrace it. Embrace the moments you have where your house is warm and full of love, because those are the most important ones. Embrace the awkward conversations, because it’ll make for good inside jokes with your sister next year. Embrace helping out in the kitchen, because it might lead you to having a really funny and really genuine conversation with your dad.

Embrace your comfort.

If I had an Extra Hour…

If I were given an extra hour in the day, what would I do? As a college student, my initial reaction would be to jokingly say I’d get that extra hour of sleep or look over my vocabulary terms again.

On the other hand, I could really take the time to think: What’s the most important to me? When the schedule of a college student appears overwhelming, it’s easy to focus on the negative. I would love an extra hour to practice my biology presentation again. I would love to have an extension on an assignment or meeting with a professor.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I’d try cooking a new recipe with all three of my roommates. We’d all sit down and eat together, something we don’t always get to do. I love getting to take the time to spend time with all three of my best friends together. It makes living in an apartment that much more exciting.   

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I’ve known Kaitlyn since our freshman year of high school.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would FaceTime with one of my best friends from home. I’d take the time to catch up on everything we’ve missed since she moved to Massachusetts. I’d remember to stay close to the people at home who have always been there for me.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would leave my phone in my backpack during a coffee break with friends. I’d tell myself to answer those emails later. I’d give my friends my full attention.

In between my afternoon classes, I would venture off campus for a new place to find lunch. I’d bring my friends along. I’d even invite those who I haven’t gotten to see as often this semester.

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Sabrina’s has become one of my favorite restaurants near campus. 

I would choose a book to read that’s outside of my assigned coursework. I’d pick my favorite book from high school and read it again. I’d take my friend’s recommendations and select something new.

What’s funny is that I can’t give myself a 25th hour of every day, but I can take these ideas and make them more of a priority. To be honest, I wasn’t sure where I thought this writing would go. College students crave that extra hour of sleep, that extra hour to review, or that extra hour to spend with somebody important to them.

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Thankful for the friends I’ve made at Villanova like Charlotte.

My time at Villanova has certainly had its ups and downs, but if I look on the bright side, I see that I still have so much time. I’m sure everyone would appreciate more time to do what they love and accomplish their goals, but I find that having less of it makes it that much more valuable.  

It’s important to take advantage of the time I’m given at Villanova, but it’s also essential to take a break every once in awhile.  In the three years I’ve been at Villanova, I’ve learned more about myself that I ever imagined. I’m learning how to be a more independent person. I’m learning how to paint my own definition of success, and I’m learning how to manage my busy schedule. All in all, I hope the remainder of this semester runs as smoothly as it possibly can in order to make the hours count and the memories within them even greater.