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.