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.

 

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.

Taking Action For Job Action

Jobs. Internships. Professional development. Networking.

These are all things we worry about, even before we reach our first years of college. Even when I was in high school, I had to check boxes on college applications regarding what I wanted my major to be, a decision that at the time seemed to be momentous. What was I good at? What did I want to do?

In my case, I knew I didn’t want to do anything involving math or science. I wasn’t particularly bad at these subjects, but man, I did not enjoy them. I knew I liked my English and history courses, but I couldn’t see myself pursuing anything seriously in one of those fields. So, like many 17 year olds, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.

And, in high school, a lot of people told me that it was, in fact, fine that I didn’t know what I wanted to do as a career. Many adults I knew joked about how they still weren’t even close to knowing what they wanted to do – or, that they thought they did and very quickly realized it was the wrong path.

But, more and more, I found that not knowing what you want to do seemed less and less acceptable. It was fine in high school, and maybe fine in my first year, but by sophomore year it seemed like I should know. And I wanted to! But I didn’t know where to start. I knew that I liked people and writing, but not much beyond that. I felt that my friends were inching closer to what they saw as a realistic future for themselves, and I was still stuck in that in between feeling of knowing I had potential, but not knowing where to direct it.

In my sophomore year, I finally declared to be a Communication major – something, I thought, that could be applied to a wide variety of professions. And, after all, I knew I loved communicating. Verbal or written, I think it is fascinating how we as humans experience communication. I find it interesting to look at communication in a non-linear way, as a study and profession that constantly evolves and expands. The more classes I took with the passionate professors in the Communication Department, the more I found my own passion for this field of study.

Finally, at the end of sophomore year, my wonderful friend Sydney invited me to be a part of the Odyssey at Villanova. This online platform gives students across the country an outlet to share thoughts about anything from pop culture to the political climate. Not thinking anything of it, I joined to help out my friend. I wrote a few articles and realized I actually enjoyed writing about my own observations or experiences. I thought of it as a hobby or an outlet, not necessarily a life move.

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Sydney, the wonderful woman who inspired me to write!

 

Much to my surprise (and pleasure), I was then approached to write for this wonderful Villanova Admissions blog over the summer. Justin Ledesma, who coordinates this awesome blog, said that he saw some of my articles on the Odyssey and thought I would be a good fit for the student blogger position. I remember reading this email from Justin, almost shocked it was intended for me. I always just enjoyed writing, I didn’t actually think I was good at it.

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But, here I am now, writing for the Villanova Admissions blog. Was this a strategic move for my professional development? Not necessarily. I just told a friend I’d help her out. Fortunately, someone saw some talent in my writing, and it led me to this wonderful opportunity. Perhaps job action is just about taking action – action over our lives, our goals and our talents. This furthering of our careers is intertwined with furthering ourselves as people.

Sometimes, especially as students, we think of professional development in such rigid terms. We think of networking events, business cards and suits. And yes, that is a crucial part of it. But another major factor is figuring out what you actually want to do in the bigger scheme. Part of our professional development is our human development – taking leadership roles, writing in our free time, volunteering more – not because it will help our resumes, but because it will help us.

So, take a step in the right direction and take a chance. You might not know it will bring you closer to your calling, but it’s worth a shot.

 

Studying (And Traveling) Abroad: Learning About Europe, And Myself

Cheap airline flights. Long train rides. Overnight bus rides. Random layovers. Inconvenient arrival times. Why is it that abroad students are so willing to bend over backwards to make such travel arrangements?

Well, namely to stretch the dollar – or, in my case, the Danish krone. The cheapest flights are also the ones that charge you for a carry-on and to drink water on board. They’re the ones your parents would never think of flying, but are the ones we rely on to get from city A to city B. Not many people would want to take an 11-hour bus ride overnight to Munich if there is an option to fly, but when you’re a college student, you do.

The other reason we do this is because we don’t know when else we will be able to. When students look past graduation, there are a lot of question marks. Where will I live? Where do I work? Am I surrounded by friends from college? How often will I see my family? All of this uncertainty makes us fairly certain about one fact: Being abroad is a time to travel. We will be in Europe, Africa, South America, Asia or Australia for a fixed number of days, and we will end up filling this time with memories of new cultures and new experiences.

Before I left America for Denmark, I blindly signed up for a trip to hike and rock climb in southern Sweden. I had never been to Sweden before, and I thought that if there was a time to go, it was now. And as the trip came closer and closer, I began to wonder why I spent so much money going to a random destination when I saw pictures of my friends going to places like London, Barcelona or Paris.

But, with the trip already paid for, I figured I shouldn’t be going into it with a negative attitude. And, being from California, I am open about the fact that I have high expectations when it comes to hiking. I miss the redwoods being next to the ocean, and I miss the fact that there were trails 10 minutes from my high school.

But when I got to Sweden, I could safely say these were some of the prettiest views I’ve ever seen on a hike.

22049891_10155618400596702_6026568562629572994_nAlongside three of my favorite Villanovans, I was able to explore a part of the world I never envisioned seeing. I saw beautiful pale pink cliffs against a dramatic blue coast. I saw pebble-lined beaches with the clearest water. I saw deep green hills studded with Swedish sheep.

If you asked me a year ago, I would never have known I would spend a weekend in Kullaberg National Park, Sweden. I would never have envisioned myself rappelling down the side of a cliff. And, no matter how much I miss Villanova or California, I know this is the time to explore more. To explore new cities and countrysides, yes, but also for exploration of my own growth and for the development of new friendships. Planning trips with new friends has given me an appreciation for exploration and excitement, one that I hadn’t necessarily had before embarking on this journey in Denmark.

22089216_10155618400206702_6254975837997917276_nAs I write this on a train from Hamburg, Germany, to Amsterdam, Netherlands, it is not lost on me how fortunate we “abroad kids” are. Many college students don’t have the resources to have such eye-opening experiences. That is why it is so important that we appreciate travel for what it teaches us, as opposed to looking at our travels as a list of accomplishments.

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The ability to travel is surely a blessing. It allows us, as students, to have a more developed sense of self and place in our communities. It allows us to see history, society and politics from different perspectives, contributing to our overarching human education.

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Do Something Nice Day – Everyday?

During the first week of my first year, I distinctly remember walking from the South Campus dining hall back to my residence hall, Good Counsel. This was probably one of the residence halls that had the shortest walks to the dining hall, and I don’t even want to do the math of how many times I did that walk. Hundreds upon hundreds. So what was different about this one walk?

 

Well, as I turned the corner to go to the main door, I saw someone was walking in ahead of me. This person stopped, turned around to see if anyone was coming in, and then waited. We made eye contact, and I thought, why is he waiting there? I looked down to see if he’d dropped something. He continued to prop the door open, and then I thought, is he waiting for me? I proceeded to physically turn around to see if one of his friends was behind me, but there wasn’t. Once I got to the door he smiled, and I thanked him, and he said, “No problem.” I definitely had a confused look on my face, because I have literally never had anyone hold the door for me that long.

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Obviously people have held doors for me, but in a more reasonable way – when I was getting out of a car or when I was right behind someone walking into a restaurant. It wasn’t a foreign concept to me, but rather the sheer amount of time that someone would wait to do something like that is what shocked me. That someone would take the time to wait, and to have the awareness to look around to.

 

I, however, learned that I should grow accustomed to this. I have literally never known so many young people to hold pretty much every door open for others. I don’t know what it is about Villanova, but I have had my door held for me more times than I can count in any given day. And, if you’re a student, I’m sure you can attest to this – people will hold your door if you’re in their eyesight. Sometimes I have legitimately felt so badly about having people wait for me that I walk faster just to relieve them of their duty, so that I can take up the post to hold the door for someone else.

 

When we’re on our commutes to work or class, it is easy to plug in and zone everything else out. I think it really says something about the students at Villanova that even if we have headphones in and are in our own world, we still are conscientious enough to look around and see if we can do something small for each other.

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So, I hope Do Something Nice Day reminds us to be the best versions of ourselves. That we remember what it feels like when someone gives us a genuine “thank you” or a big smile. To feel that our kindness and genuine care for others has a real impact on our communities. I’ve learned that Do Something Nice Day at Villanova is not a holiday, but everyday. I’ve learned from others in the Villanova community to truly care about the people around us. These actions of kindness do not only help individuals on a day-to-day basis, but also help to foster a community of encouragement and support – a community that I am proud to be a part of.

When Streaming Brings You Together

The Emmys are coming up this week, which means we’ll all have the opportunity to hash out which shows we think are the best with friends and family. If you’re anything like me, and you don’t watch Game of Thrones, you probably are feeling just as much of a social pariah as I am right about now as well. Thinking about how many group-viewing sessions I have missed out on because of this is quite impressive – this show has some really dedicated followers! There are full coffee houses that have been rented out to view the next episode of GOT in Copenhagen, which never ceases to astonish me. It’s impressive how much one show can bring people together. Whether it’s with your friends or family, there’s something comforting about gathering to watch your favorite drama or sitcom.

For my family, this would be 60 Minutes.

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Yup, that’s right. It’s that show that your old uncle probably watches. It’s been running since 1968 on CBS, and is still running strong. From the age of 7, I can recall watching news pieces about advancements in technology, interviews with famous politicians or celebrities and tensions overseas. It soon became ingrained in me that after Andy Rooney’s segment was finished, I could have Sunday dinner.

When I was in high school, I would get so annoyed with this tradition. My parents always made a point of calling us downstairs, informing us it was time for 60 Minutes. I would moan and groan about how it took too long to watch the whole program through, and that I was always too hungry by the time it was over. I always pretended I had better things to do, like homework (a classic high school excuse). But as I spent more time at college, I began to realize how much I missed such a tradition. I missed taking the time out of my day for just something I did with my family. I missed talking about what Leslie Stahl reported on at dinner, or joking around about something we learned about a beloved politician. For some reason, despite all of my complaining, I missed Andy Rooney.

I wanted to have a tradition like this at school, but didn’t know what to do. Luckily, in the midst of a conversation about how much I love Sophia Bush, I learned I could record real-time television shows online, right in my dorm room. Needless to say, this changed my life.

The girl who I was discussing Sophia Bush with then informed me that she records Chicago PD and watches it on Sunday (and that we should watch it together)! Again, this changed my life.

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So, that Sunday, we watched the new Chicago PD in her dorm room, with her laptop up on her desk for an optimal viewing position. And the Sunday after that, the next one. This then became our new tradition.

This is when I learned that family traditions don’t have to stop at your family’s front door. You can bring them with you, change them, alter them and make new ones. It doesn’t have to be in your family’s kitchen where you have your favorite dish for your birthday –it may turn into a tradition you start with your new family at Villanova, eating it your friend’s apartment. I didn’t have the comfort of my own family room, but I was able to create that tradition with a friend I now consider family, in a dorm room in Sheehan.

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