Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Year in Review 2015 – Personal Reflections

I’ve learned so much this year, both about the world and about myself. Since 2015 is coming to an end I thought this would be a great way to try and wrap some stuff up. This year has been pretty crazy for me, I’ve been all over the place doing all sorts of things and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

While I’ve experienced a lot, I think the single most defining moment of this year has been Sweet Briar announcing its closure. The months that followed the March 3rd announcement were the most difficult in my life. I realize that from the outside it might seem like there was a lot of overreacting going on, I mean it’s not like anyone died right? You can’t compare losses or decide when people have the right to be upset. Our entire futures were suspended and we were brutally betrayed and lied to by those in charge. That does a lot to a person, physically and emotionally. I spent an entire semester applying to new schools that I didn’t want to go to (which is expensive by the way) while taking on more than a full course load and my honors project. I was depressed, upset, and unmotivated which is a dangerous combination for a perfectionist who expects nothing less than the best from herself. Now add several hundred other young women in the exact same situation, not exactly a stress-free environment. Thank God (and our beautiful alumnae, faculty, staff, and fellow students) that Sweet Briar is now to remain open. I remember being at camp this summer and finally being able to check my phone after all my girls were in bed and seeing tons and tons of text messages and being really confused only to realize that they were from friends (SBC or otherwise) saying that we had won the court case and I’d be going back (well, kind of…as a study abroad student) in the fall. Surrounded by the beautiful North Carolina mountains, I cried. Of course not everything is perfect (like the fact that my beautiful wonderful roommate can’t come back…) and the anger and general distrust I have for “executive” anything is going to be around for a long, long time.

It’s kind of a little thing, but one of my favorite accomplishments this year has been getting over my fear of heights. As you’ve probably picked up by now, I worked at a fantastic summer camp this year. I went into the experience expecting to teach dance. During orientation I was put in a group that was going to learn to instruct high ropes course and rock climbing. High ropes course and rock climbing? Did I mention I was petrified of heights? I was nervous, upset, and frustrated. The first time I had to do the high ropes course it took me over a half an hour. By the end of the summer it took me around three minutes and was my favorite activity. That course teaches you a lot, but mostly trust. Trust in your equipment, trust in your partners, and trust in yourself. I find myself actively seeking out new heights now though literally that isn’t exactly easy in Sevilla. Figuratively, however, I have no problem finding ways to test myself.

One of the biggest things I’ve learned this year is just how little we actually need. My friends and family thought I was crazy to come to Spain with just a checked suitcase and a backpack. Now that I’ve been here 3.5 months, I can say that I packed too much. In fact I’m super excited to travel for a month with just my carry on suitcase. My revelation about our materialism started with my trip to Burkina Faso this January. I meticulously researched and packed for my two week trip-a smaller suitcase and a backpack. I packed way too much. I got there and was embarrassed at how much stuff I brought and was mortified when I returned home and realized just how much stuff I had. I’m not exactly classifiable as high maintenance, I rarely wear makeup, heck I don’t even use shampoo, but I felt so “first world” I could barely stand it. I’ve made an effort to donate lots of things and compress my wardrobe, nearly everything matches everything else now (if it doesn’t go with black, I don’t want it!), but I still have a long way to go. In this process I’ve also become more aware of where my clothing comes from and try (when I can) to buy fair trade. I bought a new pair of boots (to replace the two falling apart pairs that I had) in Granada that are stylish, durable, and comercio justo (fair trade) from Colombia. I think back to May, driving home from school with my car stuffed and am mortified, we really do have a problem. For me, this issue wasn’t solved this year, it was started.

I learned a lot about managing my expectations and being true to me this year. I had a lot of trouble at the beginning of this semester because I would get upset at myself if I didn’t go out. I don’t really enjoy going out, I prefer chatting over coffee or pre-dinner drinks but it seemed like the only way to get to know other people in the program was to stay out until dawn. I will say, that’s fun sometimes, but I was making myself go out when I didn’t want to or stressing about not going out when I decided to stay in. Wasn’t I wasting my time abroad? Not usually one to fall into the trap of stereotypes, that’s exactly what I did. Isn’t study abroad supposed to be partying with a bunch of loud Americans? I realized that I had to be true to me and that I simply had different expectations. If I only made friends with other Americans, what was going to happen in December when they all left? I had some doubts about my decision to generally stay separate from the JYS group, especially on our program trips, but in general it was the right thing to do. If I stayed out until 5am every weekend, what was I going to miss out on? I can say that I’m very happy with the Spanish friends that I’ve made and that spending my mornings at a café have been much more rewarding than staying out all night. I’ve also had some great nights staying in and watching movies with my host family. Now, this is not to say I never go out, because I do love it, as long as I am a bit selfish and do it on my schedule. The same rule applies with traveling, I got frustrated when I traveled with other people in the program because we just didn’t have the same expectations. Compromise is important but you have to remember that you have every right to do what you want to do, even if it means doing it alone.

On that note, I have become a super morning person. I’ve always loved mornings. At SBC I always got up and spent close to an hour sitting at breakfast, at home I was usually up before my sisters left for school, and in Sevilla my favorite part of the day is having breakfast or a coffee at a café, either alone or with someone else. In the past few weeks this has become a tad bit of a problem. For one, I’m actually sad every day when I finish breakfast and two, I’m literally so unproductive after lunch/siesta (granted, lunch is at like three). But hey, at least right now I don’t actually have anything pressing to do!

Though I was acutely aware of this before, I hate technology. Ok, this is a slight exaggeration, because it’s pretty cool, but I really just want to experience life without being connected. I’ve tried and I continue to try to disconnect but it’s a huge problem. I’ve gone out with people plenty of times only to have them on their phone the entire time. I’m lucky that I can only use mine with wifi so I’m never tempted, but it’s so frustrating. My host siblings always have their phones as well. I hate how programed I am to open my laptop the second I get up/home. I really just want to delete all my social media. And the internet. Maybe my upcoming trip will provide another opportunity to attempt to fully cut myself off again. Ugh.

The biggest thing that I’ve been working on this year has been “do what makes you happy”. In reality, if something doesn’t make you happy, why do it? I know this is way harder in practice, but I’ve been trying really hard to apply this to every aspect of my life. I still have a long way to go but baby steps…

There you have it, I’m probably forgetting something, but hey…you try summing up everything you’ve done in a year!

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