Thoughts on Graduation

As I procrastinate on the last essay of my undergraduate career, I can’t help but ponder where I am today and where I was at this exact moment four years ago. Where has the time gone?

Throughout college, I have:

  • Worked 12 different jobs.
  • Moved into in 11 bedrooms.
  • Lived with 18 different roommates.
  • Attended 2 different universities.
  • Studied abroad 3 times.
  • Visited 7 new countries.
  • Learned 1 new language.
  • Driven over 30,000 miles.
  • Spent way too much money,
  • And finally earned a degree.

And boy was it absurdly different than I expected.

At the end of high school, I was wrapping up my studies, mourning the end of my track and field career, and awaiting with anticipation that I would GTFO of Spring Valley, Wisconsin after graduating with all 48 of my other classmates. I had big plans to attend Louisiana State University, my dream school since I was 14, for no strong reason other than the desire to hightail it out of rural Wisconsin as fast as I could with no regrets and something to prove.

Enjoying the victory of heading to sectionals in all 4 of my track & field events
Enjoying the victory of heading to sectionals in all 4 of my track & field events

I didn’t last long, and it wasn’t even the miles between home that wrecked me. No one tells you how lonely college can be until you arrive and realize you never developed the social skills necessary to make a new friend group appear out of thin air. I’d been stuck around the same people for years–the same ones I had burned my bridges with in anticipation of this new adventure. I wanted to completely leave, but reinventing yourself is easier said than done. Within a few weeks I had reapplied to the University of Minnesota to transfer at the end of the semester and be closer to home. I immersed myself in school to keep from thinking about how much I hated my decisions and found pride in getting good grades, something that I’d never cared much about in the past.

The semester dragged on. By the time my dad arrived to bring me back to Wisconsin, I couldn’t even bring myself to tell my roommate I was leaving. I felt defeated.

The University of Minnesota will be so much better, I told myself over and over until the day I moved into my new room in the basement of the most notoriously boring and studious dorm on campus. I’m going to find my niche and pick up this college thing where I left off after high school.

Nope. Trying to make friends the second semester of Freshman year is an even more dauting task, I soon found, when my confidence and self-esteem had already been smashed by my first semester failures and my motivation was dropping on the daily. Lonely out of my mind, I found myself back with a guy I had dated at the end of high school, and long story short: he had developed a drug addiction while I was in Lousiana, and his problems combined with my lonliness lead to the worst few months of my life–much worse than being alone at LSU. The toxicity and self-hate that ensued were an even bigger blow to my confidence than the previous months combined, but his manipulation kept me in place and I convinced myself I was happier that way.

I was able to channel some of my frustration into a photography class, though.
I was able to channel some of my frustration into a photography class, though.

In just one short year, I’d gone from being an overwhelmingly happy, confident, and motivated person to someone who experienced a constant depression and anxiety that still today has never quite healed. I had been convinced I was worthless, and the act of making friends became one that was no longer just uncomfortable, but filled my chest with fear and panic. I would psych myself out every opportunity I had to make connections. I shut down. I felt like a failure.

From a photography class project, depicting a scene from the book "Looking for Alaska."
From a photography class project, depicting a scene from the book “Looking for Alaska.”

Once the rollercoaster of emotional abuse was over, my calibrations were still out of whack and it took another year before I recovered some of my confidence.

Although sophomore year was spent playing a lot of catch-up from freshman year, I was finally able to enjoy the luxuries of college life, specifically friends.

Jasmine, Me, Kakia, Haley, and Karl.
Jasmine, Me, Kakia, Haley, and Karl.

This was such a contrast to the first year, and after finding some really fantastic roommates, I settled into a routine of parties on the weekends and roommate “family dinners” whenever possible. We were all poor, our college-quality house was falling apart, and all school work was put on the backburner–but we lived blissfully. Never have I been, nor will I ever be, as carefree as I was with my best friends. We bonded so quickly that I felt like I’d already known them my whole life, and the cross-country road trip we took over spring break will forever be my favorite adventure.

Jasmine, Haley, and I jumping for joy somewhere in the middle of Nevada
Jasmine, Haley, and I jumping for joy somewhere in the middle of Nevada

I had found a new home in Minneapolis. It’s only an hour away from Spring Valley, but it felt like I was as far away as LSU for all the right reasons. My wanderlust is what brought me to LSU, though, and my wanderlust is what sent me on another trip that next summer to Ecuador, my first of several study abroad experiences.

Swinging off the edge of the earth in Banos, Ecuador
Swinging off the edge of the earth in Banos, Ecuador

I won’t go into detail about Ecuador (you can read about it here), but this trip is what sparked my love for backpacking, South America, the Spanish language, and so much more. It was after this two-month trip that I finally settled on an academic major and felt as though I had some direction in my life. I had to continue traveling.

I sped through the fall semester of my junior year to get to Argentina for my spring semester, and then spent time traveling around Chile, Uruguay, Peru, and Bolivia during and after my time there.

Karl, me, Alli, and Emmaray in Patagonia
Karl, me, Alli, and Emmaray in Patagonia

I wouldn’t trade my time in South America for anything. I made some of the lifelong friends I felt that I’d missed out on before, and it helped me narrow down my career path even more.

During my senior year, I interned at World Endeavors, a fantastic study, intern, and volunteer abroad organization, as well as worked tirelessly on this blog, for which I’m still playing catch-up. Now I’m torn–I love international education, but I also so crave the nomadic lifestyle and a job I can work remotely, especially if I can ever monetize my blog to the point that it can support my travels.

So far I’ve struck a great balance: I now have a freelance social media and writing job with World Endeavors, one that I can’t wait to start and which has the possibility to continue once I start my new journey to… (drumroll please…) … China!

Some sparkler fun during sophomore winter
Some sparkler fun during sophomore winter

Surprise, right? Definitely not a Spanish-speaking country. I will be teaching English somewhere in or around Shanghai after getting my TEFL certification in October, and the rest will be history. I can’t wait to start the next chapter of my life, learning more about international education and pursuing location independence. (Oh, and Karl is coming too!)

There is so much of the world that I want to see. Sometimes I consider LSU my first study abroad experience, since I was so out of my element and unprepared for what was to come. As a midwesterner living in the south, it was also just a huge culture shock! But in the end, that really primed me for my future international trips and started a domino effect of movement. In any of the 11 rooms I’ve inhabited over the last four years, I’ve never stayed in one longer than 9 months. That benchmark is coming up for my current apartment, and for a while now I’ve already felt the itch to leave.

A music festival a few weeks before college began
A music festival a few weeks before college began

What are my plans? I’ll be moving into my parent’s new house when construction is done, working to save as much money as possible, and then shipping off to the other side of the world in a few short months. I’m sure the time will fly by, though, and at the end of my time in China I will look back and wonder where it all went.

I remember running into one of my favorite high school teachers while I was nearing the end of my freshman year of college. He remarked that I had “lost my spark.” Those words hurt me and really hit home, but they weren’t wrong. After one year I was already an inherently different person, and that is even more true now than it was three years ago. While college as a whole was not something I particularly enjoyed, I had a few extremely bright spots and was constantly challenged in new ways. I grew more than I ever could have imagined. I still struggle daily with different anxieties, and that has definitely prevented me from forming stronger friendships with people I see all the time. It’s very cliche, but my biggest regrets will be the chances I didn’t take. I always wish I could explain to people why I am the way I am, but I know that the ones who matter the most have already broken through that barrier or made it to feel invisible. I am by far not the only person to struggle with college, we all have. We may have struggled the same or differently, but either way I empathize with you and can’t wait to celebrate this accomplishment.

Most of the last few years have been spent trying to rekindle the spark that I lost, but I’ve started to realize it’s not something that can be relit. Now, I’m trying to light a new flame and let that guide me forward from here. It feels so refreshing knowing that I’ve got the whole world ahead of me, and finally, some truly incredbile people in my life to keep me burning.

Congrats to the Class of 2016: We did it! 

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