“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others” – Mahatma Gandhi

In early January, I had the opportunity to help lead a service-learning trip to the Dominican Republic. I traveled with 13 students from the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University to the community of Las Terrenas. The trip was one week long and I purposefully did not wear make-up for the week so that I would be able to incorporate this experience into my blog! For some reason, I have convinced myself that if what I am wanting to write about isn’t listed on my Day Zero Project, that I cannot write a post on my blog about it. Clearly false, it is my blog after-all 🙂

I have spent a lot of time reflecting on the impacts that the trip had, impacts we may have had on the community, but more importantly the impacts this service learning experience has had on me.It has taken me a long time to publish this update because I wanted to ensure that I communicated the epic awesomeness of the students who went, the people we met, and the work we did. Although the main focus of the trip were the acts of service and learning, we did find a little time for some local adventures and exploring. Another reason it has taken me so long to make this post public is due to an article I stumbled across shortly after returning from the Dominican Republic. This online article talked about one young woman’s experience with serving in developing countries.

Immediately after reading this article, I felt as though it discredited the service I had done and that everyone in the social media world, who had also stumbled across the article, would feel as though our group did more harm than good. After spending time thinking about the points in the article, reading peoples’ comments, and reflecting on the purpose of our trip, I was able to identify key differences between her experiences and the experience that the students and I shared.

Mainly our group did not approach our service learning trip from the standpoint of what we could do for those we were serving, but what could we learn from those in the community through our acts of service. We did not set out to solve all of the worlds’ problems or fix anything that was broken by our standards. Our intent was to learn as much as we could about their culture and ways of living during the week we were there working alongside of community members.

I think that it is important to highlight our mindset going into the trip as having the frame of mind of “What can I learn from this” really helped to shape our experience. Our contact person in the Dominican Republic, Jose, did a great job preparing us for the trip. He came to CSB/SJU and talked to our group back in November and really made us reflect on our purpose for traveling to the DR. He emphasized the importance of us not going there to change or fix anything, but going to learn so that we could bring what we learned through our experiences back with us. This really set our minds and hearts in the right place for the trip.

The beginning of this experience started for my last October when, after applying for an Alternative Break Experience (ABE) faculty/staff position, I was offered an interview. I did not specifically interview for this trip, but in general for all of the ABE trips that CSB/SJU offers. I had my interview at the local coffee shop and on my walk back to campus called my mom to let her know that I would not be going on a trip. I felt as though I bombed my interview and did not express my thoughts clearly. Turns out I was chosen for one of the more competitive trips and my first choice preference for trips. Looks as though my interview went better than I thought!

Shortly after being notified of my selection to lead the winter break ABE trip to the Dominican Republic, I found out who the two student co-leaders would be. These two women (Sarah and Chibudom) were phenomenal!! They interviewed and selected students for the 11 other spots on the trip. I know it couldn’t have been easy to only choose 11 students, but the ones they chose were the best of the best! Once our trip participants were all finalized we only had a short period of time to do some fundraising. Since it was a volunteer trip, we were responsible for or all costs associated with the trip including the standard trip participation fee, our flight, food, housing, transportation, and donations to our service site. Want to say thank you again to all of you who donated through my fundraising page! I truly appreciate your generosity!!

Our group had two main projects. The first was collecting donations of school supplies and toys. The supplies (books, paper, markers, glue, tape etc) were donated to local schools and we wrapped the toys while there to hand out to kids from one of the poorest communities at a festival for the 3 Kings. While there, most of our time was spent working to help build a playground for a local school. Both of these projects, as well as the beauty of the country, are better shown through photos so be sure to look through the photos below as I will explain more about everything with the photos! Prepare yourself, there is kind of a lot! Like 70ish, but you can click the little circles on the bottom to browse through them rather quickly! 🙂 I had a hard time narrowing all the photos down so these are the select few I chose. HA!

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Also one of the guys, shout out to Andy! one of the students I was sick with, put together a lovely video of our trip! Check it out here

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“She had always been a fast driver, even before she could afford a fast car. It was impatience as much as anything: chafing at the fact that she couldn’t actually do anything while driving- except drive” Chico Kidd

Well, after an unplanned two month hiatus, I have returned to my blog! 🙂 I have been slowly chipping away at my Day Zero Project, but have not been very timely in updating my blog. So, prepare yourself for an influx of updates!

In early October, I went home for the weekend. This was a foreign concept to me as I have never really just gone home for the weekend. Being the typical overly involved college student, I rarely had a free weekend in college in which to go home. Then I moved to Indy, and let’s be real, if I didn’t go home for the weekend when it was a 5 hour drive it is safe to say I didn’t when I was 12 hours away either. This made going home just for the weekend special in itself. However, adding to the excitement, I learned how to drive a stick shift!! 

This is one of those things that I have always wanted to learn. Granted when I envisioned being taught I always pictured learning in a truck or an old beat up car, but go big or go home right? (right!) I learned in a semi! No worries, I was driving through one of the fields at home, not on a road 🙂 Big shout out to my dad for teaching me! Like the biggest shout out ever. Like the shout out of ALL shout outs! I have been known to pick-up on things abnormally quick, like when I first started throwing weight/hammer or playing piano, unfortunately, this was not one of those things. Not even close! I consider only killing it three times to be a huge success! Luckily, my dad was really patient. He even provided me with the excuse that it’s harder to drive the semi on softer ground. Isn’t he great?! I just know I would have done better on the highway 😉 I also know that if I had driven on the highway my mom would have had a heart attack so you’ll just have to take my word that I would’ve rocked it 🙂 Below are some super rad photos my brother took of me driving!

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“A Journey is Best Measured in Friends, Rather Than Miles” Tim Cahill

This is my first post from my new home in Minnesota!! I’ve only been here for about two weeks and I’m already checking things off my Day Zero Project list. My first day of work at my new gig was a week ago from this past Tuesday and it was by far the best first day of work I have ever had. You may be asking yourself, what made it so great?! Well, I flew to Washington DC with my fellow coworkers for a conference! We attended the ASACCUU Conference which is the Association for Student Affairs at Catholic Colleges and Universities.

Attending this conference with my coworkers was super exciting on so many levels. Mainly because I left for the trip not really knowing any of the wonderful ladies I work with, but I returned calling them my friends and feeling as though I had known them for years. Adding to the excitement was the fact that I had the opportunity to ‘visit a state I had never been to’ I had never been to Washington DC or the state of Virginia, which we were in briefly.

The conference was set up so that during the day we attended key-note speakers and sessions that talked about some of the unique challenges and opportunities that come with working at a Catholic institution. The evenings were free, though, so at night we were able to do some sight-seeing. This was an added bonus because the first night we were in DC (July 23) was the eve of my golden birthday! One of my new friends had a friend from highschool that lived in the area that met up with us and we rang in my 24th birthday while sitting on a patio along the river at an outdoor bar. What a way to kick off my golden birthday, right?!

On Wednesday, my actual birthday, I attended a lot of very informative sessions that really sparked my enthusiasm for the upcoming year. After the conference concluded for the day, a group of the representatives from the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University that were at the conference went out for a fancy dinner. The dinner was absolutely scrumptious and even better was the eye candy the chef provided during the meal (schmokin hot chef! haha!) Since it was my birthday, I was given a free dessert! So yummy! After dinner, my friends and I went to the White House. Yes, I spent part of my golden birthday at the White House with my friends. We are kind of a big deal 🙂 After doing some sight-seeing, we went to a speakeasy (where my friend’s friend worked) and celebrated my birthday in style!! (shout out to Katie, Kyleen, Ann, and Tara for celebrating with me!!) What a fantastic way to celebrate my life! Here’s to the fantastic year that is in-store for me!!

Thursday, the last day of the conference, I attended the best session ever! haha shout out to my amazing coworkers on their phenomenal presentation on the programming model that they created the previous year. I can already tell that I am going to learn so much this year from my coworkers and that is super exciting! After the conclusion of the conference, we had the opportunity to go on a bus tour of the monuments. Super cool to see all of them! It was hard to get quality pictures at the monuments as it was at night, but below are some pictures from the trip!

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“Graduation is not the end; it is the beginning”~Orrin Hatch

I know that my blog has not been very active lately, but I have a good reason for my absence! Well, I feel it is a pretty good reason 🙂 I have spent the last three months buckling down to complete my Master’s Degree!!!! I took three courses this past semester so that I would be completely finished on graduation day and not have to take any summer courses. I was a little nervous going into the semester as working full-time and taking three courses, of which one included my capstone project, was a huge time commitment. It took a great deal of effort, but I am happy to say that I joined the ranks of some 9% of Americans that possess a Master’s Degree. Whoot whoot!!

I am glad that my family was able to join me for the ceremonies. My parents drove through less than ideal road conditions on Friday to make it to my hooding ceremony. If someone would have told me that there would be icy roads and snowy conditions on May 4th, I would have never believed them! You have to love Iowa weather!! Haha, luckily they made it safely and were able to see me receive my hood! We also had a very nice dinner after the hooding ceremony on Friday and enjoyed a nice night at the comfort sweats hotel. Sadly, that is not a typo…I will let you all ask Jenna about how hot it was! (inside joke: she commented every five minutes for at least a half hour at like 4am about how hot it was and how uncomfortable she was!).

Saturday morning started out with a congratulatory phone call from my brother! Exciting as his phone calls from the Dominican Republic are sometimes few and far between. Lucky for him, I considered being in the Peace Corps a valid enough reason to miss both my undergraduate and my graduate school graduations! With his support from afar, and my parents and sister present, I crossed the stage once again to receive my Master of Science degree in Student Affairs and Higher Education. Although they mail out the actual diplomas, I did get a pretty sweet diploma cover when I walked across the stage!

So, what’s the next step?! Paying off the student loans that I accumulated during my undergraduate career! I managed to make it through grad school without taking out any additional loans, but my undergrad loans will no longer be in deferment. 😦 sad day! How do I plan to pay off these loans? Well, if you haven’t already heard I have accepted a position at the College of Saint Benedict in St. Joseph, Minnesota as a Resident Director. I start sometime mid July so will finish out my contract here in Indianapolis before moving north! I am super excited for my next endeavor and so grateful for all of the support you lovely people reading this continue giving me. I wouldn’t have made it this far without you!! Stay tuned for some more updates, hopefully coming soon!! 🙂

Be sure to check out some picture below from the weekend!

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“Commit yourself to lifelong learning. The most valuable asset you’ll ever have is your mind and what you put into it.” Brian Tracy

This past semester I took a Spanish class just for fun. I had taken four years of Spanish in high school, but didn’t take it at all during my undergraduate years. Partially because it wasn’t offered at my undergrad and partially because I didn’t make enough of an effort to take it through the college down the road. My interest in learning another language, specifically Spanish, was re-sparked over the summer when one of my really good friends and I went to visit my brother, Jeremy, in the Dominican Republic. (Shout out to Maria!!) Not being able to communicate very well with anyone and seeing him interact with everyone led me to talking to my supervisor about the possibility of enrolling in a Spanish course.

Since it had been 5 years since I had taken any Spanish, I originally signed-up for Spanish 101. Once my professor found out that I had taken Spanish in high school, though, she had me take a placement exam. I somehow tested out of Spanish 101 and landed a spot in Spanish 102. At first, I was really excited that I did well enough to be bumped up a level as I found the placement exam to be super hard. After the first day of Spanish 102, I was significantly less excited! We started on Chapter 6 and I didn’t remember as much from high school as I would have liked let alone what was covered in Chapters 1-5 in Spanish 101!!

Luckily, having class every day and with a little extra studying, what I once knew came back to me relatively quickly and I was able to keep up in class and not be too lost. I definitely learned a lot this past semester including a slew of new vocabulary and a couple of tenses. I even had the opportunity to take part in some outside of the classroom learning. In early December I volunteered at Santa’s Workshop, which was sponsored by a local church, and it gave low-income families an opportunity to pick out clothes and toys for their children for the holidays. They needed some volunteers to help translate for families that didn’t speak English. I was a little hesitant to sign-up at first as I was not confident in Spanish-speaking abilities. I was able to assist several families, though, which was a huge confidence booster. This experience also opened my eyes to ways that I can use the little Spanish knowledge that I do have to help others.

Although I wont be taking Spanish this next semester, due to taking an extra graduate level course, I do plan on continuing to study Spanish in the future! Since I didn’t have any pictures of my class or volunteer experience, I have included a few of my favorite pictures from my trip this past summer to the Dominican Republic as that is what led me to taking this Spanish class for fun!

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