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b2ap3_thumbnail_resized.jpgThe first week here in Ireland, I and all of the other international students had lots of things to do. We had meetings to go to, classes to schedule, activities planned for us and shopping to complete. Meanwhile, we were all getting settled into our new home and conquering jet lag. 

However, after all of that, we were rewarded with the real reason we all really came to Ireland- a little bit of traveling.  Everywhere we've been has been incredible. There are artifacts in museums from B.C. that are really well preserved because of the boggy landscape of Ireland! There are artifacts from the 1600s and before, and it boggles my brain that the ones from the 1800s aren't as big of a deal here, when that would be the pinnacle of most American museums. 

Derry/Londonderry has a wall running through it that dates back to the sixteenth century! We visited a castle- a castle! And we were allowed to walk around and through it, to touch it and to take pictures. It was absolutely gorgeous and thrilled me through and through.  The history here is so well preserved and tangible and it's really easily accessible to the public, all of which has my little history-major-heart dancing. 

However, as stupendous as the history is, it manages to pale in comparison to the land itself.  One of our most amazing trips was to the Causeway; it's a place that is so strange, unique and beautiful, unlike anything I have ever seen before. The cliffs of the Irish coastline, too, are absolutely breathtaking; they are something that you could just stare at forever and never tire of their allure. 

The inland is full of rolling hills and mountains, and the colors on a sunny day- or, you know, sunny 20 minute spurts- don't really seem real. They seem like something that someone photo shopped to make more vibrant. This country sometimes seems unreal; it takes my breath away.

 That's the point, I guess.  The manmade things are wonderful, and I really can't get enough of the towns and their histories. But the things that aren't man made, the things that God etched onto the world for our pleasure, are infinitely more magnificent. These things that He made are an incredible reminder of how man can do amazing things, but even then God is so much more powerful and awe-inspiring. It's slightly terrifying, actually, but at the same time an amazing comfort. 

 

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So I started my study abroad semester in Northern Ireland this week at the University of Ulster at Coleraine. It's something I've wanted to do for as long as I can remember and I can't describe how thrilled and blessed I feel to have this opportunity. I'm not going to lie, when I realized last Saturday that I was leaving in a day, I was so overwhelmed that I was somewhere between crying for joy and throwing up. This didn't subside until I well into the flight - something else I've never done, flying. I was excited but at the same time sad to leave my family, and underneath it all I was a nervous wreck. I did all I could - followed my instructions and silently prayed for calm.

The view as we descended was spectacular, and I'm kicking myself for not taking pictures. It was totally stunning though.  I found out shortly before landing that I'd actually been sitting next to another International Ulster student the entire time. We were both relieved we had someone to share our feelings of excitement and exhaustion and support in the clueless-American department.  We got off the plane, met some other students, then onto the bus and headed to our new home; I was totally "knockered," as the Irish say. I had a little heart attack when I thought my power converter died on me, but other than that move-in went smoothly, and I passed out from 46-7:30, then 7:30-3AM, then made a shopping list, then 3:30-8. It was a weird little schedule that first night.

There's been lots of confusion and crazy and orientation and registration and running around and seeing and doing new things, and it's been overwhelming. Good, but overwhelming. I didn't realize how much I needed to be refreshed until I was. I finally got to speak to my family on Wednesday, then I spent some time reading 1 Corinthians. Verse 1:25 has always been a comfort to me, and especially here where I don't really know anyone and am far away from my comfort zone. "The foolishness of God is wiser than men's wisdom; the weakness of God is stronger than men's strength." I just like knowing that someone so incredible is protecting me.  After that, reading my Bible and speaking to my family, I felt renewed and ready to take on these next four months and whatever this gorgeous country has in store for me.

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Friday, Jan. 3, 2014

Today, snow drapes from the bare cover of oak tree branches that line the sidewalk behind Miller Hall. Christmas decorations still adorn the frosted brick buildings as I make my way to the office. Yet again, I am reminded of the settling fact that this will be my last winter break as a student worker at Waynesburg University.

Each year it seems this view becomes more beautiful than before, almost whimsical, even. The once rolling green hills that move through campus are now smooth snow caps chasing the sun as it rises above grey clouds. Only frenzied squirrel trails can be found within the white, powdery mix, but in a couple of weeks they will be joined by the dips and divots made by routine ambles to class and the occasional snowball fight.

I don’t feel lonely by the bareness of campus as I continue walking toward Miller Hall, though one might assume you would this time of year. Students will return and the buildings will once again wake to the sound of occupied classrooms and fellowship with friends. In the meantime, campus comes to life on its own in the quiet, still moments of the day, the moments many of us miss during the bustle of our daily routines.

As I take in the view, I realize I will greatly miss this place and the beautiful way God shares His creations through it, for Waynesburg is a sight during every season, not just this one.

Every fall, as the warm summer heat begins to fade, I find myself in this same area, on a bench below the oak trees, listening to the cries of squirrels and the pops of dropping acorns on the surrounding cement. The trees are heavy with vibrant red, orange and yellow tones, and the sidewalks are full with students, yet, as I sit there, I almost feel as though I am sitting in my own private corner of paradise, totally at peace.

In the spring, when the rest of the natural world awakes once more, walking to and from class often doubles as a runway show featuring a wide variety of colorful rain boots and umbrellas. I hear the complaints of students whose hair has begun to frizz and whose coats have soaked through, though I know we are all secretly relishing in the sweet, familiar smell of rain hitting the pavement.

Summer continues this trend with even more beauty. To me, summer is when campus truly comes into its own. In the morning, a golden haze lifts from the grass and the birds and squirrels, alike, call out across the lawn, taking shelter in the shade of the historic buildings. By mid-afternoon, as I push through the doors of Miller and step out into the open air, the sun warms my skin, bringing back the nostalgia of fun with friends and summer loves—the things we once had forgotten.

Even at night, the air just warm enough to enjoy, after admiring the deep pinks and purples of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever witnessed, I curl up beneath the soft light of a nearby lamp post, book in hand, listening to the soothing hum of insects, the slight crack of a moth hitting glass.

Here, I feel safe. Here, I am at home.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_Karla-1.jpgPat Bristor, the associate dean of students at Waynesburg University, has watched Karla Lucilia Pet Diaz grow from a child into a young adult. She has learned, played, worshipped and laughed alongside her and has recently helped to facilitate a dream for both of them. 

After months of praying and planning, Karla visited the United States for the first time at the beginning of December 2013. While growing up in Patzun, Guatemala, at the Centro Nutricional y Hogar de Ninos, Karla looked forward to the Waynesburg University mission trips to the center each year. Since she was 14 years old, Karla has enjoyed Pat’s warm smile and looked forward to seeing her year after year. 

This year, Karla finished her studies and applied for a Visa to travel to the United States and visit Waynesburg – the place where so many familiar faces waited to see her. Waynesburg University faculty, staff and students paid for Karla’s plane tickets through the Guatemala project fund, an account bolstered by the fundraising of any student who has traveled to Patzun throughout the University’s 14 mission trips to the Center. 

“This is the first opportunity that one of the children from the center has been able to visit Waynesburg University. The opportunity is one of what we hope will be many,” Bristor said. “I know that she was meant to come here. We ran into many issues but it worked out.” 

From her arrival Tuesday, Dec. 3, to the beginning of the University’s Christmas break Saturday, Dec. 14, Karla spent as much time as possible with Waynesburg University students who have participated in the Guatemala mission in the past.  

With them, she practiced her English, attended the Waynesburg Christmas parade, participated in sled riding, watched movies, viewed the Oglebay Festival of Lights and completed community service at St. Ann’s soup kitchen. With great joy, Waynesburg students took her to campus events, introduced her to their friends and professors and invited her to attend game nights and dinners at the University.  

“The focus at the beginning of December was on the students she’s come to know and love. She wanted to spend time with them, and they with her, before many of them left campus for Christmas break,” Bristor said. “The remaining time was spent serving the community, meeting with alumni and participating in regional customs.” 

Pat arranged for Karla to either telephone or meet with a number of Waynesburg University alumni who visited Guatemala through the years. Karla also spent time with Brandon Szuminsky, instructor of communication at Waynesburg and his wife, Heidi Szuminsky, director of donor and alumni relations at the University, both of whom have led mission trips to Patzun multiple times. 

Tearing up, Pat explained that her passion for the Guatemala mission has been very evident, but that though her husband supported her, he didn’t always understand why she returned home each year with a heavy heart – missing the people of Patzun. 

“My husband didn’t understand that passion until he met Karla,” she said. “Now he understands why I love her and the mission so much. He is even interested in coming with us in the future. It’s been a wonderful experience for us to share our home. Having a child in our home who I have come to love has been a dream come true. The laughter fills the house.””

Indeed, as Pat and Karla spoke to each other using a translation app, gestures and slowed-speech, they generated quite a bit of infectious laughter. They both said that the language barrier has been an enjoyable and even helpful issue. 

“I don’t know much Spanish. She’s very good at English even though sometimes she’s too shy to admit it,” Bristor said. “But I think the barrier has been a blessing; if she were in a home that spoke fluent Spanish, Karla wouldn’t be as challenged to speak and learn English. It also forces me to learn Spanish, which I’ve wanted to do for years.”

In January, Pat will return to Patzun for the seventh time alongside a team of Waynesburg University students, staff, and, of course, Karla. Though the journey will be bittersweet, Pat knows that the new bridge of communication built at Waynesburg University will help them to communicate for a lifetime.  

 

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b2ap3_thumbnail_1426734_644433955608244_957885172_n.jpgLast week, my husband and I, both proud 2012 alumni, jumped at the chance to attend a Young Alumni Event with Waynesburg University. For the first time, we experienced the magical atmosphere of Dave and Busters and the camaraderie of being surrounded by other young Waynesburg graduates. 

My experience was slightly unique in that I attended the event as both a representative of Waynesburg (I work as a graduate assistant in University Relations at my alma mater) and as a giddy participant. As I helped to register the more than 70 alumni in attendance, I tried to remember what classes I shared with some of them and how others left a memorable impact on the University even before I began as a freshman in 2009. In that moment, like many other moments before it, I felt so thankful for the small atmosphere of Waynesburg University, which allowed me to remember these names and faces and connect in a memorable way. 

After a delicious meal provided by the University, people departed, in groups of three, four and sometimes many more, for the arcade. 

My husband, roommate, Vikki and I set out for the games that would spill the most tickets. We played skee-ball and failed miserably next to a very accomplished 8-year-old boy, whose tickets quadrupled ours. 

At the end of the evening, we decided to go all out on a racing simulation game – each of us picking a different drivers’ seat and steering wheel. As we sped through checkered flags and rounded impossible turns, I thought about how nice it felt to goof off with my best friends, surrounded by a greater network of alumni who were enjoying themselves equally. 

After we all crossed the virtual finish line, we glanced down to collect our tickets hoping for enough to make a dent in the impressive arcade store gallery. None appeared. We somehow managed to choose the only arcade game that didn't reward its players – but the experience was enough. 

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