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One thing that most people expect when traveling is the experiencing “culture shock.” I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but Northern Ireland has been quite an interesting study in that respect. Now, maybe there are parts of Ireland that are astonishingly “other” from what I’m used to- I believe, for instance, there are certain towns and islands that, according to various travel sights’ claims, are “a step into the past;” so far, however, in Northern Ireland, Ireland in general, really, there isn’t so much of a “shock” as much as there is a feeling of “I had never realized that was how it was there,” that hits you in the midst of going about your days.

There are some obvious differences that are noticeable right off, like the wonderful accent of the Irish, using “wee” where Americans would use “small,” and parking lots are referred to as car parks; most things, though, I’ve just been picking up little by little, the longer I spend time here. Some words, for instance, are different, most often as building or street names, or when referring to the Irish government systems, because they use the original Irish language of Gaelic; funnily enough, though, the Irish students seem to have as much difficulty pronouncing those words as the foreign students do. Then there are some truly wonderful differences, such as the vast array of various chocolates, the majority of which I’ve never even heard of- peanut butter Kit Kats are one of my new favorite things. Meanwhile, fries are called chips and chips are called crisps, and fish sticks are called fish fingers.

This is one of the things about studying abroad that I am really loving. It’s a different form of learning; not academic, but rather growing and gaining understanding of another culture, just by picking up these little- sorry, “wee”- differences. It’s much subtler than if I’d gone to any number of other countries, but even so it gives me the feeling that I’m getting this beautifully different understanding of the world. Here, I feel like there is an endless supply of things to discover, like there’s no end to the mystery of the Emerald Isle. There are many magnificent sights to see and there are tantalizingly lilting voices, the things that everyone expects to see when they come here, but there are so many little details until you spend some time. It’s almost like meeting a new person, noticing their appearance and personality first; but then as you get to know them, you learn their little ticks and quirks, and that’s what makes them more, what sets them apart in your mind and your heart. It’s an experience not quite like any other- getting to know a culture.

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I have been a student at Waynesburg University for four years now and one of the first things I would tell anyone interested in applying is that the faculty here are amazing. Waynesburg is a small university; therefore, its focus is to provide a personal learning experience to its students, which it does quite well.

A great example of Waynesburg’s personable faculty, from my own experience, occurred this past semester.

Before the fall 2013 term began, two of my scheduled courses were rescheduled for the following semester. I was anxious. I had no idea what I wanted to replace them with, and it was the start of my senior year. I needed more credits.

When I found an open seat in a Biblical ministries class titled “Wisdom Literature,” I quickly joined, not fully knowing what to expect.

Now, I have always been secure in my beliefs and understandings of faith, especially from what I have learned as a student here, but when I entered class on the first day, I shrunk down in my seat, my mind racing with insecurities. I had not taken many of the classes my classmates had and I was not a ministry major, like the majority of them. I felt insignificant and incompetent. Moreover, I felt like I didn’t belong.

Determined to drop the class out of fear of embarrassment and failure, I e-mailed the professor, describing to him my reasons for wanting to leave, though I didn’t need his permission. I had expected him to tell me “I understand and agree if you are uncomfortable, you should drop the course,” but the answer he gave was considerably different.

When I opened his correspondence, what he told me was “hang in there, enjoy, and feel free to stop by my office anytime for help. No bad questions.”

Through the course of the semester, we studied the Bible, primarily the books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Each class period was spent reading aloud the book of study, then discussing its meaning as well as how it applied then and how it applies today.

After each class, the professor would ask me how I was doing and what questions, if any, I had. He sent me examples of things we would be doing for class such as blog posts and reading responses, knowing I was not accustomed to his teaching methods like many of my classmates. I couldn’t believe how much he cared.

As the semester unfolded, I found myself becoming engaged in the topics. What I had not allowed myself to recognize on that first day was that I had been given a unique opportunity to further my understanding of the Word of God in addition to furthering my overall education.

By the end of the course, the amount of questions I had shrunk significantly and I found myself branching off on my own, sharing my opinions and interests, thanks to the help of a professor who was willing to go above and beyond for one student’s understanding.

What I have learned through my college experience at Waynesburg is not only are people willing to help when you need it, they often will go out of their way to make a difference in your life, showing you what you are capable of even when you aren’t sure. To me, that alone speaks of the quality of education I am receiving.

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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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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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Dear WU,

I recently registered for my last semester with you, and I can’t help but feel upset about this end to an important ritual of my college career. Somehow, I can’t picture myself anywhere but where I am now.

As you know, when I began looking at schools as a high school senior, you were on the list with two other Christian universities. I toured those other two schools, liking much of what I saw and even applied to them, thinking of how my future would be if I were to attend one of them.

I toured you last and there was an immediate change. Although I had my heart set on an equestrian school, I didn’t get the same feeling with those other schools because you were the one that made me feel as though I belonged.

There has been a lot of push and pull in our relationship throughout the years: classes I didn’t want to take, but ended up liking; class assignments that nearly pushed me over the edge, but I overcame; and exams that kept me up nights worrying over, but the end result always turned out better than I imagined.

I am now able to see that you only challenged me because you knew I could do it, no matter how many times I said I couldn’t, and I want to apologize for being so stubborn.

I have not always liked you, especially on the days where I received nothing but papers scribbled over in red ink—slashes and lines through my creative thoughts like a connect-the-dot activity sheet. I cried over those days more times than I feel comfortable confessing to you. What I couldn’t see at the time, however, was how much all of those scribbles would allow me to grow into a much better writer.

So much has happened over these past four years, some of which has been life-altering. It’s difficult to think of where my life would be if I would not have chosen you. You helped to peel back the layers of my insecurities as a person, writer and Christian, giving me chances to grow beyond the expectations I had originally placed for myself. My whole self-concept has changed, thanks to you.

Do you remember when I went for my interview with the Admissions Department as a freshman for a Student Ambassador position? I walked into that interview like a typical freshman: naïve and irrational. I remember adamantly saying the words “I will do anything you need, but I will never give a tour” to the admissions counselor, fully knowing that was in the job description. She and you had a good laugh, I’m sure.

The first time I gave a tour, I was so nervous I couldn’t remember anything I had rehearsed, but I made it through. To my surprise, families even began to tell me they couldn’t believe I had ever been shy. I give you the credit for those statements. Had it not been for you, I would have quit and crawled back into my comfortable shell of invisibility.

Through you, I went from being an insecure introvert to a confident, somewhat more sociable young woman who is no longer afraid of people looking at her because she knows she is important.

They say coming to college is part of a transitional phase of life which helps set the foundations for our future goals and careers, but to me it has been so much more than that. Finding my way to you has been a type of reawakening in my life.

During these past four years, I’ve repeatedly lost and regained confidence in my abilities; I’ve had my heart broken and restored again (like so many my age); I’ve lost high school friendships and gained stronger, less selfish ones; I’ve lost sight of my faith only to find a stronger, more cognizant version; and most importantly, I’ve learned who I am as a person and who I want to become as I continue to grow.

My final registration signifies this chapter in my life is about to end and as I sit here writing this letter to you, I hate to think this journey is almost over. Like a friend, you have become close to my heart and I know, even once I’m gone, that is where you will remain.

Thank you for all you have done for me, both good and bad, for they have made me who I am today.

Sincerely,
Kayla Longstreth

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