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b2ap3_thumbnail_Kayla_Painting.jpgHow art courses at Waynesburg have changed my life (as a non-major).

1. The first time I picked up a paintbrush was my sophomore year at Waynesburg. It was the fall term and as I scoured the thin book of offered courses, I stumbled upon an acrylics class, open to all majors. Aside from some sketching here and there, I had never put much effort in to becoming an artist; all I wanted to draw were horses. I had spent my childhood drawing horses until I nearly mastered them. They ran, jumped and reared on the page, never accompanied by a scene of any sort, just a ghost on a sheet of printer paper. Simply put, I couldn’t draw anything else. It was difficult for me to envision myself painting, but I had heard the professor graded based on progress not talent (friendly to anyone with a true interest in learning) so I joined. In a few short weeks, I found myself consumed in the technique of putting paint to canvas— the smooth, gentle glide of a brush and the act of finishing my own work-of-art. It was after my first painting that I (reluctantly) called myself an artist.

2. That fall semester my sophomore year proved to be a challenge, yet, when my feet found their way to the art room time stopped. I sat at the long table with my easel, pushing my brush against the canvas sheet, and I felt my mind lift from the haze of upcoming exams and papers. I couldn’t get enough of the freedom I felt when I was covered in paint, leaving fingerprints on the things I touched. When I realized just how therapeutic painting had become for me, I decided to order more supplies and bring the studio to my own kitchen. The sink, table and floor quickly became their own masterpieces, dripping with paint to my mother’s disliking, while I worked on my paintings. I allowed my thoughts to drift off to happier places where the world I envisioned was the world I became a part of, not the one I actually lived in.

3. Art, I have found, is not always realistic or the popular definition of beauty, yet as I stand in front of a sculpture or a painting with its odd limbs and colors, suspended in midair, I find myself lost in it amidst a lack of understanding. I wander toward it, staring, hoping I’ll have that “ah ha” moment where it becomes clear what exactly is in front of me. I never do, but the interest remains. I continue to look, hopelessly. Questions fill my mind, pressing me to think outside of my normal worldviews. Picasso, Warhol, Kandinsky, what dreamlike places did you travel while you transposed your thoughts to paper and paint to canvas? I want to know where you’ve been.

4. There are nights when I look at the blue and orange sky shifting to pinks and purples over tree branched mountain tops and I want to scoop them up and spread them over a fresh, white canvas, letting the colors mold into one another as they kiss the corners of the page. I want to mark that image forever in my mind, hang it on the wall or mount it in a gallery for the world to see the things I have seen in that very moment. Sometimes I grab my camera to keep that image tucked away, somewhere, for a second glance, but what I have found, through my art courses, is nothing can quite capture an image the same as an artist’s eye.

5. When I think about the peculiarity in the nature of a piece of art, I think of God and His own designs. What inspires God to mold, cut, mix and scrape his creations into their final forms? With infinite amounts of color, materials and tools, the possibilities are endless, yet he chose to create me. What greater, peculiar, humbling love could a person ever encounter?

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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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b2ap3_thumbnail_Greene-County-Sunset.jpg

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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