Why Wisconsin

It’s hard to put into words what the last four years have meant to me- both as a college student and as a member of the Madison community. In reality, I know I am not unique by posting about my college experience; as I scroll through my Newsfeed, I see a flooding of graduation posts where people express their sadness about leaving or their pride in accomplishing such a big feat. It is definitely a bittersweet time, though. More specifically a time where weirdness and uncertainty are two of the main emotions felt as we prepare to say goodbye to not only our college years, but also our best friends. But, despite the mix of sadness and excitement, it is impossible not to be grateful to have been given the opportunity to feel all of these things in the first place.

During the first few weeks of freshman year, especially during sorority recruitment, the question “Why Wisconsin?” is asked more times than, “Where are we pregaming tonight?” or, “Why am I still hungry?” Everyone has their own seemingly unique answer to this question at first. For me, the answer was simple: big ten, great research university, city campus, high ranking school, people from all over the country attend. After four years of complete and total immersion on this campus, however, I have come to realize that these reasons are actually beyond cliche and were merely a back drop to what I really gained through my time in college.

As I prepare to say goodbye to this campus and to what I can easily identify as the best four years of my life, I am overcome with emotion. While these feelings have not manifested themselves through uncontrollable tears and sadness just yet, there is an obvious somber feeling in the air as my friends and I begin to tie up the loose ends and head out.

Sitting in the football stadium during the graduation ceremony I can distinctly remember getting chills all over my body as the commencement speaker and chancellor gave what they deemed to be their best advice to new college graduates who now had the world at their fingertips. I looked next to me during our last few minutes as undergraduate students and saw a row full of my best friends, my roommates, my now life-partners, with tears in their eyes and passion in their hearts. I remember thinking to myself that there could be no better moment, no better people to walk through life with even though just 4 short years ago they were nothing but strangers.

We have made this campus and this city home in every possible way. We have spent nights laying on the couch in our pajamas talking about our families and sharing ridiculous secrets and fears. We have gone to five dollar movies with our student discount and stolen the large popcorn bin out of the trash to get free re-fills (shout out Mo). We have spent hours laying in the sun on the terrace listening to the lake as its water crashed on the rocks. We have had a million and one pregames where we made fun of each other for our poor music taste and even poorer taste in alcohol. We have taken this campus by storm and branched out in all of the right ways. Lucky for me, I have gotten the chance to be inspired by strong, independent women who have stolen my heart and have become the only obvious choice for my bridal party. Each and every one of the individuals I have met through this experience has molded me in some way. They have left a deep footprint on my heart, and an even bigger impact on my soul.

While we may never get to walk these streets again as college students, never sit on the couch in the apartment all together eating Chinese food, never get to use our student ID in place of a cover charge at Whiskey Jacks on Saturday night, we will consistently have a slideshow of memories playing on repeat for the rest of our lives. These memories, moments, and opportunities will remain at the forefront of our lives for the rest of time, as we share embarrassing stories at each other’s weddings and bombard our children with our best college moments whether they are interested in hearing or not. Although we cannot stay forever (even though we REALLY want to), I am confident that we will move onward and upward together, even if we cannot do so physically. As I watch the best people in my life pack up the apartment and drive away from Madison for the last time, I find comfort in knowing that I made the best decision of my life by saying yes to the University of Wisconsin four years ago. I will take my experiences and my new discoveries with me everywhere I go and never take these past four years for granted. And, from now on, when someone asks me “Why Wisconsin?” I will respond, “why not.”

I Am A Future Educator

Wow. It really has been a long time since I’ve sat down to publish one of these blog posts that 99% of my newsfeed couldn’t care less about, but it feels good to write it anyway.

As a Human Development and Family Studies major with a certificate in Education and Educational Service I am immensely aware of not only my passion for, but also my duty to, the communities and individuals that I will be working with. As a counseling staff member at an urban high school in Madison, Wisconsin I have been given incredible privileges as well as the opportunity to work with a population that I consider myself lucky to know. And, as a future school counselor, I have come to realize that my title as an educator is more than just something I will throw around at get togethers and high school reunions after being asked the question, “what kind of work do you do?” As an adult and a well-rounded individual, I know that my title will follow me everywhere: block parties and family gatherings as well as public restaurants and events. As someone working in the field of education (along with many other fields) scrutiny and the watchful eyes of others are never far.

Yesterday, however, after the results of a very unique and important election, I was off to work. Keeping in mind that both my mother and my brother also work with diverse populations in both a city school and a special education program, I knew that we would all be facing similar obstacles, as our students would be affected by the news of the president-elect and the places we live would be in disarray as they tried to make sense of the news and move forward. That being said, I did not expect to see the things that I saw and hear the things that I heard. While this is not intentioned to be a political post and I will not make this a political post (considering I believe in the privacy and sanctity that is our right to vote) I would like to share some things that I have felt in the short 24 hours since I arrived to work yesterday.

As educators, we have an obligation to our students not only to make EVERYONE feel safe and supported, but to also TEACH and provide the education that so many other individuals would kill to have if given the chance. In the short 50-minutes that we have students in our classrooms before they shuffle along to their next one, we should be using this time for constructive and meaningful lessons and conversations. As teachers and counselors and social workers and principals, we are required by legislation and by our district’s code of conduct to act as role models both inside and outside the classroom. With the separation of church and state comes the very real separation of our personal feelings and ideologies from our role as educators. While yesterday was a hard, confusing day for many (many being students AND staff) it was an opportunity to teach unity and togetherness and give every student a chance to be heard. While many are disheartened as Americans, today I am disheartened as a future educator.

Our public schools are encouraged to be safe spaces where people respect each other, support each other, and teach each other to embrace diversity and difference each and every day. No matter where you live or how you identify politically or religiously, your responsibility is to your students as you stand in front of these impressionable, vulnerable, and ever-growing children and young adults. Today I, along with many of the future educators that I have the honor to take classes with at this university, sat in a circle in class and eloquently and respectfully discussed the way that we would have handled the climate yesterday if we were in the same position as the teachers we observed through our internships, jobs, and volunteer positions.

I am looking forward to the day that I can make a real difference with my students. A day where I will be looked up to and praised for my ability to separate my personal views and feelings from the job that I have so diligently and excitedly chosen for my future. In reality, it was a blessing that I got to wake up and go to work yesterday and that I was able to observe as teachers and students alike expressed their concerns. It was an honor to hear a student tell me that she did not think she could have gotten through the school day if she and I had not had the conversation we had. Now I know what not to do if I am ever faced with a similar situation. Now I know that I will act as an ally to all of my students no matter their beliefs or views, or the beliefs and views of their family members. In 50-minutes we can choose to make a difference and actually teach about our democratic system and how to be advocates moving forward or we can tear down the country and tear down those whose beliefs and ideologies we THINK we know. In reality, none of us stand with each other in that voting booth and none of us sit as a fly on the wall listening to our friends pray at night before bed. Let’s educate ourselves and our students. Let’s be the productive members of society and of this field that we promised we would be as we signed our contracts. Let’s read our code of conducts just one more time before bed if we need to. Let’s grieve/express/etc., on our own terms with our own families and support systems after the school day is over. Let’s compose ourselves and take mental health days when needed. Let’s ask other teacher’s to cover our room for 5 minutes while we step out. Let’s remember what our job is. Let’s promise to do better tomorrow.

 

I Look Over My Shoulder

If you asked me to name the top fifteen words that I believe describe who I am, “feminist” would not be on that list. If you asked me to name twenty-five words that I believe describe who I am, I don’t believe “feminist” would be on that list either– and I know that that is a fault of my own. I know that it should make a big, fat appearance on that list for no other reason than… why shouldn’t it?

That being said, I am aware of the present culture of society and, more specifically, I am painfully aware of the current culture on campuses across America. As an almost twenty-one-year old female who lives and exists and enjoys on a Big Ten campus, I am angry at myself that this is the first time I am sitting down to reflect on the power struggle between men and women, on the idea that young girls everywhere feel unsafe even in broad daylight whether they lead you to believe it or not.

It is 2016 and I am still hoping for a day where the first words out of my mothers mouth after I tell her I’m going out to the bars with my friends aren’t “don’t walk home alone”, but rather “have fun.” It is 2016 and I am still hoping for a day where news reports with Brock Turner’s face never have to pop up on my newsfeed because cases like this don’t exist. It is 2016 and I am still hoping for a day where, any woman, even if she does not feel beautiful or wanted, isn’t forced to look over her shoulder on the way home from working out on a bright, sunny afternoon in May.

Everybody is entitled to their opinion, yes. From Facebook alone I could reiterate just about 450 different opinions on sexual assault cases, and rape culture, and violence against women. I am also educated on what every single person from Brock Turner’s father to the girl who used to live down the block from me believes is justified or not in regards to sexual assault and its victims and perpetrators. What do these opinions really mean, though? Will their impact be strong enough to go down in history and will there ever be a court that’s decision is so powerful and so unprecedented that one day my children will read about it in their United States History textbook?

The truth is, as I sit here right now writing down these thoughts, I know that they are meaningless. Maybe one or two of you will stop to read this, but most likely hundreds of others will scroll right past what to them is another pointless rant and another county heard from. I’m not sure how it got to this– how parents became uncomfortable sending their children off to college without constantly reminding them that they should never pick up their drink after they put it down, that they should never let a boy who seems to have good intentions walk them home unless their friends are there too.

It seems that these reminders just roll off the tongue so easily nowadays that no one seems to think about their implications; parents don’t realize that the words that they believe enforce caution actually instill fear. People don’t realize that even when the sun is out the chances of being yelled at by a townie from across the way still exist, that even walking from one apartment to the other after dinner can make even the most relaxed and confident individual feel apprehensive. We need to stop trying to prevent what COULD happen and, instead, consistently reinforce what SHOULDN’T. We need to teach young men and women about consent from a younger age and enforce a universal policy regarding sexual assault. We need parents who, instead, remind their sons that they should never, under any circumstances, make a woman feel unsafe just because she looks pretty or lonely or like “she’s asking for it.” Wishy washy jurors and judges whose biases are blurred and ever-changing should not be allowed to decide how long an individual who commits rape should stay locked up. We should already have a minimum sentence in place (and I’m not just talking about a few years). We should already be fed up and sick of having to worry about our daughters in parking garages and in the office.

It is not always in the wee hours of the morning or the late hours of the night that women feel the need to be afraid, to take out their headphones and take off their sunglasses in order to be as aware and in tune with their senses as possible. We should not have to be on the defensive our whole lives, losing opportunities and giving up our independence because the worry that someone will do, or say, or act in a way that is sexually inappropriate and aggressive follows us everywhere. We are people, too, and even the most innocent stares as we walk down the street have a negative, disgusting impact. It is 5:45 in the evening, there are people everywhere, and the sun may be shining, but we still look over our shoulders. And I am sick of looking over my shoulder.

“I met my uber driver today”

Walking home from dinner with my roommate Amanda last night, I found myself eager to recount my Uber experience from earlier that morning. I told her, “I met my uber driver today!” We laughed as she pointed out that’s usually how it works.

Having only thirty minutes to get from my apartment to the computer tech store and then to work, I knew I had a legitimate excuse to pay for a ride there rather than taking the bus which would add at least fifteen minutes to my journey. And boy am I glad I did.

From the minute my ride arrived, I knew this driver would be different than the usual Friday night “we’re too cold to walk to the bar” somewhat creepy experiences we have. Not only did my driver have a really positive energy about him, but he also was quick to apologize for keeping me waiting in the cold. WHAT A GUY! I thought. It wasn’t until I actually took the time to have a conversation with him, though, that I realized just how interesting and beautiful his soul was.

While I’m certainly used to the uncomfortable, “How are you today?” “Good and you?” “Drive a lot of people so far today?” “Yes.” that occurs while awaiting arrival to your destination, yesterday was different. I left that six minute cab ride having gotten to know someone I had never met before better than I know half the people I come in contact with on a daily basis.

At first, we realized a few similarities between us right off the bat: He volunteered at the same school I currently worked at and, best of all, his heart lies with New York, having lived in Manhattan from 1983-2001. It wasn’t until we started conversing about how amazing a buttered roll and coffee from the local bodega is, how the hustle and bustle makes us feel calm, rather than frazzled, and how life changing it can be to see the Rangers play at the Garden, that I learned he worked in the World Trade Center.

Right away I knew this man survived 9/11. I would say tears automatically pooled in my eyes like they do every other time I hear a story or listen to a song that even remotely relates to this tragedy, but I’d be lying. This man– my uber driver, was positive and uplifting, explaining that despite barely escaping a burning twin tower and losing some of the best friends and coworkers he ever had, he was grateful for his life and eager to live it to the fullest in the wake of this experience. I was in awe of him and my day was already made– and it was only ten in the morning.

So next time you feel sad and want to complain that you didn’t do so well on your exam or you ran out of milk and wanted to have cereal for breakfast, think again. Some people are living proof that you can overcome anything, no matter how devastating. Some people ACTUALLY have to wake up every day and consciously remind themselves that they are lucky to even be alive. Some people are beautiful and kind and pure and inspiring and we may never even be lucky enough to cross paths with them. But I was. I actually met my uber driver yesterday, and all because I chose to initiate some small talk rather than sit on my phone in silence. And boy am I glad I did.

 

 

 

When The Goodbyes Start Rolling In

As the semester starts to come to a close and we finally have a minute to sit silently with our thoughts without the stress of finals and papers and presentations floating around in our brains, we may realize that the end is near. No, it may not be THE end, like the one where you graduate college and go back home to your parents sobbing and sniffling the whole way. Although that end is inevitable, I’m talking about something a little less devastating and surreal­– the end of the semester blues.

Now that our friends are starting to pack up their cars and head back to suburbia for four weeks, it’s easy to be reminded just how much our college friends have impacted our day-to-day lives. In reality, our friends away at school are our family. They are the voices we hear in our heads as we get the nod from a cute boy on the street, they are the high fives we so viciously crave after acing an exam in our hardest class, and they are the snuggles and words of encouragement after a long night out that end with a lot of tears and getting denied from the bar.

Then, however, we realize that it’s that time in our college career when many of our friends are going abroad; here is a whole other set of impending goodbyes and challenges. The roommates that we once expected to be sitting with a jar of peanut butter in their lap when we walk through the door may be halfway across the world and the weekly dinner dates with our closest friends from our classes or our sororities are no longer on the calendar. While all of the goodbyes seem detrimental, no matter for how short of a time we will be apart, some will be harder than others and we must accept that.

To my best friends who are going abroad to all of these opportunistic and incredible places such as Israel, Rome, London, Australia, etc., forget the goodbye. I cannot wait for the hello. I cannot wait to hear stories and get postcards, all of which highlight just how lucky I am to have such well-traveled and independent people in my life. Although it will be hard to contain my jealousy and eagerness to travel just like you are, I promise to be here holding down the fort, making sure we still have plenty of ridiculous adventures and absurd stories regarding boys and booze to share when you return back to the land of poor college students and overly affectionate roommates.

While you are out there following your arrows and exploring the wonders of the world outside of this little city, I will be thinking about all of the memories we have shared up until now and all of the celebrations we will continue to have until our hair turns gray and our nursing homes start screening each other’s calls.

Now, to all of my people, to my entire college crew, no matter where we go in life, or just over winter break, thank you for making every single day of my life a better one. Thank you for challenging me NOT to eat the last cookie and to be the best student and friend I can be. After all, it’s just a goodbye to the semester, or goodbye for a semester, and I cannot wait to say hello.

To All The Incoming College Freshman: Listen to Me

If you’re about to be a freshman in college within the next few weeks, boy do I have some advice for you. It’s scary, huh? The packing lists, the meal plans, the Facebook messages with your random roommate, the idea of actually leaving home (both the exciting and nerve wrecking aspect), it’s all floating around in that brain of yours. This checklist, also known as the “how am I going to make my freshman year just as good as everyone else’s” list, gets longer and longer with each passing day, however none of that stuff is going to be that important once move in day has passed and you are settled into your new surroundings.

  1. I’d first like to start by reminding each and every one of you just how important it is to remain in contact with your home friends. It probably sounds weird referring to the only friends you’ve ever known as “home friends” but I can assure you that is what they are. These are the people that, despite everything you have been through, know you better than you know yourself. They not only have the power to destroy you with just one embarrassing story or one mention of an ex-foe, ex-boyfriend, ex-whatever, but they also have the power to represent comfort, childhood, and growing up with every phone call and every text sent. Keep in touch with them. Call them. Start a group chat designated solely for the “I just hooked up with the hottest guy on my floor” and the “Remember that one time that Jim threw up in Claire’s basement” texts and reminders. You will want these people by your side (and on your couch) during breaks and, hopefully, for the rest of your lives. If you stop communicating your freshman year of college, there will be plenty of boring summer breaks and lonely nights at home with your cat around the corner.
  1. ALWAYS SAY YES. If you’re not saying yes at least 100 times a weekend, then you’re doing something wrong. Before you know it, sophomore year is going to show up and there will be plenty of time for no’s, so why start now? A slam poetry reading with your English 101 class that will mean absolutely nothing to you after December? YES. A late night dining hall run for waffle bar or ice cream? YES. One more shot at the bar before you go home and order Jimmy John’s? YES. There will be plenty of time for homework and boyfriends and commitments mixed in there, but for right now the answer is always yes NO MATTER WHAT (unless it’s hazing, severely inappropriate, or puts you at mental or physical risk, obviously).
  1. Make friends with EVERYONE. There is literally no reason not to befriend the guy that sits next to you every day in class or the girl across the hall from you that always sings in the shower. Who knows, maybe one day they’ll invite you to the best party of the semester or end up being your formal date when you’re in a pinch. After all, these random people often make great connections and provide for many good laughs and funny stories. There is no better feeling in the world than waving at someone on the street and knowing that, at one point at this big, crazy school, you shared a memory with them. Whether they become one of your best friends or make a one-time appearance, there’s no harm in branching out here and there.
  1. GO HOME. If I have ever taken one thing for granted in this life, it’s my beautifully fluffy queen sized bed that sits anxiously in my bedroom at home waiting for my return. Going home is one of the best feelings in the world. Whether it’s for winter or summer break, a weekend to clear my head, or a special occasion, home is seriously one of the best places to escape to. Not only are both food and laundry FREE, but so is the love and affection you’ll get from your mom, dad, sibling, best friend, furry best friend, etc., As we progress in life, it’s easy to forget where home is, and it’s easy to forget where we come from. It just so happens that home is where the concept of going away to school became possible and, in turn, became a reality. No matter how many miles away you run, home will always be a place to return to when things are good or when things are bad. Utilize this space. Take the time to catch up with your old friends and your neighbors. Take the time to spend fifteen minutes on Saturday to run to your grandma’s house and say hi. While school may feel like the finish line, home is the starting point that led you right to it. Never take that for granted.

Overall this next year is going to be one filled with many different emotions and realizations. From the euphoria that follows after getting drunk pizza to the pit in your stomach that develops the night before you go back to school after winter break, all of these feelings should be harnessed and remembered, and then cultivated into what will eventually constitute your first year experience. You’ll laugh and you’ll cry, but every tear will symbolize something greater than just a drop rolling down your cheek. Instead, it will symbolize the evolution from who you once were to who you have become. No body comes back the same person they were when they left and, my future freshman friends, is not always a bad thing.

Why Generation Y Has Seen Enough Suffering

Today I sit down to write this not as a member of Generation Y, but instead as a member of what I now consider to be Generation T. Today I realize that I am a member of a generation that has not only been tarnished by both violence and bloodshed, but that has also been plagued by an abundance of terrorism.

I can remember the day so clearly that I almost wish I couldn’t remember it at all. It was September 11th, 2001 and I was just a young first grader skipping into school with my Barbie lunch box and the feeling of bliss and contentment in the air. Little did I know that my innocence would not just be stolen, but it would be ripped from me in the blink of an eye.

Today, however, I feel compelled to sit down and jot my reaction to a different form of terrorism­– to reflect on the fact that I woke up this morning to the news that nine individuals were shot to death at their church’s bible study the night before. Much to my despair, I realize that I’m not shocked. No, my jaw does not drop and, while my stomach does begin to turn, I cannot shake the fact that this is all too common of an occurrence in the country that I call home.

Although we want so desperately to respect the legacies of these nine innocent people, along with their families who are currently mourning this loss, we cannot again ignore the issue that has been, and is still, staring us right in the face. I, for one, cannot and will not allow this demon to stare into my soul any longer. I must stand up and make a change even if for now, that change only involves a pen and paper.

I am no moron, understanding that eliminating the second amendment will never be an option. Currently, I am unsure if I even believe that I would agree with the decision to completely negate a part of the United States Constitution. That being said, I comprehend that there is a very serious issue here that needs a lot of work and consistent attention. This is not a game and this is not something that we can continue turning a blind eye to. I am without a doubt aware that there is no one place that an individual can go and ensure that they will be 100% in the clear from any physical or mental harm. I realize that with every passing day and every place I go, there will always be some sort of risk and that nothing is guaranteed. However, the fact that Americans, and more specifically the youth of our country, that is, are at an even greater risk due to gun violence when they are out living their lives is something that should not be avoided. It is something that should be addressed.

At this point I am sure people are wondering how I am able to make such a bold statement about my generation. To call myself a member of Generation T rather than Generation Y only feels like the correct thing to do as I sit here in my kitchen outraged and heartbroken. In the short fourteen years that I have lived since 9/11, I have become more and more fearful and more and more sure that I would not feel any sense of security if I were raising children at this time. I have seen my city fall to the ground and thousands lose their lives in the wake of a terrorist attack and I have turned on my television to see the newest headline express that twenty-six elementary school students lost their lives in Connecticut after a mass shooting. But today, however, I have turned on my television to that headline one too many times. I have seen one too many news conferences where people express their deepest sympathies and condolences, but refuse to fix the problem.

Like I said previously, I am not oblivious and I am not an idiot. I am confident, however, that there are ways to reduce the risk of gun violence without getting rid of the second amendment altogether. By enforcing stricter rules and regulations, MAYBE we could see a change. MAYBE the death toll could stop rising and there could be less bloodshed and loss. I would take a chance on all of these maybe’s any day, rather than have everyone sit around and do nothing to address the issue at hand. Just by requiring psychiatric evaluations at least twice a year and having home inspections to see that gun owners have their weapon locked up according to protocol, we could live with more confidence that these individuals are mentally sound and able, as well as keeping their gun out of reach from those who would misuse it.

There may not be one solution or one answer to the issue that we as Americans have been facing regarding these sporadic, yet devastating instances. What I can tell you, though, is that these shootings have become commonplace here in the United States and they are not going to stop unless we, as citizens, fight to change the things that are no longer helping and protecting our fellow brothers and sisters. After all is said and done it’s important to remember that just because hearing the news of the Charleston shooting didn’t shock me, that doesn’t mean it didn’t impact me greatly. And, as I sit here thinking about how vital it is that we reduce, if not eliminate, these awful acts of hate that stem from the improper use of a firearm that was once intentioned solely to protect oneself, we must remember the fallen. We must remember not only the nine innocent individuals who lost their lives just by being out in public at the wrong place at the wrong time, but we must also remember those who have died at the hands of a gunmen before them.

I would give anything to rewind back to September 11th, 2001 and have that bliss follow me around all day, uninterrupted. I would like to live in a world where the numbers 9 and 11 only represented the number I would dial if I was in need of medical assistance or in any danger. I would like to consider myself one of the lucky ones for being able to grow up in the best country in the world where my freedom was paired with safety and protection. But, the truth is, I can’t rewrite the past and my safety is not guaranteed anywhere and that, my fellow Americans, is definitely a tough pill to swallow.

To Israel, With Love.

When they talk about birthright and the free opportunity to travel Israel with other twenty somethings just like ourselves, it’s possible that we overlook the fact that we’re not just gaining access to another culture and more knowledge about our people, but we are also gaining an entire experience. From late nights by the fire and twenty minute increments of “free time” to cucumbers for breakfast and ice breakers galore, the ten days spent trotting around the Middle East are more than one can ever imagine.

Spending the days before the trip worrying about international flights and how I would survive being on such a rigid schedule, it never once crossed my mind that there would be more to this experience than just learning about Israel’s history and eating the delicious cuisine (which, believe it or not, wasn’t always so delicious). Little did I know, however, that after spending what felt like an eternity actually TRAVELING to our destination, it would be impossible not to get to know the forty other people in my group like the back of my hand.

As I sit here on American soil in my very familiar surroundings, it breaks my heart to look back and realize that, although it felt like the longest ten days of my life at the time, it actually flew by without warning. To be completely honest, I wasn’t always the most excited about birthright, realizing that it would put me out of my comfort zone in almost every way possible. What I realize now, however, is that these past ten days have changed me in immeasurable ways. With every situation I encounter from here on out, I will most likely utter some rendition of, “If I could go to Israel I can do anything” or “If I could sleep in a Bedouin tent in the middle of the desert, I’m basically invincible.” Although some of the activities we were asked to complete weren’t that enjoyable (reference to the endless name games and 7 a.m. wake up calls to eat eggplant and hummus for breakfast) the people I was surrounded by made even the most annoying of tasks feel enjoyable.

In ten short days I met one incredibly ridiculous and funny medic, two overly enthusiastic tour guides, eight Israeli soldiers who spend these precious and exciting years protecting and serving their country, countless Israeli citizens who either loved meeting Americans or hated that we didn’t speak Hebrew and refused to smile at us, and last, but certainly not least, forty incredible American college students and recent graduates who will remain a part of my life forever.

With every picture uploaded and every group chat text sent, the imprints that these individuals have engraved on my heart become deeper and deeper. It is not every day that you meet 40 strangers on day one and come out with 40 brothers and sisters on day ten. Although most of us have returned back to our individual homes in our individual cities, the bond that we have formed remains stronger than ever. The inside jokes, memories of drinking too much in Tel Aviv, embarrassing snap chats of those asleep on the bus, nicknames for the Rabbi (shout out to Wendel), and horrible memories of the thirty minutes we were given for three girls to shower, do their hair and make up, get dressed, and get out the door for the next unnecessary yet life changing activity, were, in actuality, all priceless.

Although it’s easy to take for granted the fact that we were all given ten days to immerse ourselves in the culture, history, and wonder that is our homeland and our birthright, it is important to remind ourselves that we were just granted an experience of a lifetime that we must never forget. To take all of what we saw and all of what we learned and translate that to our everyday lives in the United States is not only something we should do, but it is undoubtedly something that we’ll want to do, unable to remember our lives before being introduced to our second home. Although we will never forget the exhaustion, the early mornings, the nauseatingly long bus rides, and the sheer terror on our faces as we looked up at the top of Masada from the bottom, we will instead choose to remember the undying bliss and excitement in the air that followed us everywhere we went.

In this very moment, after everything has settled down and we find ourselves looking back on our short time abroad, we must remind ourselves to thank those who travelled before us, and encourage those who follow, as it is the unwavering support and overwhelming assistance from others that links one young traveler to the next and, thus, inspires the chain to continue on. After all, a wise tour guide (Dovid) once said, “the trip may be over, but the journey is just beginning.”

I Had To Write A Fake Parent Eulogy For My Class and This Is What It Taught Me

What kind of a professor asks her class to write a fake eulogy for a parent as an assignment? Isn’t that unethical? Doesn’t that make you want to cry/scream/object? Although this assignment was one of the most ridiculous things that a teacher had ever asked of me, it kind of made sense. To think about a world without one of the people who fed you, who bathed you, who changed your diapers, sent you to school, and taught you values and lessons is honestly unimaginable and is bound to make you appreciate what you have. After much debate and denial, the due date for this assignment started to roll around and, for the sake of my grade, I decided to back down this time and just get it over with. It was spring break and I decided it would probably be a good idea to get a little bit of my work done before heading back to school. I sat down at Panera with my iced coffee in hand and opened the word document. How could I actually be doing this right now? Is my professor heartless? Does anyone in the world really think this is ok? These questions flooded my brain as I tried extremely hard to remind myself that this assignment was just that– an assignment. I kept going and one by one the words began to flow out of me. Although I knew this was going to be a difficult assignment to get through, I didn’t really understand just how hard it is to imagine losing a parent. I kept writing, though, extremely proud of all of the amazing things my dad has shown me in life and all the great ways he will be remembered in the future. As I got halfway done with this four-paged assignment from hell, I started to cry. My cry eventually became a sob, and I knew my only option would be to pack up my stuff and go home in order to avoid tears getting in my salad and people staring, wondering why that girl is crying in the corner booth. At one point I even texted my dad to tell him I couldn’t stop tearing after writing his fake eulogy. His response was completely expected, “It’s only words. Stop it now.” Yes, it may have been only words, but it was obvious that one day I would actually have to face the idea of losing my parents and that made it all too real. When I finally finished the assignment, I read it to myself at home about three different times so that I could make it absolutely perfect, considering the man I wrote it about was a perfect dad. To be able to sit down, and for a few minutes, appreciate what you have and how lucky you are– that is truly incredible. I wouldn’t say that this assignment changed my life, however I can definitely tell you that it opened my eyes to the importance of being grateful for what we have and the importance of facing the hard things in life. Life happens fast and people lose their lives every day without warning. The amount of people that I know who lost one of their parents as a child is devastating. If they had the chance to sit down and do what I did before this loss, maybe they would have said “I love you” or “Thank you” a few more times. I am by no means saying that the only way to appreciate what you have is to imagine one of your relatives dying and then writing the speech you would read at their funeral, but I am saying that sometimes, although it is hard to recognize, there is a method to the madness. Despite the fact that I will never really understand this assignment and will stand by the fact that it is heartbreaking and unfair to ask us to complete this task, I will always remember the day I wrote my dads eulogy in that corner booth of Panera Bread, and I will always remember just how precious our lives really are and just how important my parents are to me. Not only am I immensely fortunate that I was given two of the most selfless, devoted, and loving parents in the world, I am exceptionally grateful that I got the chance to recognize this before it was too late.

I Discovered My Old House in Photos Today

Today when I was on Facebook, I came across the section that suggests friends I may want to reconnect with. Completely out of nowhere, a woman’s profile pops up and I can’t help but think how familiar her name is. All of a sudden, it hits me. This is the mom who bought my house six years ago: the house I spent the best ten years of my life in, the house I made unbelievable memories with my family and friends in, and the first place I remember ever calling home. How weird is that? One random day in March I come across something I have been so curious about for a while now.

Each and every Christmas and August my family heads back to Long Island, the most exciting part of the whole thing is getting to drive past our old house. I’m not really sure why it’s so exciting considering the whole thing is rather emotional and teeters on the edge of devastating. With each 10 mile per hour drive we take past that small little house on Meadow Lane, a little piece of my heart breaks. After all, it never gets easier letting go of your past and accepting the fact that those are merely memories now. The anticipation of getting to see how much the little tree my dad planted in the yard years ago has grown is nothing compared to the odd feeling I get seeing a Santa Clause figurine in the window where our old Menorah used to stand. It never gets easier, but the happiness that fills my heart as I realize I was lucky enough to once live in that little house makes everything seem okay again.

Until today, my brother and I had always wondered what was really going on behind those closed doors. Had they changed the layout of the whole house? Did they add an extension? Was there finally a pool and a swing set in the backyard? These questions always went unanswered, despite the undeniable urge we had to knock on the door and ask if we could come in for a minute. So today, after all these years of wondering, I decided to click on the Facebook page of the woman who bought my house– the woman I had so much resentment towards six years ago. I started to scroll through some pictures and eventually I found some of her, her husband, and her children playing in the snow on my old front lawn, and taking cute pictures on my old living room floor. Although it brought me to tears, realizing they had changed all the floors from the old grey tile to wood, there was no doubt I had a smile on my face shortly after.

There was something so beautiful about seeing these two little kids, just like my brother and I once had, making memories on their days off from school and playing games on the living room floor. It really is a great feeling to see how life is always changing, but how it really is just one big cycle in the end. One family grows up, gets stronger and closer, then moves out to bigger and better things, so that another one can move in and do the same. To see the giant smiles on those kids faces as they got to enjoy time together inside the cozy four walls that I once had the chance to grow up in was the most amazing thing I’d seen in a while. Although it still hurts a little to realize what I had to leave, it truly is beautiful to know that one day those children will be sitting exactly where I am today, writing about the house they once loved and reminiscing about the mark they made on that house and the mark that it made on them. After all, who says you can’t go home again? Definitely not me.