The word can make me cringe sometimes. It’s always daunting to hear professors talk about the “comprehensive final exam” that counts as a big chunk of our grade. But I’m here to tell you not to worry too much. Especially freshmen year, the thought of taking college finals is very nerve-racking. I was worried a lot about these said finals: worried I didn’t know the material, that I didn’t study enough, or that I wasn’t smart enough to pass them. That worrying was my first problem. I know prepping for finals can be stressful, so you’re allowed to worry but not so much that you start to lose material instead of retain it. Start studying little by little a few weeks before December. Thanksgiving break is always a good turning point to really crack down hard on studying. Waiting for flights or long car rides home can be the perfect opportunity to get some studying done. Don’t try to cram it all at once. Studying takes time and your brain needs to rest in between retaining all that information. Study for 30 minutes, and then take a 10-minute break. I found myself doing that, and on breaks I would walk around then come back to look at the material. It was helpful as I was able to focus more on the material after a break instead of trying to plow through everything at once. And if you haven’t invested in study groups, you should. I knew I was ready and well prepared for finals when I could explain different subjects without reading my notes for help. In my study group, we all took turns playing teacher and explaining the material to each other. It was fun.

Now, on the positive reinforcement part. Give yourself a break. Don’t cram material. Don’t pull all nighters. Sleep and be happy. Eat good, filling meals. Laugh. And dress to impress. Exercise is also a great study break. “Exercise releases endorphins, endorphins make people happy…” (Yes, a Legally Blond quote). But in all seriousness, keeping a positive attitude and taking these points into consideration will help with finals. As my good friend Taylor Jane Clark says, “ya look good, ya feel good, ya do good.” And remember, it’s just a test.


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Freshman Roomies

Freshman year. It’s that time to discover likes and dislikes, to find that career path and stick to it, to make friends that you’ll keep for a lifetime, to explore new found freedom, to define who you are as a person. It’s hard. I’ll be honest. There are a lot of obstacles that we have to overcome not only in our first year of college, but throughout the rest of life. This first year of college is just the first year we get to do these on our own without our parents by our side all the time. It’s a challenge, but so very worth it.

It’s hard going to a new school away from home, living with a person you just met via email or Facebook, and managing time for fun, friends, and studying. I’ll be the first to admit, all of these were my obstacles freshman year, but I overcame them. And I want you to know that you can too.

So for all of you with some roomie problems, listen up. Advice #1: communicate. As much as you don’t like confronting your roomie about a problem, you need to do it, she can’t read your mind. Talking things through on your own is better than getting outside parties involved. If needed, you can ask your RA to mediate the discussion you two have, but it’s best if you can just work it out together. Advice #2: compromise. The room is not solely yours or hers. You two need to compromise on things such as studying habits, friends, and other time spent in the room. This is a great time to practice that communication we talked about earlier. Advice #3: it’s okay not to be best friends. Just because you two are roomies doesn’t mean you have to be best friends or have the same group of friends. That’s great if you do, but there’s no need to worry if the only time you see your roomie is in the room or hall. And finally, Advice #4: be patient. Each roomie situation is unique. People have different personalities, attitudes, habits, and so forth. So again, there’s not need to worry about you and your roomie clicking as quickly or not as your other friends and their roomies. Just as we are all unique and individual people, so is the relationship that you will have with your roomie. Remember that friendships take time, that living with someone new takes times, and that you can resolve problems that come in between the two of you. It’s only a matter of time, communication, and compromise.

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Los Conocones: Part 2

Friday September 22: Work Day 5: Stucco. Another fun day os stuccoing the walls at the school. Winston was in charge of smoothing out the stucco into an even wall while we continued our throwing contest. Like I said, it was a lot of fun but we still managed to get all our work done. While we were stuccoing, Pauline, with the help of Caryn, was working on putting the new windows in the finished classrooms. And some of us were still finishing up the painting. It was a busy day with many projects being completed, but the good news is that we finished. That night I spent hours talking to my sisters and watching telenovelas.

Saturday September 23: Work Day 6: Yes, we had to work on a Saturday but that’s because Dominicans don’t really have the scheduled mindset like Americans. It wasn’t that big of a deal because later that night we were having a Baile down at La Presa. Our work for the day was again broken up. Caryn and I were on Latrine duty. (no pun intended) We took charge of cementing the latrines, building new doors, and painting the outside. It was a smelly job, but nice to be working with cement again while singing random songs. We finished on time to get ready for the baile at la presa. The community was all excited to have a fun night of dancing and celebrating with us. We even got to celebrate Caryn’s birthday. It was a lot of fun getting to dance with the many familiar faces of the community and see how protective some fathers were of their daughters (Christine’s dad in particular would ask any one of us to dance or cut in if any other men of the community got too friendly). The love felt at the baile was contagious and bittersweet as our days in campo were coming to an end.

Sunday September 24: Dia de familia. Today was all family day. Breakfast was with our group and the morning was spent with relaxing with family, playing casino and dominos. Lunch I spent with my family. My mom, Tea, made delicious chicken, rice, beans, and salad. It was a great meal that I shared with my sisters Clare and Marisela. After lunch we played more games of casino, a family favorite. I even spent time playing with my little nephews. They are so cute and loved learning how to play casino. Marisela took me down to la presa for an afternoon swim. We went with a few other members of the community for a nice walk down to la presa. The water was nice and refreshing and the view was beautiful. Needless to say, I enjoyed the day with my family. I had great conversations with Clare and Marisela and having Tea treat me like her own daughter was truly special.

Monday September 25: Final work Day. Today we had a final work day finishing the latrines and small touchups/cleaning at the school. I worked with Jose Luis all morning building the final latrine at the house that I had dug earlier in the week. We moved quickly and got all our work done: cement poured, house built, by lunch time. After lunch I went back home to spend some time with my family, wash up, and relax a bit before I went back to the cook area to prepare dinner. Marisela joined me and beat me at the cooking prep.–she knows how to handle a huge knife and peel the many potatoes and carrots. With my little hands, it was rather difficult to grasp the knife and peel just the skin off the vegetables. But again, it was a great bonding experience with the cooks and my sister. And the traditional Dominican soup we made was delicious.

Tuesday September 26: Taino Cave Adventure. Today we took a hike up the mountains to a Taino cave.That hike was a killer work out, but a beautiful view none the less. After about an hour or so, well I think it was longer than that, we made it to the cave. Inside were various cave pictures in their original form. It was so neat to see something so unique and historical. The pictures speak for themselves. On our way back down the mountain we stopped at la presa for an afternoon swim. Caryn and I decided to skip out on this adventure and just head up to the lunch house to help cook. Well, that turned into us eating an entire plate of pineapple and being banned from fruit when the others come back. It was a slap happy afternoon for Caryn and I and when the others joined us for lunch it was a nice afternoon spent with the group. We had our final dinner and dance tonight as the community joined us and thanked us for all our work. I was caught off guard as my mother and three sisters all spoke, expressing their gratitude and love for our work. Having them take me under their wing and treating me like their own daughter truly touched my heart. Many tears were shed as we hugged and loved each other knowing that in the morning I’d be leaving.

Wednesday September 27: It’s not goodbye, it’s see you later. It was a quiet morning as I packed up my bag and set it outside the house. I was greeted with half hearted smiles as we all knew what was happening after breakfast. I had breakfast with my family: coffee, hot chocolate and crackers, my favorite–I loved it. After our final breakfast as a community in campo, we walked down the hill for farewells. Hugs, kisses, tears, and ‘see you soons’ were exchanged. Marisela gave me her number to call/text and FB to chat when we can. I must say, saying goodbye to campo was like leaving home. The love and joy I felt with my family there was unbelievably contagious. It wasn’t goodbye, it was see you later…

10 days: 1 life changing experience.

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Los Conocones Part 1

I spent ten days in Los Conocones. Ten days of love, adventure, hard work, laughing, learning, and enjoying life. Ten days and one life changing experience.

Sunday September 17 we arrived in Los Conocones to a group of joyful, smiling, and singing faces of our host families. I will be honest, I had butterflies in the pit of my stomach with worries such as my Spanish not being good enough or my family not liking me. Needless to say, that wasn’t the case. We introduced ourselves to be matched with our family members present. Marisela, my 20 year old sister was there waiting for me with the biggest smile on her face. As we walked back to the house we got to know each other and she gave me the rundown of the family.

Monday September 18: Work Day 1: Latrine. Caryn, Victoria and I were the first group to work on one of the six latrines. Our task was simple: build the base frame, mix and pour concrete, and build the house. It was a lot of fun working with the locals and learning so much from them. While they did a lot of the work (it’s a Dominican thing to have the men do all if not most of the work, especially when it comes to construction) we had time to play casino, the Dominicans’ favorite card game, and take turns riding the horses up and down the street. It took us all day to finish the work, but it was worth it. The rest of our group was working over at the school tearing down walls and starting the work building the new ones. At 5 we left our sites to clean up for dinner and spend time with our families.

Tuesday September 19: Work Day 2: Digging. I spent the day in a hole. Our task was to dig a nine foot by 4 foot hole for the latrine. Needless to say, we were the only group lucky enough to have this task. Travis, Sarah, and I spent the day taking turns playing in dirt. The hardest part was the digging, so Sarah and I left that to the cousin of the house and Travis. The men used the pick to loosen as much dirt as possible so Sarah and I could take turns shoveling the dirt out. It was long and tiring work that took us all day.

Wednesday September 20: Work Day 3: Painting. This was my first day working at the school. We had two different tasks to complete: painting the inside of the finished classrooms and mixing cement for the columns. It was a lot of fun seeing the school children so willing to help, especially with the painting. But let me tell you, using oil based paint was a big pain. It took us all morning to paint in a nice and even coat so it could dry and be ready for coat #2 in the afternoon. As much as we wanted to paint a second coat right away after lunch, that didn’t happen due to the humidity. The paint simply would not dry. But problem aside, we still found a way to have fun with all the kids there.

Thursday September 21: Work Day 4: More painting. What we didn’t get finished yesterday we had to do today. The painting didn’t take too long but it was more of painting and waiting for it to dry. So I helped out with the stucco on the newly built walls. It was fun watching the boys mix the cement and then them watching me do the real work of stuccoing the walls. Thanks to the pervious work I’ve done in Mexico building a house and the influence of my father’s handy skills, I was pretty darn good at stuccoing. Plus it was a lot of fun. We had competitions as to who could throw stucco on the wall and still make it look nice. Not sure who won exactly since we would laugh too hard to see. But the fun is all that matters. The work was again finished at a decent hour so we could wash up for dinner and spending time with our families.

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Ruined for Life

I am ruined for life. I never realized I could feel so much love in so little time. I never realized I could be part of a family in so little time. I never realized how happy I could be outside of the comforts of the United States. I am ruined for life. But in a very good way. In a way that I can look at my own life and see where improvements can be made, where I can integrate the love and lessons I learned during my 10 day campo immersion: improve relationships with friends and family; fully giving myself to the task at hand, the person in front of me and the moment of now; fully letting people in; be fully present; laughing everyday; enjoying the company; loving unconditionally. I am ruined for life because of the ten days in campo. I am not who I was when I first stepped off the bus in Los Conocones and for that I am grateful. I have grown in ways that I can’t really explain, but that will affect my future. Ways in which I will be able to see God in each person more clearly, to love like Him, serve like Him, and be a friend like Him. It is because of my family, my time spent, my conversations, the love and community of Los Conocones that I am ruined for life.

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Pre-Campo Immersion

September 13, 2012

Nervous. Anxious. Excited. Overwhelmed. That’s how I’m feeling about our first campo Immersion experience. We leave Sunday for our 10 day experience living with a family in the campo or a small village in the countryside. During these ten days in the campo we will be living with individual families and then doing service work as our group. Nervous. The families have little contact with Americanos, so they speak little to no English, meaning that I have to use my Spanish and force myself to step out of my comfort zone to communicate with them. I know this is a big challenge for me, but there really is no better way to learn a language than through an immersion program—so here we go. Anxious. I want to meet my campo family. As of now I know just a bit about them, but am so ready to learn more: Tea y Pavo have a few daughters, two are older and married with children but visit a lot (yay little kids), and the other daughter still lives with them, Marisela (20 years old, same as me). I’ve been told that Marisela is a very bright young lady who does well in school and loves fashion. I’ve been warned that she may want to do my hair or makeup…or argue with me about my clothing choices. We all know one day I’m going to end up on What-Not-to-Wear (thank you in advance, Lexi and Olivia) so I guess I should expect getting some comments about my attire. Anyway, about the Excited part. Our service during our time here at the campo is a lot of construction and repairs. The campo has a school that is not in great shape and is in need of new walls, windows, paint, and latrine fixes. The campo has asked the government for support in fixing the school but their requests have gone unheard since 2007. So us being of service to them is of great help to the community. I am very excited to serve. Construction projects are some of my favorite, especially when I can see the outcome and the impact my work has had on the community. I won’t have any running water or electricity, but I am prepared to live simply with my family in the campo. Overwhelmed. I’ll keep a journal and update you all when I come back, but I’m not sure how much my experience will really make sense. I know I’ll have a lot to share and I don’t want to miss out on any aspect of this experience.

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Plans Change

September 10, 2012

Plans change. I am learning to accept the truth of that statement. Today at Caritas our plan was to teach the children the colors in English with a review of what they are in Spanish. We had paper with the colors on them and two boxes for writing the colors, one in English and one in Spanish. We planned on saying the colors in Spanish, having them repeat it, then have them repeat the color in English and then write the colors. Plans change. The repetition of the colors wasn’t the problem. Anyone can listen and repeat. Spelling, that’s another story. I found it very heartbreaking that these children, ages seven to eleven(give or take a few years) don’t even know the Spanish alphabet. And the concept of putting letters together to make a word, forget it. So teaching English when the children don’t even understand Spanish…..Plans change. Teaching English isn’t the priority anymore. Right now I am the Spanish teacher. I have to find a way to teach the most important part of the language to these children. You can’t get by in a language without knowing the basics: the alphabet, the sounds of the letters, the concept of putting them together to form words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs…Education. This is their way out of poverty. This is their one shot to have a different life. I feel challenged and blessed to take on this project. It hurts my heart that they aren’t receiving this basic education in the schools. But plans change. I am now a Spanish teacher. And teach Spanish I will.

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Just Keep Swimming

September 6, 2012

Being down here in the Dominican Republic, witnessing many injustices and social issues that seem unfair and unrealistic, and trying to find hope and joy in just being in the moment is very challenging for me. I am blessed to have Comunidad Catorce (Community 14, that’s the group of us down here) to lean on for support and help in processing all of this, but there is still so much more that needs to be thought about and surfaced. Most of the things that I’ve seen have just been the tip of the iceberg. And with that being said, I am constantly asking myself how there could possibly be more beneath what I am seeing. It’s really hard to comprehend that what I am doing down here is not changing things for everyone at once, or that it will even change things for the long run. Right now I’ve witnessed a lot of programs or projects that serve as a mere temporary fix for the problem, something that will only benefit the people short term. Yes, that is great for the time being, but what about the future? Shouldn’t we be working towards a better future for all, even the next generation so they don’t have to continue the cycle of the “in the moment fix?”

Being at my service site of Caritas I’ve thought about this a lot. About how the program is just a temporary fix for the hungry children who need a place to stay before school starts, or a place to learn a little more about values and education. My role is to be that support for them: to teach them a bit of English and Spanish to help further the education they don’t get enough of in the classroom, to teach them life values and morals, and to be their friend. I want to be more for them though. I want to be that person that inspires them to want to break the poverty cycle through their education—the only way down here that you can break the cycle. I want to show them how to live a dignified life and how to care for others through love and service. But I am struggling a lot with this. Being at Caritas breaks my heart. It shows me the imperfections of this world and how unfair it is that a poverty cycle continues due to lack of education which brings forth desire and opportunity to do something more with life. It is very easy for me to get frustrated and want to blame someone for these conditions and injustices I’m witnessing down here, but what’s keeping me together is prayer. In The Mountain of Silence, Father Maximos believes that “when people pray sincerely, from the heart, for the good of others, the Almighty always responds in one form or another.” It’s hard to pray because at times I feel hopeless and that God’s justice for these people isn’t right. But Father Maximos goes on to say that ”God’s justice works in mysterious ways, beyond the reach of our intellects.” So for now all I can do is pray. I put my trust in the Lord with my service at Caritas in hopes that I am making a difference in these children’s lives, even if it is just for a temporary fix to the problem. At least I know that through my service I will be a part of something greater than myself that could hopefully one day break the poverty cycle for one child, if not many more.




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Serving my neighbor: Day 1

August 28, 2012

Hugs. Smiles. Laughs. Songs. Love. That is Caritas Cien Fuegos. A short two hours there and I already felt like a part of their family. I had children surrounding me the entire time, their smiles and laughs as our major way of communicating. Kaitiana, a precious three year old, didn’t let go of my hand-she wouldn’t leave my side. Like so many of the children there, she just wanted to be close to me, to have someone to hold on to. Already they have given me so much. “Their abundance supply my lack”-2 Corinthians 8:7-15. Just like this reading says, with my service I am giving of myself to others and allow them to give back. I am by no means greater than these children at Caritas. I am for and with them and I plan to give them what I have but I also know from past experiences that I will receive what I lack. And there is no better feeling than this; to have the opportunity to be humbled, blessed, and appreciated by those I’m serving and to receive what they have to offer. I am truly excited to see what God has in store for me at Caritas this semester. Every Monday I will teach the children English-numbers, days of the week, letters, animals, basic phrases, etc. and every Wednesday we will have crafts and game time. All and any suggestions are welcome, but I don’t think I’ll have a problem having fun with these children. Today we played “pato-pato-ganso” (duck duck goose) and laughed about “Los Americanos” (aka Elizabeth and me) not fully understanding Spanish. I’m up for the challenge of keeping them focused and entertained but I am so ready to love them with all my heart and continue to receive their love like I have today.

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Another blog about social skills

Hey guys!
How was your day today? Most of my work day today was spent filing through “take me off your e-mail list” e-mails. At the start of my shift, there were 2,088 of those e-mails. At this point in time where are 1,662.
Go Team Data Input!
So yeah, that took up right around three hours of my time (you think your job can get a bit tedious, let me tell you a little something. I kid, I love it, I’m not sure why.)

okay, story that leads into main point time!

So, at the start of my college career(as I’m sure I’ve mentioned) my original roommate and I weren’t really best friends. We didn’t fight or anything, we were just two very different people who really shouldn’t have been matched together in the first place.
That being said, for the first couple weeks of school I was a very lonely child whose hopes of roommate bonding had kind of crashed and burned.
However, I did hang out with my neighbors – Katie and Kara – a bit.
See, there’s this foam party that if you do attend here currently, you know all about. For those of you who don’t know, it’s exactly what it sounds like: everyone gets together and dances around in foam while foam rains down on top of you.
Not really my cup of tea. I gave it a shot, but it ended in failure.
As I was trekking back to my room, Kara saw me and invited me to play racquetball with some of her friends and her.
I nearly hugged her. To this day I’m fairly sure that whole group thinks I’m a little nuts, but that’s okay.
ahem. Right. anyway.
The thing is, that even though my first couple of weeks of school I spent eating with Katie and Kara and co., I eventually moved and I sort of stopped talking to them as much… okay really much at all. And then it gets to the point where I really want to talk to them, but it’s been so long that I have no clue what on earth I’m supposed to say. I mean, I never know what to say anyway, but… yeah.
I suck at conversation. I really do. I’m just really bad at it. Probably the worst conversationalist I know. And I’ve always been that way.
Well, since I survived Middle School.
Anyway, the point is that in coming to college, I didn’t magically acquire the skills and abilities to help me make conversation. I got a lot better, sure – a whole heck of a lot better – because I had to in order to actually meet people, but at the same time I’m still the conversationally awkward child stuck in my own head when trying to bond with others. I get the whole “what do I say? Am I bugging them? Oh God that was stupid, why did I say that? Oh okay, so I said hello. Now what do I do? SAY SOMETHING!” sort of thing going on. (okay, so I may be a little bit nuts)
On the plus side, I’m an awesome internal monologer. (that’s not a word.)

So my point is that you have to be aware of your strengths and weaknesses. And if it’s something you really want to change, you have to put some effort into it – the new environment that college provides isn’t going to magically do it for you. Some people, like myself, are just bad at talking to others until we’re really comfortable around each other. You can’t really force yourself to be someone your not, but you can force yourself to put an effort into getting past some of your hang-ups and finding people that like you every bit as awkward as you may be.

Furthermore, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there or extend a hand. Kara inviting me to play racquetball was the practically the highlight of my month, and you can do that for someone – you have that power.

And as for me? Well I’m still figuring out what to say, but I’ve got two years, right? And I do still have awesome friends, so I consider myself pretty lucky.
What about you guys? Any interesting stories from your first few weeks of school?

Thanks for reading,
~ Carrie

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