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News for Miranda Burel

Stress Level Midnight

Let me start by saying first and foremost: I love school. I am lucky enough to come to a beautiful place that is filled with fantastic and loving people every day. That I get to come learn about all the things I love, like Beowulf, and fiction writing, and I get to work in places I love where my staff is incredibly supportive. Which is why it pains me, physically, mentally, and emotionally, to say this: I hate school.

For some reason, there has been a trend this year—and I’m noticing this for a lot of people, not just myself—but school seems to be getting more stressful every day. I don’t think my workload is much more difficult than it has been in previous semesters. Sure I’m taking Early British Literature, and Physical Geography of Michigan, but I’m also taking two very relaxed writing classes, so my stress level should not be as high as it is. I’ve definitely had it worse.

So what is it now? Is it the fact that I’m getting older? That I’m approaching my senior senior year much quicker than I would like? Is it that this winter has been relatively mild and therefore has made me crave summer like never before? Is it that I’m tired of the monotony of it? I am asking these questions every day and I seem to be no closer to finding an answer.

And I know that’s okay, because life is filled with questions that will never be answered. But there are times, like the ones I’m in now, where you just really want someone to tell you why everything seems to be so difficult right now. Except, no one is here to tell me that. So I am left telling myself that it will be summer soon, and that all this stress will be worth it. Because, in the end, I get to do something I love, every single day, even when I would rather do anything else.

It’s stressful times like these, especially when I’m writing about them, that I need to remember how lucky I am to have this life. Some people don’t get to have the beautiful and stressful blessing of school, and I have the privilege of going to one of the best schools in the world.

That being said, I love how much I get to hate school.

Week Seven

I can’t believe it’s week seven. Next week will be the last week before spring break. People are preparing to go on vacations or service trips or just start new quads, and I’m sitting here wondering where the time went. It feels like just yesterday I was home for Thanksgiving, for Christmas, for New Year’s, but somehow it’s already almost March?

February gets an extra day this year, but that doesn’t seem to make the rapidly passing time logical. I shouldn’t be surprised that the semester has gone so quickly, since it always does. But I’m consistently surprised. Shouldn’t there be more time to enjoy life and my time at school before I have to leave it? I still have next year, but won’t that one go even quicker?

We had a Facebook group for my floor freshman year (Regina First West) and yesterday one of the guys posted something about how most of the floor is graduating at the end of this semester, but somehow it feels like we were just there on First West, fresh faced and ready to experience college. Now most of us are getting ready to experience “the real world.” Four years has passed much too quickly, and that frightens me about the future. But it excites me as well. I’ve gotten to experience so much in the past four years, and I’m looking forward to seeing what else is out there for me.

Spring Semester Woes

This time of year is always strange for me. The start of the spring semester, that is. It’s never as positive as I feel like it should be. Fall semester everyone is coming back from summer vacation where they (most likely) didn’t see many of their school friends. You’re eager to start having a schedule again, rather than struggling to find ways to occupy yourself. Everyone is tan and beautiful from laying in the sun, and there is the thrill of something new after months of monotony. But spring semester is different. You have new classes, which can be pretty exciting. But this time, instead of the warm August sun, you’re stuck with the chilling grey skies of January. And instead of three months to unwind between semesters, you’re left with a measly three weeks which, though incredibly nice, are packed with holiday get-togethers that leave you with little time to relax. You’re back to the same boring stuff you were up to less than a month before, and there is nothing to excite you in a boring Midwest winter.

For me, this time is especially hard because I’ve reached the two-year anniversary of my study abroad experience. Every day that passes is another day I’m not in my favorite place. The ache is duller now than it was before, but it’s still there, only this time I don’t have the one year-mark to justify my sadness. Last year it was more acceptable to be sad because it was the first time I had experienced a spring semester since being back from Ireland. I was watching all of my friends travel to my favorite place, and every picture they posted was another dagger in my heart. Okay, maybe not that bad, but sometimes my jealousy really made it feel that way. I was allowed to wallow in my homesickness, and I took that to the fullest advantage.

Now that I’m two years removed and I have fewer AQ friends studying there, it would seem like I shouldn’t be as upset by it. In a way I’m not. This year is already vastly more positive than it was a year ago. I still miss it every day, but I’m much less vocal about it than I was last year. I find myself getting angry at the people who, today, are in the same place I was a year ago. I’m trying to let them have their sadness just like the students who studied before me let me wail all over social media about my homesickness. I’m trying to remember that people are allowed to be sad, and I can’t judge them for it. Studying abroad is a huge part of your life, and when you’re watching someone else experience something similar to you, in the place you hold dearest, it hurts.

Coming home, and watching other people’s experience is a learning process, and a difficult one at that. But it’s one I think people need to go through. You learn a lot about yourself when you study abroad and, in my experience, you learn even more about yourself once you come back. Study abroad, post-study abroad, and really life in general is a growing process. Learning how you deal with sadness (especially when its winter and Seasonal Affective Disorder sets in) is a very important part of being a person. It really sucks at times, but I’m trying. I’m working on being more positive about winter, about post study-abroad, about being in school a year longer than all of my friends. I’m trying to grow through the good experiences, and grow even stronger during the ones that get me down.

Thanksgiving Woes

Coming back from Thanksgiving is hard. For me, Thanksgiving is a time for laughter, family and a celebration of all the good things in life. I have been very lucky to have a family who loves me and who would go to the ends of the earth for me. And while this is a total blessing, it makes coming back to school extremely difficult.

This weekend, after stuffing ourselves as big as our house, we visited my uncle’s tree farm, picked out a Christmas tree, and began decorating. While we were hanging ornaments and blasting Christmas carols, I felt so utterly happy. I didn’t want to go back to school facing the last few weeks of the semester and drowning in papers. I wanted to stay where everything was warm, merry, and bright. I love Aquinas–it’s my second home–but that didn’t make returning any easier. That is, until I went to campus.

My first class of the week is history, a general education requirement. Even though most days I enjoy it, I did not want to face it that Monday. It was freezing outside and my bed was toasty warm. However, I forced myself out of bed, and trekked to campus arriving fifteen minutes early to class. I grumbled to myself that I should’ve used that time to sleep, but instead, I made conversation with the girl who sits behind me. I’ve never spoken more than a few words to her, but today she asked about my break, and I asked about hers and we exchanged pleasantries of school worries, what we’re excited about, and what we’re doing with our futures. It was simple, but it brightened my gloomy morning.

Interactions like that, combined with genuine care from friends, faculty, and staff make Aquinas a wonderful place to come back to. Despite the stress of final papers and exams, the affection I feel just being at Aquinas puts my mind at ease.

Post-Grad Plans

Lately I’ve been thinking about graduation. It’s my (first) senior year, and even though I’m taking my victory lap next year, graduation is still weighing heavily on my mind. A lot of my friends are finishing school and moving on to real life adult careers, and I’m sitting here simultaneously thankful that I don’t have to be a real adult yet, but also terrified that I’ve come this far in life and still have no idea what I want to do in the future.

Well, scratch that. I have a lot of ideas, but there isn’t just one that is a shining beacon of hope. Instead, I have thousands. Ever since I was seven years old, I wanted to join the Peace Corps. As I came into college and started moving closer to adulthood, it became a very real possibility. I think I could actually spend two years teaching English in an impoverished country. And even though that is what I tell people my post-grad plans are, I can’t help but doubt it.

I’ve always felt called to serve in some way, but now I’m not sure how I’m meant to do that. I’m wondering now if I’m meant to do the Peace Corps. Maybe I should do AmeriCorps instead. Or maybe I should keep going to school and get my master’s, or my doctorate. Maybe I’ll teach college one day because I’ve had such a lovely experience at Aquinas and I hope to give that to someone someday. Maybe I’ll wind up moving back to Ireland and working there. Maybe I’ll end up staying in Grand Rapids. Who knows?

Maybe that’s the point. No one knows where they are going to end up, and truthfully there is something beautiful about that. But it’s also terrifying. One day, I’m going to need a more concrete idea of what I want to do, that way I can start making a career and building a life for myself. Luckily though, right now, I have about seventeen months before I really need know, so I will enjoy my senior year (and my other senior year), and panic when the time comes.

The Aquinas Community

Most of the time a person’s deciding factor in choosing a college is cost. The more affordable the school, the more likely they are to attend. And while this is true for Aquinas and many of the students here, there is also another, more prevalent factor: the community. There really is nothing like the Aquinas community. Everyone I encounter, whether that be students, faculty, or staff, seems to genuinely care how I’m doing. It’s not just the casual “Hey, how’s it going?” that happens when you pass acquaintances on the street. It seems that everyone really truly wants to know the state of my wellbeing or what is going on in my life, even if they only have a minute to chat. And it’s beautiful.

A few weeks ago I had an encounter like this that really changed me. It was midterm week and I was on my way to a Programming Board meeting. I was drowning in stress and papers and studying and, truth be told, I wasn’t really looking forward to the meeting, despite my love for AQPB. But when I was rounding the corner on the Wege stairs to go to the ballroom, I ran into one of my old professors. I had, truthfully, only met this particular professor at the beginning of the spring semester, and while we had a very good relationship, it was still very new. It wasn’t like the ones that come about after having a professor for years. I hadn’t seen her since May, when the last semester ended, and when I saw her that day her face broke into one of the biggest smiles I’ve ever seen. It stopped me dead in my tracks. We exchanged niceties, but since I was running late we couldn’t catch up like I wanted to. The whole exchange only last about 30 seconds, but there was something so real about it that I was reminded how strong the Aquinas community really is.

The best part is that this is a common occurrence. There is always something in every “hello” I exchange that implies how much people genuinely care about each other here. Amidst the chaos and exhaustion of life, when everything is piling up and seems to be getting worse, those small exchanges make it all worth it. I am reminded daily why I chose Aquinas and why, day after day, it is such a good place to be.

The AQ Difference

After four years of being at Aquinas, you’d think you would get a little tired of the term “the AQ difference.” But each day you are surrounded by the fruits of that difference. I have been given so many opportunities at Aquinas that I know I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else.

Freshmen year, I participated in an internship of sorts for my Intro to Community Leadership course that got me out in the community by helping teach kids literacy. It was the fall semester, and the first time I had really volunteered consistently with one organization. I worked with the Grand Rapids Griffins Youth Foundation developing an Education Program to motivate kids to get involved with school and eventually make it to college. It was a difficult internship because I was helping start the Education Program alongside the director. Therefore there wasn’t a lot of direction on how to do anything. I was frustrated numerous times, but my professor encouraged me every step of the way, seeing a potential in me I had yet to see for myself. Thanks to him, I completed the internship and furthered my desire to pursue Community Leadership. This professor has since retired, but I still maintain contact with him and see him regularly.

Sophomore year, I studied abroad in Ireland and expanded my world view drastically. I knew coming into Aquinas that I wanted to study abroad, in Ireland specifically, but I had no idea the impact it would have on me in the long run. The landscape, the culture, the people all hold a very special place in my heart. The people I met on that trip, both from Aquinas and the Tully Cross community, have become lifelong friends, and I can honestly say I would not be the same person I am today without them. It is nearly impossible to put into words the effect that studying abroad has had on my life. It sparks something inside of you, and the experiences you had there help that fire to burn brighter than you ever would have thought. It gives you a deep appreciation for everything that life has to offer, and it is an opportunity that should not be missed.

Junior year I went on a service learning trip to New Orleans. I worked at Saint Peter Claver Catholic School and met some of the greatest human beings I have ever had the privilege to know. Like my experience in Ireland, this Service Learning trip sparked something inside me that I can’t fully put into words. It was incredible to see the community that not only Saint Peter Claver has, but the entire city of New Orleans. I was told by numerous people—teachers and librarians at the school, tour guides and shopkeepers around the city, the man who housed us—that we were family now, that once we visited New Orleans once, we could call it home. New Orleans is a massive city, and to see an entire community have that same sentiment absolutely melted my heart. To see a city that was once completely devastated by Hurricane Katrina pick itself up and become a beautiful bustling cultural center again was life changing. It was incredible, and something I know I would not have experienced without the help of Aquinas.

Now, as a senior, I am anxiously anticipating all of the wonderful things that are going to happen to me with the help of the incredible faculty and staff here at AQ. I have already been given many opportunities for fostering the development of my interests and it’s only the first month of school. I have been lucky enough to expand upon my degree and add an Irish Studies Minor in addition to my double major in Community Leadership and English and my double minor in Writing and French. I have been given opportunities for furthering my work with the AQ Writing Center and developing new ideas and projects in order to reach more students and create better writers.

All of these things that I have done I know I would not have done at a larger school. Yes, it takes a fair amount of initiative to do these things, but with the relationships you form with faculty and staff really does make all the difference in the world. They will encourage you to do all the things you never thought you would be able to do, and they will help you take your craziest dreams and turn them into reality. That is the AQ Difference, and I am so lucky to have that in my life.

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