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Blog posts by travis

Playing With My Emotions

This mild winter needs to come to end.  We are halfway through April and I nearly slid into a ditch this morning.  I understand that by living in Michigan I must accept the ups and downs and swirling vortexes of weather that come with being a resident of this state.  However, my Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) has kept me in an unbreakable, unmotivated trance that can only be broken by a strong sun and the sight of bright yellow daffodils, neither of which are currently visible.  What’s worse?  Just when we forgot what warmth felt like, we get a very special day.  Little wind, partial to mostly sunny skies, and temperatures above 50 degrees.  Sounds nice right?  Wrong.  This is mother nature’s April Fool’s joke.  Because the very next day she strikes again by throwing in a white-out blizzard with temperatures in the 20’s.  Now we know how good it could be.  It’s like sticking to your diet for months and then one moment of weakness hits you and you taste that glaze on the Krispy Kreme doughnut for the first time in forever and that’s all you want to eat for the rest of your life.  You suddenly remember how difficult it was to give up that glaze in the beginning stages and now you have to push through that horrific pain once again.

I just want to turtle-it-up and bask in the sun on a log in a lake.  Instead, I am scraping the snow and my frozen tears off of my car that has been exposed to the elements for far too long.  However, the forecast does show 70 and sunny next Monday.  I’ll believe it when I see it.  I don’t want to have my hopes crushed again.

Do You Even Lift Bro?

Do You Even Lift Bro?

The struggles of a college student who just wants to get swole

The following is dedicated to all the student lifters out there, especially those that commute.  Keep on truckin.

  1. Waking up an hour before you have to leave to make sure you have time for the next two struggles
  2. Eating lots and lots of food. Although the last thing you would ever want to eat at 6 in the morning is steak and eggs, but that’s what’s on the menu.  Gotta replenish those starving muscles after 6 hours of sleep somehow!
  3. 5 plastic containers full of meat and veggies later, you’re ready for the day!
  4. Forever getting weird looks when you pull out your salmon and rice container in class.
  5. Never having enough free time to eat
  6. Backpack always smells like chicken
  7. Car always smells like chicken
  8. You question if you might actually be turning into a chicken
  9. Tuna breath
  10. Constantly drinking water
  11. Constantly going to the bathroom as a result of #10
  12. Your car is full of clothes, shoes, and supplements all the time
  13. Going to a class on the third floor of AB after leg day… ‘nuff said.
  14. You drink coffee at 9pm to get you hype for your hour long workout that you so desperately need after being at school for 10 hours.
  15. Adding the stress of not seeing results to that of class and work.
  16. Stressing out about stressing out because stressing out adds body fat.
  17. Picking up every penny or nickel you see to add to the protein powder fund.
  18. Knowing that you have to give 110% at the gym when you only have 5% to give

But overcoming all of these challenges is worth it if it means staying healthy and staying fit!!

Things Are A Little Squirrel-y Around Here

Just before fall break, Aquinas had a couple of special squirrels on campus.  I get it, we have THOUSANDS of squirrels that call AQ home, but these ones were different.  How so you ask?  It’s suspected that their mother had abandoned them or had died because as soon as you would come near them, these baby squirrels would run at you, up you, and find somewhere to hide in your clothes!  I remember when I saw the first Instagram post about these little creatures from one of my good friends and remember thinking God had just bestowed upon her the most wonderful gift from above.  Here she was sitting in the warm sun with two baby squirrels cuddling in the sweatshirt “nest” she had made for them.

From that moment on, these creatures were showing up in every Aquinas student’s social media profile picture.  Whether they were sleeping soundly in someone’s arms or sitting perfectly in a person’s hand, these two squirrels had captured the heart of the AQ community.  Some students had come across them when they wanted to play, and if the moment arises where you have a choice to play with wildlife or arrive on time to class, I pray you would choose the former.  Because as cheesy and sappy as this sounds, very few times in one’s life does a moment like this arise.  Moments where you forget every single thing that you were worrying about because you are so filled with joy and happiness that there simply isn’t room for anything negative.  At all.  For the longest time I could not find these squirrels.  I searched high and low to no avail.  And then one Thursday afternoon as I grabbed a quick coffee before my Theology quad, an angel from above had brought one of those squirrels into my presence.  A student was holding it in his arms just outside the Moose and was ready to go to class.  I wasted no time volunteering as tribute to take this creature from his hands and on that brisk October afternoon, I truly experienced one of the happiest moments of my life.  Perched on my arm was something wild.  Something that had not been taught to fear humans.  And I thank God for that squirrel’s naiveté.

P.S. I was late to my theology class…

squirrel

Reverse Culture Shock

It seems like as soon as you mention anything about travelling outside of the country, someone always has some piece of advice to share.  Roll your clothes in your check bag, weigh your check bag beforehand, don’t talk to anyone at the airport, only get in the red cabs, never walk outside after sunset, try the food, eat the food, love the food, food, food, food!!  By the time you arrive to your destination, you are well-prepared and the transition is relatively smooth.  But what happens when it’s time to come home?  You’ve acclimated yourself to a new way of life including adhering to new rules, being exposed to a new climate, eating new food, and often speaking a new language.  Whereas before advice was abundant and at times overwhelming, now it is almost impossible to find.  It’s impossible to imagine what it will be like stepping back into the void you created when you left, but it’s inevitable.  All of the study abroad students and those who have gone abroad for an extended period of time have experienced this anxiety.  Having studied abroad in Costa Rica myself, I personally found out that although starting a new life in Costa Rica was challenging, returning home to the United States was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my entire life.

One aspect of travelling that I learned a long time ago is that nobody can possibly be as excited about your journey as you are.  Of course I tested this theory several times once I returned and it was supported with every “I’m pretending to care and look interested” response that I received.  But how can we expect one of our friends or family members to fully wrap their minds around what we went through when we can’t put our experiences into words anyways?  Sure, I can say, “My favorite part of the trip was standing under a star-soaked sky atop a mountain where an indigenous group lived and oh yeah, we got there by riding mustangs for a couple of hours and my horse took off in the woods and before I knew it an indigenous boy grabbed the reigns and led me the rest of the way and earlier we played soccer with an old basketball and laughed and cried and then took part in a celebration where the leader of the tribe gave us all an alcoholic beverage made from corn that had been “fermented” from a few members of the tribe chewing and chewing and chewing this corn until the end result was their saliva and that was the beverage and now here we are smack dab under a wall of the milky way without a single light to drown out the brightness of the gazillion stars that was my favorite part…” But now I look like a lunatic who needs to lay off the coffee.  So as a group we decided that we weren’t even going to try to explain anything we did unless asked to do so.

This was one of the easier lessons we learned.  We also faced our old friend groups who had four months’ worth of inside jokes and it seemed that now we were on the outside.  Being at home with my family felt eerie because it was almost as though I never even left.  Mom and dad still had the same routines, my dog looked the same except for a few more gray hairs in his muzzle but other than that, my other life was nearly untouched.  It was the strongest sensation of déjà vu I had experienced.  The aspect of the Northern American life that took me the longest to adjust to was the pace.  Everything was rushed and it was unacceptable to not be doing anything.  Whether being asked to hang out or headed to work or even working out, it seemed like there wasn’t enough time in the day.  To add to that our group had to relearn how to socialize in English which was quite the obstacle to overcome.  All of these areas were barriers that we never expected to encounter and although we didn’t have any warning, I’m glad we were able to adjust to everything that was thrown our way.  It has made us stronger and wiser, now being able to pass along what we have learned to those who are currently abroad or will be in the future.  Sometimes I have to be reminded that everything I did in Costa Rica wasn’t just a dream.  I actually went there and yes I actually came back and it will be an experience that will forever take up a large part of my heart.

Carpe Diem

How many times have we heard this saying?  The significance and power behind these two words have been taken away over the years due to its over usage and now “cliché” status.  But there truly isn’t a better way to express the importance of seizing the day and taking advantage of every moment given to you.  Sure we all say we’re going to be that spontaneous, easy going person who we know is how all of us were created to be.  However, when it comes down to it, when one of those opportunities arises and we have that battle going on in our head whether or not to “Carpe Diem” or take the road MOST traveled, we pave that road a hundred times over.  And why?  What stops us from living instead of merely surviving?  I’ll tell you what it is.  It’s our society.  Embarrassment, rejection, failure, judgement, and our self-esteem freezes us into statues of hesitation and doubt.  I’m not going to go to the dance because the other kids are going to laugh at me.  I don’t want to go on this camping trip with my friends because I’m going to miss out on the study session which means I fail the class which means I fail at life.  The last thing I’m about to do is walk up on that stage and make myself look like an idiot singing this stupid Billy Joel ballad for karaoke night.  From a very early age we’ve been taught to analyze everything.  Weigh the pros and cons, think of short and long term effects of each decision that we make, truly think about something before you do it.  But how many stories can you tell about events that came out of a long session of pondering?

The reason this is my blog topic is because I recently felt the rush of making a split-second decision and it was one of the best highlights so far from my adventures in Costa Rica.  I think this event was in the making for a while.  Since spring break, we have been learning choreography to a certain song in our dance class.  We practice this salsa dance twice a week in preparation for the final performance at the end of the semester in front of all of our host families and the community of Santa Ana. Well, this past weekend a few of us were invited by one of the host families to an all-inclusive resort in Tambor, Costa Rica.  The weekend was absolutely amazing and definitely one for the books, but my favorite part happened on the ferry ride back to Puntarenas.  The sun was out, the bar on the boat was hoppin’, and the sea breeze was just cool enough to numb the sunburn that covered us head to toe.  All of a sudden, we hear a familiar tune coming from the speakers of the bar and we knew exactly what we had to do.  So, in an open area on the top deck in front of 60 plus Costa Ricans, three of us did our choreographed routine to Marc Anthony’s “Vivir mi Vida.”  As soon as we started clapping our hands to the beat, a crowd formed and phones started recording these white kids dancing the most subpar salsa in the heat of the sun.  We made mistakes, we goofed up, but we finished and from the roar of the crowd you would’ve thought Marc Anthony himself was performing live.  It was one of the most exhilarating and adrenaline pumping experiences of my life and all it took was a “eh, why not?” decision.

Life’s short.  So unbelievably short.  Too short to be normal and too short not to look like a fool.  Doing things without thinking, to a degree of course, is what this journey is all about.  Our superiors tell us not to do things because they’ve already made those mistakes and know what the outcome is going to be.  But nine times out of ten, those same people wouldn’t trade those mistakes for the world.  Because those mistakes have made them who they are today and they are experiences they’ll cherish for the rest of their lives.  So when that mic gets handed to you on karaoke night and you’re about to politely decline, grab it instead and rock the place to the ground.

La Vida Tranquila de Costa Rica

So here I am.  Sitting in the only air-conditioned café in Santa Ana, Costa Rica writing this blog while it’s a sweltering 90° outside and I have never been more content.  I’m one of the 12 Aquinas students here (the only male mind you) who are so blessed to be studying abroad in “the happiest place to live in the world.”  We bid farewell to our loved ones on January 13th and hopped on a plane to this tropical Central American country where most of us are taking 17 credits worth of classes. The following is a summary of the highlights of our trip and how our lives have been changed forever.

After our plane landed, we were escorted to our homes where we met our families who would be hosting us for the next four months.  It was immediately apparent that this wasn’t merely a job for these people, it was a completely new lifestyle that they were so excited to accept.  The overwhelming love and generosity of our families started on day one and hasn’t ceased since.  But more on that later.  In order to ease our transition, we visited Manuel Antonio National Park for our first weekend before classes started.  This is one of the most visited destinations by tourists and it was easy to see why.  Sloths littered the canopy of the tropical forest while Capuchin monkeys fought with raccoons over sandwiches left unattended by “los gringos.”  After hiking for a while we were greeted by the 6th best beach of the Americas- La Playa Manuel Antonio.  This is the beach that occupies daydreams during February chemistry lectures or during that third hour of a late-night quad.  The crystal-clear blue water with a gentle ocean breeze that whispers a welcoming invitation to jump in the lapping waves that softly kiss the bright white sand… I digress.  Needless to say, it made our ideas of paradise a reality.

Every single weekend consisted of a new adventure and the one that was most anticipated finally arrived- white water rafting on the Pacuare River.  Now, white water rafting isn’t anything that we can’t do here in the states, but doing it in what National Geographic called the best place to go whitewater rafting in the entire world?  That’s pretty special.  Our guide’s name was Roberto, although his fellow guides like to call him Osama Bin Laden for reasons we didn’t really want to inquire about.  But anyways our two boats with six AQ students in each began the 18 mile journey over 38 Class I-Class IV rapids with high spirits and dry clothes.  This four hour adventure consisted of holding on for dear life while still managing to haul our boat over the rapids forwards, backwards, sideways, and yes even while we were standing up (thanks Roberto).  Definitely something we will never forget.

These are just two of the plethora of thrilling activities we took part in and both are things that any “banana tourist” can do.  What we have the benefit of witnessing, is the immense sense of culture and pride that emanates from the people who call this place home- the tikos and tikas.  I’ve heard horror stories from other people who have studied abroad in the past to countries other than Costa Rica and some said that their host parents did the bare minimum to provide for their stay.  And knowing this makes me so incredibly blessed to be in a place where you literally are part of the family.  At least three meals a day are cooked for us daily, laundry is taken care of, our rooms are cleaned, our beds are made even after we’ve already done are best to make them PERFECTLY, we get to go on even more excursions because our brothers and sisters and parents want to spend time with us, and we are invited to every single family function that takes place.  What’s even more admirable than the pride they take in hosting strangers is the emphasis they place on family.  In stark contrast to the United States, children live with their parents until they get married and buy a place of their own.  They don’t look for the quickest way out.  And even after they tie the knot they look for the home for sale closest to where they grew up.  It’s a beautiful thing to walk down a side street knowing that every house on that street is owned by a member of the same family.  It’s so difficult not to go on and on about the level of happiness and love that sweeps through the towns of this indescribable country.  So I’m going to stop myself now and end by stating that if everyone knew to the fullest extent what the 12 of us have experienced thus far, Costa Rica would lose its sense of tranquility because every single person on the face of this earth would move there in a heartbeat.

If we left right now, we would bring back with us souvenirs for our loved ones, tan skin and light hair, but most importantly a longing to live a simple life.  One where insults were taken as a sign of love and the only thing you need to get you through the day isn’t Starbucks coffee or what’s his name on the Bachelor, but rather the anticipation of a beautiful sunset.  But we are far from being ready to leave so lucky for us we still have two more months of living la vida tranquila de Costa Rica.

Blood, Sweat, and Floor Burns

Anyone who thinks intramural volleyball is not intense should stand on the opposite side of the net of a six foot something body builder who’s got some anger to unleash.  There’s no messing around in this all-or-nothing sport that takes place every Sunday and Tuesday night from 8-11pm structured as follows:

  • 14 teams total will play both days of the week with each team consisting of at least two girls and two guys.
  • Any team that fails to follow rule number one regarding gender must play their match with one less person.
  • Each team can have no more than six players on the court during each point played.
  • Matches are won by winning two out of three games with the first two played to 21 points and the third (if necessary) to 15, win by 2.
  • The winning team will be awarded t-shirts.
  • Any further rules are subjective to the players… meaning there are no more rules.

Unlike a middle school gym class, this time on the court is all business.  If you want a place to look pretty in your new spandex and cute Mizuno Wave Lightning volleyball shoes, this isn’t it.  With the top of the nets sagging to just over six feet and vertical reaches of up to nine, it’s really just a matter of who’s going to get a ball to the face if the front line doesn’t get a hand on it.  Since this is “street volleyball,” the ball isn’t the only thing to be looking out for.  Bodies are thrown under the net, into the net, and over the net without a single whistle blown.  Picture Adam Sandler playing basketball with ferocious prisoners in the movie, The Longest Yard.  Okay, so maybe not so many broken bones, blood, or shirtless men but you get the idea.  The smell of sweat and desperation signifies the end of another hard-fought battle on the court.  When all is said and done, although you may not walk away with a “W” every night, one thing you will have is a new friend.  As cliché as it sounds, the bond formed by giving your all is one that is shared among each member of the 14 teams.  I think this is what brings us back each night to exhaust ourselves.  Either that or the instant satisfaction of blocking that aforementioned body builder at the net.

The Green Jacket

When we hear someone make a reference to “The Green Jacket,” most of us instantly picture a professional golfer who just won the Masters tournament in Augusta, Georgia.  This competition dishes out one of the most prestigious and unique awards in the sports world: a green jacket that is only to be worn by previous and current champions.  It is a tradition that’s been going strong for over 65 years, which just goes to show how coveted this piece of clothing really is to the hundreds of golfers chasing its elusiveness.  The winners are instantly held to a higher standard than others in the same profession because if they can win the Masters, surely they should be able to compete with the best of the best in future tournaments.  However, around Aquinas, the idea of a green jacket refers to something different in material, but similar in meaning.

The piece of clothing that is recognized around here is the forest-green rain jacket sporting the letters “AQ” on the upper left chest worn by the student ambassadors of Aquinas College. It may not be made from Australian wool like that of the Masters prize, but to me, it holds the same prominence.  During my freshman year, I would see these individuals walking around campus with heads held high, being the most excellent representatives of our school and I knew right away that that would be me one day.  When the email came that notified me of my nomination from a faculty member, my excitement soon turned to disappointment.  If I couldn’t handle the amount of stress I was dealing with at the time as a freshman, how could I be my absolute best with the added pressure of being an “ambassador”- a concept still somewhat foreign to me at the time?  But one of my best friends pushed me to attend the informational meeting so I went.  I knew instantly this was what I needed at Aquinas, regardless of the extra workload it would come with.  Having the opportunity to give tours to prospective students and their families along with being able to meet respected members of the community greatly appealed to me.  I went through the application process and opened a letter one day to realize that I was chosen to represent my school as an ambassador.

Now I need to tell you one of the many reasons why I was so ecstatic to receive this news.  All my life up to this point, I was never part of a team. I played tennis and bowled in high school so most of the emphasis was placed on individual accomplishment.  This letter gave me something more than just a job at AQ, it gave me teammates.  Although many might view this as a little ridiculous, it meant the absolute world to me.  I could finally depend on others when I needed something while also expecting them to have that same trust in me.

This was one of the major turning points in the beginning of my time at Aquinas.  I finally felt a greater purpose at my school by being held to the highest accountability I’ve experienced in my life.  Even better, I get to share this responsibility with over 50 of my peers, who I have since considered family.  Few get to say that they get paid to brag about their school and I am so blessed to be one of those few.

 

The Transition

I’m different.  I wanted to stay in high school for the rest of my life.  While my peers were anxious to get as far away from our little town of Caledonia, Michigan as they could, I never wanted to leave.  However, unlike most from my grade, my high school experience could not have gone better.  Finishing in the top ten of my class of 330, being vice president of Student Council, and getting crowned as prom king were just a few of the many reasons why I never wanted to grow up.  Making a name for yourself and being able to be noticed by other students is the goal that society has attached to the high school experience and as far I was concerned, I achieved that goal.  The last thing I wanted to do was throw all of that out the window and start the next four years of my life with a clean slate.  Looking back now I am shocked not only at my conceitedness during my career at Caledonia High, but also at the success of society’s popularity pressure.  I lost sight of the things that actually mattered and focused instead on my name showing up in tweets, Facebook posts, and articles in the local newspaper.  As if any of those things actually made a difference in the world.  Regardless of who I was in high school, it did not take long for the four charisms of prayer, service, study, and community at Aquinas College to open my eyes to the true importance of life.

As a commuter, the first few weeks of school went great.  My day consisted of waking up at 9 am, going to class until about 3pm and then driving straight home to finish some homework and sleep for a good ten hours every night.  And that’s how it went for the next few months, attending the occasional Improv show when I was certain there was nothing more important to do.  A few of the friends I made at orientation urged me to stay on campus longer each day but I didn’t really see the point in doing so.  So this is what all the hype surrounding college is about?  Getting to sleep a few extra hours?  I was highly dissatisfied so I decided to do something way out of my comfort zone.

One of my friends told me about the service learning trip to Peru that was taking place in the summer and I applied right away, hoping that maybe things would finally click following this experience.  The acceptance letter I received regarding the trip was a true blessing from above because it lifted the fog that was obstructing my perception of Aquinas and life in general.  Volunteering in Peru for two weeks was the most rewarding experience of my entire life.  It helped me see that you should not achieve greatness for the spotlight, but rather because you have the chance to do so.  I met 70 of the most beautiful orphans while on my trip and I knew very well there was a good chance they would never be exposed to the opportunities that we take advantage of here, let alone attend college and land a successful career.  This is what college is about.  It’s about meeting new people and forming new relationships, it’s about bonding over a once in lifetime experience, it’s about being able to do things that you never would be able to do outside of school, it’s about capturing that moment when you look into an orphan’s eyes and tell yourself that you are going to give 100% of what you have in everything that you do.  I finally came to the realization that my “fame” in high school was over and I could not be happier.  It was time for me to embark on the next chapter of life instead of rereading what I had already written.  For this amazing experience and many more that I know are in the future, I am forever grateful to Aquinas College.

 

 

 

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