stanford, round 2

stanford, round 2

Sitting in the lounge of Theta, my home for the last two weeks, I am entirely unprepared to pull the all-nighter ahead of me. But, as with most things in life, it is happening whether I’m ready or not.

Two weeks ago, I arrived on Stanford’s campus, unprepared for the job ahead of me. A quick day of training helped, but it did not allay all of my fears. Being responsible for a group of 46 international teenagers is no small task. Luckily, I had friendly coworkers who ended up being super capable and super cool. And I had a group of really nice, funny kids who made my job fun and relatively easy. Two weeks is not a long time to get to know anyone, but I’m glad I got to spend time with these people regardless.

My house had a mix of Colombians, Chileans, Canadians, and Japanese kids. And I was shocked and impressed to watch these kids warm up to and make friends with each other so quickly, despite their cultural differences. I also had the privilege to learn about their countries and see their love and pride in their respective cultures. While handing out their superlatives at our last house meeting, I found myself grinning like an idiot as I watched them laugh and shout out their guesses for who won what award.

It reminds me of a similar night a few years ago, when I was again on Stanford’s campus, and sitting in the same seats as my students. My experience as a student in Stanford’s Pre-collegiate summer institutes was a formative moment for me, and was ultimately what made me so passionate about writing and what inspired me to apply to out of state schools such as Stanford and Yale. And look where that landed me. My three weeks at Stanford the summer before my senior set the stage for all the great things that followed. I changed during my time here; I learned to be brave enough to want things that seemed impossible; I learned to be brave enough to pursue dreams, no matter how unrealistic.

I think that’s a hard lesson to learn and an even harder lesson to retain. It is so easy to forget, to settle, to give up. Watching these kids come out of their shells and hearing them tell me how this experience was the most amazing thing to happen to them is a sweet reminder of that excited, hopeful outlook I had as a 17 year old. Such an outlook is hard to maintain as I grow older and adulthood rears its ugly head. But thankfully, I have opportunities like this to remind me.

And this is why I love working with kids. They aren’t jaded (usually) and they are so excited about the future. And after the multitude of adults who had a positive impact on me and my life, I want to return that positive energy. Also, there’s nothing more rewarding than the round of hugs I got tonight, each one accompanied by a “Thank you”. Kids are crazy, and they will push your limits and get on your nerves and make you want to pull your hair out or scream; but ultimately, they’re just trying to figure everything out (just like us old folk). So no matter how annoying or loud or frustrating they may be, I will always be grateful to be part of their journey. I’m gonna miss these kids; in fact, I already do.

hygge

hygge

I’ve been neglecting by blog. If you can believe it, it isn’t because of writer’s block or laziness this time: I’ve honestly just been too busy to stop and write.

I am currently sitting in a dorm room at Stanford, listening to a house full of international teenagers through my window. But, that’s not the story I want to tell right now. I never finished the story about Denmark, and I can’t leave such an important four weeks of my life as unfinished business (although I hope that this is not the close of a chapter).

The last time I wrote, I was in my room in Copenhagen. Copenhagen: what a beautiful city that gave me so many stories to tell. I ate, I drank, I sprained my knee (again). I spent too much money. Some things never change. And although all I brought through customs with me were two thimbles and some rocks from the Baltic Sea, I know I brought back so much more.

To put some perspective on things: I’m just a poor kid who grew up in a small city no one’s ever heard of in the middle of the Bible Belt. Up the last few years, I hadn’t visited more than 4 states. Travelling was a foreign concept to me, and I never really thought much about it, except in that distant, fairy tale dream way. Then one of those crazy dreams came true: I went to California to study creative writing at Stanford. Then something even crazier happened: I got into Yale. And there I met the the coolest people; people I never would have imagined would be my best friends. And then I was accepted into a study abroad program, and before I could even blink, I was on a plane to Copenhagen.

I would say I’m the luckiest girl in the world, but we all know that’s not quite true. And besides, to chalk all the good things in my life up to luck would diminish my achievements; and I’ve worked too damn hard to get to where I am to not take some of the credit.

But, back to the point, I keep finding myself in situations that younger me was too afraid to really dream about. And I don’t know how to express how overwhelming it is to experience theses things with that knowledge in the back of my mind. Even now, it’s hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that I just spent four weeks in Europe and and am currently spending two weeks at Stanford; just like I still have these moments of absolute shock that I am a student at Yale University. It’s mind-blowing. So I put a lot of pressure on myself to get a lot out of these experiences. I want to be constantly learning something.

What did I learn while I was studying abroad? Well, I learned a lot about Danish and Finnish education systems and child care (as that is what I was studying). I could (and did) write a lengthy academic paper about that topic, but I won’t do that here. I learned a lot more than that though. Talking to people never gets any easier, but forcing yourself to do so is rewarding (and nothing worth doing is easy anyway). I love chickpeas and hummus and pistachios (pistachio ice cream omg) and salmon: I guess you could say I learned to not knock it ’til I try it. You can become great friends with people in a very short amount of time. You can communicate with anyone regardless of language barriers. Sometimes getting lost is just a part of the adventure, and you can having fun doing anything, if you’re doing it with the right people.

More than anything, I was reminded of a lesson that I’ve been learning for years now: growth only comes when you step out of your comfort zone.

So I played with Danish kids who didn’t speak a word of English. I ate things I didn’t think I’d like. I went to bars and clubs and danced and met new people. I got on trains and hoped I was going in the right direction. I sat in a sauna and then jumped into a freezing cold Finnish lake. I spoke up in class. I got a tattoo!

I made friends. And it’s crazy to think that I only spent four weeks with some of the people I met, because it honestly feels like I’ve known them for years. More than anything, when I think of my time in Europe, I will remember dancing down the street, singing, gathering evidence that Pekka is a vampire, laughing over tinder messages, screaming along to High School Musical in a Finnish karaoke bar, running through the rain to get pizza, sitting in a cozy spot and feeling warm and comfortable and happy to be with friends. I will remember hygge.

Hygge. If I could use one word to sum up my experience abroad, it would be hygge. Hygge (pronounced like ‘who-guh’) is a quality of coziness that one gets when very comfortable in their surroundings; it leads to a feeling of warmth and contentment. This is a defining characteristic of Danish culture, and I felt it, surrounded by friends, talking and laughing. I love the concept so much that I got the word tattooed on my arm.

So, there it is. A fraction of what I how I feel about my trip to Europe and all of the wonderful things I experienced there.

unnamed

education or happiness

education or happiness

I’m taking a child development course here in Denmark, and let me tell ya, I am LOVING it. My instructor is great, the material is interesting, my classmates are nice. It’s rare that I find a classroom so inviting. Over the course of my school career, I’ve had a weird fluctuating relationship with my own education. And something I often find myself explaining is this: I hate school, but I love to learn. Now, both of those statements aren’t necessarily always true. There have been plenty of times when I loved school. And there have been plenty of occasions where I had no interest in learning. (Golf is boring, okay, I don’t understand how it works and I really don’t care).

I loved school when I was a kid. Of course I did, I was smart and I did well and I was a suck up and all the teachers loved me. What wasn’t there to love? I remember feeling weird because my favorite part of the day wasn’t recess or P.E. or art class or music class. It was reading or social studies, and before algebra and chemistry crushed my soul, I even loved math and science. I didn’t mind doing homework; sometimes I even enjoyed it. I loved to learn new things and I loved getting grades back that told me I was smart. My family encouraged this, of course. And up until middle school, I was a happy little nerd.

But then sixth grade punched me in the face, and suddenly school wasn’t as easy anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I still made straight A’s and most of my teachers still loved me, but suddenly I had to try a lot harder, and my sixth grade math/science teacher was a mean old lady who never smiled and always scared the crap out of me. I found myself in a place I hadn’t before: I didn’t love school anymore, not as a whole. I had an amazing language arts teacher who introduced me to poetry and I met my best friend in that class and we spent all of our time writing angsty preteen poems. I loved going to the library, but I hated doing my homework. I read my social studies textbook cover to cover, but I only skimmed through my science textbook to fill in the homework each morning before the bell rang. This pattern continued throughout middle school.

High school brought a whole new set of problems. Honors/AP classes, dance, dance team, a million other clubs, volunteering, part-time jobs, driver’s ed, making friends, sleeping. There wasn’t enough time for everything; but I had to do everything. I had to have a license so I could get from school to dance, to work. I had to have a job to get my license. I had to be in clubs and I had to volunteer for college applications. Good grades weren’t good enough, I had to make the best grades or I wouldn’t get into a good college and I had to go to a good college. I found that high school was a million times harder than middle school and it extended far beyond the classroom.

But I also found some amazing teachers that pushed me and supported me and invested in me. I had dance team coaches who taught me how to lead and how to have fun while doing it, and I had a french teacher who constantly cheered me on, and I had a math teacher who explained things in a way that made sense to me and almost made me stop hating the subject (almost), and I had a theater teacher who treated every single person he encountered with kindness and respect and who told shy, quiet Allison to hit the road, and I had an english teacher that made me laugh but also made me work for my grade, harder than any teacher had before, and I had a librarian who believed in me more than I believed in myself,  and I had a creative writing teacher who gave me a space where I could bare my soul and know that it would never come back to bite and that it was okay to not be okay all the time.

Despite this, I still suffered. I did everything, and I suffered for it. My grades did not suffer, my grades could not suffer. I learned to function on very little sleep and a whole lot of stress and anxiety. And I guess you can say that it worked out. I made almost entirely straight As (trust me, I cried when I got that first B) and I had great ACT and SAT scores. I got into a good college. I might even argue and say I exceeded expectations and got into a great college. But I graduated with a very different attitude than I had when I started school: mainly, I hated it. Like, it was a struggle to make myself go to class every day (an endeavor that I actually failed regularly my senior year) hated it. Like, I was not looking forward to four more years of school regardless of where it was hated it. Like, I don’t know how I didn’t have a major mental breakdown in the hallway once a week hated it. Senioritis is one thing, but I was miserable at school and even the classes and teachers I loved didn’t make it any better.

I approached college as a new start. Maybe I was just burnt out and a new environment would help. It turns out a new environment didn’t really help. While I was excited about all the new classes I was taking, I was quickly bogged down with the workload and homesickness and social anxiety. And so the cycle continued. I loved reading literature and learning history, but I hated sitting in philosophy discussing hypothetical situations and I hated butchering french pronunciations in class every day. I loved doing the readings, but I hated taking tests and writing essays.

Which brings me back to this class I’m taking now. We were discussing standardized testing (which I detest) and our teacher told us how Denmark didn’t score as well as they thought they would when compared to other countries. She made the comment that many Danish people were upset about this and in their defense, they said something along the lines of “we might not have the best test scores but our children are happy.” And I was floored. Because I was always taught to put my education first and my happiness second. I followed this philosophy to a fault until very recently, when I discovered that doing so was seriously detrimental to my mental health. But even still, it’s like it’s ingrained in my brain: education first, then happiness. If I do anything that goes against that I feel immensely guilty and lose most of the satisfaction anyway.

I have always suffered in order to excel in an educational setting. I’m sure I’ll keep doing so, to be honest. I am a firm believer that college is not for everyone. Because if I didn’t love to learn, if I wasn’t passionate about studying, if I wasn’t so fiercely dedicated to a future grounded in higher education, it would not be worth it. I would have quit a long time ago. America’s education system is flawed in many ways, and pushing children to choose that broken system over everything else, no matter what, is what I think is one of its biggest flaws.

I was lucky to find beacons of light, people who nurtured my love of learning and who taught me more than what their curriculum told them to teach. But I was unlucky enough to get caught in a system that prizes measured success over personal growth and forces you to chose between things like getting a good grade and getting enough sleep. And it made me supremely unhappy. So, the question is: when does it stop? When you get into a good school? When you graduate? When you go to grad school? When you get a good job that pays well? Or maybe the question is this: does any of that matter if you’re miserable the whole time?

Hell if I know.

 

 

welcome to copenhagen

welcome to copenhagen

I am writing this blog post from my room in Bispebjerg Kollegiet (I can’t pronounce it either). I made it to Copenhagen all in one piece and all by myself! When I got to the airport Sunday afternoon, I was pretty anxious about the whole situation. But somehow, the whole process went very smoothly and I didn’t get lost or freak out and cry and call Linda for anything (an amazing feat for me). The first leg of my flight was a pretty chill 9 hours; excluding the bit where this cranky old lady freaked out because the guy sitting beside me leaned his seat back and intruded upon her “personal space”. She yelled “I’m 82 years old and I don’t deserve to have to sit like a fricking pretzel!” at least three times. Rude. But other than that, a very calm flight. And my second leg flew by in 2 hours and suddenly I was in Copenhagen.

And oddly enough, I managed to socialize almost immediately. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I’ve found myself talking to other humans with something akin to ease ever since I got here. Now, I won’t lie, it hasn’t been completely easy, but definitely less difficult than usual. I’m happy that I’m not being my usual hermit self because it turns out that when you leave your room, you actually meet really cool people! And they’re nice too! Wild.

I’ve explored a tiny bit of the city, and we took a boat tour this morning that was really cool. Copenhagen is a really interesting city and I can’t wait to learn more about it. The public transportation (while a bit confusing as all the words are Danish and I don’t speak Danish) has been fairly straight forward and accessible. I’ve been to the grocery store where I faced the challenge of reading Danish labels and trying to figure out Danish money. I bought some cereal and milk, some pasta and tomato sauce, and some bread and pb&j. Even in another country, I stick to the basics. I’ve eaten at the Hard Rock Cafe in Copenhagen (we were starving and the menu was in English, ok), and at a vegan cafe called Hope. I visited a pretty cool Lego store. I’m excited to see more of Copenhagen.

My class met for the first time today and it was amazing. Our instructor is very friendly and laid back. She also seems really passionate about the child development and education, which means that she’s going to be a great teacher. There’s going to be a lot of group work, which I’m actually looking forward to. My classmates all seem like cool, smart people and I think working with them will be a fun experience.  I can’t wait to start diving into the material and doing the field studies. It’s going to be a challenge with the language barrier between us and the kids, but I enjoy challenging work. I’m also really looking forward to our week-long study tour in Helsinki! Finland’s education system is amazing, and I’m stoked to get a close-up look.

All in all, I’m just really freaking excited. I don’t think I’ve ever written a blog post with this many “really”s or exclamation points. Despite very little mental preparation for this trip and the preceding weeks of depression and uncertainty buzzing around in my head, I feel like I’m in a good place right now. Mentally and physically.

 

drive

drive

I haven’t written in a while. I’ve been struggling to find time, and when I do find time, inspiration. Not that there’s a lack of things for me to write about; I have no shortage of feelings I need to work through, believe me. But lately, I’ve found it difficult to put into words exactly what I’m thinking. I know this feeling well. It’s like writer’s block, except it extends past my writing and into my every day life: in simple conversations and common interactions. I know what I should be saying and how I should be acting, so I say those things and attempt to act normal. But it all feels forced. I feel as if I’m faking it.

The other day, someone said I was acting distant. And they were right. I feel distant and disconnected and a lot of other things that I don’t know how to explain or tell anybody that.

Yesterday, I was home alone for a few hours. I felt as if I spent another second watching TV or reading or mindlessly scrolling on my phone I would scream. But I had nothing else to do, nowhere to go, no one that I wanted to see or talk to. I impulsively got in the car and started driving, with no destination in mind. I didn’t pay attention to where I was going, except to intentionally turn down roads I didn’t recognize. Driving down the winding country roads under a grey sky, I began to talk. I talked like someone else was listening and I didn’t stop until I was at a stoplight and I realized I wasn’t in the middle of nowhere anymore. I was back in Gastonia, on a road I have driven down countless times. Despite my best attempts, I had not gotten lost, nor had I gotten very far away from where I started.

I kept driving through my hometown in silence, but the anxiety in my chest continued to grow. Finally, I stopped at a gas station and bought a pack of gum to have something to do and I sat in the parking lot and chewed through half of the pack before I started the car and headed home. As I was turning onto 85 to head back to Kings Mountain, my phone buzzed. I had a text asking about cat food and litter and suddenly the weird floaty feeling I’d had all night left and I was firmly back in the “real world”.

So I went to the store to buy cat food and cat litter and I picked up some movies I’ve been wanting to see from Redbox. Then I picked up Justin from work and we went out for a late dinner. And everything was normal. My anxiety abated, but I know it’s not gone, just pushed to the back of my mind. And I’ve decided it’s time to start writing again, finally, after weeks of ignoring my laptop and journals. I don’t know why I feel so out of place and helpless lately. But writing has always had a way of pulling me out of my own head and making me see things a little clearer. Just after writing this, I already feel a bit lighter. So, writing is good. I already knew that. Sometimes you just gotta drive aimlessly for a couple hours to remind yourself how to feel things. Or maybe that’s just me.

identity

identity

What is this week’s blog post about?

It’s about something that’s bigger than me, or any single act of legislation. This is about a matter that should be of the highest importance to every American.

My hair.

(Sorry, gotta quote Legally Blonde whenever I get the chance.)

Let me back up and just say that I love dramatic hair change scenes in movies and TV shows. Those cliche, staring in the mirror, angrily chopping off all your hair with rusty scissors as you cry scenes? I love them. I LIVE for them. I mean, I guess they’re kind of ridiculous. How can changing your hair fix anything? It can’t really, but I mean, I totally get it. You’re freaking out, things are falling apart, you’re grasping for something, anything to make you feel like you have some control. Sometimes, your hair is the only thing you have.

There’s a reason I chopped off several inches right before second semester of my sophomore year in high school. And there’s a reason I ditched my usual brown shade a year later. And there’s a reason I got a bob before I went to Stanford. And there’s a reason I dyed it purple a few weeks into my senior year. And there’s a reason I shaved half of it off two days before leaving for Yale.

When things are changing, when I don’t know what to do to express how I’m feeling, when I feel like all I want to do is be somebody else, the only thing I’ve ever been able to do is change my hair.

So second semester of sophomore year of high school, when I didn’t want to be the girl who’s mom died in September, I got the shortest haircut I’d ever had. When I didn’t want to be the shy little girl who’d been mooning over her best friend for years, I dyed it orange-red. When I wanted to leave the awkward, quiet girl who didn’t know how to make friends behind in NC, I sat down in a salon chair and told the stylist to chop it off and to give me some layers. When I came back home and realized I couldn’t figure out how to reconcile who I was now and who I wanted people to see me as, I let Mikaela take me to her stylist and I asked her to give me a daring shade of violet. And bangs.

And when I was days from leaving everything I knew behind and starting a whole new chapter of my life, I sat in a salon chair, staring at my reflection as the stylist gave me the trim I had asked for, and I knew it wasn’t enough. I could not arrive at Yale looking like the same old Allison I’d always been. It shocked me and the girl holding scissors when I caught her gaze in the mirror and said “Actually, can you shave it?” I closed my eyes when I heard the clippers buzzing. When I opened them again, my hair was gone, and I felt like the same person. But I sure did look different.

And now, I’m growing my hair out. It tickles my collar bones when it’s down, gets caught in my bra straps and tank top straps sometimes. I have brown roots separating my weird, reddish brown messy hair from my scalp. Sometimes, when it won’t stay out of my face, I have the urge to get rid of it, go back to that super cute bob I had in high school. But I know I won’t. Because I haven’t let it be in such a long time; I haven’t let it grow since middle school.  I’m definitely not the person I was in middle school. But I’m also not the girl trying to escape her mother’s death, or the girl trying to shake an “are we, aren’t we?” stuck-in-limbo high school relationship, or the girl desperately waiting to get the hell out of her hometown and never look back, or the girl not knowing who she wanted people to see her as, or the girl wanting to be a different person entirely.

Who am I? I’m not entirely sure. But I know that I can’t forget what got me here, and that I don’t care what people see me as, and that changing my hair will not make me a different person. But it’s fun to pretend sometimes.

This summer, I think I want to be a beach bum with no responsibilities and no cares in the world. That, unfortunately, can’t happen. But I have an appointment with my stylist soon. I’m thinking blonde.

 

 

 

phone home

phone home

The past couple of weeks, I’ve had a lot of trouble focusing and feeling motivated to get anything done. The first week post-show is overwhelming because suddenly, I have so much free time. Unfortunately, I have spent the majority of that extra time lying in my bed, staring at the ceiling, with this heavy, sinking feeling in my chest. Eventually, in the middle of last week, a rush of emotions just hit me in the chest as I was sitting at dinner, and I had to scurry to my room before anyone saw the tears welling up. Tears, I can handle. I’m a crier; it doesn’t take much to make me tear up. But as I sat on my bed, crying, I felt panic rising up in my throat, and I knew that it would not be a normal cry, and that I would be hyperventilating soon if I didn’t calm down. But, that knowledge only freaked me out more. How do you talk yourself down when the thought of having to do so is causing you to panic even worse?

So I did the only thing that I could do, the only thing that made sense: I called Linda. Because I always call Linda and she always knows what to say to give me perspective, to calm me down, and to make me feel like I have some control over the situation. After crying to her about literally everything that has had me stressed out, she did exactly what I knew she would and told me all the important things I needed to hear. Ever since that conversation, I’ve found myself going back to what she said and I want to share the wisdom. There are 3 important things that I took away from our conversation.

  1. You are only this young once. She kept telling me: “You are only 20 years old. You do not have to have your entire life planned out, and even if you did, it wouldn’t matter because life never happens how you expect it to.” I know this better than most, but the reminder was needed and welcomed. While it is important to think about the future and do things to prepare, soon I will not have the freedom to do whatever I want whenever I want and I should take advantage of this freedom while I have it. Before I graduate and get a full time job and suddenly am a full-fledged adult with a bevy of responsibilities.
  2.    The worst time to make a decision is when you are upset or stressed out about a bunch of things at once. Focus on what’s the most important, and leave everything else be until you can devote the attention it needs to it. Sometimes, the best decision is no decision. Sometimes, you just have to wait it out and see how you feel about the situation when you’ve had some time to take care of other things and clear your head. It’s okay to push something to the back burner and not think about in order to prioritize bigger problems. You don’t have to deal with everything at once.
  3. If you love someone, you can’t try to change them. You can’t love who you want them to be, or who they could be, or who they are going to be someday. You have to love the person they are right now, without any exceptions. If you love them, you have to accept every part of them.

So, like I said, I was freaking out about everything. But Linda always knows what to say, and Linda is always right. Her advice has never led me astray before (and she’s been alive for like 700 years), so I feel pretty confident that she knows what she’s talking about. And by the time I hung up the phone, the panic and tears had subsided. I washed my face and did my homework, and everything was okay. And everything is okay. I feel better now. I just have to keep telling myself the things written above, and I feel okay.