5 signs you’re at the right school


Choosing a college was stressful, challenging, and one of the biggest decisions I have ever made. As a 17-year-old, there weren’t many things that I decided for myself. This was that first chance at independence, at freedom, at living your own life. I am obsessed with the school I chose (The University of Michigan), and I’m going to share with you, as a graduating senior, 5 signs you know you’re at the right school.

  1. When you walk through campus and smile at how beautiful it is

lawI fell in love with Ann Arbor – with the way the Diag opens up to every building on campus, and how the snow looked in the Law Quad. I fell in love with how happy people looked relaxing in the Arb, and how the city is a sea of maize and blue on game days. Over the years, little bits and pieces of Ann Arbor became home to me. When I am walking to class on the first warm day of Spring, I can’t help but smile because I believe that I live on the most beautiful college campus.

  1. 2. When you find a group of people who make you feel at home

When I think of my college experience, I define it by an organization called Camp Kesem. group.jpg This is a nonprofit run by students at chapters across the country that offers a free week-long summer camp for kids affected by a parent’s cancer. This org has not only shaped my career path, but it has given me the community that I have called my family the past four years. Having a community of peers who understand and care is the greatest gift I have received from my time as a Wolverine. I could not begin to fathom my college career without Kesem.

  1. When you think of what your life would be like if you went to a different college, and literally cannot imagine what type of person you would be
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stadium.jpgI am from Louisiana, and pretty much every student from my small Catholic high school went to one of two colleges in the state. I was one of very few (like literally 6, I think) students who went to a college out-of-state. This was a huge deal for me. I’d never lived away from my parents or my friends, and I knew practically nothing about Ann Arbor. Now, as a senior, I cannot imagine what my life would be like if I had gone to college in Louisiana. I would not be the person I am today, nor would my career path look the same.

  1. 4. When you go home for breaks and miss your friends and being at school

My parents live in North Carolina, so going home for breaks is far, and they last too long. I love spending time with my family, but usuallytour.jpg after a few days at home, I cannot wait to get back. I text my roommates and friends constantly, making plans for what we will do when we’re back. This is the most obvious way that I knew I was going to the right school.

  1. When you’re about to graduate, and you can’t imagine your life anywhere besides here

Graduation is creeping up on me, and my emotions are all over. I cannot imagine living anywhere else, because Ann Arbor has become my home the last four years. grad.jpgChoosing to go to UofM was an incredibly hard decision, but it is by far the best decision I have ever made. I’m so grateful for the friends I’ve made and the memories I’ve had here. I love it so much, I decided to stick around a little longer to receive my Master’s of Social Work. A2 can’t get rid of me quite yet.

 

photo by jeremymitnick.com

This article was written for ScholarshipPoints Campus Life. You can see my article and contributor page here.

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Looking back on the year


And with that last Canvas submission I have completed my junior year of my undergraduate career. Recently I have been really, really scared. “The real world” is right around the corner, and I have very little confidence in the direction my life is headed. But on top of being scared, I have also been thinking a lot about how amazing this past year has been. A lot of things happened. Some were good, some bad – some amazing.

If you’ve ever read my blog posts or seen my Facebook or talked to me for more than like 20 seconds, I have most likely talked about Camp Kesem in some way or another. Have I tried to get you to donate? Probably. I am rounding out my second year as a Development Coordinator for Camp Kesem at UofM this summer, and it has been a wild and rewarding ride. As of last weekend, we have raised over $100,000 for camp this summer. That is almost all of our 210 campers, and it’s only April.

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I’ve met truly met my people through this organization. Like classic Grey’s Anatomy “my person” type of person, except there’s several of them and I cannot be more thankful that I have these incredible humans to travel the rest of my crazy life journey with by my side.

We’ve had our up’s and down’s this year. There were so many successes that came along with their fair share of failures. There were tears. There was laughter. There was love and loss – but I wouldn’t choose anyone else to go through all of this with. I know for sure that no matter where I end up after graduation next May, I will always look back on this incredible group of people as my people and the most inspiring and loving human beings. Thank you for teaching me what I am worth. Thank you for loving me and teaching me how to love.

I really began to find my passions this year. I served as a group leader for a course called Project Outreach in the Psychology department where I spent my second semester in a row going to Monroe County Youth Center every week to lead art workshops for the juveniles in detention there. From this course, I received an internship with the Washtenaw County Juvenile Court and spent this past semester helping to start a creative arts workshop for the juveniles on probation in this county as well as working alongside probation officers in the sexual offender treatment program at the court. I can really see myself doing this kind of work for the rest of my life, and that is the most confident I have ever felt in anything about my career probably ever.

In addition to all of this, I have traveled to some pretty amazing places this year. I spent a month traveling around Europe with two of my best friends. We visited 9 different countries in less than 29 days, and it was absolutely incredible. We had a bonfire in a valley town in the Swiss Alps. We swam in the Italian Riviera in the most picturesque coastline towns in Italy. We picnicked with wine and baguette sandwiches under the lights of the Eiffel Tower. We casually saw the Queen and the Royal Family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. We learned how to make sangria and Paella in Barcelona. It was the most amazing month, and I still talk about it almost every day.

I spent a pretty awesome week on a cruise with my family and my grandparents in the Caribbean. We zip lined over a water park in Costa Maya. We swam with dolphins in Cozumel. My dad, sister and I spent a way too long day shopping in Belize City. I practiced my Spanish to perfection after snorkeling all day in the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef (the largest Barrier Reef system in the world)!

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I took a cross-country road trip with my best friend and showed her everything from my home state. We ate so much food our stomachs were in so much pain. We drank hurricanes on Bourbon Street and Cajun danced our hearts away.

I could go on and on about the incredible things I’ve done this year, but most importantly, I have made new friends and traveled the world and learned to cope with loss and grow from it. I have learned so much about my abilities, my passions and myself as a person. I look forward to my summer – an internship at a really awesome Detroit-based organization and traveling the state with my friends. Cheers to another year of learning and loving and exploring!

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On Beautifying my Heart


•ŸWherever you go, may people always recognize you have a beautiful heartŸ•

The other night I was at my friend’s house spending some nice, quiet quality time away from the hustle and bustle of finals and planning meetings and the constant moving that our lives have become. We were discussing our plans. She is graduating in a few weeks. I am moving into my final year of my undergraduate degree. Those constant questions of “so what are you going to do?” are coming from every direction. As an actual perpetrator of the situation, I asked her that exact question. And her answer started a conversation that made me so comfortable with my own answer – “I don’t really know.” I don’t really know and that’s okay.

We spoke of the world of opportunities sitting in front of us. And how we are not required to take one or the other. Referencing the quote above, I realize that I want to have a beautiful heart no matter what I do. This friend probably has one of the most beautiful hearts I know, and that is what I want. Whether I am in grad school, traveling the world, moving across the country or across the world – I want people to see my heart.

Yeah, I’m proficient in Microsoft Word and I can list all the jobs and responsibilities I’ve had, but what I want my coworkers, my friends, my clients, my dentist, and, hopefully, my children to see is my heart – that I love so deeply and so passionately. I want them to see that I am focused on loving and on the betterment of myself while bettering the lives of others. That is why I chose Social Work, after all. I can sincerely be the change that I want to see in the world by treating every person I come in contact with with respect, love and support.

There’s no need to plan out every detail of my future. A “Five Year Plan” is great in theory, but it will lead to disappointment or stress (or both). Yeah, I may end up in grad school after I graduate. I may take a year off. I may take a year in grad school. I may take two or more. I will do what I feel is best for me at the time, but through all of it, I will continue beautifying my heart – free it of stress and pain. Free it of the anger and burdens of the past. Because as my favorite singer, Taylor Swift, said, “And I now believe that walking through a lot of rainstorms gets you clean.”

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Special shout-out to KitKat: I love you and our conversations, whether on your couch or under the stars in Fenton. You are forever beautiful and I am so blessed to call you a friend. ♥

 

On My Second Family


I was blessed enough to be able to spend this past weekend at Camp Kesem’s National Summit. I was even more blessed to be at our own campsite with over 430 amazing student leaders and alongside eight of my truly incredible co-coordinators. If you’ve spent more than ten minutes with me, I’ve probably mentioned Camp Kesem in some aspect. We’re a national nonprofit organization with 73 chapters at universities across the country. We offer free summer camp to kids whose parents have been affected by cancer.

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My journey with Kesem began my freshman year of college at the University of Michigan. My mom had just been diagnosed with breast cancer, and I moved halfway across the country from her. I came to Ann Arbor feeling very alone in more ways than one, and the first few months of my freshman year were a lot of tears and worry…and that’s when Camp Kesem came along.

I saw a table for Kesem at our involvement fair my freshman year, and the rest is history. I fell in love. The students in this group were unlike people I had ever met before – they were so welcoming, so loving, so open. Fast forward three years later, and I am serving my second year on the Coordinator board for our chapter, with ambitious goals for the future of the organization.

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This weekend was a time for me to take a step back from seeing Kesem everyday as just another meeting I had to go to and see the way that this organization worked on a national level. I spoke to coordinators from chapters all over the country at tons of different universities. I was able to hear from the amazing woman who started Camp Kesem back in 2000. I heard talks from some really incredible fundraisers and organizers of the organization.

Every minute of Summit was more and more incredibly useful information and wisdom that I cherished every second of. Saturday night, one of my co-coordinators and I were walking across the huge camp field back to our cabin and decided to stop and look at the stars for a minute – being out in the middle of nowhere can have its benefits. We sat on the grass for a good half hour talking about Kesem and how incredibly thankful we are for its presence in our lives. We spoke of our hopes and dreams; we spoke of our fears. We shared our fears of being that person who got that horrible news some day down the road (both of our mothers having battled with cancer). We shared our fears of the ugly truth that we would know so, so many kids who would need Kesem in the future. We shared the ugly truth of the future.

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It was that night and this past weekend that made me realize just how much this organization has changed me. In a camp video that an incredible videographer (shout out to Lightning) made a few years ago, the song in it is This = Love by The Script. Ever since seeing that video, that song is constantly such a perfect representation of Kesem for me. The lyrics of the chorus are as follows:

Love is why we do it
Love is worth the pain
Love is why we fall down
And get back up again
Love is where the heart lies
Love is from above
Love is this, this is love

And that is what Kesem is. Kesem is love. Kesem is magic. Camp Kesem was and is the light in my darkest times. Camp Kesem is the reason I stay strong and the reason I stay happy.

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If you’re interested in helping me to reach my fundraising goal of $1,000, please donate here or ask me how you can donate in other ways. Thank you.  ♥

On Culture and It’s Absence in History Textbooks


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I feel as if a lot of my posts recently have been focused on topics discussed in my Social Work class this past semester. I guess that means it’s something I’m really interested in? Well, here is another video we watched in class and discussed. It is a poem by Fong Tran entitled “History Textbooks.” (The lyrics to the poem can be read here).

This poem focuses on the way history is presented to us in school. As a Native American, I’ve always been underwhelmed with the information about my culture taught in History classes.

“Eurocentric euphuisms like West expansion/Exploration, Manifest Destiny, and Spreading Democracy/Are just tactful translations from truth as/Slave trade, colonists, imperialism”

This whole idea has always been difficult to grasp. I loved History. It was always one of my favorite subjects in school. I thought it was captivating and so interesting. I still do. I love learning about past events, leaders, and movements. Until seeing this video in class, I could not realize why I never felt completely satisfied with my History education.

“History textbooks are written like/ A bad version of Lord of the Rings/ and I’ve been bored since the first book/ America is Frodo Baggins/ Uncle Sam if Gandalf/ And the evil Sauron/ Is made out to be every youth of color/ With a hoodie, Skittles and iced tea/ Or a man or woman/ In a turban or hijab/ Or someone with a family crest on his chest/Mistaken as a gang-related tattoo.”

After high school, I moved to a completely different region of the country to a pretty diverse school (At least more diverse than my high school…or my entire hometown). As I started to meet people from different racial backgrounds, religions, cultures and ways of life, I was struck with a realization that I was so incredibly ignorant. I knew nothing about other religions. I knew nothing about other countries or what their governments or daily lives were like. Ever since I moved, it has been a constant learning experience. I learned more about history from personal interactions than I ever did from sitting in a History class.

“Please tell my young students that/ Vietnamese people/ My people/ My History is more than 2 textbook pages about a war/ But we’re a culture/ A Peoples/ A Way of Life…We must reclaim the history that has yet been told to us”

As long as you are white and male, American History sounds like a pretty great time. If you’re a woman: a little bit less. If you’re a person of color: forget it! If someone had come up to me in high school and asked, “Sydney, tell me something about Vietnamese Americans. What about Hispanic Americans? What about Indian Americans?” I definitely would not have been able to list more than one or two things, and those things would have all most likely been about wars or something negative about those countries and their difficulties with the U.S. I want to hear the stories of these Americans. They are American just as I am. We claim to be a “melting pot,” but we forget that if we are going to use that title, we have to remember the reasons we became that. I want to hear about American History. I don’t want to hear only about the History of White Americans with a little bit of other cultures sprinkled in. Because that is not the truth.

“If you do not tell your stories, and write down your own histories, then someone else will. And I’m not saying it’s the man, but that someone is usually really white. Really old. And Really male. And the alphabet soup at the end of his name: Ph.D. confuses him. Confuses what he understands to be fact is really just an glorified opinion.”

So take this in. Recall what you were taught and what you were not. I am so beyond thankful that I have had the opportunities to learn from personal interactions over the past two years. I am so incredibly thankful that I have been able to have open dialogues about culture, race, power and privilege. I encourage you to write your own history. Think about your ancestry and your culture. You are more than just a by-product of a society of white males. Write your stories. Share your stories. We hold so much power in the ability that we have to speak, interact and share. Learn about the people you spend your time with, and let them learn about you.

“We will write our own stories, we will make our own histories upon canvas, upon page, upon walls, upon minds.”

An Open Letter to College Freshmen


You did it! You finished high school!

Doesn’t it feel weird? I remember after graduating I just kept thinking of when I was little and the age 16 sounded so old, and then I was 18, holding a high school diploma. It’s a lot to process. You’re probably just ready for summer so you can stop thinking about exams and AP classes and everything else, and good for you! Celebrate! This is a huge milestone in your life! You’ll never graduate from high school again!

You’ve only got a few months until you move to college! If you’re anything like me, you are a whole tangled mess of emotions: excited, nervous, anxious, terrified, happy all at once. It’s a strange time, but soak up every minute of it, because it’ll be gone before you know it.

I’m sure you’ve got a lot of questions and worries about your first year.  I thought I would try to answer some of those questions, or really just give the advice I have for your first year at University.

  1. Be careful about the whole early morning class thing. You may think at first, “Hey. I woke up at 6 AM in high school. I can wake up at 7 AM in college.” No.  Just don’t. It’s going to cause you to talk yourself into skipping way too often.
  1.  Join clubs. I know it’s nerve-racking, especially if you’re at a school really far away from home like I was, but you will not regret it. I promise. There’s usually some sort of festival or exhibition of clubs on campus at the beginning of each semester.  Go to that. Look around. You’re bound to find something you’re interested in.
  1. Do all of the cheesy, traditional freshman things at your University. You will definitely regret it if you don’t. (For example, at my university, students paint a big boulder on campus for their clubs or groups. One of the best experiences ever.)
  1. Try new things. That’s incredibly cliché to say, but it’s so necessary. I know you’re going to want things to make you feel as comfortable as high school, but they’re not going to, so just take the leap and try some different things.  (I tried Thai food for the first time this year. I fell in love with it, and spent way too much money on it the rest of the year)
  1. Don’t be afraid to do things alone. I think that was one of the hardest things for me to do. I never wanted to walk anywhere alone or go to meetings alone, but I forced myself to. I eventually got to the point that I liked eating alone better than with people sometimes.  I would even go to Michigan Theater by myself to see movies sometimes. Give yourself that chance to be independent and the time alone to think. You’ll learn a lot.
  1. Go see new places. This sort of goes along with #4, but I think this is so important. I went to school in a state that I had never been to before for University, this opened a world of opportunity for me to travel around and see things I’d never seen before. During my first semester, my roommate and I decided to go to Chicago for a day. We took a Megabus at 5:00 in the morning, and didn’t get back until 1:00 the next morning. That was one of the best experiences ever. It was so different to be exploring a city without parents or adults. Do that. Go see things you’ve never seen and visit cities you’ve never been to.
  1. Don’t forget about home. I know it’s so super exciting to be away from your parents! They can’t tell you what to do anymore! You can make your own decisions now! Just remember that your family is important. They are so important. Call your mom and dad. Send letters or postcards home. They want you to be independent just as much as you want to be, but they are still the reason that you made it this far. Thank your parents for their support (and for shelling out the money for you to do this). You may be surprised how much you’ll miss them. [I called home crying asking to come home for Thanksgiving because I missed them so much after a month or so].
  1. Have fun, but be safe and don’t lose sight of the reason you’re there! It’s not an exaggeration when people say that college is the time of your life.  You’re paying a lot of money to go to college, so live it up. It’s important to do these exciting new things, and figure out the world for yourself, but it’s also important to remember the reason you’re there. You’re there to learn. It’s called higher education for a reason. There will be a lot of work. Don’t blow off the work to go to a party. On the contrary, go to parties and events and festivals. Be safe with your drinking, though! (Always pour your own drink and don’t leave it sitting anywhere! Make sure you have friends with you just in case something goes wrong or you get into a bad situation! Also, don’t get busted by the cops! It’s not a fun time!)

That’s about all I have, but remember to enjoy your time there. Four years will fly by, as I’m sure you learned from high school. These will be the best years of your life, so soak up every moment of it. College is such an important time of your life. You can do so many things in college that you’ll never have the chance to do again. So, seize those opportunities, take risks, be open-minded, and learn about yourself and others. Good luck, and get ready for the best time of your life.

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On hoMesickness and its effects


A year ago, I made a crazy decision to leave my hometown and move to a place I’d only visited once to go to school. I am constantly asked why would I even think of choosing to go to the University of Michigan when I grew up in Louisiana. I have yet to have a good answer to that question. At first, I would try to make up some logical explanation for my decision. Now, after completing an entire year as a student in Ann Arbor, I still don’t have a reason for my decision, but I do have so much proof as to why it was the best decision I have ever made.

It’s been a long year, but so much has happened in that year that it’s felt like it’s been ten. I remember my first day at Michigan, after my parents dropped me off at my dorm and left…I was terrified. I didn’t know anything about this city. I did not know a single person in this city. The only people I “knew” were my two roommates who weren’t moving in for another three days. Those three days were horrible. I barely left my room. I watched a lot of Netflix and cried a lot. I ate a lot of Ramen to avoid having to try to find my way to West Quad. (Boy, did I not realize how well I would know how to get to West Quad later). Finally, my roommates moved in, and all of that worry quickly started to dissolve away.

Those first few months were hard. We were all incredibly homesick. I just wanted to talk to someone about something familiar. It is absolutely the strangest and unexplainable feeling to be somewhere with people who didn’t know anything about your past or where you came from. It is so crazy to be somewhere where there is no one familiar anywhere. Despite the homesickness, I had started making new friends, and I loved it. These people were definitely different than everyone back home, but I loved that. It was so cool learning about different parts of the country (and even the world). The rest of the year was crazy, all because I was putting myself out there and trying things that I wouldn’t have tried if I were at a school back home.

This year was insane. I started my own chapter of a non-profit on campus with girls who I now consider my closest friends. I joined a different non-profit to become a camp counselor for kids who had gone through the same crappy stuff I had gone through. I took a bus to Chicago with my roommate to see a show and get lost downtown because screw public transportation. I sang karaoke at the top of my lungs until one in the morning at a sketchy karaoke place in downtown Ann Arbor with some of my closest friends. I traveled all over the Midwest and all the way down to South Carolina for tournaments with a sports team made up of people that I consider my second family and who I would give anything for.

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I can remember at the beginning of my journey as a Wolverine, I heard other out-of-state students telling me, “You’re going to be homesick now, but wait until the end of the year – you’re never going to want to go home.” I didn’t believe them. I missed my friends and my family and my dog and I could not imagine feeling like staying in Michigan instead of going home. Man, was I wrong. The last three weeks were consumed of the overwhelming sadness that in such a short time, I would be going back to North Carolina for three months and that that was very far from all of my friends. I started to realize that for three months, I wasn’t going to wake up in the same room as two of my best friends or fall asleep after giggling over Tumblr posts or YouTube videos with them until three in the morning. For the next three months, I didn’t have Quidditch practice or parties to look forward to (Who am I kidding? I never went to practice). For three months, I was going to have to work on Friday nights instead of eat pizza and watch Doctor Who with two girls who understand me better than anyone else.

But after being sad because of all of this, I realized that it was going to feel so good to come back to Ann Arbor in August. So, to end all things like they should be ended…with a Harry Potter reference:

“It feels strange to be going home, doesn’t it?”

“I’m not going home. Not really.”

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So, until August, Ann Arbor and everyone in it. I’ll be counting down the days until I am hoMe.