The Adventure Begins Now

My mom said to me, to offer some words of encouragement (I think) during my final semester of studying Civil Engineering, “you can see the light at the end of the tunnel…but in this case you’re the one building the tunnel.”

I was ready to graduate by the time I finished my junior year. After spending a year in Spain, a year of feeling like a real human being, I was not ready to go back to Cornell for another year. However, the fact that it was only one more year is what kept me going. While I’m proud to say that I have never in my life pulled an all-nighter (for academic purposes), but that doesn’t mean there weren’t times I walked (more like trudged) home from the engineering quad at 4 AM. With starting up a new engineering project team (Bridges to Prosperity), serving as President of Cornell Catholic, still volunteering through Alpha Phi Omega, surviving classes, applying for jobs, studying for the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, and spending time with friends whom I hadn’t seen in a year, I was constantly juggling many, many things. Not to mention getting sick three times in my last semester; a record for me.

So by the time graduation came around – let’s be honest, by Spring break I was more than ready to be done with school. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Cornell for the past four years (three years if you count when I took a year-long break from it). I love all that I’ve been able to experience and learn there, I love all the opportunities I’ve had, all the organization I’ve had the chance to be part of, many of the professors, TAs, and staff, and I love and miss all my friends very much. However, I can’t stand a constant schedule of prelims (exams) on top of regular classes and homework, most problem sets (Dynamics was the bane of my existence in the spring), and the pressure to not only do everything, but to simultaneously excel in everything. It’s an incredibly stressful environment and I’m always in awe of the people who spent all four years there, because I was only really there for three and I still at times thought I wasn’t going to make it.

Graduation weekend was so crazy with events (notice the title photo of a very rainy graduation ceremony), packing, saying goodbyes, making sure my parents didn’t get lost, and trying to enjoy my last bit of Ithaca, that I kept waiting for it to sink in that it was all finally over, but it never did. Instead it’s been happening very gradually with small realizations. For example, a few days ago I was telling someone about how Cornell makes its own ice cream and how delicious it is, but I stopped in the middle of a sentence because I realized that I won’t get to have Bavarian Raspberry Fudge for a really long time (it was the first flavor I ever tried and still my favorite).  And it really hit me when I was filling out the customs form just before arriving in Bolivia when my friend Joe reminded me to write ingeniero/a (Engineer) in the “occupation” field. I definitely freaked out a little bit with excitement.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all the crazy things I did in college, the adventures, the new experiences, the growth, the messiness, the uniqueness, the inspiring nature, and the beauty of it all. As my very wise friend Michaela said to me, it doesn’t feel so much like an ending, but more like a beginning. It’s the beginning of real life. So I’ve been thinking to myself: these past four years? All these amazing things that I’ve seen, done, and experienced?

This has only been the beginning.

Like, IT GETS EVEN BETTER!

Our whole lives people have asked us what we want to do and who we want to be, then we applied to colleges with our desired programs, picked a major, and worked our butts off for four years, often (and understandably) forgetting what the end goal was. And now we’re all finally going to do the things we’ve been saying we want to do for the last however many years! HOW EXCITING IS THAT!? In a world with so much talk and so little action it’s incredibly beautiful to see so many of my friends and peers setting out to make (and in many cases, have already made) a visible and tangible impact on society. Among those whom I admire greatly, I know people who are volunteering with the Peace Corps, studying robots that aid developmentally challenged children, building bridges, studying earthquake engineering, finding ways to make affordable food more accessible and nutritious, teaching high school AP science classes, becoming a nurse to help mothers and babies, studying theology and philosophy in pursuit of priestly ordination, teaching music, and teaching English as a second language to adult immigrants (many of whom are migrant farm workers from Mexico). That’s only to name a few. And on top of that, several of my friends will soon be getting married and I know they will be the example to show that two people can be joyfully (exuberantly!) committed to one another for the rest of their lives and to raise children to be selfless in this prideful world. I can’t wait to witness and celebrate their profession of love with them!

Michaela and I were lamenting about some (not all) adults we know seem to lead not terribly interesting lives and are very content with that, and we were worrying about ending up in the same situation but being unhappy with it, because we love adventure and travel and always trying new things. But then we had an epiphany. We can still be responsible working adults and still have amazing adventures and do cool things. Perhaps it won’t be quite as straightforward because we’ll have jobs and families, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do what we love. Instead it’ll be us and our families instead of traveling going solo, or it’ll be adventures on a slightly smaller scale, or we’ll be changing scenery once or twice a year instead of what for the past four years has seemed like every few months. I always think of my AP Euro teacher Mrs. Hals and her family, our EWB/B2P Professional Engineering mentor Johann, and the Spanish family whose children I taught English to last year, because all of them lead “normal” lives, but they still find the time to do some really cool things in some really cool places.

You don’t need to have a foreign passport, or make a lot of money, or speak another language, or I don’t even know what else. You just have to keep your eyes open for the opportunities, be persistent in working towards them, and when the times comes, take the leap.

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Still relevant!

To all the graduates, thank you for an unforgettable college experience. Though I already dearly miss living a few minutes away from each other, I am beyond ecstatic to see all the incredible things you all accomplish, all the setbacks you overcome, and all the joyous occasions you encounter. You are amazing.

Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam.

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FAQ Part II

During this time of transition from studying in Spain to moving back and starting my summer internship on The Hill, much like last year I’ve been getting a sínfin of questions, so I figured a Part II would be appreciated.

What was the biggest difference in Spain?

If we’re not counting the foreign language part, the biggest adjustment was actually their daily schedule. Eating lunch at 3 PM and dinner at 10 PM with my host family for the first two weeks was a struggle. One day I forgot to bring a snack for the morning and during the last half hour of class I could barely focus or speak because my stomach hurt so much. (So how millions of children manage to go to school without breakfast every day, I have no idea). Once I moved into my own apartment it wasn’t so bad but I still had class until 2 so there was no way around that. After 10 months though I still don’t feel like eating lunch until 1 PM at the earliest, and I’ll eat dinner closer to 8. Never at 10 PM. Never again. Oh, and pretty much everything was closed 2-4 every day and all day on Sundays and I kept forgetting until I would walk up to a closed shop.

What was your favorite part?

This could go in a million different directions. Favorite city: Santander (might be biased). Favorite place to visit: wherever I have family (Dublin, Northampton, Paris, etc.) ((again, might be biased)). Favorite trip: spending two weeks during Christmas with my aunt and uncle in England. Favorite trip not to see family: Rome (probably because it was during Holy Week…biased?). Favorite trip not during Holy Week: I was very happily surprised by Krákow. Favorite tourist site: La Sagrada Familia, which is what originally inspired me to become an architect (then turned civil engineer). Favorite thing I learned: Spanish (of course). Favorite Spanish food: croquetas. Favorite non-Spanish food: this one particular brand of hummus. Favorite store: Primark. Favorite part of living in Spain: First, that I was much much closer to my extended family, so I was able to visit more often. Second, life is truly less stressful. People thoroughly understand the need to balance work and relaxation.

What was the most difficult part?

Trying to get anything done logistically. E.g. voting from abroad, opening a bank account, getting a class approved, applying for internships from abroad, etc. I’ll be writing a whole other post on this, just you wait.

What did you miss the most from the U.S.?

Honestly, probably my dog. I was able to stay in touch with my friends and family (probably more so than when I’m at Cornell because I had much more free time and flexibility in Spain) but my dog isn’t smart enough to recognize that the noise coming from the phone or the face on the screen is any sort of living being. Granted, the same goes for when I’m at Cornell, but normally I’m home for a month at Christmas, so it was just a long stretch of time without seeing him at all.

What was the hardest part about leaving?

María. 100%. (If you’re unfamiliar with the name, I also call her my niña, my Spanish mini-me, and the coolest 12-year-old I’ve ever met. She shares my affinity for baking, sea otters and platypodes, foreign languages, the color purple, and chocolate).

Are you fluent now?

Officially, no; technically, close enough. According to the international standard for fluency (set by Cambridge for English, Instituto Cervantes for Spanish) I am currently at level C1 in Spanish, which is normally labeled “proficient,” whereas C2 would be considered “fluent.” I actually decided to take the C1 exam in NYC last week, so if I pass I’ll get my Spanish certificate, which is really just a more official way of saying “yo hablo español” and will hopefully help me out if I apply for jobs in other (possibly Spanish-speaking) countries. BUT if by “fluent” you mean “can you read the entire Harry Potter series in Spanish?” the answer is yes. Many people laughed or gave me weird looks when I mentioned that I’ve been re-reading HP in Spanish, but look who has a kick-butt vocabulary now!

Does that mean you’re bilingual?

Now instead of speaking two languages, or even one and a half, I feel like I don’t fully speak either anymore haha. One time I was writing an email and I wrote “I standed” and, truth be told, I would never have noticed anything wrong if that red underline hadn’t shown up. Even so, it took me a solid minute of wracking my brain to figure out why it was considered incorrect. Also, a lot of bilingual people will remember a word in one language but not the other. This has happened to me before, but sometimes I can’t think of the word in either language. However, there is also the increasingly frequent occasion in which I feel like the Spanish word actually expresses what I want to say better than the English, even if there’s technically a direct translation. So honestly, I don’t even know…

Have you dreamt in Spanish?

Yes, but my level of comprehension and speaking is exactly the same as it is in real life. I still have to think a little more when I want to say something and I still make some mistakes.

Are you now going to be one of those annoying people who randomly drops foreign words in casual conversation?

Yes. Hopefully not all the time, but yes. My sincerest apologies.

Are you excited for the upcoming year?

Except for the part about being really stressed out about classes, absolutely! Even though my year abroad in Bolivia and Spain is over, I am no less excited for what’s to come because even if it’s not in the extranjero, it will be no less of an adventure and a challenge.

What are you doing this summer?

I am the Architectural/Structural intern for Cornell Facilities Engineering! This means that I help perform and check calculations, check that designs are up to date with the most recent safety codes, inspect roofs, explore places that I wouldn’t be allowed to go otherwise, update measurements on official drawings, and write up Quick Responses (recommendations for smaller scale repairs). I LOVE my job and if I could forgo my last year of classes and just continue working there until I graduate I absolutely would.

What do you do at your job?

Within Cornell FE is the Architectural/Structural team made up of seven people (including me) and my job is to provide support for whatever projects are underway at any given moment. I draw up plans, update existing ones, help with surveying land, perform calculations (e.g. check how many bolts we need, what size, and how far apart), double check others’ calcs, write up Quick Responses (analysis summaries and repair instructions for smaller scale things), and this week I was entrusted with supervising a concrete pour in making checking the specifications of the mix, placing curing blankets correctly, observing any bumps in the road (figuratively, not literallly), and taking notes and photos of everything.

Do you like your job?

No, I LOVE it. There are always so many different projects happening at once that it’s never boring and I get to spend 30-50% of my time on site visits, inspections, etc. So it’s a 9-5 job (actually 8-4:30 but close enough) but I get to spend so much time out and about and interacting with other people, which I love. The vast majority of my coworkers are adult males, and until last week I was the only female on my team. I think throwing in a 21-year-old female college student really spices  up the mix, especially during our section meetings, because everyone tells me they love the “energy and enthusiasm” I bring. And the homemade baked goods of course 😉

How is being back at Cornell after so long?

It’s definitely a little weird, in part because I keep saying “last year” referring to sophomore year and I completely forget that there existed a year at Cornell between then and now. But it’s actually mostly due to the fact that it’s summer so there are very few people around, I’m not taking classes at odd hours of the day, I’m living in a new place (love that too), I’m not constantly stressed out, and it’s consistently warm. So it looks like Cornell, but doesn’t really feel like Cornell. Regardless, I’m really glad to be back and have the opportunity to enjoy all the great outdoorsy things Ithaca has to offer; something so often overlooked amidst the craziness of semesters and lost in the freeze of winter.

What do you plan to do once you graduate?

Normally when I try to think about this I end up with a headache.

Well, what are some options you’re considering?

Getting my masters (even though the thought of more stress school after graduation makes my stomach churn), volunteering with the Peace Corps, taking a gap year to volunteer in some other way, getting a regular job in the U.S. (not in NYC), working in Europe for a bit (I just applied for my Irish passport), or working in Chile for a bit (I have family there and am technically a citizen anyway). But I won’t be meeting with my advisor until August sooooo no one really knows right now.

Do you still want to be a missionary?

Yes. Whether I end up finding a way to do mission work (e.g. what we did in Bolivia except not necessarily a bridge and not necessarily in Bolivia) full time or if I work a normal job for most of the year and take time off to do mission work, at this point at least, it’s still what I see myself doing with my life.

I hope that’s an adequate update on my life’s shenanigans. If you’re in Ithaca let me know, I’ll be here ’til Christmas pretty much, and if you’re in Florida…welp I won’t be back until Christmas. Hasta luego!