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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Reverse Culture Shock

  • 285 days
  • 23 flights
  • 10 months
  • 9 countries
  • 8 languages
  • 7 engineering classes
  • 5 niños
  • 4 Cantabria students
  • 3 Cornell students
  • 2 incredibly supportive parents who made this all possible
  • 1 long year of trying to mentally prepare myself to come back

Tuesday starts classes and, along with it, the real reverse culture shock.

In Spain, university is a little different. For one, we only had two weeks off for Christmas break, we came back and had class for another week and a half, and then had exams until the end of January. After my last exam I remember walking home and having that strange but pleasant realization that I don’t have anything in particular that I have to write or calculate or hand in on a certain date at a certain time; of having a seemingly infinite amount of free time, if only for a short while. But somehow I was lacking that usual feeling of great relief that I would always experience while walking out of my last final at the end of a semester at Cornell, as if someone removed all the cinderblocks sitting on top of me and I could finally take a deep breath for the first time since school began. It wasn’t that I thought I had done poorly on my exams and I was worried (in fact quite the opposite, as the Cantabria courses were quite a bit simpler than Cornell’s), but rather that this time, I suddenly realized, I hadn’t even been holding my breath in the first place.

If I had to choose one instance to characterize my experience abroad, at least academically, it would be this.

In Spain I was not constantly tired and I would get stressed out almost exclusively during finals. And even then, only moderately. And even then, not for all of them. In Spain there was almost never any uselessly tedious or overly theoretical homework. The professors took the time to answer questions and only one (out of thirteen) got annoyed with the frequency of mine. In Spain no one was downing cups and cups of coffee to squeeze in one more problem or one more essay before the crack of dawn. No one was comparing their grades with their classmates or beating themselves up for getting a 9 instead of a 10. No one was fretting over their next internship or their GPA or their extracurriculars or their E-board position. They didn’t fill every waking moment with something scheduled, and instead of just working through lunch they actually took a break to go eat something. In Spain they made spending time with friends and family a priority. In Spain I felt balanced; I felt like a real person.

In Spain. But I’m not in Spain anymore. I’m at Cornell, where one of the smart alecky students would probably tell me “all of that is the reason for Spain’s current suffering economy” (that is false, please go take an economics class), “Spaniards are just lazy like that” (also false, please go meet some working Spaniards), or “that’s why Spain isn’t as productive as the U.S.” This last one is actually true, and when one Spaniard said this to me, my response was “so what?” Productivity isn’t everything. If we can cure all diseases and live to be a hundred and fifty but its a century and a half of being overworked and overstressed without the joys of leisure, art, or simply doing things for fun, I will gladly opt for the shorter, happier life.

Perhaps this type of high-pressure, high-stress, and highly competitive environment is just an American thing. Or maybe an Ivy League thing. Or an engineering thing. Or solely an American Ivy League engineering thing. Whatever it is, if this mentality is considered the pinnacle of education and what every school should strive to be, I am more than slightly concerned with where our priorities lie.

While I am incredibly excited to see all my friends, continue working with my Engineers Without Borders team, lead the Cornell Catholic Community, continue volunteering with Alpha Phi Omega, and take advantage of all the amazing opportunities Cornell’s campus has to offer, I have never been so ready to finish school. Don’t misunderstand me: it’s not senioritis, I love to learn and always will. It’s simply that I love to feel like a real human being even more.

Spain (in combination with Bolivia last summer) gave me the opportunity to take one giant step back and look at my life, the world, and their intersection, as a whole, with infinitely greater clarity. After getting so caught up in the minute and insignificant details for a couple of years, I was reminded who I began doing this for in the first place, and thankfully that alone is enough to get me through this final year.

Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam