When I think of “back to school,” I think of a marketing ploy that capitalizes on the societal need for a scholastic and mental reset button. What I’ve recently learned is that getting ready to begin another semester at Goshen College carries different connotations for everyone. From exhilarating memories of tearing it up on the lawn outside of the Kratz, Miller and Yoder Residence Halls, to pulling an all-nighter before a General Chemistry exam, to making unexpected new friends, Goshen has a certain flavor that usually holds both comforts and uncertainties.
I spent this past spring living off-campus finding both comforts and uncertainties — in Nicaragua. At a biological research station in a natural reserve sitting at the bottom of a volcanic crater lake, I worked as an intern. It was my job to take data on golden-mantled howler monkeys (Alouatta palliata) within the reserve, help with environmental education initiatives and take hostel guests on hikes in search of monkeys. I even got to help rehabilitate the cutest white-faced capuchin monkey.
Before deciding to take the semester off, I was feeling like I needed to get out into the world. I needed to see something different than a slushy Schrock plaza, lines for pizza at the Rott, and the grey that seems to permeate even a “good” Goshen winter. At the time, things that had previously been comforts seemed to become throbbingly boring consistencies, and the uncertainties of the semester felt like they weren’t the thought-provoking, growth-fomenting ones that I had been hoping for. Nicaragua gave me the sunshine and the perspective I was craving.
Although my semester abroad was, without question, exactly what I needed last spring, the decision to leave Goshen and travel was far from easy. I didn’t want to leave friends and wasn’t too excited about missing out on the many things that can happen in one semester. I
knew that nontraditional college paths were common, but also felt a stigma surrounding them: maybe those paths were taken because there was no other choice?
In retrospect, I see that it can be much the opposite. It definitely takes strength to know when it is time to stop and grab an opportunity to grow, rather than continue to stagnate. I made new friends, and then came back to the old ones with some new takes on life. I’m glad I made the decision I did.
I was also afraid the decision to take an unexpected sidestreet might appear like an unintentionally rebellious statement. Ultimately, the choice to have an experience in a different country, speak a different language and be with different people in order to be able to appreciate and soak up the Good of Goshen again was a good one. Throughout my time, I would often catch myself finding solace in the smallest of things that reminded me of home, while also savoring the fact that I was able to learn in a different way than a traditional lecture in Science 106. I even played the Mennonite game a few times and felt good about it.
Balancing comfort and uncertainty is challenging. Within our campus community, it is our responsibility to strive for growth and challenge inaction, but also to feel and make others feel fulfilled and loved along the way. I’m happy to be back participating in this world of students, professors and staff. You can’t find these particular comforts, discomforts, certainties and uncertainties anywhere else.