It’s hard for me to believe that this time last year I was nestled in the southern Oregonian woods without cell phone service, a TV or wifi, and just one computer with dial-up for 25 people to share. Woods, a pond, horses, old logging roads, kitchens, books and curious comrades… oh, life was good. My longing for the return of those simple days has yet to dissipate.

Growing up in southeastern Pennsylvania, I’ve always wished for the opportunity to study out west. Yet being tied down by financial help from my parents and other factors, I’ve landed at this midwestern Mennonite college. Thus, after participating in the Oregon Extension program in fall 2010, a dream came true for me.

During the semester, I lived in a small cottage with three other women from Eastern Mennonite University, Hope College and St. Olaf University. Our daily lives were much different from those of most students on college and university campuses. During the week we had class from 9 to 10:30 a.m., followed by another hour and a half of small group discussions with other OE students and one professor.

Every three weeks we took a holiday. The first was a backpacking trip to the Sierras, just north of Yosemite National Park in California. The second was a weekend excursion to the Oregon coast, a time to become enamored with the incredibly lively waters (especially compared to the Atlantic Ocean of my childhood), tell stories around a campfire and live in a yurt. The last was a trip to San Francisco where we stayed in a hostel. There we were given free rein to explore wherever we desired.

In retrospect, life at OE always seems most ideal. There was time to cook and experiment with recipes, as well as a significant amount of time for reflection on writing. The lifestyle embodied unity and balance versus compartmentalizing and prioritizing. Letters were handwritten to friends and family afar, spontaneous conversations with professors happened at any time of the day, candles were permitted and each housing unit was only heated by a wood stove. Most weekends were free of homework and horses were available for riding and nurturing any time. My list of the aspects of OE life that I appreciated so much goes on.

It was by no means an easy semester away, but the challenges, critical questions, contemplation times, conversations, lessons, tears and laughter are blessings I still dwell on daily. For that, I am truly grateful to Oregon Extension for offering me a semester of respite and an incredibly unique way to be in the world.