It’s far from original for a college student to call himself busy, but for years it was the first word I used to describe myself. Then, I left my hectic life for a semester and had to find new ways to see myself.

I spent last semester in a program called the Oregon Extension. It is an accredited college program but was far different from the rest of my college experience.

The O.E. campus is located in the mountains of Southern Oregon. We lived in cabins heated by wood stoves. We looked at authors from philosopher Michel Foucault to novelist Dave Eggers, studying each book one at a time and taking the time to read them cover to cover.

The slow pace of O.E. life stands in stark contrast to my experience at Goshen College. While my friends at Goshen were busy with the Saint Plays and finals, I handwrote letters, baked bread and photographed the mountain scenery.

This setting not only took away the busyness I used to describe myself. It also gave me space to think.

Some of the things I learned from this were not exactly earth shattering.

It turns out that I go a little crazy if I go too long without playing music (my cabinmates got used to seeing me vigorously air-drumming); I’m happier when animals are around (thankfully the O.E. has dogs, cats and horses); and I am hopelessly addicted to Wikipedia (on days we went into town, I would go to coffee shops to download Wiki pages onto my laptop).

I made more significant discoveries. My biggest surprise was finding that underneath the cynicism I have honed throughout college, I have a kernel of optimism.

I found myself coming to believe that people are good, that the human condition is not a curse but something to be celebrated. I believe that life is, as one author put it, “beautiful and meaningful.”

This probably sounds naïve. Yet, these ideas came in the midst of studying some of the most hopeless situations in human history: the Holocaust, the Israel-Palestine conflict and slavery. I came to these ideas in part by reading about people who lived through these events and remained human.

Now that I’m back at Goshen, I’m as busy as I ever was. But the difference is that I know that what I do isn’t who I am. There is more to me than my crammed schedule. It may have taken a semester at the Oregon Extension to teach me this, but it will take more than a few months for me to forget it.

Paul Boers is a senior communication major from Elkhart.