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The endless transition loop

| Monday, November 4, 2019

October means football and Halloween, the change of leaves and the all-too-quick transition from sweatshirt to jacket to parka.

And, on a campus where 75% of students study abroad, the month of October is also #studyabroadappszn for sophomores. As we turn the calendar to November, I’d like to consider how Notre Dame’s study abroad culture perpetuates students into a seemingly endless loop of transitions, painful moments and an abundance of opportunities for growth. (Also, I’m a sophomore, so this is my preferred existential crisis at the moment.)

If an “endless loop of transitions” seems a bit dramatic to you, hear me out. Freshman year: Move to college. Sophomore year: Adjust to arguably the only normal year of a Notre Dame student’s career. Junior year: Prepare for abroad, go abroad, come back from abroad and infamously never stop talking about abroad. Senior year: Answer the “what’s next?” question. Even those who don’t study abroad likely feel affected as they see friends leave for a semester, perhaps navigate a long-distance relationship and cooperate with midyear shifts in club leadership and rooming arrangements. All this transition involves a little chaos. Yet, it also feeds a whole lot of personal growth, and I think that opportunity for growth is what attracted many of us to Notre Dame in the first place.

As a sophomore, I sometimes feel straddled between last year’s move to college and my hopes to spend next spring abroad. I think my freshman year transition went … okay.  I made wonderful friends, but it took me the majority of the year to feel fully myself around them.  My grades turned out fine, but there were many 3:00 a.m. moments when I thought there wouldn’t be. I wish I had gotten more involved. I wish I hadn’t gone out every time my friends did. My greatest wish, though, is that I had been more transparent through all of the ups and downs of last year. I certainly wasn’t the only freshman last fall who had mixed feelings as I looked up at the dome after a long day, wondering if this whole Notre Dame thing would work out as I had dreamed. (For any freshman feeling that now: Hold on. One year later, Notre Dame’s not the dream I planned, but it’s a dream nonetheless.) From my Instagram and my smile and my “Oh I love college!” report to everyone at home last November, you’d never have known I struggled to do homework because the time to think alone usually led to tears.

As I sit here, in the beautiful in-between of the transitions for a Notre Dame student, I wonder if, next time, I will have the courage to be more honest.In preparing to go abroad, will I share my real fears over the nicely-package-socially-acceptable ones?  Once I’m there, will I accompany the gorgeous photos with authentic updates? Will I talk about how some days it’s both awesome and awful? Will any of us? I know I want to practice this courage, but I can’t guarantee I will succeed. Moreover, I know that the rosy picture of time abroad is painted by us all collectively, and it will take some collective courage to peel it away.

I don’t intend to seem pessimistic. The difficult moments of last year created the beautiful ones. I’m sure the same will be true in the years to come. We don’t live in a happy vs. sad, painful vs. wonderful, hard vs. easy world. And, as I said, I think we chose Notre Dame because we like the world that way.

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