On this beautiful Fall Monday (that I am enjoying off thanks to Rosh Hashanah!), I have been thinking back to that first Fall I spent on the East Coast. At this point, five years later, I can say I have fallen in love with my current surroundings and circumstances.
However, I have a confession to make: During that first year or so at Rutgers, I was faking it.
Remember the first time you came back home from college at Thanksgiving Break and saw all your high school friends? Everyone was so excited to tell each other how great their school was, how much they loved their new friends, and how they could not imagine going to school anywhere else. Remember how, the first follow-up question after “How are you?,” was always “How do you like it there?!” And, for me, I also always got the, “How’s gymnastics going?” too. Friends, family, neighbors, everyone you saw wanted to know if you too had that excitement and love for your new school, and if it was feeling like a home away from home.
Let me repeat my confession: I faked it.
I smiled, and answered politely, “It’s great… Yeah, I really like it… It’s going well.”
The truth: I was homesick, everyday. I had a strong feeling that I did not belong there, especially considering the Rutgers culture and East Coast attitudes and college lifestyle I was now surrounded by. I was coming off of stress fractures in my lower back, and entering into a second round of struggles with Thyroid issues, so gymnastics was definitely not going well. I missed the comforts of Central Ohio life; the friendly atmosphere of my community, the small-town, local places that I used to visit so conviently. I even missed the style of clothes we all wore, so much more comfortable and casual than the East Coast fashions. And most of all, I missed seeing my best friends, my mom, my dad, and my dog, everyday.
Yet, there were two things I did love about Rutgers immediately. First, I loved that when I walked to class, through Vorhees Mall, with the original 1766 buildings surrounded by the gigantic, old, strong trees, I felt like a college student. I loved going to class and feeling like I was getting an incredibly challenging education. And, I loved my roommate. She was a perfect match for me, and that first semester, we were inseperable. She was an out-of-state athlete too, from Texas, and we were instantly close friends. We bonded over our love of football, our homesickness, and our ambitious education goals. These two things, I clung to, hoping I could add more to my list, eventually…
Finding my place at Rutgers took time. I had to venture out of my comfort zone, ask for help, and seek new experiences. Then, in November, I was introduced to Athletes in Action; A non-denominational, international, Christian organization that serves college and professional athletes, helping them to “Be a Better Athlete,” and showing them how God uses sport to teach us and grow us closer to Him. Slowly, Rutgers Athletes in Action became my home. I felt safe. I no longer felt overwhelmingly lost and homesick. And slowly, I found friends and mentors, who cared deeply for me, embraced my Ohio-ness, and pushed me to grow past what I thought I could be; into a Godly leader on my team [which I am still so humbled by: Spiritual Growth Moving Among Rutgers Gymnasts], and a young woman, seeking a purposeful life.
Now, I can be honest: I love Rutgers.
When I think about my school, and the people I met and experiences I was blessed with while I was there, I smile. I would not change a thing. God brought me far during those five years. From quietly crying when I got on the plane for that first Day-after-Christmas flight back, to today… It’s almost hard to believe that I find myself wishing I was walking down College Ave. to class.
And now, I am finding the cycle seems to be repeating itself, only I have a far different response.
As I have recently entered the “Working World,” those same questions seem to be popping up in my conversations with friends, family, and nearly everyone I share my current occupation with. Yes, the familiar conversations are occurring again. After people ask that first “How are you?,” the next follow-up question is almost always, “How is teaching going? How do you like it there (in West Philly)?”
I am overjoyed to say, this time, I always answer honestly: “I love it.”
There was no “grace period” this time around. I instantly fell in love with my school, my colleagues, my students, my new home, everything. I have that excitement and joy for my career that everyone hopes for in a first job. I have supportive and caring coworkers and administrators surrounding me, and a feeling that, if I ever need anything, all I have to do is ask. Along with those immediately surrounding me at school, I also have a best friend who goes out of his way to support me and be there fore me. Not to mention a whole cast of generous and encouraging friends and family scattered across this country, constantly reminding me that they are here for me, and they are proud of me, everyday.
So what’s so different this time around? How could I have fallen in love so instantly?
There is only one answer: I know I am supposed to be here.
I followed a path God laid out for me while I was getting to know Him at Rutgers. I took the leap of faith He asked me to. I no longer need hindsight to know this is what He called me to do. What took me five long years to realize before (that I was placed at Rutgers for a reason), I knew before I even set foot in my classroom.
So, go ahead, ask me, “How is it going?!” or “How do you like it there?!”
While I may have dreaded those questions during that first Thanksgiving Break, now, I cannot wait to share my answer with everyone.
I love it. It’s incredible. I am exhausted everyday, but it is an exhaustion full of satisfaction. Is it challenging? Of course it is. It’s supposed to be. But, I would not change a thing. I know I am right where I should be.