In every interview for any leadership position I’ve ever had at Saint Joseph’s, the common thread of the quirky, we’re-trying-to-see-how-creative-you-are questions has been “if you can have any super power, what would it be and why?” If you’re a Saint Joseph’s student reading this, you’re probably nodding in understanding, and if you’re like me, your first thought is to be Batman (I mean, really, who wouldn’t want to be Batman?!). So as to not completely throw my interviewers off (except the Hawk Host ones – I actually answered Batman, and somehow was hired, so heck yeah, Admissions!), I often answer “teleportation” – not because the walk from Mandeville to Merion is a bit lengthy, but because I have this tendency to fall in love with wherever I land. On any given day, I might tell you that my five-year plan includes staying in Philadelphia, or moving to Hawaii, or New York City, or Australia, and so on. I have this absurd tendency to be bored with familiarity, and in exactly ten days, two hours, twenty-four minutes, and thirty-five seconds from right now, this tendency is taking me to Florence, Italy, where I will be studying abroad for the next four months.
Some background – my hometown of Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey, is one mile square. I started kindergarten with 64 other sandy-haired five year olds. At high school graduation, forty more beach bums had been added to the mix, but they still seemed just as familiar as the originals. There’s no feeling quite like familiarity in sitting down and catching up with someone who can recount when you had braces (for way, way, way too long), or joke about the time you tripped up the stairs on your first day of high school. And with that, I came to college with the idea that home meant being comfortable, being familiar.
Truth be told, I was SICK of familiarity, and ready to say goodbye to my fellow beach bums (at least, until Thanksgiving). I was ready to tackle a campus of 4800 undergraduate students – many, many more than I had ever been used to, mostly for the fact that I was excited to be adventurous in meeting new people – and better yet, people who were not familiar. I packed up my room, battled ceaseless City Avenue traffic, and jumped into this crazy, new, weird thing that was college.
Well wouldn’t you know that 4800 is not the huuuuuuge number my brain made it out to be? Starting my experience as a Hawk with the Philadelphia Service Immersion Program showed me that I was not all that far away from the familiarity I had come to know at home in New Jersey. By day five on campus, I came back to Sourin from a barbeque with my 130 new PSIP friends, and walked in to sixteen new suitemates who had just moved in that day. Week one at college, and I was already walking to accounting class saying hi to my fair share of classmates – how cool was I?! And even cooler, by the second week, those greetings practically doubled! Better yet, for every person I knew, I was passing two or three unfamiliar faces – college is great!!!!! Now writing this as a junior, I can say that among the ample opportunities I’ve been given to meet these unfamiliar faces, I most often find myself passing more people that I know on my walk to class than those I don’t. But I think what really makes me love seeing these recognizable faces, and look forward to saying hi to those I pass by (or more often, stop to chit-chat with), is that at Saint Joe’s, home doesn’t just mean familiarity – it also means being met by excitement and love, and an unbelievable feeling of family. Home at SJU is found in that feeling of family (and yes, in that feeling of familiarity), but also in the growth I have gained from the independence that comes with college; in the community I’ve felt among service trip groups and communities in New Orleans, LA, Bayou La Batre, AL, McKee, KY, and Morristown, TN; in the love for my freshmen year suitemates, friends gained from walking to class, Delta Sigma Pi brothers, my PSIP freshmen, and countless others who have made my two years here so special. So why choose to say goodbye to all of this for four whole months? It seems crazy to me, too.
I am leaving behind an incredible bell tower view, the omelet station in Campion, and my home-away-from-home here on campus because Saint Joseph’s has taught me that adventuring outside of your comfort zone means growth. It has shown me that taking a leap of faith demonstrates courage. It has revealed to me that exploration can only help in expanding your perspective. And I am so, so, SO excited to experience that in Florence. And whereas I’m thrilled to start my adventure, and find home in a new country, in gelato instead of water ice, and in weekends spent in Paris or Munich instead of in Center City or Manayunk, I am also so excited to see how spending time away can teach me to appreciate even more about my school, and my family here. Even more so, I look forward to being welcomed back to campus spring semester, armed with countless stories of adventure, but also with a new gratitude for spending hours at weekend brunch in Campion, and the wonderful community of people I’ve been fortunate to have spent the past two years with (kind of like how I can’t wait to have sand in my hair as soon as I get back to New Jersey on breaks).
And with that, I’m being pushed out of the nest. Don’t get me wrong, it scares me a bit to think that the friends that I’ve made from just walking around on campus are not the ones who I’ll be passing on my way to class this semester. Waking up and taking in the breathtaking beauty of the Duomo is going to be quite the switch from taking in the familiar beauty of Barbelin’s bell tower. But that’s also the part that makes me excited – I gave up my comfort zone and my familiarity when I came to Saint Joseph’s. In exchange, I found new passions, new family, a new home, and also, a new appreciation for the things that I took for granted in tiny little Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey. And with that, I can’t wait to see what my new adventure will teach me.