Two Weeks of My Summer Left

The following was written in early September, 2016 but not published until now:

 [PSA related to this post’s title: If you are a Harry Potter fan and have yet to listen to the Harry and the Potters wizard rock song about the last two weeks of Harry’s summer before his third year at Hogwarts, please do so before reading on.]

Two weeks from now, I will be in Paraguay.

There are many reasons I don’t want to go. First of all,  I have a boyfriend whom I love and get along with quite well. We’ve been dating for a little over 7 months, which is not very long in scheme of things but is significantly longer than my previous record of approximately 3 dates. Besides not wanting to leave him, there are a number of major life events I will miss in the next 27 months (2 and 1/4 years). For instance, I will be away for my sister’s college graduation, both of my grandmothers’ 90th birthdays, and my cat’s 18th birthday (roughly 90 in cat years). I am also very disappointed that I won’t be able to vote for our first female president in-person or attend her inauguration on the National Mall. (I’m not superstitious, but I knocked on wood after writing that just in case, because the universe seems to have developed a twisted sense of humor for this election.)  Last but not least, I don’t know whether the new Gilmore Girls episodes will be on Netflix in Paraguay, and that seems an awfully big risk to take.

Despite all this, I can’t wait to be a Peace Corps Volunteer. It is something I have wanted to do for at least ten years, and my intended roll (Environmental Education Promotor) seems pretty much perfect as far as I’m concerned. The fact that I know very little about Paraguay or what I will actually be doing there makes me even more excited, though I’ll admit I am a bit nervous about living in a hot, flat, and landlocked country and learning a third language (Guaraní). Other than actually packing, I am ready for the “toughest job you’ll ever love” everyone talks about.

Of course, as anyone who has experienced the medieval (?) execution/torture method where they tie you to two different horses can probably attest, being pulled in two different directions is a bit uncomfortable. Right now, half of me is tied to where I am while the other half is on a plane to South America.But I feel so lucky because I know how wonderfully fortunate I am that there is virtually nothing in my life I want to give up, and practically nothing in my future I want to avoid. Before I got my invitation to serve in the Peace Corps, I was in the exact opposite place. When people asked me if I was ready to graduate, my answer was “well, I’m definitely ready to be done with college, but I’m also not excited for the ‘real world.'”

I would much rather be pulled in two directions than pushed from one thing to the next, because it’s just love and joy at the end of those ropes right now.  




Cheese and Other Things I Really Missed

Greetings, friends! It is now autumn in Paraguay, which means somewhat cool weather and lots (and lots and lots and lots) of rain. I haven’t seen the sun in two weeks and haven’t been able to do laundry in almost as long since it is currently impossible to dry clothes or anything else. Everything I own is moldy, including my refrigerator (the outside of it), my pillowcase, and potentially my wrist… That rash I thought was some sort of bug was diagnosed as a fungus by a doctor in the U.S.

Speaking of which, I was in the good ol’ U.S. of A. for a week in May. You may have noticed from the excessive number of selfies on my Instagram account. This was the first time in my life that I used a round-trip ticket to the United States.

I don’t think I will ever not be amazed by flying. Anyone know where this land is?
It was so good to be back.

Selfies on the roof of the Kennedy Center
First of all, the air! The fresh, fragrant air! I spent all week sniffing and breathing deeply, and I am now even more determined to help my Paraguayan community find an alternative to household trash burning.

More importantly, the food! You doubt the greatness of America? In 8 days I ate, among other things: double chocolate cookies in the car on the way home from the airport, fancy homemade pizza, Afghan/Pakistani kabobs and sides, a turkey sub and 4 types of chips for a picnic in front of the Lincoln Memorial, a Thanksgiving-style turkey sandwich for another picnic in a park, homemade stir-fry, a mango-mint-pineapple pastry, a big bowl of pho, 15 types of cheeses, unlimited small dishes of gourmet Balkan food, ban mi and bubble tea at a Vietnamese shopping center, 2 shared pints of Ben and Jerry’s, many types of fruit, homemade sourdough bread and pancakes, sashimi, fried octopus and other Japanese dishes, a hamburger at the Watergate, salmon at a fancy French restaurant, Peruvian chicken, homemade seared tuna burritos with spicy pineapple salsa, and a chocolate Turkish coffee birthday cake baked by me (the other stuff was made by Shawn)

Eating seaweed and raw fish and stuff like that with Shawn, Claire, and my father… Wonderful picture (sarcasm is something else I missed from the U.S.)
Almost as exciting as the food was the fact that I got to see some of the most important people in my life during that week!

I attended two graduation ceremonies. My boyfriend, Shawn, completed his Master’s at Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). We had the big Meeting of the Parents dinner afterwards, which was surprisingly painless. I am pretty proud of Shawn… and eager to get started on my own advanced degree because I’m not sure how long I can be happy in a relationship with someone who has more academic credentials than I do… Just kidding. Maybe.

I’m a big enough person to admit that I’m posting this picture mostly because I like how it makes me look, but I think that guy in the fancy hat is pretty handsome too.
I also got to celebrate my best college friend/roommate’s graduation with her family. You should keep an eye out for Kelsey in the world of government, law, or any other field she may set her sights on. (That sentence contained some really insensitive puns I hope she will appreciate). She graduated from Georgetown with a good GPA, a double major (Economics and Government), a minor (Math), and no vision (literally, not figuratively) – as if we needed another reason to be impressed by her studiousness, wit, and appreciation for the finer things in life (i.e. chocolate cake, dance parties, and the West Wing)!

Kelsey and I standing in “Red Square.” Not shown: the Jesuit cemetery down the hill behind us, or the reason she trusted me to hold her diploma.
It was strange being back at Georgetown. It felt like my time there was just a distant dream, even though it had only been a year since I graduated. I guess my life now is just so far away from the Hilltop in every sense – and not just because I’m living on flat farm land.

I’m a bit jealous they got to graduate with Healy Hall in the background and we had to be in the old gym because of rain last year.
I of course also got to see my parents and my sister during the trip. Claire and Shawn and I went to the Renwick Gallery (my favorite art museum – partially because it always has awesome content, partially because it is small enough to see all of in an hour).

Sure everyone looks either deranged or pained in this, but it’s the only picture I got with Claire in it – and we were standing between the White House and the Washington Monument, neither of which are pictured.
I stopped by the White House with a few different groups of loved ones. Fortunately the chief resident was away touching glowing orbs in the Gulf, so I could maintain my sense of distance from the current disaster that is #45.

In terms of other fun activities somewhat related to “the resistance,” Shawn and I saw a play by Vaclav Havel (playwright, dissident, last president of Czechoslovakia, first president of the Czech Republic, and one of my favorite recently-historical figures since elementary school). The play is called Protest, and it was the first play performed in the Dupont Underground, a new art space made from an old electric trolley turn-around tunnel.

This is not the entrance to the Metro.
I was also there for two important birthdays. My boyfriend’s 25th and my mother’s 25th 31st. Unfortunately her birthday festivities took a backseat to Shawn’s graduation on the same day, but I am very happy my mother was born and will make sure to throw a gigantic party in 4 years when she turns 15×4. Also, when I got back here, everyone asked me how my mom’s birthday was, so obviously the importance of the occasion was acknowledged internationally.

Me (left) and my mother.
As for Shawn’s birthday, I made him an ugly but delicious cake and we went hiking, which I appreciated very much since hiking is my favorite activity and he is relatively new to it. Also, last year when we hiked on his birthday he ended up being eaten alive by mosquitoes.

Far too soon, it was time to head back to the southern hemisphere. When I checked my bags for my flight back to Paraguay, the man at the ticket counter looked at his screen with a confused expression, whispered to his coworkers, and then asked me “when are you coming back?”

“I don’t know exactly. I have a two year visa.”

I mentally prepared for a difficult return, so the first week back wasn’t too bad. Now I am experiencing regular feelings of panic about needing to be here for a year and a half more, but I am also starting to reevaluate the work I want to do in my community and will hopefully get to a point relatively soon where I feel I am contributing in a meaningful way. It is also nice to hear my name called out (mostly by little kids) as I ride my bike down the street. And of course there’s my cat to snuggle and take selfies with.

Everything is a Bug 

First, an interesting linguistically/cultural observation: “everything is a bug” might be an exaggeration, but some people here in Paraguay use the word bug (bicho) to describe any type of animal. If someone says something about “those bugs over there” they could very well be referring to a herd of cows. Of course, bicho could also mean pest or vermin, so I think it works pretty well for certain birds and mammals. My closest neighbors don’t even have chickens and I’ve still had a chicken poop inside my house. Chickens are the primary reason I constructed a sturdy garden fence, though cows can also be a nuisance. Every week or so I hear rustling outside my back door and go outside to find a large hoofed manual licking my dirty dishes, or I sit up in my hammock to find a cow standing a few feet away from me, which is rather startling. 

A bovine visitor. Two minutes later my mute neighbor came to retrieve the cow. She brought a machete, but as far as I could tell that wasn’t related to the cow retrieval.

People also blame “bichos” for things that are definitely not the fault of any six-plus legged friends. For instance, many people insist my acne is bug bites. Since I don’t work with teenagers, I’m still trying to figure out whether this misunderstanding has anything to do with a miraculous lack of pimples in Paraguay. 

In terms of my environmental work here, I am trying to figure out ways to convince people not to kill all the bichos unnecessarily. It’s probably true for most of the world that people too often use excessive chemical pesticides as a preventative measure in farming and gardening or on lawns and in houses. In small-scale gardening at least, there are a lot of easy ways to reduce the necessity for putting poison on veggies, especially before the bugs even arrive. 

In my own garden, I had a major ant problem. Luckily these weren’t the big leaf-cutter ants who can carry away an entire garden worth of plants in a few days, but the little ants are destructive in their own way – and it stings like crazy when they bite! I took care of the problem mostly by applying soapy water, mixed with a bit of cinnamon, to my garden beds so the dirt and plants were less appealing to the pests. It wasn’t a controlled experiment by any means, but so far the ant population has dramatically decreased. A mix of garlic and ash is also supposed to keep off both bugs and fungi. Plus, I think it helps to use soil high in organic matter (in this case cow poop while I wait for my compost to compost). Ants seem to prefer sandy ground. Bonus: just like with humans, the best defense against all sorts of plant ailments is to have healthy plants, and good dirt is a key component of that!

My newest garden bed, which doesn’t have an ant problem, probably because the dirt is mostly clay to be honest

As far as other pests go, it helps to stagger or intermingle plants (as opposed to monoculture) so a bug can’t as easily eat its way through a patch of one type of veggie all at once. Companion planting can also pair type of plants that are more or less appetizing to different types of bugs. Marigolds are natural repellants for multiple types of insects. And again, companion planting helps provide good plant health from the beginning since different plants use different ratios of nutrients. My garden might not meet Paraguayan beauty standards, but I love the wild, jungle feel of having my plants all mixed up. 
The more developed garden bed. El Presidente Rutherford B. Hayes is taste testing a cucumber vine.

With a small, personal garden I also have time to look over all the plants on a regular basis so I can spot a problem before it becomes too serious. In the case of my sunflowers, I remove caterpillars individually every few days. Perhaps this would be a bit impractical if I had an industrial sunflower plantation, but I’m not about to add poisons to the environment just to protect my 10 decorative sunflowers from the ocasional caterpillar. By keeping a close eye on things, I could use pesticides in smaller amounts if it came to that, before something became a full-blown infestation. There are also a variety of homemade pesticide options made from naturally available ingredients like the leaves of certain trees. 
Also in ant news, the other night I was getting ready to sleep (at around 8 or 9 pm, naturally) when I heard a strange sound. It ended up being at least a few hundred giant ants covering the entire floor and one wall of my house. I was just starting to sprinkle a protective line of cinnamon around my bed in the hopes that I could at least save myself when my friends called to see if I wanted to hang out. I explained that I had been headed to bed but was currently in danger of being eaten by a swarm of killer ants (actual danger level unknown). A few minutes later they showed up at my house with a bottle of pesticides. I was feeling murderous  enough to abandon my morals, so we sprayed the poison around and shared some beers outside while waiting for the fumes to subside. I tried not to watch the obviously tortured deaths of what I actually find to be very interesting creatures when I am not battling them for food and territory. 

Please excuse my shoe/recycling/seed pile… those things on the ground among the mess are dead ants

In the category of things that may or may not be bugs, for more than ten weeks my right arm has been home to a pretty gross and very itchy rash. (I won’t share pictures here, but PM me if you like that sort of thing.) I first considered making this the subject of an entire blog post titled “it mite be scabies” (scabies is a mite, so this is a pretty clever title if I do say so myself). My googling lead me to the conclusion that it was probably scabies, perhaps contracted from one of dozens of children who haven’t learned the concept of personal space, but after two months the Peace Corps doctors were still telling me it was an allergy. I even traveled to Asunción and back in one day just to hear that diagnosis repeated. (The trip involved riding my bike to and from the bus stop in the dark on a dirt road full of deep holes). For weeks, I used various allergy creams and medicines and changed all my soaps and carefully observed what I came into contact with on a daily basis – all to no avail. Then I got to experience a Paraguayan (or rather, German/Canadian Mennonite) hospital when I went to see a local dermatologist, who told me that I don’t have scabies but do have another type of bug that can be picked up from the dirt or animals. I am blaming my neighbor’s puppy who has some itchy, hairless patches and won’t stay out of my house no matter what I do. I am currently waiting to see if an anti-bug treatment (with the same medicine used for scabies) has worked. I may see another doctor in the U.S. when I am back there for a visit very soon! 

Stay tuned for a blog post about my very first visit to the United States of America! I hear things have gotten pretty scary there, but I’m pretty sure it’s still home to delicious foods and wonderful people. 

Easters Past

This week, I’m excited to experience my first Semana Santa (holy week) in Paraguay! While I don’t believe in the religious miracle of Easter, it is one of my favorite holidays (from my own culturally Catholic background at least) because it involves chocolate, the start of spring time (in the northern hemisphere), and egg decorating. I’ve also realized that it’s pretty cool to think back to what I was doing on each of the past 7 Easters since it has happened to coincide with some pretty important life events that happened across 3 continents, 4 countries, and 5 cities/states…

In 2011, I was in Valls, Spain for Easter, celebrating at a Romanian Baptist church with my first ever host family during my first international trip without either of my parents, and first using the Spanish I started learning in high school. This was when I decided I definitely wanted to study abroad during college. 

In 2012, I headed to Washington, DC on Easter Day for a high school trip which convinced me I wanted to go to college in the capital (mostly because I wanted a library card for the Library of Congress). 

In 2013, around Easter time I decided I wanted to stay in DC but wasn’t happy at GW. 

In 2014, I had transferred to Georgetown and went home to NH for Easter because Jesuit universities give you a few days off around that weekend. 

In 2015, I was in Valparaíso, Chile for Easter, staying with another host family and having the time of my life during study abroad. This experience may have fully convinced me to work abroad after graduation. 

In 2016, I went home to NH for Easter and realized the amount I missed the guy I was starting to call my boyfriend, Shawn, might indicate some sort of feelings about him. I had already accepted an offer to serve as a PCV in Paraguay but decided to stay in DC for the summer before leaving. 

In 2017, I’m approximately 7 months into my 27 months (or approx. 205 of 805 days) in Paraguay and still feeling a whole range of emotions about being here. 

The “S” Word

My little sister, Claire, used to dread the first day of school so much we had to call it the “s word” in our house… I on the other hand was ready for school to start again about a week after the previous year had ended and considered school supply shopping  the highlight of my summer. 

Today was the first day of school here in my community – and I think all of Paraguay. I spent part of the day leading some environmentally-themed games (well, if you can call “sharks and minnows” a lesson about habitats and food chains…), which turned into all the kids asking me what their names would be in English. I spent the other half of the day chatting with the teachers (mostly about all the boyfriends I do/don’t/should have).

In case you are curious about how a first day of school in Paraguay is different from in the U.S., here are a few of the most obvious differences:

– Attendance was LOW. Maybe a third of the students attended, but that is a high estimate. Parents have to turn in documents and pay a fee before their kids start classes, and many families also haven’t bought notebooks yet (which are expensive even by U.S. standards). 

– Public Schools have uniforms, so no need to spend weeks picking out an outfit for the first day. But in case you are worried about how kids spend all that time they save by already knowing what they were going to wear, rest assured that the decisions about which backpacks and notebooks to buy are not made quickly. There are a lot of cartoon characters to chose from. 

– Half the kids attend school in the morning and half in the afternoon.  (This applies to every day, not just the first.)

– When it looked like it was going to rain, all the kids were sent home on foot, bicycle, or motorcycle. (Yes, elementary school kids drive motorcycles). 

You Might Not Love College

[Note: I wrote the following in Sept. 2013 (as a sophomore) and published it on an old and short-lived blog. I will add a brief follow-up at the end.]

“I thought college was supposed to be perfect. It would start when I opened the mailbox to find a thick envelope containing an acceptance letter from an Ivy League school. It would end with the most inspirational commencement address in all of history, the offer of a dream job, and the promise of a lifetime of success. The time in between would include brilliant discoveries and fascinating lectures, hours of peaceful studying on sunlit lawns, meaningful self-discovery, dramatic student protests against all the world’s injustices, a chance encounter leading to true love, numerous scenes of slow motion laughter with the best of friends, and perhaps some musical numbers.

Here’s something people don’t tell you about college: there is a good chance you will be miserable for some period of time – maybe a few days, maybe an entire year. You will become disillusioned; you will realize you have been working your entire life for four years that are special and important, but not perfect, and maybe not remarkably better than any other four years. You will fail an assignment, or you will fail to be challenged and inspired. You will have no idea how to make friends without recess and play dates and snack-trading at the lunch table. You will be rejected by a student organization, a sorority, or an internship. You will sleep too little. You will be a freshman again. You will feel like the only one not having the time of your life – but you will be completely wrong.

You are normal, in this way at least. It does not matter if you are mature, confident, and well-prepared. No matter how much research you have done, no matter how many schools you’ve visited, your freshman year will be nothing like you imagined – for better or for worse. The factors you weighed most heavily in your decision to attend a school might become insignificant; factors you considered trivial could make or break your experience.

My freshman year both exceeded and failed to meet expectations. I did not expect the joy of wandering around a city or the thrill of celebrating an election victory at the White House. I also did not expect to cry during winter break when I realized how much I missed high school. I did not expect to fill out another application and choose to be a new student for a second year in a row. But I did, and I was not alone. So many students don’t get it right the first time, and transfers are not the only ones with disappointing freshmen experiences. Sometimes it seems like everyone says “I hated my school at first” or “I thought about transferring until…” If you dig a little deeper, you will find that the exciting statuses and cheerful photos filling your newsfeed are only part of the story.

Don’t worry; things get better with a little effort. What I learned in my first year helped me chose a new school and is helping me make the most of my second year. I probably will become one of those older people who give young people unrealistic expectations for college. When these adults look back, they have trouble finding the negative memories in the pile of positives.

You might wonder how they got to this point. Maybe I will be able to tell you in three years, but probably not. Don’t believe anyone who tells you exactly what to look for in a school or how to spend your time there. All I can give is vague advice for those of you who recently started freshman year or who are starting the process of choosing a college. You are the only one who can discover what makes you happy. Do a lot of reflection, take an educated guess, and then make the most of your experience. Do not try to have anyone else’s “successful” college career, or even the one you imagined for yourself. Know that every experience is unique and no experience is perfect. Be flexible. Change what does not make you happy, and recognize what does. Try new things, and don’t give up until you find something that makes you think differently or gives you a story you want to tell again and again. When you forget to look for perfection, you might find the perfect way to make your experience yours. ”

[Follow up: Despite the cheesy ending, I agree with most of what my younger self had to say, though Georgetown did not turn me into “one of those older people who give young people unrealistic expectations for college.” I had some absolutely amazing experiences, some not-so-great ones, and mostly ones somewhere in between. I’d do it over, but I also hope my next four years are better than the last.

I do have 3 important pieces of cliche advice to add, which you’ve probably already heard and will certainly hear many more times: 1. study abroad if at all possible, 2. go to office hours even if you don’t have questions, and 3. take at least one class every semester that you are really excited about, even if it means putting off requirements (within reason).]

Georgetown is an Abomination

For about a month, I had a job doing door-to-door sales/marketing (a funny post on this might be coming soon), and a couple weeks ago I spent a long time standing in a driveway talking to a really nice older gentleman who was a retired college admissions officer. When I told him I just graduated from Georgetown he replied “Nice! Good school!” …Then, in what can only be described as a hiss, he added “even if they’ve become atheists.” It was perfectly clear from his tone of voice how he felt about atheists.

Since I myself am an atheist — and am generally opposed to disliking people based solely on their religious beliefs (or lack of) — it took a decent amount of will power to stand there smiling. Normally, I would have embraced the teaching moment. I love telling people they are wrong, and this man was wrong about both Georgetown and atheists. Plus, it’s never too late (or too early) to teach someone to be more accepting of other people. But I was there to sell him on a free estimate for exterior home projects, and I get paid on commission, so I prioritized my self interest by smiling and giving this man my most ambiguous “ah huh.” (When I was a Senate intern answering constituent phone calls, I picked up the skill of making sounds that can be interpreted as anything from full-hearted agreement to “wow you are so insane it’s not even worth telling you how absolutely wrong you are.”)

We continued chatting amicably, and the man even offered to do a free estimate just so I could get paid. But later the conversation made its way back to colleges, and this white-haired fellow said rather matter-of-factually “Georgetown is an abomination.” He smirked a little. “You want to know why?” he added.

Yes, please explain.

“They invited the head of Planned Parenthood to speak! On campus!”

Ahh, should have guessed.

“Oh ya, I heard that” I answered, omitting the fact that I’d been absolutely thrilled when Cecile Richards came to the Hilltop, or that I’d only missed her event because I had a class where attendance counted toward my grade, or that I really wish Georgetown didn’t have to make such a big deal of providing disclaimers about pro-choice groups and events being 100% student-run and not reflecting official policy. Instead I said something along the lines of “Ya, people are able to hear a variety of opinions on campus, but the school does make a point of distancing itself from some of these.”

He just shook his head, and we moved on to another topic before I politely ended the conversation to get back to work. As I walked off, my brain filed this exchange under “funny stories about interactions with strangers.” But a couple days later I was reminded again of my relationship with religion at Georgetown, and I started to think of all the things I could have said while standing in that man’s driveway, beginning with: “You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

Somewhat ironically, two of my favorite courses at Georgetown were theology ones: Biblical Literature and The Book of Genesis, both taught by the hilarious Professor Linafelt. One of the many things I learned in these courses was that you can never take the vocabulary of the bible for granted. It was written in another language by people in a different historical/political/cultural/linguistic context from ours. When you read even the best English translation (and some of the most popular ones are quite terrible),  you are already missing some key details, and you are sure to bring additional biases to your reading.

The word “abomination” is a good example of this. When bigots shout stupid things like “homosexuality is an abomination!” what they don’t realize is that someone at some point – many years after the bible’s original authors had died – decided to use this word in a new translation. I’m no biblical scholar, and I don’t know Hebrew, but according to Professor Linafelt the original word actually had a much less harsh connotation than one might imagine today. Beyond the fact that (to my knowledge) the bible says nothing about abortion much less Planned Parenthood, I wonder if that man who called Georgetown an abomination knew anything about the complexity of the word he used. Certainly for a former college admissions officer he seemed to understand surprisingly little about what education should do – namely, that it should introduce students to new points of view and make them question their assumptions about the world. (Note: if it seems like the points of view I’m talking about introducing here are only my own, I would like to point out that even as Georgetown gave me new tools with which to criticize certain elements of Christianity, it also gave me a new academic respect for the bible and personal respect for people who use it as a holy text.)

Once I finished pontificating about vocabulary, education, and open-mindedness, I would also tell the man how I believe Georgetown often exemplifies the best religion has to offer.

That reminder I received about religion at Georgetown came in the form of an email from  Campus Ministry. I had forgotten that back in April or May I applied for a post-grad service grant to help me pay back student loans while I’m making virtually no money with the Peace Corps. Someone from Campus Ministry emailed to inform me that I (as well as everyone else who applied) would get a decent sized check from donations received at Dahlgren Chapel and the Baccalaureate Mass. The money itself was very helpful, but it meant even more to the sentimental side of me that people donated this money to any and all seniors who would be doing service work. No one asked me if I was Catholic or be working for a Catholic organization. It makes me hopeful that there are people who believe any work which helps our planet and the people on it is done “for the greater glory of God”regardless of the beliefs held by those doing this work.

I’m saying this as someone who has no qualms about criticizing any and all religious traditions. Too often, religious beliefs, practices, and leaders instill fear and hatred in followers instead of love and peace. They claim that only one way of life and of thinking is permissible. Sometimes, they say that what a person believes matters more than what they do to other people. They damn even good people to Hell, and they undervalue our time on Earth (though personally I don’t think anyone will have to find out that they wasted their one life in preparation for the next).

Now, I knew before coming to Georgetown that these were generalizations, and that even when every one of these criticisms apply, people can still do good through religion. I have always been fascinated by religions and places of worship, and I wrote my college essay about the unifying questions asked by everyone regardless of religious tradition. I even love going to church (mostly my own Unitarian Universalist Society, but I’m generally glad of the opportunity to visit others).

…But I never wanted to go to a religiously affiliated school. In fact, when I got college brochures in the mail as a high schooler, I had a folder titled “colleges I will never ever consider” which included three categories: religious schools, all-women colleges, and anything in Florida. (No offense to anyone who falls into these categories, they just weren’t for me.)

I made an exception when applying to Georgetown – twice. In the end, I’m sort of ambivalent about my college experience overall, but I am glad I transferred to Georgetown, and I never felt out of place as a non-theist (though perhaps coming from a Christian cultural background helps – I don’t want to assume my experience is universal). I am often amazed that Georgetown’s Jesuit identity was one of my favorite things about the 5 semesters I spent on the Hilltop. I enjoyed the conversations it inspired and the occasional reminder that we are all here for something bigger than a diploma (even if I don’t think that bigger thing is God). Perhaps most of the students at Georgetown are appalled by A-minuses and don’t leave any time for the Ignatius “examine” of their day (or time for sleeping/eating/leaving the library), but the university itself provided space for me to figure out what was important and to exercise my love of learning (even if my wonderful roommate regularly expressed her opinion that I was insane for being so casual and cheerful about schoolwork). I found space for reflection – beginning at ESCAPE (the optional new student retreat) and continuing in open houses with Chaplins in Residence. Shout out to Marc and Liz Rugani and to Father Carnes for their delicious baked goods and comfortable couches, and for the conversations and sense of community they inspired!

Of course, none of what I have written is directly relevant to my conversation with that old man, but I was feeling sentimental when I wrote most of this (weeks ago). Despite all the areas with ample room left for improvement, Georgetown is far from an abomination (by any definition), and I wanted to make that perfectly clear.

(But stay tuned for a post where I explain why the college experience is entirely overrated.)