As I’m applying for graduate school, I’ve had to do a decent amount of self-reflection and introspection upon my success and failures during these past four years of college.
For me, one of the most defining experiences I’ve had was my trip to Give Kids the World during the spring break of my freshman year. It was a trip sponsored by the Huskie Alternative Breaks program, which at the time was referred to as Alternative Spring Break or ASB. For the week, we flew out to Florida and worked with terminally-ill children and their families. It was an eye-opening experience in a lot of ways.
To start, many of us volunteers had to confront and face a lot of issues that we were able to escape when we were tied up in our college world. We were confronted with the truth that these children’s conditions would not alleviate. For many of us, including myself, it brought back memories of our own loved one’s struggles and journey through cancer or other chronic conditions. I went on the trip to give back in honor of my cousin who passed away from Leukemia when we were both teenagers. We had both wanted to attend NIU and I sometimes think what could have been as I walk through campus. I guess I went on the trip looking for solace. But instead the trip solidified my desire to become and occupational therapist.
At the location I worked as a lifeguard, carousel operator, side walker for hippo therapy and food runner. It may seem like less-than-glamorous jobs. But all of the families were beyond grateful for our help. One of the children had the same name as me and throughout the whole week his father would approach me and ask me how my day was. Another time, I was able to help a family in their native Spanish. It was all of these meaningful experiences and occurrences that helped soothe their suffering. The gratefulness and momentary peace were evident on the faces of the families. But being able to help people achieve their goals, many times referred to as meaningful occupations in the therapy world, was what I knew I wanted to do going forth.
We stayed in a (I’ll just say) interesting hostel during that time. I’m positive some of the people were permanent residents of the hostel. We had no functioning toilet or air conditioning for that matter. We may have also survived off of pop tarts and bagels. But, amid the murals of Buddha and Jimmy Hendrix, we developed strong friendships and unforgettable memories. In fact, two of the participants on the trip are my current roommates. More so, we had a four-legged resident named Ming Ling. She was a permanent pug resident that I would sometimes take on walks. But this pug has turned into an inside, well pervasive is a better word, joke among anyone I come in contact with.
As I stated, this experience solidified my desire to pursue occupational therapy. This was an unbelievable experience that pushed me out of my comfort zone and helped set a positive tone to my academic career. From there, I obtained leadership positions, which then propelled me onto a University Honors Fellow and a NLA. As the path continued, I’m now a committee head for NLA and the Lead University Honors Fellow. I’ve been a tutor, a volunteer translator, coordinated monthly service projects and worked as a mentor. But, all of this is due to the help of the people that surround me.
There are so many people to thank for my future success. I’ve had countless mentors and guides that have helped me: professors, administrators, staff, and fellow students. Even whole offices like the University Honors Program, OSEEL and OSAS have helped me become a better, more complete student. But no one has been more powerful to my success than my cousin, Anthony, and all those families that helped me clarify my goals.
It’s my goal to blog a couple of times a week about college success. This way, I hope whoever reads this will be able to benefit in some small way.