November 28, 2008 - 10:39 PM
On Wednesday, I filled up my gas tank at Costco for $1.75 per gallon. I never thought that I would see the day that a gallon of gas would be a dollar something again. With merely a little more than ten dollars, I was able to fill up my gas tank before leaving town for Thanksgiving. As a broke college student, I was, of course, thrilled. However, as I looked around at all of the other people filling up their tanks, I questioned whether this sudden drop in gas prices was actually a good thing.
The most holiday traffic I ran into was, in fact, at the gas station. Tons and tons of cars were lined up, all the way out of the parking lot of the gas station. They clogged up the streets, as more cars waited for the lights to change from red to green so that they would no longer be trapped in the intersection.
I observed all of these people who were rushing to do the same thing that I was and I noticed that they were all driving alone. Car after car, SUV after SUV, truck after truck, was filled with a sole person. I was in my car with a friend who was going down to Arcata, California with me for the holiday. I thought about how if both of us were driving on our own how we would be another two cars clogging the streets, polluting the air.
I assumed that most of these people were going to the same places as well. A majority of them were probably headed to Portland, Salem, or Bend. Instead of each individual person needing to drive their own self to the same places, why couldn't more of these people be carpooling or using mass transportation? Does everyone really need to lock themselves away in their safe little cars and ignore the rest of the world? Do that many pounds of carbon really need to be released into our earth every holiday season?
Well, gas is so cheap! This is most likely a response from many of my fellow gas-getters on Wednesday. However, this cannot be a continued excuse for our nation's gas abuse. Our nation is using limited resources at an alarming rate and not caring about it at all. When gas prices started to rise, trends were hinting toward change. Sales of SUVs and trucks were down and people were driving less. The demand for more fuel-efficient vehicles and research leading toward alternative forms of energy were increasing.
I loved not spending an exorbitant amount of money at the gas pump this Thanksgiving, but at the same time, I don't believe that it should continue to be as low as it is. People need to wake up and start changing their patterns. Start carpooling. Start using mass transportation. Start investing in fuel-efficient vehicles. Buy a bike. Walk. Do something. Don't just continue to keep filling up your car's gas tank without thinking about the larger picture. One dollar and seventy-five cents is doing a lot more than just putting a gallon of gas into your car. That pocket change is changing our earth, our futures, our lives.
November 24, 2008 - 3:11 PM
This is the third year that I have worked at Meadowlark Elementary School in Eugene, Oregon. It all began during my freshman year when I was looking for a work-study job. After doing some searching in the UO Career Center, I ended up finding one as a tutor in an after school program for children in grades first through fifth. The program was through the Eugene School District 4J and was called ACE. It was a program that was designed in two parts. During the first half of the program, the students were split up into groups based on their age and instructed in writing skills. During the second half of the program, the children were brought back together and led in a recreational or craft activity. I was excited for the unique opportunity to be involved in such a program, but I didn't realize at the time how important the experience would be for me.
I continued with the job my sophomore year. I created strong connections with a lot of the children. It made me feel great to be able to be that person in their lives who they could talk to if they needed. When they would say things about how they wanted to go to the University of Oregon just like me when they grew up, I couldn't help but smile. When I left to study abroad in Greece spring term, the children were upset, but I sent them postcards from everywhere I traveled and they loved them. It was so much fun when I received letters from them as well. They all wanted to know how much calamari I had eaten, if there were McDonald's in Greece, and if I had met any new people from other countries. I kept a strong communication between the program and myself and was completely planning on coming back for a third year. Then I received my financial aid award letter for the upcoming school year. No work-study.
I immediately contacted the program coordinators. I knew that they could not afford to keep me on without the work-study money, but I was determined to still find a way to be a part of the program. Eventually, after talking to many of the people in charge of the program, I was hired on through the City of Eugene as a recreational leader. I was so excited to be hired into this position. I was given the opportunity to still interact with the kids, while taking on a larger leadership role within ACE. So far, this year in the program has been wonderful and it reminds me everyday why I worked so hard to remain a part of this special group of people.
About a week ago, the staff organized an event called Family Fun Night. These nights happen about four times throughout the year. After the usual program with the kids runs from 2:30pm-5:30pm, parents, siblings, friends, and other family members show up for a great night of food and activities. It is a wonderful way to bring family together and it creates a strong sense of community.
This year, our first Family Fun Night was New York themed. ACE is a Title I funded program, so a large majority of the students participating in it come from low-income families. A lot of them may never gain the resources to be able to go see New York in person, so it was a very special event being able to bring New York to them. The staff worked overtime for this event and it was entirely worth it in the end.
We transformed the gym into an airplane where the students and their family members entered and prepared for take-off to New York. We passed out snacks and had flight attendants to make it as realistic as possible. Once everyone arrived in New York, they entered the cafeteria that we decorated fabulously. We made a full night skyline and a subway with the kids' names written on it in graffiti-style letters. We had hot dog, pretzel, and pizza vendors and we had a taxi with the windows cut out so that the students could get their pictures taken in it. The staff was dressed up like various characters from New York. Many were Yankees or Giants fans, some were tourists, our program coordinator was the Statue of Liberty, and I was a Radio City Music Hall Rockette. We gave out prizes and the children made scrapbook pages of their travels or wrote New York postcards to people. It was a truly special night for everyone involved. The hard work the staff put into it really paid off in the end when we got to see the joy in the kids' faces.
Every time I walk into Meadowlark Elementary school I wonder if I'm picking the right major. I enjoy working with and teaching elementary school kids so much. No matter how bad my day is going, seeing the kids' smiles brightens my day beyond belief. I have a feeling that as I move on into the future, I will end up working with the youth. Programs like ACE are immensely important to communities like Eugene and I am so happy to be able to be a part of it.
November 21, 2008 - 12:37 PM
"Se thelo, esai paixnidi kai esy, kapiou theou pou olo fernei vroxi, ki omos se thelo." These words open Mixalis Hatzigiannis' hit song in Greece, "Etsi Se Thelo." With its heavy-hearted chords and the melancholy strain in the singer's voice, these words are also, to me, the opening of a memory I will never forget. And as I am listening to it now, it only seems appropriate to focus the topic of this post on my memory.
Spring term 2008, I set off for an experience of a lifetime. I boarded my plane in San Francisco without knowing how much my time in Greece would affect me. My plane took off without me knowing that after my study abroad program ended in June, I would choose to stay and work for the summer. I made my connection flight in Paris without knowing that the people I would meet on my travels would deeply touch me. I got lost on the metro in Athens, not knowing that the summer would have its trying moments. My ferryboat arrived to the Greek island of Kefalonia and I had no clue how perfect that last night would be.
Ok, yes, there was a boy. However, what I would come to learn was that, although it may seem so to an outsider, it was never really about the boy. It was about the island. It was about its vivid beaches and its quiet fields of flowers that I fell deeply in love with. It was about the island. It was about how it had taken an unsure girl and shaped her into who she knew she could be. It was about the island. He had just become the fleshly representation of the larger picture. He was a metaphor for the love that pounded in my heart, beating fervently in my chest, for my island.
We met in the beginning. I was just starting my leap into the unknown. I slowly tasted the freedom. We shared frappe together and spoke about our lives. We laughed together and I looked into his eyes, Kefalonia's majestic waters. I remember the exact moment it happened, the moment when I realized the true depth of my trip. I remember the precise moment in time that I fell in love with Kefalonia. I was on the back of his scooter and as we flew around the curves of Kefalonia's hilly body, I looked at the beauty surrounding me. I felt my heart open and my soul dive into an Ionian sea of bliss.
He left for the mainland soon after that, but the rendezvous that we had partaken in during that two weeks in April had been enough. My love for Kefalonia was strong. Throughout the months of May and June I worked independently on my relationship with the island. I would go on bike rides and explore shops that hadn't before. I had never had the type of confidence that I now possessed. As I gazed one June night into a red moon, I realized that I had to stay for the summer.
The summer was everything. It was heartache, but it was happiness. It was insecurity, but it was belief. Kefalonia proved to be trying to my heart, but in the end it would turn out to be everything I knew it was.
He came back for the summer. I was so excited to see him again and was ready to spend the summer months with him. However, what distinguished Kefalonia from a dream, what made it a reality, was that it couldn't always be perfect. After time apart, we saw each other again, but we were different. I had grown so much throughout the months. Kefalonia couldn't be flawless. A few times during the summer, unexpectedly, Kefalonia's sky would turn black and just open up and pour. Some days my job at the hotel would get so stressful that I just wanted to scream. Tension grew between us and after senseless comments and rash emotions, we didn't talk for the entire summer. However, this proved to be necessary, for I had so much more to learn on my own.
After an unforgettable summer of meeting people and solidifying faith in myself, I'm finally back to the beginning of this story, which is, in fact, the end. My last night on the island, which turned out to be his as well, I put my pride aside and called him. He was where it all began and I longed to taste that feeling again. I had met many people throughout the summer, but he was always the one in the back of my head that I wanted to see. I always wanted to have that pure essence of time spent with Kefalonia. It turned out that he had also wished all summer to see me again, so we agreed to meet that night.
I turned my phone on silent and went down to the shore to meet him. I wanted to escape the gossipy drama of small village life, so I only mentioned to one close friend where I was going that night. I felt that initial liberation again. He arrived with his scooter and I hopped on back. It was just me and him again, the way it began, before the complications of life interfered. We hadn't talked all summer, but we were at the same conclusion. We zipped off into the night, a night that would be so perfect that it would solidify my teachings from Kefalonia into my mind forever.
The entire night was special. We viewed the village from high above a hill and listened to the waves crash onto the beach as we sat on his balcony. The ride home, however, was the best, though also saddest, part.
There was a nip in the air that I can still feel on my skin as I remember the ride. I loved the feel of the wind blowing through my hair. As we rode back to the hotel where I was staying, "Etsi Se Thelo" played in my head and I gazed around me, soaking up every tiny detail that I possibly could. I wanted this moment to last forever. It couldn't end. I remember the dark plunging cliffs into the sea. I remember looking above me and seeing a shooting star in the crystal clear sky. I can still hear the putting of the scooter's engine, yet also the stillness of my surroundings. I can smell him. I remember the whole ride back, holding on to him, feeling as though an entire summer could exist in a moment. That night I kissed Kefalonia goodbye, knowing that it would never truly leave me. Kefalonia had, in the end, turned out to be everything I knew it was.
The next morning I watched my island slowly fade into a hazy horizon as my ferryboat headed toward the mainland. A summer of so much had been summed up into a moment in time. I left a piece of my heart on that island, but also learned that Kefalonia exists wherever I create it. It was a feeling, a way of life, built out of pure contentment and unfettered trust in oneself. I will always been in love with Kefalonia. Every memory I have now is a love letter to him. I encourage every student at every university to take the opportunity to live, study, or work abroad. There is something you learn there that just can't be found anywhere else. "Se thelo, san plygomeno pouli, xaristiki sou zitao boli, etsi se thelo."
November 17, 2008 - 9:08 PM
Monday, November 17, 2008 - the day of my collapse. Nineteen credits in one term are too many. I had a midterm in my ancient Greek class the next day, work and meetings taking up the time in my day to study, and one thousand other things my mind was dwelling on. I woke up late for class and with a headache. I attempted to rally to catch the next bus to campus, but instead ended up an emotional wreck on my bedroom floor. Sobbing, I called my mom for consolation. She stuck with me through grumpy fits, crying disappointment, and angst-ridden stress until I was back to slight stability. I decided to take the day off. Although I had a million reasons why I needed to go to school and work, I could tell that what I really needed to do was nurture myself. This process would prove to be important, in turn helping me with work and school.
Step one to regaining my inner strength - hot tea. I could feel a scratch in my throat hinting at my future cold, so I made a cup of lemon honey tea. I went back into my room with my cup in hand and opened up all of my windows. Everything in my core being felt like it was shattering. I felt like I was never going to get everything I needed to get done finished. However, as natural light and fresh air gleamed into my room, I found a calming comfort in the warmth of my cup.
I couldn't dwell in pity all day in my pajamas, under my comforter. Therefore, step two was getting up, showering, and getting dressed. Shampoo, conditioner, and mango-scented body wash later, I felt refreshed and awake though apprehension still lingered in my mind. I dressed in comfortable clothes. Today wasn't about high-fashion heels or form-fitting v-neck shirts. Today was about being comfortable and learning how to make myself feel good amongst the chaos.
I wasn't ready to try and study quite yet. I needed more time to relax my mind, to not have to think. Despite the rainy, cold days that had preceded this malicious Monday, I noticed that this day was sunny and surprisingly warm. In an effort to soak in some vitamin D and let this break in the storm try and heal me, I grabbed my helmet and my journal and headed for my bike.
I believe that the neighborhood park is the evidence that community still exists amongst all the chaos. It shows that we are a social people who can come together to rebuild strength. I biked out to Friendly Park and sat down at a picnic table so that I could journal. The bike ride had been great. It got my blood flowing and my endorphins pumping. I may not ride my bike all the time, but when I do, it was worth every penny. As I looked around the park, I felt a sense of home. Children ran around the playground as their parents conversed with each other. Dogs barked and chased after insects flying by. I was out of the dungeon that my house had become and in a sanctuary of light. When I did finally get home, I was ready to start over and, more importantly, I knew I could.
College years are an incredible time in one's life. However, they can become overwhelming as well. One of the most important things to do while busy being busy in college is to remember to stop and take care of you. Like I found out on Monday, you can cram all of the facts and information you want into your brain, but if you don't take the time to stop and nurture your core self, you are bound to crumble. Monday was my collapse, but also the construction of my stronger foundation. It is the little things, whether it is tea, a hot shower, or a bike ride to a park, which glue the rest of it together.