(78) Days of Summer

You meet the coolest people at foreign language programs, and these friends prove it. :)
You meet the coolest people at foreign language programs, and these friends prove it!

Das Leben ist ein Abenteuer. Życie jest przygoda. Life is an adventure. And for me, so was this summer.

This particular adventure began last October. My advisor was in town for a few weeks, taking a break from her sabbatical in Germany. She invited me to lunch and over a dish of gluten-free pasta asked me the question that every first-year graduate student dreads: “What exactly do you want to study?” I was about to reply that I wasn’t sure, that I was still trying to figure it out, and that I needed a little more time when out of my pasta-filled mouth popped, “I think I’m interested in Eastern Europe.” To which she immediately replied, “Well, I guess you need to learn a Slavic language. How about Polish?” So after lunch, I got on the Internet and ran a search for Polish language programs in the US. I found two that looked promising: a ten-week program in Pittsburgh with an abroad component in Krakow and an eight-week one in Indiana. So I decided to apply to both. If I got in and got funding for one of them, great. If not, then I’d find something else to do. Simple, right?

All winter long, though, I found myself worrying. What if this was just another dumb Steffi idea that sounded promising but then turned out to be a waste of everyone’s time and money? After all, if I didn’t get some kind of scholarship, there was no way I could afford it; foreign language classes are expensive. And even if I did get in and receive some funding, what if I didn’t learn enough Polish to actually use it? This felt like a fool’s errand, and the confused reactions (“Huh?”) I received from most people who asked about my summer plans seemed to confirm my fears. After I submitted my application, I shared these concerns with my mom, and (as usual) she gave me great advice.  She explained that in the Old Testament, Gideon was unsure, and he asked God for a sign. Gideon laid a fleece or a piece of sheep wool outside overnight, and told God that in the morning if the fleece were wet and the ground dry, then he would believe. Sure enough, God did just that. Still unconvinced, Gideon asked God to do it again, but this time make the ground wet and the fleece dry. Again, God answered, and Gideon believed. Along these lines, my mom suggested that I also pray for affirmation about my decision to learn Polish:  If God would provide for me financially, then I’d know I should learn Polish and this wasn’t just another Steffi-style pipe dream. So with this in mind, I waited to hear back from the programs and prayed for clarity with my $8,000 “fleece.”

And then the craziest thing happened: God answered! On Good Friday, I got an email from the Pittsburgh program with my acceptance letter and scholarship information. But though they offered a substantial amount of money, it still wasn’t enough to make the class affordable. The following Monday, I called the program director that Monday to see if I could transfer into the cheaper program without the month in Kraków. To my astonishment, she offered me a different package, one that would cover almost the entire program cost. My figurative fleece had dripping wet—and I was going to Poland!

And as if that weren’t enough, God continued to provide, over and over and over again. When I was looking for a place to live in Pittsburgh (where I knew absolutely no one), He gave my mom the idea to contact the local Lutheran church. And then He prompted a family at that church to connect me with their friends who needed a house-sitter for the summer. It could not have worked out more perfectly. And the Cookes (the family that stayed behind) became my unofficial “host family,” picking me up from the airport, welcoming me into their home, feeding me absolutely delicious food (their last name is very fitting!), and even driving me to campus when I accidentally overslept and missed the bus.

And if I could see God’s faithfulness in Pittsburgh, it was written in neon flashing signs everywhere in Poland (… in English, so I could read it, haha.) Looking back on my four weeks there, I can’t help but be overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by all the incredible people at the Prolog language school, by my wonderful classmates from all over the world, by all the thought-provoking and meaningful conversations we had, by all the unforgettable places we visited and things we saw, and by all the memories I’ll carry with me forever. Oh yeah, and by all the Polish I attempted to learn. 😉

This summer was undoubtedly one of the best and most rewarding of my life thus far. Not only did I make so many new friends (Shout-out here to Lenna. Thanks for being my Kraków buddy… and for putting up with my terrible sense of direction!), but I also reconnected with old ones (Thanks for coming to visit me in Kraków, Mirek! And for letting me hang out with you in Paris, Anne-So!). And as if that weren’t enough, I even got to spend 3 days in the neighborhood in Germany where I was born (Danke schön to the Mauntz family and to all the neighbors, especially the Timpes and the Bergens! Y’all are awesome!)

As I write this, I am sitting in seat 21A on Lufthansa flight 444 back to Atlanta. When I boarded a smaller plane to Pittsburgh 78 days ago, I had no idea what was in store for me. But God knew. Even before that afternoon last October, He knew. He always knows, and He always has everything under His perfect and sovereign control. Yes, life is an adventure. And I’m so thankful to be along for the ride. 🙂

Some of the kindest people (and the best cooks!) I've ever met. Thanks for being such a blessing to me!
Some of the kindest people (and the best cooks!) I’ve ever met. Thanks for being such a blessing to me!
Before we finished our study abroad semester in Graz, Mirek and I pinky-promised that we would see each other sometime in the next 5 years. So of course we had to do the same thing again this time. :)
Before we finished our study abroad semester in Graz, Mirek and I pinky-promised that we would see each other sometime in the next 5 years. So of course we had to do the same thing again this time… and take a picture of it.
Lenna deserves an award for being one of the best travel buddies ever. And for being a great friend. Kocham ciebie! :)
Lenna deserves an award for being one of the best travel buddies ever. And for being a great friend. Kocham ciebie!
Much love to my favorite Parisian Anne-Sophie. Thanks for spending your vacation days with me! :)
Much love to my favorite Parisian Anne-Sophie. Thanks for spending your vacation days with me!
Dinner with the neighbors in Niederhoechstadt. Such a wunderschoene evening and one I will never forget. Thanks for making me feel so special and loved!
Dinner with the neighbors in Niederhoechstadt. Such a wunderschoene evening and one I will never forget. Thanks for making me feel so special and loved! A perfect end to a fabulous summer.
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Just Dance

“Always do the thing that scares you.”

Maybe I heard this quote in a movie. Or on a bumper sticker. Or in a fortune cookie. I’ve never been good at remembering sources of quotes. Which probably means I’m a bad history major. Oops.

Anyway, regardless of where I heard this quote, it really stuck with me. In many ways, I try to follow its advice.  My affinity for backfliping off the flying trapeze into the swimming pool at Kamp and my desire to gallivant in non-English-speaking European countries are both prime examples of this. Overall, I consider myself to a gutsy, daring, chutzpa-filled person. Except in one instance.

Recreational dance class.

I know what you are probably thinking: why in the world is a girl majoring in history and German and minoring in Religious Studies take a Recreational Dance class? Well, back in the day when I was just a wee little prospective OSU student, I went on a campus tour. Before this tour, we watched a promotional video. And in this promotional video, a student talked about his recreational dance class. At that precise moment, I decided to take a recreational dance class. Now, four years later and in my final semester of college, I finally got around to doing it.

Here I should interject that I don’t have a fear of dancing. On the contrary, I’ve always had a certain fondness for it. When I was really young, my parents enrolled me in tap dance classes, and by fifth grade, I was in classes with the high school girls at my studio. And if music has any kind of distinct beat—especially the Europop or Techno variety (For a sample of the music: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-Mwh3PL6h8)—I will most likely bust a move or at least be very tempted to. So dancing itself isn’t the issue. It’s the “social” aspect that, well, complicates things.

You see, I’m a girl. In “social dance” lingo, that means I’m a follower. So I, along with my fellow females, get to follow the leaders, i.e. the guys. In theory, this is incredibly simple; I shouldn’t even have to think about anything, since I just do what the guy leads me to do. Spinning? Sure! The pretzel? No problem! The Candlestick? You betcha!… In theory. As William Shakespeare said, “Aye, there’s the rub.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=myJj0mNNe1Y&feature=related)

Unfortunately, for me dancing isn’t just a simple game of “Follow the Leader”. No, it’s “Follow the Leader” meets “Simon Says” set to a specific rhythm and minus the actual instructions. In other words, it’s complicated. For some girls (including most of my classmates), this is piece of cake. Easy as pie. Cool as a cucumber (I thought I’d toss in a healthy food idiom for good a change. Why are all our idioms about junk food?). But alas, for me, this following-to-music business is not so basic. Put simply, I stink at it.

BUT that’s okay. At least, I’m convincing myself that it is. Because no matter how bad I think I am now, I know for a fact that I was far worse before taking this class. So regardless of whether I manage to perfect the Candlestick or if I still get hopelessly twisted up during the Pretzel or fail to miss obvious cues from the leader about how he is going to spin me, it’s ultimately going to be okay. Why? Because I’m doing it.

Before I went to the first session at the beginning of the semester, I seriously contemplated dropping the class. I made lame excuses that my schedule was too busy and I wanted to have my late Monday and Wednesday afternoons free to do other things, but the truth was simple. I was scared. I knew I was a terrible dancer, and I knew I would likely have a hard time in the class, and quitting before I started seemed like an easy way out—an easy way out and a HUGE mistake.

You see, if I hadn’t taken dance, I would have cheated myself out of so much. I would never have learned the difference between the East Coast and Western Swing dances; I would have never figured out how to two-step without tripping over myself, and I would have never met the fun and amazing people who make my Mondays and Wednesdays so much brighter. But most importantly, I would have never realized that I can dance and that dancing is really, really, really fun. And that, in and of itself, would have been a borderline tragedy.

Comfort zones aren’t a bad thing; don’t get me wrong. It’s important to have a place where you feel safe and secure, where you know what you are capable of doing and doing well. However, the longer I live, the more I realize that it’s hard to grow and to learn within the climate-controlled, plush-lined, freshly scented confines of your comfort zone. It’s too, well, comfortable. True self-discovery, genuine adventure, and moreover real life awaits us on the outside. So don’t spend the rest of your life as a wallflower. Do the thing that most scares you and step onto that proverbial dance floor… Even if you have two left feet.