Sunday, January 1, 2012

Hi, everyone!

Ever since I can remember, I've known what I wanted to do. When I was little, all I wanted was to be a teacher. I played school every day, and made endless plans on how I would pay my way through college. (My mom still talks about my plans to open my own beauty salon to earn the money to make it through Harvard.) Then it became a lawyer. I decided I would defend the people--representing those who needed it the most. After I moved past that, I wanted to be "pediatrician that specialized in neurology." I would earn my undergraduate degree from Dartmouth or Princeton, then go to medical school at Johns Hopkins, after which I would join the Peace Corps. and work in Africa. Today, I couldn't tell you exactly what I want to do in the way that I could when I was younger. I'm pretty sure that I don't want to go Ivy League, and I can't see myself becoming a doctor. Some days I want to be a Diplomat, or a UN Peace Keeper. Other days I want to dedicate my entire life to relief work. It changes, but one thing has always remained consistent: My desire to help people, and the goal of becoming a valued citizen of a global community. 

That's a phrase I use a lot... "Valued citizen of a global community." In general, I think there's a huge disconnect between cultures. People understand the terrible things that happen in developing nations because of religious or political differences, or how awesome the chocolate is from certain parts of Europe. But we don't get it. We understand that in Italy, family is a huge deal. But we don't get it! Unless we're Italians, or have been Italians, we can't possibly fully understand Italian culture. And how could we be expected to? Italy is literally more than four thousand miles away! We can't just walk there and see, and consequentially, most of us won't ever make it. Even from this place I sit in Northeastern Ohio, I can't really fathom the complexity and diversity of the world.

But I want to be a student of that diversity, and I want to start now.

All throughout Middle School, I had this idea in the back of my mind about studying abroad. I didn't have a plan; I didn't know where I wanted to go. It wasn't like my ideas as a little girl--it was in the back of my mind, simmering on the back of the stove. When I started my freshman year of High School, I thought that I wanted to go to Spain or Italy. Then, in the winter, I was messing around on the internet, probably on Tumblr, and I saw a picture of Aurland, Sogn og Fjordane, Norway, and it all made so much sense. My junior year, I would go to Norway. I read about the history of Norway, and I looked at pictures of Norway daily. When I started working last spring, I saved as much as I could get away with, and became far more frugal than I ever have been. Last summer, I bought a huge mason jar, and implored my friends to dump their loose change into what I dubbed "My Norway Fund," when they came by my house. (Big thanks to Eleni, who faithfully added change, as well as my Big Homie, Kenny, who always gave me the change leftover from his Snapple purchases, and my brother Victor, who oddly enough have a collection of pennies that he gave me.) I saw connections to Norway everywhere, and I credited it to karmic synergy (which is pretty similar to the concept of "destiny," but really has to be explained in person). 

Then, my mom gave me a copy of "I Was A Teenage Norwegian." In the book, Peter Dublin writes about his journey has a foreign exchange student to Norway. Between the things written in the book, and the things my brother's Swedish friend who came to stay with us for several weeks this summer told me, I realized: I don't want to be Norwegian. I do want to see Norway, and I will, one day. I'm interested in the history, and I will read about it. I want to take a trip to Norway, I don't want to make a move there. So I was without a country I wanted to go to anymore.

In Middle School, everyone took Spanish for a third of the year in seventh, and half the year in eighth. I liked Spanish a lot. I was in the Spanish club, and I enjoyed trying (and failing) to speak with my teacher in seventh grade, Mrs. Soto. So in High School, I selected to take Spanish. But in order to have Mr. Russell for history(if you aren't familiar with who Mr. Russell is, I can explain is briefly by saying "the best"), I had to take French. I compromised. And I realized that I really love French. (On an interesting side note, this year, because I'm taking French II, I can't take Mr. Russell's African American History class. Isn't that something...)

When the Norway thing fell apart, I concluded I would go to France or Belgium, or somewhere I could speak French. After conversations with my mom and friends, I also concluded that I would leave for France, the second semester of sophomore year. That was it. I started my application, and the Norway Fund was renamed the "No Way" Fund.

Fortunately, however, I missed the application deadline.

I'm absolutely positive now that a full year in Belgium is what I what I want to do. I'll learn French, eat fries and live in a country with a monarchy. (A really cool monarchy, too! If you haven't read my About Me, I love monarchies. Fully aware of how weird that is.) I'm not going to go for only a semester, and come home with having had half the experience. I'm going to do my exchange 100%.

When my AFS interviewer came, she expressed concern that my expectations for my trip were too large. I think that most of the reason for this is my "becoming a citizen of a global community" thing, and it's true, I do want that. But I don't expect this to suddenly happen while I'm in Belgium. I want Belgium to be the first step towards a life of working towards it. A lot of the reason why I want to go to Belgium is because I'm a little bit antsy. I've been in essentially the same spot for sixteen years, and I don't want my legs to fall asleep. I want to go, and have fun, and meet new people, and learn a new language, and eat new foods, and celebrate holidays differently, and see different trees every day than the maple right next to my house! I expect Belgium to be enlightening and changing, but I also expect it to be challenging and frustrating, and I know I'll be sad there sometimes, and mad, or happy. But I want to go and be challenged, and frustrated, and happy and mad and sad.

Honestly, I do think I have the necessary qualities to become a successful foreign exchange. I think I'm good at going with the flow. I'm opinionated, and I have a strong personality, but I'm still flexible. I'm also confident, and fairly outgoing. I've had a year and a half of French, and I'm always trying to speak French with my mom (who is fluent) and trying to learn. I'm enthusiastic, and I'm a tryer. Even if I'm not sure, I'll try it.

I'm several steps away from submitting my App, paying the application fee, and passing the point of no return. When I do, I'm going to start fundraising like crazy. I promised myself that I won't let money be the reason I can't go, but I'm going to need everyone's help! 

Thank you so much for reading :)

Sincerely, Julia

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