August 15, 2013

Through Four Summers, Lessons Learned

In two days, I will move into my senior year housing, a house with two of my best friends. Senior year. It’s a little alarming that it’s snuck up so fast—and I know this one last week when I can still feel comfortable calling myself a “rising senior” (not quite there yet…) will be gone faster than I can say, “rising senior.”

I’m excited about this upcoming year. I’m pumped about working on my thesis with both the Religious Studies and History departments—I’m looking forward to returning to my job as a Writing Associate—I can’t wait to live with my friends again—and I’ve missed my clubs and activities and meetings and, most certainly, my classes, as busy as they make me.

But as this summer is winding down, I’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking of the four summers leading into each of my four years at Lafayette. It’s remarkable how much I feel I’ve changed since then. In the months leading up to my first year here, I worked in a polling office doing phone surveys, a job I took because I wanted to make myself face my intense dislike of talking on the phone. I remember doing my summer reading at those desks, and watching my first episodes of Arrested Development, and panicking off and on about making friends at school and being a good student (I was convinced that I wasn’t actually smart—that somehow I just “got” high school and was going to find myself miserably lost in college. Happily, that was not the case). I still give myself credit for that job (mostly because I still hate talking on the phone), because in those weeks leading up to the start of college, I needed that push, that sense of agency, to prepare myself for how I would push myself in the next four years.

The following summer, between my first and second years, I spent 6 weeks in Germany on a LVAIC German language program.

In Germany before sophomore year

Madeline Gambino in Germany before sophomore year, standing on a lawn near flowers with a building in the background

Although I’d always known I wanted to study abroad, and although I’d traveled pretty extensively with my family, I was a little worried I wouldn’t be able to do a whole semester alone. This program was my test run—and after about a week of counting down the days until I came home, I suddenly found that I never wanted to leave. I lived with a host family (odd ducks, those, but kind people), made friends, learned how much I love public transportation, and had one of the most whirlwind wonderful summers of my life. I came back to campus sophomore year with a sense that I “could”—I could be an adult, I could be a chameleon when I needed to, I could have fun and be serious and learn and go out.

Last summer was the chillest of all my summers. I spent the summer in Bethlehem, working on Excel Research from home and coming to campus to work on the script for Self-Described, my favorite orientation program. Despite my amazing time in Germany, I think last summer was my favorite summer in a long time—while preparing to leave for Morocco in the fall, I spent those weeks finding my foundation here, settling myself in to know that no matter what I did or tried or failed at in Morocco, it was going to be okay, because I was always going to be able to come back home.

Madeline Gambino sorts grain with one of her host moms and someone else in Morocco

Sorting grain with one of my host moms in Morocco

And then this summer. I have loved this job as a Senior Interviewer for Admissions—there is nothing more exciting, more energizing than talking to motivated, engaged, and excited students about their own future college careers. Sometimes I want to talk the entire 45 minutes by myself, and to tell them everything I have done, from these summers to all of my classes and down to every last lesson I have learned.

You know, I wish a student would ask me that—what were the greatest lessons I have learned in college. I think I would start with my majors, and say that high school had never prepared me to know how big the world was and how deep history goes and how fascinating human motivations and beliefs are. But then I think I would consider these summers again and the years in between them, and come back to the greatest lessons I have learned—how to push myself, and to be overwhelmingly excited about my opportunities, and to know that my greatest happiness and deepest sense of contentment always come when I’ve pushed myself beyond where I think my boundaries are.

But who knows what I’ll learn senior year. Hopefully exciting and wildly new lessons. But if this is the one I come away with after four years here, I’m pretty darn okay with that.

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