One of my favorite and most memorable collegiate experiences was probably the Outward Bound trip that I took to the Florida Everglades during my sophomore year. The trip was incorporated into this leadership development program that I was in and part of the program involved the Outward Bound trip. So I joined roughly 30-35 of my peers on the trip during Christmas Break in 2006, leaving behind the cold Midwestern winter for sunny Florida. As soon as we arrived in Florida, the Outward Bound staff got to work dividing our group into four different crews and giving us a crash course in canoeing. My crew consisted of six of my classmates and one quasi-chaperone from our college, Mike, who worked on the ropes course back on campus. Mike was probably about 60 years old and he was just a great guy to have on the journey. How many 60 year-olds willingly sign up for a ten day canoe trip with college-aged kids? Anyway, I promise there is a point to this story. Mike was my canoe partner for most of the trip, so we had many opportunities to get to know each other. I remember one particular instance when we were traversing a dense mangrove tunnel and laying down flat in the canoes to pass under branches and spider webs when Mike, awkwardly laying on top of our gear in the canoe, asked, “Do you ever look at your life and wonder, ‘How did I get here?’ Like right now, I am seriously wondering what life decision I made that brought my life to a mangrove forest in the Everglades.” What Mike said has really stuck with me since the trip, and I find myself constantly asking myself that same question in my own life: “How did I get here?”
I had one of those moments today in Atlanta. I miss Colorado a lot, but my life is taking me places now that four years ago I could have never predicted. And if I try to trace the events that led me to the internship that I am doing in Atlanta it’s kind of overwhelming because so many small decisions and steps gradually brought me to where I am now. Probably my favorite example of a crazy decision that contributed to where I am today is the story of how I became a Spanish major in the first place. During my freshman year of college, it’s quite possible that I did not take my studies very seriously. Okay, it’s true, I was not a star student my freshman year. For some reason I seemed to think that my social life was more important than getting good grades. Oh well, you live and you learn. Anyway, I was enrolled in a Spanish class during the spring, and a few weeks into the semester, I decided that the class was not going very well. I walked into my professor’s office to drop the class, and I walked out of the office as a Spanish major thanks to my persuasive professor.
I ended up falling in love with the language and the culture, and don’t worry, I was a good student the remainder of my collegiate years, even managing to pull up that initial Spanish grade to a solid A- after a rough start. Nonetheless, it’s kind of astonishing how that one moment when I was a naive 18 year-old kid has played such a huge role in my life. As a Spanish major, I studied abroad in Mexico and Argentina, worked with ESL students, taught a US citizenship class, and went on a mission trip to a rural community in Honduras. Today I am in graduate school studying international relations, which is completely different from the path I was planning on taking four years ago. In some ways, I actually don’t regret being a bad student for a few semesters, because what if I had never become a Spanish major? I can’t even imagine what my life might be like today. My interest in Latin America has definitely shaped my life in monumental ways in the past four years.
In the end, I guess all of this has me wondering, what decisions am I making today that are going to affect my life four years from now? I am a planner by nature, but I can’t plan my life and predict what is going to happen to me. I know that it is completely unrealistic to try to plan ahead too much, and I have to just let life happen and continue pursuing my dreams. Life is simply too short to not do what you love and spend time surrounded by people you love. And so all I can do today is live my life to the fullest, and hopefully in four years, wherever I may be, I can look back and be happy with the decisions I am making as we speak.