In This Issue:
It’s 2011! Time for new experiences and, more importantly, new challenges. As you turn your calendar to January, consider this: challenging yourself is the fastest way to grow. It’s scary to step outside your comfort zone; that warm, inviting place where everything is routine, predictable and safe. You do well there, even thrive. But it’s truly the new experiences that will help you figure out who you are and where you want to go after high school. We’re by no means suggesting that you go bungee jumping off the nearest bridge, especially if you are even wary climbing to the top bunk of your bed. Risk-taking doesn’t have to be a ‘go big or go home’ endeavor. Sometimes the smallest challenges take us the farthest. Here are a few tips to help you explore new territory in 2011:
Now, check out the stories of three young women who recently made the choice to boldly go where they have never gone before:
Comfort-zone jumpers may need a bit of inspiration. They can find it with Team Nicaragua 2011, a group of 20 Montclair State University students that landed in Nicaragua on January 4 to study the social, political and economic disparities in developing countries. Talk about outside your comfort zone! Clareese Saunders, a sophomore and psychology major at Montclair State who grew up in Asbury Park, believes, “Change is the essence of life. Be willing to surrender who you are for what you could become.” Upon landing in Managua and beginning to actually experience the country she and her teammates have been studying for months, Clareese wrote, “There is something humbling and overwhelming about being in and around the people of Nicaragua. For a country where people have so little they are constantly smiling, inviting and proud of their country…One thing is for certain, beauty can be found everywhere and even with dirt roads and poverty, I see beauty and hope.”
You can follow the daily Nicaraguan adventures of Clareese and all her teammates, including Michelle Fleury, Caitlin Albright, Andrea DiMarco, Caitlin Scanlon and Nicholas Jones, by reading their blog at http://teamnica11.blogspot.com/.
One of the biggest challenges you may soon be facing is leaving home for college, where everything is new and Mom and Dad are easier to “ping” than to talk to face-to-face.
Sarah Mitrano, 16, has a few major things on her mind these days, namely art and college. The junior at Hopewell Valley Central High School in Hopewell Township is thinking a lot about her future and where she would like to go to pursue a career in art. She might feel a bit more stressed about these big life decisions if she hadn’t spent four weeks this past summer doing some pre-college prep work at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore.
Pre-college programs are a way to test-drive college life, which, for Sarah, was very valuable since she hadn’t ventured far from Hopewell. “I had never been away from home,” she says. “MICA was a great experience. The day we got there and were moving in we met our roommates. It was kind of awkward, but I ended up being really good friends with my roommate. We lived in apartment-style rooming with a common area where we made Ramen noodles and eggs all the time. We had an obsession with scrambled eggs.”
Much of Sarah’s campus time was spent in art class, where she “majored” in graphic design and took a figure-drawing workshop. “I’m very interested in graphic design and hoping to major in it in college,” says Sarah. “It can be hard to be a fine artist, and graphic design is a real field you can go into.”
While MICA helped Sarah confirm her college major choice, it also offered experiences that matured her as an artist. “My figure drawing class was amazing,” she says. “It was a really cool experience because we had nude models. Drawing nude models is a little bit intimidating at first, but it’s really not intimidating at all. I saw it as art. Yes, the guy was a little weird, but it took five minutes to get over it.”
Sarah came home with valuable insight to prepare her far beyond art class. “MICA reaffirmed what I already thought. Even though I want to go into graphic design, I don’t think I want to go to an art school,” explains Sarah. “My mom is a graphic designer and she went to Syracuse University, which is not an art school. Going to a university where there are so many other kinds of people doing things, not just art—it’s a more well-rounded experience. I wouldn’t want to be surrounded only by artists all the time. I would like to go to a university that has a good art program, but is not just about art.”
Read an expanded version of this article, including further insight about pre-college programs, by visiting http://www.njnextstop.org, clicking on the Advice 101 column’s “View All” feature and selecting “Scrambled Eggs and Nude Models.”
When Cait Gainey, 17, found out that she would be traveling to China this summer for six weeks to study the language and the culture, she could hardly wait to board the plane for the 18-hour flight to Shanghai. There was just one catch: Cait would be the only girl amidst a group of boys from the Landon School, an all-boys school in Bethesda, Md. “It was awkward at first,” admits Cait, a senior at Montgomery High School in Skillman. “But on the third day one kid talked to me and then the rest of them talked to me because they figured it was OK.”
Cait quickly learned to be more talkative and open if she was going to get the most out of her China adventure—Lesson 1 in a global summer excursion packed with new experiences. Cait spent the first two weeks with her group doing the tourist thing in cities like Shanghai, Beijing and Xian.
Then it was on to four weeks of studying, two in Beijing and two in Chengdu, where Cait lived with host families and spent four hours a day studying Chinese at foreign language schools. “I understand Chinese a lot better and comprehend what my teacher is saying,” says Cait, who takes Chinese at Montgomery High and is considering a career in international business.
Cait plans to spend more time in China during a semester in college, which she hopes will be at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. She’ll be sure to return to the panda exhibit in Chengdu, where she spent 1,000 Yuan (about $150) to get her picture taken with a panda. Expensive? Yes. But, says Cait: “Totally worth it.”
Read an expanded version of this article by visiting http://www.njnextstop.org, clicking on the Real People column’s “View All” feature and selecting “Cait Gainey.”