Erskine blessings

Merry Christmas everyone!  Today is born our Savior!  I pray that the holiday season finds you and your family healthy, happy, and enjoying the many blessings God has bestowed upon you.  I know that, personally, I am so grateful for surviving the last month of school, including a rather stressful exam week.

In honor of the Christmas season, I wanted to resume my blog posts by writing about some of the greatest blessings that God has given me through Erskine.  I do apologise in advance: I have no photos to do this post justice, so my ramblings will have to suffice.  I will make up for it in future posts.  So…(in no particular order) here we go!

I am grateful that, as a Christian college, Erskine brings us all together through our shared faith in so many ways: college chapel services; prayer before classes, meetings, and performances; various organizations and clubs; small-groups and Bible studies; impromptu gatherings in the residence halls; and so many others.

I am grateful for being able to live in Carnegie Hall for 3 of my 4 years at Erskine.  As a freshman, Ms Ruth and my SLAs were always supportive and helpful no matter the emergency (of both the small and large varieties).  I met so many great girls my first year that I still study, laugh, and cry with.  As an upperclassmen, I’ve had the ability to serve as a Student Life Assistant for 3 years (this is my second in Carnegie).  I have an even greater appreciation for my awesome freshman year now that I understand more fully what goes on behind the scenes, and I love being able to watch out for and get to know my girls.  And, lets’ be honest: Carnegie is probably the prettiest building on Erskine’s campus. Who wouldn’t love living in a beautiful hundred-year-old hall?

I am grateful for Ms Ruth, the RD in Carnegie for the past 20 years.  This woman wears a whole lot of hats, most of which she wears quietly.  She has the best stories, knows absolutely everything about Erskine, and has lived a terribly exciting life.  I have learned so much from her and she truly has the best advice.  As an added bonus, Ms Ruth makes sure that the halls of Carnegie are truly decked with boughs of holly, lights, trees, and bows.

I am grateful for every professor I have had the opportunity to learn from.  They challenge me academically and personally–often intertwining–and have truly helped me become a better, stronger, more well-rounded individual.  I am confident that they have prepared me fully for graduate school and beyond.  I know my professors not just as teachers, but as individuals.  I know their backgrounds, their families, and their hobbies.  I cannot think of another college where you would form this type of relationship with one professor, let alone most or all of them.  Erskine often talks about “thriving,” and my professors are the reason I thrive here.

I am grateful that Erskine gave me the opportunity to study abroad at the University of St Andrews.  All of my scholarships transferred, making it very affordable for me to spend this past spring there.  I was more than ready to get there and heartbroken to return home.  St Andrews was so much fun and a priceless experience that I will never forget.  It is hard to be so far away from all of the friends I made there; but on the plus side, I have friends to visit all over the world now!

I am grateful for the psychology department.  At many colleges and universities, psychology can be the “easy” major.  Not here.  I have definitely worked hard for my As and I am amazed sometimes at both the number of pages I have read over the past 3.5 years and how much I have learned.  I know that learning is the point of college, but we as students (and by “we,” I definitely refer at least to myself) tend to get caught up in grades and GPA.  Dr Elsner, for example, always laughs when we come to his office stressing about grades.  As he and the other professors have gradually gotten us to accept, it’s most important to focus on the work and the learning; the grades are secondary.  As a psychology major, I have gotten to write countless papers, learn statistics software,  conduct and present original research, collaborate with other students, participate in a summer research internship, be accepted to intern at a mental hospital this spring, and become the psychology lab manager.  Graduate school? Bring it on.

I am grateful for the music department.  Despite not majoring or minoring in music, I have a music scholarship and get to take voice lessons and sing with the Choraleers.  I’ve also been a member of the Chamber Choir and Bella Voce and performed in opera workshops and various other performances over the past several years.  It is definitely a blessing to practice and perform with such talented individuals, and the faculty … talented doesn’t even begin to describe it.  Some of my favorite college memories relate to Choraleers retreats and tours.  I have grown as a musician and as a Christian and I know my experiences with the department will serve me well in future ministry and life in general.

Continuing with the arts, I am grateful to be an active member of Erskine’s theatre department.  Actually, we technically aren’t even a department, but that certainly does not stop us from acting up a storm!  As a member of Alpha Psi Omega, I get to help make the magic happen both on the stage and behind the scenes.  I had to take a break from the improv this group this past semester, but I hope to finish out my time at Erskine as an active member again this spring.  My fellow Thespians are, quite frankly, talented. And did I mention funny?  They are definitely both.  In sum, if you have never seen any music or theatre performances at Erskine, you are missing out.  We’d love to see you in the audience!

I am grateful for my friends.  Late night studying, paper writing, rehearsing, procrastinating, finding amusement in Due West, 2AM excursions to IHOP, cooking together, and so much laughter …  I wouldn’t trade it for anything!

I could probably easily spend another thousand words  writing about how great Erskine is and how God has blessed me in my time there, but my mom is about to take the baked ziti out of the oven and I am too excited to eat a big chunk of it.  I hope your stomach is as happy as mine is about to be.

I pray that your heart may be content and that this season will bring you happiness and peace.  Joy to the world, the Lord is come!

Erskine professors are the best.

Part of what makes Erskine so special–part of that unique feeling on campus that no one can quite explain–is the faculty.  Every professor at Erskine could most likely make more money and gain more prestige working elsewhere but they choose to be here.  I know many instances of professors leaving higher-paying jobs (or turning down enticing offers) elsewhere to be here.  This is so striking because it shows just how much these individuals truly care about us, their students.

While at Erskine, I have had the most contact with the psychology, foreign language, and music departments.  Professors in almost every department, though, have deeply impacted me in both similar and varying ways.  I have never seen a teacher as truly excited about math as Dr. Gorka and I have also had the benefit of his excellent advising regarding study abroad.  I have learned–and retained–more world history in the past few years than I have the rest of my life combined.  Dr. Granados’ classes have both frustrated me and massively improved my ability to communicate in Spanish, as well as fostered a genuine interest in Spanish literature.  I talk to her as a professor and as a friend.  Our current acting president, Dr. Christie, has also been my acting director and my English teacher.  I know of no one else who could make the book Moby Dick as interesting as he did in his American Romanticism course.

I have spent hundreds of hours in the music building singing as part of a choral ensemble, in voice lessons, in practice rooms, and as a performer in many concerts and musical productions; and  I have attended many other musical performances by amateurs and professionals.  Thanks to Erskine’s music department, I have had a music scholarship for four years even though I am not a major or minor.  Singing with the Choraleers for four years, as well as Chamber Singers and Bella Voce, has afforded me the opportunity to sing and worship at dozens of churches around the southeastern United States.  Some of my favorite memories of college were made during Choraleers retreats or trips.  Singing sacred music with a choir and conductor who actually believe the words we are singing is a far more powerful experience than singing the same music with a secular ensemble.  And Dr. Nabholz’s daily witty comments and retorts never fail to make us laugh.

The professors in the psychology department have been my encouragement, my biggest supporters, and sometimes my biggest frustrations.  Drs. Elsner, Showalter, Sniteman, and now Dr. Van Scoy are truly some of my favorite people on campus.  They have celebrated my achievements with me, given me countless words of motivation and advice, and helped me find my footing when I stumble.  I have read thousands of pages and spent countless hours studying for this department, but it is [almost] never boring.  These professors see potential in me that I never would have found or believed on my own, and they are part of the reason that I consider the psychology lobby/lab my second home on campus.  If I get accepted into a graduate program, and survive, it will be due to the thorough preparation they have given me.

I know of few universities where professor can connect your name to your face, let alone know your family, hometown, major, and campus involvement.  I not only learn from these extremely intelligent individuals, I eat meals with them, know their families, and have called them at home or on their cell phone.  They remember to ask about my health when I’ve been ill or hurt or how a major assignment or exam turned out when I’ve been stressed.  More than a couple of professors kept up with me and my travels and experiences abroad via Facebook and I don’t find that weird at all.  Erskine may have more than its fair share of stellar professors, but I would not change that for anything.

Knowing and Being Known

One of the best experiences which my time at Erskine has afforded me has been the opportunity to study abroad at the University of St. Andrews. For three and a half months I am living and learning in a new country, entirely different from my own. Studying abroad is amazing.

Studying abroad, strangely enough, has also reinforced all of the reasons why I love Erskine College so much and why I chose to study mathematics and psychology there instead of anywhere else. I am sure you have heard that the “grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” Before I came to Scotland, I loved Erskine, but I was still unsure if I had made the right decision when I heard about things students were doing at other colleges. The fact is that no matter where you go to college, someone else, somewhere else will always be doing something amazing. Experiencing the large research university, with hundreds of students in every class and professors who will never even learn my name, has shown me that the “other side” might be what is right for some people, but also that Erskine College has helped me to grow academically, emotionally, and spiritually more than I ever could have expected to anywhere else.

The key difference is the relationships I have developed with my professors. Students at colleges around the world usually have plenty of opportunities to meet new friends and spend time having fun with people they care about. They don’t usually have the opportunity to spend time with their professors, the people who are teaching them every day in the classroom. When I tell my new friends in here in Scotland that I have spent hours in my professors offices, babysitting their kids, or going over to their houses for dinner they generally look at me as if an alien has landed and taken over my body; none of them have ever heard of such a thing!

Freshman year I came to Erskine confused about who I was and what I wanted to study. I had only visited Erskine one time prior and still was unsure how to make my way around campus, the typical lost freshman girl who was unsure about anything and everything. I still remember the day that I decided I wanted to study psychology and needed to write my four year plan. I wondered in to Dr. Elsner’s office (the chair of the psychology department at Erskine) and asked him for his help. I didn’t know, then, that professors have office hours for students or that students are typically schedule appointments with their professors before just showing up at their door. I stumbled into Dr. Elsner’s office, and he helped me with my four year plan for psychology and patiently answered my seemingly unending stream of questions.

Sophomore year I requested to have Dr. Elsner as my advisor and also took a class with him that met five days a week, all year long. I am pretty sure that any other professor would have been absolutely tired of seeing me every day that year! But if he was, he hid it well. Almost every afternoon that year I came into his office with at least ten questions about what we were learning in class that day, and to ask for his opinion on my ideas for a research project. Dr. Elsner answered them all, and encouraged me to try new things. He suggested that I try applying for summer research opportunities, gave advice for which ones would be good for me, wrote letters of recommendation for my applications, and then encouraged me to try again next year when I didn’t receive any offers for placements.

Junior year came with a surprise: I decided that I wanted to study abroad my senior year. Most students plan to study abroad well in advance before they go; they usually come in to college and design their four year plan around their semester away. About a third of the way through my third year, I decided I wanted to go too. Yet, if it hadn’t been for Dr. Elsner, I would not have been able to go. Not only did he support my decision, he helped me to completely rearrange my four year to include time for studying in Scotland. Making my trip to Scotland possible was not just an afternoon of creative thinking! To make sure I received all of my credits for graduation, Dr. Elsner had to meet with me twice a week spring semester to teach me a course in Developmental Psychology. Developmental psychology is offered every year in the fall, but I wanted to take it in the spring so I could go to St. Andrews in the fall. If Dr. Elsner hadn’t been willing to take time out of his busy schedule to teach a course just for me, I never would have been able to come to Scotland.

Senior year has been no different. Right now I am in Scotland, writing this article in the University of St. Andrews library. Already I have emailed Dr. Elsner three times this weekend. The first was ask him several questions about class registration for spring registration. Two of the classes I need to take to graduate are offered at the same time, and I didn’t know what to do about it. Dr. Elsner emailed me back and offered to move the time for psychology senior seminar so I could get all of my classes does in time for May. The second email was about the new APA guidelines for undergraduate psychology. Dr. Elsner emailed all of his students and asked us if we would like to read the new guidelines and offer feedback for the upcoming changes in the department. I think all students really appreciate the regular opportunity to give feedback on what we are learning and how the department can improve. The third was about graduate school, to ask him if he would be willing to write me a letter of recommendation letter for my application to a Ph.D. program in North Carolina. Dr. Elsner wrote back quickly and told me to send him the details!

The best thing about Erskine is that this story would not be surprising to any of the students who read it. Dr. Elsner treats each and every student who has him as their advisor as important and worthy of his time. When I go to his office, there is almost always a line of students waiting to talk to him and get his advice, because he makes it clear that every student is important to him. Each student who comes to ask for his advice gets his full attention and support, even those who don’t have him as their advisor or may not even be taking any classes from him! I have written about Dr. Elsner because he is my advisor, but I would also not expect anything less from any of the other professors who mentor each of the students at Erskine College. In my opinion, this is what Erskine really means when they offer the chance for each student to know and be known.

Thanksgiving in the UK

As an American sojourning in a foreign land, I felt that it was my personal responsibility to introduce my fellow students to the happiness and joy that a genuine spirit of thankfulness can bring to a person (especially when that spirit of thankfulness is expressed in a large turkey!) In other words, I really wanted to cook a whole bunch of food for my friends over here, and let them know what a real American Thanksgiving is like!

It makes sense that they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving over here. After, Thanksgiving is a celebration of a first harvest in the new world, and Scotland is certainly part of the old world. It’s a little more surprising that none of them seem to know what Thanksgiving is about, and many seem to guess that is has something to do with Lincoln. (A fact that I find quite interesting, Lincoln was the first to declare Thanksgiving a national holidays, but US citizens are more likely to think of pilgrims.) What really got me, though, was my friend Rachel declaring that she had never even heard of Thanksgiving! I wondered to myself, what do they DO in Northern Ireland??

Every Thursday evening here in St. Andrews, I take part in a wonderful small group with some of the best people I have met here in Scotland. The group is diverse; we have two Americans, one person from Singapore, three Northern Irish, as well as a healthy blend of Scottish and English students! 🙂 And of course, because small group occurs every Thursday, the two Americans (Vannah and I) realized fairly early on in the term that we needed to introduce our small group to a proper Thanksgiving!

Our Thanksgiving actually happened the day before Thanksgiving, on Thanksgiving eve. Vannah was super amazing, she was the one who really made it happened and organized everyone! She invited all of the guests: all I had to do was show up and help prepare. She and I spent almost the entire day in the kitchen! We made homemade pies, chickens (since most people don’t like turkey 😦 ), green bean casserole, dressing, and sweet tea. The kitchen was exploding with ingredients! I think the best way to describe to you how messy our kitchen was is to tell you there was a point where we LOST an ENTIRE CASSEROLE! That’s when we knew we needed to think about straightening up! J

The most hilarious thing was watching all of the British students see all of our food for the first time. None of them had ever had green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, or even heard of dressing (stuffing!) They wondered at sweet tea and asked if they were supposed to add milk, or if it was alcoholic. They stared at their plates and made comments about how they had never had so many strange foods on their plate at the same time! It was basically hilarious! J  One of the best parts of the evening occurred at the end, when everyone around the table shared what they were most thankful for! It is always amazing to take time to give thanks to the Lord for all of His amazing blessings, and I certainly know I have MANY things to be grateful for!

A wonderful meal with wonderful friends! :)

A wonderful meal with wonderful friends! 🙂