What Is Happiness?

 

Today my French professor is dressed up as a medieval French soldier and in the middle of our French class the rest of the professors in the department came running in all dressed up as soldiers and they had a sword fight in the middle of the class. And then another guy dressed up as the Pope came in and then they all fake killed him. And then we went back to learning about adjectives.

I love college. That is all.

Okay, so the real reason I am writing this post is because it is because I was thinking today about how happy I am and have been these past two months, especially in comparison with last year. And then today in one of my classes during a discussion about the book we are reading (The Argonauts, by Maggie Nelson, just in case you were curious) we ended up debating the concept of happiness. What is happiness?

One girl said that she thought the simple asking of the question implied that one wasn’t happy. I said that I would argue in favor of the opposite, because in the time right before the class I had just been recently thinking to myself about how happy I am. A guy brought up the point that feelings such as depression are very valid, and one can be depressed and still have happy days where they laugh and smile. And then another girl brought up the point that there is a difference between happiness and contentment.

Last year I was not happy. Or rather, in the context of my class discussion today, I was not content. It took me a while to realize that, and really by the time I did, I was within my last month of my stay in Brazil, and I felt like it was kind of too late to make a decision to go home, or take any other drastic measures along those lines. And then when I got home I spent the first month being really mad about how my exchange in Brazil had turned out.

Now I have been in school for about two months, and I’ve been home for four. (Only four! It seems like it was so long ago.) I can think back about my year abroad without being so emotionally attached that I’m completely irrational, though to say that I’m completely subjective is not the case at all. Let’s just say that I don’t think about Brazil and want to go around complaining and throttling members of the organization anymore. I do have a lot of thoughts about it though.

A day where I was very happy. Chiara and I went to a soccer game because we needed something to do.

A day where I was very happy. Chiara and I went to a soccer game because we needed something to do.

Like for the fact that I was generally discontent didn’t mean that I didn’t have times where I was overwhelmingly happy. Like the times I hung out with my friends and the trips I went on and the family I gained. I am very proud of the things I achieved while in Brazil, such as becoming conversationally fluent in Portuguese and learning more about the bus system than most of the Brazilians I hung out with regularly and the huge amount of confidence that I gained. I do not regret going there because of the things I ultimately gained. But I’m not sure I would say that I was content while there.

We made structures out of marshmallows and uncooked spaghetti last Thursday.

We made structures out of marshmallows and uncooked spaghetti last Thursday.

But the basic idea is that I am happier now. I am content. I LOVE college. I am taking great classes that make me think and I don’t feel trapped in an apartment and I am making friends and my social group isn’t only compiled of five people that I talk to regularly. I can leave the dorm without being scared that something might happen to me and I have something to do every day, and there are always things that are going on if I don’t have anything planned. I am not bored. There are also the other things about me understanding the language without having to think really hard and I enjoy American food and I can go to the grocery store and know that I will most likely find the ingredients I came for. Let’s just say every so often I look around and say, wow, here are all of the things I missed while I was gone.

Happy Halloween!

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I’m Baaaack!

happy fall

happy fall

Today I deleted the Facebook and Twitter apps off of my phone because those are the two most distracting things in my life at the moment. Sit down to do homework, open Facebook, get up an hour later having done no homework. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time I gave the real world a try.

So what have I been up to? Biggest life change: going to college. The questions I am routinely asked: Where are you going to school? How did you choose said school? How do you like said school? What are you majoring in? What are you going to do with the rest of your life?

Question 1: The College of Wooster.

Question 2: I read a book plus I listened to my super knowledgeable and all around awesome uncle.

Question 3: I love said school.

Question 4: If I had to answer this question today, I would say I’m majoring in English and minoring in Political Science. If you had asked me yesterday I would have said that I’m majoring in Political Science and minoring in English. If you had asked me the day before that, I would have said I’m majoring in Political Science and minoring in Early Year Education. This is the most annoying and yet most persistent question I get asked. Also so many people outside of Wooster think I’m crazy for going to school without having my life figured out. Guess what? I don’t have my life figured out. Whatever. I’m not supposed to. I’m not concerned about it. This is not the thing that keeps me up at night.

Question 5: Ha. Haha. HAHAHAHAHA. Why are you asking me that question; can you hear how annoying you are sounding? (Incidentally, for the rest of my life, I plan on living. How I will live, now, that’s the real question.)

What does keep me up at night? Whether I have tomorrow’s reading done. Global warming and climate change and the environment in general. The United States political system and this year’s presidential election, as well as big business and lobbyists and whether they serve a democratic function to the government or not. (Talk to my parents — I was yelling at my books during fall break and they told me I shouldn’t do anymore homework with them present.)

I hope you enjoyed this short post! I’ll try to keep up with the blogging world on a more consistent basis.

Pioneer Camp 2016

Lovely La Foret

Lovely La Foret

Pioneer Camp 2016

For the past three summers, I’ve counseled a week long summer camp at the La Foret Conference & Retreat Center. Pioneer Camp is one of the many summer camps hosted by the Rocky Mountain Conference of the United Church of Christ, and it’s something I absolutely love to do. I love counseling so much that I made it so that my return date from Brazil made it possible for me to go and counsel.

Why do I love Pioneer Camp so much? There are so many reasons, but I’ll try and narrow it down some. First, the staff. Gavin, Courtney, Cameron, Kenny, JoAnne, Teddy: I love you. Everyone but Kenny was a returning staff member, but he seamlessly fit into the team. On many nights after we get the kiddos down, we find a way to meet up. Usually this is outside one of the cabins with us whispering so we don’t wake anybody up. Obviously, it doesn’t always work perfectly, because we need to have at least one person in each cabin. But it is always a ton of fun.

La Foret. This place is my home away from home. I couldn’t have thought of a better place to come straight to after ten months in Brazil. The view of Pike’s Peak was especially clear the week of Pioneer Camp.

The kids. Boy do I love the kiddos. At times they can be frustrating, annoying, and many other things besides, but at the end of the week I am always very sad to see them go. They are cute, they are funny, they are smart, they are so many amazing things. I love so many things about camp, but I will always come back for the kids. Pioneer Camp is one of the youngest camps that the Rocky Mountain Conference hosts: any kid going into second grade through fourth grade may attend for the week.

IMG_0112Here are some stories from the week.

Tuesday night was campfire night. During the week we had a fire ban, so the campfire was really the camp around an empty fire pit singing songs and playing games. The six girls from my cabin were all sitting together, and they spent the entire evening playing with dirt. One girl, Molly, was licking her thumb, sticking it into the dirt, and licking her thumb again. I wasn’t really paying a ton of attention, since I led many of the songs, but another counselor saw and put a stop to it. By the end of the night, each girl was covered in dirt. Another girl, Kendall, had dirt all over her face.

While we were walking back to our cabin, Courtney and I told the girls that they had no other option but to take a shower that night. During our walk, Kendall, Courtney, and I had a conversation that went something like this.

Kendall: “My face is itchy.”
Me: “Well, that’s what happens when you get dirt all over your face.”
Kendall: “I don’t have dirt on my face.”
Courtney: “When you take a look in the mirror I think you’ll find that you have dirt on your face.”
Kendall: “But I can’t see myself!”
Me: “Once we get back to the cabin you’ll have to go look in the mirror and you’ll see that you have dirt all over your face.”
Kendall: “I don’t have any dirt on my face!”

This conversation persisted in a similar vein the entire walk back to the cabin. When we did get back, Courtney told Kendall to go straight into the bathroom and look at her reflection in the mirror. From the front part of the cabin, Courtney and I both heard a loud, “My face is covered in dirt!” We both laughed.

……

One dinner I was sitting next to a kid named Aaron. I asked him if he would please pass me a napkin. Aaron passed me the nearest already used napkin on the table. I clarified that I would really like a clean napkin. He said, “Oh!” like he’d never realized that I would have wanted that in the first place and then passed me a clean napkin.

……

On talent show night, Teddy, JoAnne, and Kenny’s cabin performed a song called “Ant In My Pants.” The song included kids looking like they were going to jump right out of their pants there were so many ants. It was a kind of you had to be there moment, but I can assure you that all counselors not participating laughed so hard they cried. Literally.

……

Molly got married to her stuffed gorilla. The girls were either bridesmaids, they walked Molly down the isle, or officiated the wedding. Courtney played her guitar and I simply attended.

When the boys heard about the wedding, they had a field day. One boy named Jason was particularly fixated on it. He kept asking the counselors about the “marry-age.” Then he persistently asked us if we were married, and throughout the week matched us up to different counselors as our future spouse. I was married to Gavin, Courtney, and Cameron at different points throughout the week.

……

Right around Thursday everybody started getting tired and cranky. Symptoms: Laura left Molly out of something leaving Molly lying on her bed in tears. Later that same day, Molly slammed the door into Laura’s face, announcing that her room was having “private third grader time” and effectively leaving Laura out. Courtney took care of both incidents — I didn’t have to calm down any crying children that day. However, before bed, Courtney and I decided that we should have a cabin discussion about community.

To make a long story short, Courtney and I came out of that discussion feeling like we were the best counselors ever. Not only did the girls genuinely seem to understand that they were a part of something bigger than just themselves as an individual, but they finished the discussion by going around in a circle and saying that they each wanted to be a counselor when they got old enough. High praise indeed.

Right after we finished that discussion, we did Pow-Wow-How. Pow-Wow-How was something we did every night right before bed. It was just a way to reflect on our days. Pow is something not so good about the day, Wow is something good that happened that day, and Wow is how God was seen or experienced that day. Each camper was not required to answer every question, but each of us had a turn every night to share.

Molly is a camper that always wants to go first or last. This night was no exception, because she went last. Her Pow-Wow-How went something like this:

“My Pow is, ummm, I don’t really have a Pow. My Wow is, I don’t really have a Wow either. Okay, for my first How…” And so it went.

Molly started listing things as her Hows. These things included, but where not limited to, seeing light in the pool and while she was walking down the path. To clarify here, Molly was going for content rather than substance. I completely acknowledge that God can be found in many different places, but Molly was just listing things to make it obvious that she’d seen God more than the other girls. But I’m also all for each person saying what they want to say, and paying attention while the campers are talking. Everybody has something important to say, no matter how nonessential it might seem.

Anyway, Molly is listing Hows. Right around her seventh How, Courtney and I made the mistake of glancing at each other. We completely lost it. We both started cracking up — I think we both were crying we were laughing so hard. Finally Courtney and I both managed to pull ourselves together, apologizing to the girls profusely, and told Molly to continue. Molly made it to eleven Hows before Courtney and I both lost it again. Another girl asked us if we had a case of the nighttime giggles, which we both quickly agreed that we did indeed have such a case.

I spent some quality time staring at the wall, trying to get myself under control.

To put things into perspective, Courtney and I went from an awesome counselor moment where everyone was sharing there feelings and talking about being a part of an awesome community to a not so awesome counselor moment where we laughed uncontrollably during another camper’s sharing time. Not our best moment. But if you had been faced with that situation I challenge you not to laugh.

After we pulled ourselves under control for the second time, we told Molly that she was done and asked the other girls if they had anything else they wanted to add before bedtime. Kendall said that she had some more Pows to share, in her very specific Kendall-like manner.

“Umm… Umm… My first Pow is…. Umm… I forgot! Oh, yeah! I remember. My first Pow is…” And off she went, styling her Pows in the way that Molly had styled her Hows. Courtney and I both cracked up for the third time in as many minutes. That was when we decided to call it quits, but not before Molly’s hand had shot up again, announcing that she had two more Hows to share. We told the girls that sharing time was over for the night, and to get ready for Lights Off, and barely made it to our room before losing it again. Courtney told me later that she had wanted to ask Molly if she saw God while flushing the toilet.

Upon writing this story, I still laugh.

Courtney and Claire: dubbed the "Crunch Twin Counselors"

Courtney and Claire: dubbed the “Crunch Twin Counselors”

……

One kid named David waddled around camp the entire week with his hand on his crotch. No, he did not have to go to the bathroom. I guess he just needed constant reassurance from his steadfast friend.

……

I love little kids and I love counseling. It might sound like something to avoid: being around small children for 24/7, but I don’t want to miss next year if I can avoid it. I don’t really have a very satisfactory ending, other than I ran out of funny stories to tell. Parents, I love your children, no matter how much of a handful they are. I love camp.

Goodbye Brazil, Hello Colorado

 

A last hug with my host mom

A last hug with my host mom

I’ll be honest with you. I’ve been procrastinating the writing of this blog post for a while now. It’s not really flowing off the fingertips like some of my posts do. And I think the reason for this delay is because my life has taken somewhat of a dramatic turn in the last two weeks, in that I am now home. Back in Colorado. And I’ve been back for about two and a half weeks.

Leaving was so weird. I couldn’t sleep the two nights before I left. I was so hyper. I was so excited. And then the scene in the airport. In contrast to Veera’s leaving, when Chiara, Virna, Veera, and I sobbed all over each other at the airport and the target of many stares and became a kind of weird attraction, I didn’t cry at all. I did want to say goodbye, but at the same time when we were all sitting in the airport together just waiting for it to be a reasonable time to go through security and go to my gate, I felt as though everything was drawn out.

At the time of my departure, I was ready to leave. I gave Virna one last hug, and then I went through security. I was wearing my blazer, covered with pins. I had two suitcases that were checked under the plane, a red wheelie that was with me, and a backpack. In the gate while waiting for my flight I sat and thought. I am proud of everything I accomplished over these past ten months. I have learned so much. My confidence has skyrocketed, I learned a new language, I made friends and family. But I was also ready to come home. It wasn’t until my layover in Sao Paulo and subsequent takeoff to Dallas that I really started to tear up. I had spent my two hour layover reading and responding to messages from my friends and family of Brazil. And now I was headed home. When I would get off the plane, I would no longer be in Brazil, but in the United States. What a bittersweet moment. It was the moment I had been waiting for and thinking about since my arrival in Brazil, but I was also sad to go.

Goodbye, Brazil. I love you.

And now I am home! I feel as if I just woke up from an incredibly detailed dream. I feel as if everything is the same and yet something about me has fundamentally changed. I don’t know what that is yet. It hasn’t been long enough for me to reflect on everything that happened and really produce a big takeaway from Brazil.

All I can say is that it’s weird being home. I love seeing the mountains and the heat that isn’t humidly oppressive and carpeted floors and the fact that I can successfully negotiate a conversation over the phone without having to ask my host mom for help. But I miss my host mom like crazy, and all of the exchange students I met and love so much.

Guys, if you’re reading this, I miss you and love you so much. We went to talking with each other every day to being separated by oceans. What a weird concept. I didn’t realize how hard it would be to leave you all behind. I see you as being my friends twenty years down the line, and I hope I ca see you in person again soon.

So, here I am. Welcome home, Claire.

Over The Past Ten Months…

Photo Jul 03, 15 47 58I lived in Natal, Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil as an exchange student.

I learned how to speak Portuguese fluently.

I lived with two different host moms.

I met other exchange students from all over the world.

I cried.

I took a surfing lesson.

My family came to visit me.

I laughed.

I studied in a Brazilian high school.

I suffered from homesickness.

I drank coconut water out of actual coconuts.

I made cookies.

I made Brazilian friends.

I ate so much acai it’s embarrassing.

I went to Rotary club meetings.

I learned how to make torta de limao.

I drank enough passion fruit juice to fill up a small lake.

I made tapioca.

I went to the mall enough that I practically lived there part time.

I bought (and wore) mountains of bracelets.

I stood out like a sore thumb pretty much everywhere I went.

I binge watched Netflix.

I filled my blazer with a mountain of pins.

I went to the Amazon Rainforest, the Pantanal, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Foz do Iguaçu, Porto Alegre, Curitiba, Gramado, Florianópolis, Bonito, Recife, Joao Pessoa, Olinda, and Pipa.

I had a year I will never forget.

 

I leave to go home tomorrow. I will have been here for exactly ten months at the time I leave. I have a lot of mixed feelings about my departure, but I am mostly excited. I am happy and proud of what I accomplished this year. I will miss the friends and family I made, but I am ready to go home. Bye bye, Brazil. I’m gonna miss you.

Despedidas

 

Photo Jun 15, 01 14 46At the beginning of our exchange year, there were eight Rotary exchange students in Natal. Then the number dropped to seven, when Haven got sent home. Now the number is down to five, because when June came, so did the despidadas (farewells). Pierre left on the thirteenth, and Veera on the fifteenth.

I knew before coming here that I would meet people from all over the world. I didn’t fully comprehend just how close we would become. We practically lived out of each other’s pockets these past ten months, and now we have no way of knowing if the eight of us will ever be in the same place at the same time ever again. I don’t know if I will necessarily miss Brazil as a country, but I will for sure miss this moment in time.

Excerpt and translation of a speech I did for the 4500 Rotary district conference:

Photo Apr 20, 14 58 59Ten months ago I said goodbye to my family and arrived here in Brazil. I didn’t really understand what I was doing. I had come to a country completely different than mine, without speaking the language and without knowing anything about the culture. Now I am completely sure that I will never forget these ten months. It hasn’t been easy, and it hasn’t been just a vacation, but it was a life. Here in Brazil, I have friends and family.

I am going to talk about the other exchange students that I met and built friendships with. I knew before I arrived I knew I would have friends from other countries, but I didn’t know that we would be so close. Now, when I imagine visiting another country, I don’t think of the place, but I think of the people I would like to visit. I have parts of my heart around the entire world, and I will never forget you guys. I love you all.

All red eyes and smiles at the airport.

All red eyes and smiles at the airport.

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Awkward

 

Morning:

“We leave at 8pm!” – Virna

6:30pm, the same day:

Virna gets back from wherever she was. I think she was getting her hair and nails done. “Are you ready?”

“I thought we were leaving at 8pm.”

“No, that’s when the party starts. We are leaving at 7:30pm to pick up Mamãe (her mom) and then we will go to the party.”

“Okay, I need to take a shower.”

Virna proceeds to spend approximately forever in the bathroom, and I finally jump into the shower at around 7:15 or so, washing up, putting on a dress, and doing hair and makeup in record time, managing to be done right around 7:30. While I was getting dressed, I heard Virna say, “So we are just waiting for Claire, right?”

7:30pm:

Veera, Chiara, and I are ready, and waiting on the couches in front of the door. Virna spends the next thirty minutes nattering around the house, doing I don’t know what, calling Mamãe, and doing more random things of nothingness.

File Jun 05, 15 14 078pm:

We leave the house, at the time Virna originally stated. We pick up Mamãe and head over to the ninetieth birthday party of the mother of Virna’s ex-husband.

We walk into the venue of the birthday party, thus starting the most awkward walk of my life. There were two lines of tables, with an isle in the middle that we had to walk down in order to get to our table. We arrived later than most of the people at the party, and alone, so everyone was staring at us as we navigated our way to our table.

One thing to know about Mamãe – she is elderly and infirm and requires support to walk. She is also like a crow attracted to shiny objects. The shiny objects in this case were Mamãe’s many acquaintances, whom she had to walk over to in order to greet, despite many efforts to convince her to go sit down and let her completely abled friends come to her. Being Mamãe’s support, I was dragged along. This meant that the twenty foot walk from the entrance to our table took about five excruciatingly long minutes. Five minutes during which everyone in the entire room stared at us. It was like we were in a zoo – who were these foreign looking girls? Veera, Chiara, and I exchanged glances, and then proceeded to pretend that we didn’t have any idea that about forty people were staring at us and whispering.

Later that night, after the birthday song had been sung and best wishes exchanged, Virna told the three of us that we would leave now, and to go wait by the door, while she helped Mamãe. After about fifteen minutes, we migrated to the couches right by the door, waiting for another fifteen minutes until we finally left.

Too Much Potter?

 

In the back: The Golden Snitch. On the left (me): Luna Lovegood. On the right: Member of the Gryffindor Quidditch Team

In the back: The Golden Snitch. On the left (me): Luna Lovegood. On the right: Member of the Gryffindor Quidditch Team

A fact about me that is relevant to the rest of this post: I am a huge Harry Potter fan. I LOVE Harry Potter. I obsess over Harry Potter. I spend a lot of time thinking about Harry Potter.

In the summer of 2012, a website called Pottermore was launched in beta. In July of this year, a two-part play called Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will open. And a movie called Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them premieres in November of 2016. Each of these projects are extensions of the Potter universe. And yet, I can’t bring it in me to be too excited.

Pottermore is a website that J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, has used to expand the Potter-verse (Potter Universe), by becoming a new medium for news, articles, and interactive features. The site has revealed the backgrounds of certain characters such as Professor McGonagall, the origins of the Potter family, famous wizards from the different houses of Hogwarts, information about different wizarding schools located around the world, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the soon to be released movie with screenplay by J.K. Rowling. It is loosely based on a book released by Rowling with the same title, but instead follows Newt Scamander as he discovers some of the “fantastic beasts” in question. Finally, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a play, written by J.K. Rowling that details the “19 Years Later” that fans everywhere have been speculating about.

All of these new expansions are very interesting and exciting, but I’m having a hard time being interested and excited.

I read the Harry Potter books, and a whole new world opened up in my imagination. I watched the movies, and the world that I saw in my head took warped a little and became a little closer to that of the movies. Now when I think of Hermione Granger, I’m more likely to think of Emma Watson than the book loving, bushy haired, know-it-all that I saw in my head. I’ve had several different opportunities to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a theme park in Universal Studios Orlando, but have declined because I don’t want to ruin the land the land of Harry Potter in my mind any more than it’s already been. Why can’t we just let Potter stay as it is? I, for one, would much rather speculate on the backstories of the characters and write fanfiction about it than have it spoon fed to us. J.K. Rowling, I love you, but isn’t it good enough for you to know explicitly Professor McGonagall’s backstory and leave the rest of us to think about it for ourselves?

I think that this is the problem with story lines and universes and the continuous thought of, oh let’s just release one more movie and one more book that’s been happening lately. The more cynical part of me thinks that the only reason that these universes appear to be expanding needlessly (in my mind) is because of money. Harry Potter is already popular, so of course people will line up outside the movie theatres for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Star Wars already had a hugely loyal fan base, so of course releasing three new movies isn’t out of the question. And people have already embraced the idea of Iron Man and Captain America fighting together, so now let’s see what people are going to see when we put them against each other.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But all of the bows were neatly tied, so can’t we just let sleeping dragons lie? It’s for this reason that I’m not entirely sure that I’ll be seeing Captain America: Civil War. I like where Marvel’s left it off at the end of The Winter Soldier and am not the hugest fan of the all of the extras – Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D and Avengers: Age of Ultron.

 Yes, I’m still most definitely going to buy the book formatted scripts of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and go see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It doesn’t mean that I think these expansions of the Harry Potter universe are the best thing that’s happened since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out.