Wednesday, August 29, 2012

4 to 1

     They say you learn something new everyday.
     Here's what I learned yesterday: "UWC is located about 7,000 ft. above sea level. For every breath taken at sea level, four are necessary here to acquire the same amount of oxygen."
     Here's what I learned today: THIS IS SO TRUE. 
     I bet I can guess what you were doing at 5:30am this morning. Like most sane people, you were probably asleep. But I bet you can't guess what I was doing this morning.
     "Were you asleep?"  No.
     "Were you getting ready for school?"  No.
     "Were you lying awake staring at the ceiling and discovering the meaning of life?"  No.
     "Were you hiking up a hill to look across the valley at the sunrise?"  No.
     "Were you riding a bike to Wal-Mart?"  Yes.
     That's right, ladies and gentlemen. This morning, at 5:20am, Z and I were awake and ready to brave the 11 miles to Wal-Mart and back.
     Now, usually, here at UWC, students don't have to embark on such a strenuous (I'll explain in a minute) journey for supplies. Usually we have a lovely bus, four times a week, that takes us straight to Wal-Mart. However, if you are a first year student lucky enough to be "exploring the wilderness" this weekend, then you didn't get to take the bus to Wal-Mart today because you had to go pack your enormous hiking pack and are out of luck.
     Unless you have a B-Code Free-Code (yes, it rhymes, I know!) on Wednesday mornings and are motivated enough to wake up and face treacherous deserts, fire-breathing dragons, and Mt. Everest.
     Ok, so it wasn't thaaaat bad. We are kind of in a desert, but it's actually really pretty, especially at sunrise. And the dogs chasing us weren't fire-breathing so I guess that's a plus. And we didn't bike Mt. Everest, but with our full backpacks of Wal-Mart provisions and being 7,000 feet up (remember that whole 4:1 oxygen ration? Yeah, it takes your breath away (ahaha, see what I did there?)) we had quite the work-out. But we actually made really great time. Google maps estimated that, by bike, the ~5.4 miles would take us 26 min. We made it in 20. WHOOOOOO! We felt very accomplished :)
     All day long we've been receiving congratulations on our feat. I'm not kidding. Both of our room-mates fully expected us to either a) get eaten by dogs b) get lost c) miss class d) get abducted or e) a combination of these. And no one thought we could make it so fast; 20 min is the fastest anyone's ever made it. Yay for self-motivated, independent, responsible first-years!! YAY!
     So that's what I've learned and accomplished in the past couple of days. We've also started classes, more on that later, it's time for this biker to catch up on her sleep. Good night :)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Mac 'N Cheese

     This post was initially titled "Seeing Double", but because I'm enjoying some mac n cheese courtesy of the dayroom microwave, and because it still fits the subject, I'm going with it :)
      There's a theory that everyone has a "twin", someone who either looks or acts very much like them, or complements them perfectly- like mac 'n cheese :) I, personally, have found mine, her name starts with an A and I can't even count the number of times people have confused us or we have thought we were each other in pictures. Once I even glanced in the mirror and thought it was her. No joke.
     This weekend my orientation group went on a retreat and this idea became even more solidified in mind. The retreat was at a christain campsite and, though the scenery and activities were different, I couldn't help thinking how similar it was to CSR, the camp I go to every summer. Almost identical ropes course, living in cabins, even the smell. We did a lot of really fun activities (ropes course, tie-dye, salsa dancing, and this game with pool balls, during which I expressed my very competitive nature) and had a number of workshops meant to make us more comfortable with each other and with the UWC mission. It was really cool and I had a chance to meet and get to know a lot great people. And I couldn't help thinking how much some people reminded me of people at home.
     This isn't the first time this happened. When I was in Spain with the Oxbridge Program two years ago I made the same observation. Several of the people had extremely similar personalities and appearances to friends back home, and two even had the same name. It's kind of crazy. With 7 billion people on the planet and an infinite number of possible genetic combinations for appearance and personality, how can people be the same everywhere? And what are the odds they find each other?
     So that was my interesting observation of the weekend that I thought I'd share with you guys :) I really am having fun here, though we'll see if that changes tomorrow when classes start.
     Also, a shout-out to my friends from home who have been keeping in touch- y'all are great!
     Aaaand on a completely unrelated note, I love getting mail and I'd love to hear from everyone! So send me a letter:

Jessika Nebrat
PO Box 417
Montezuma, NM 87731

Thanks! :)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Under the Big Blue Sky

     Have I mentioned how beautiful it is here? Today I discovered a new place, probably the prettiest by far. Our campus is in the foothills of the Rockies, so it is surrounded by several small mountains/big hills. Up on top of one of the hills is a cross, to which you can hike. So, in a very random, self-motivated-exercising mood I suggested a couple of us hike up there. Z and A (I'll leave people's names out in case they'd rather not be directly mentioned) and I hiked up there and it was SO PRETTY.
     A priest asked us once if we'd ever had an experience through which God's glory was evident; this was definitely one of those moments. At the top of the hill you can see miles and miles away and it is so incredibly quiet. Not just quiet, a specific kind of quiet, when you can almost here the expanse stretching out to the horizon and the wind moving through the evergreens. I don't even know how to describe the sound, literally just like hearing space.
     One of the things I love about Kansas is how big the sky is. Up on the hill the sky is also really big, both similar and different to our sky. I think it's more colorful here, but that might just be because we're in the "monsoon" season. It's rained every day so far, which apparently is really unusual, but a nice change from the heat.
     Today we also had "Intro to Wilderness", where we learned some of the essential aspects for camping (an "adventure" I'll be forced to experience next weekend...). We learned how to pack, cook, and sleep, among other things. We also learned how to act if we see a bear. Want to know how? Well, here in New Mexico we don't have grizzlies (for those you play dead), we have black bears. So if you see one, you put your arms up, kind of pretending to be a bear, and making yourself big, and say (loudly) "HEY BEAR!", and then back away slowly. Not even kidding, "HEY BEAR". And if it attacks? You fight back. Yeah, I am just so excited to experience the wilderness....
     So that's a couple neat experiences for the day (oh and did I mention I got to break in my pink hiking boots? definitely an exciting moment). I'm getting better at remembering names and faces, which is also good. Tomorrow we're leaving for an off-campus trip, so I may not have a chance to post for a couple days, but I'll come back with lots of fun stories about ropes courses, group bonding, tie-dying, and hopefully nothing about rattle snakes or bears. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tower of Babel

     A lot of you know that I like languages. Learning them, knowing them, hearing them, anything. Language is such an incredible connection between peoples of the world and I think they're really fun!
     I myself know English (obviously), Russian (from my parents), and Spanish and French (from school). Yesterday the school conducted placement tests for math and languages and I had a really cool experience.  The math test was first and it was ok. I placed where I wanted to, but there were definitely some intimidating students. One of the questions looked like this:

    S E N D               <--- Each letter represents a digit. Solve for each letter.
+ M O R E

     While my math skills aren't too terrible, I didn't have enough time to solve this problem, and as far as I've heard, no one else did either. But one of the girls in my hallway went back to the dorm and did solve it. Just goes to show that we each have our own strengths and that there are a lot of really talented people here!
(Also, I challenge someone to solve it :) I'll let you know if you get it right)
     Anyways, that's not even the cool experience I mentioned. After the math test, there were Spanish and French placement tests. And, being the over-achieving, multiple-language learning, IB student that I am, I was kind of in a bind: I had to be two places at once. And while UWC does have many Hogwarts-esque elements (did I mention that the third floor corridor is off limits to students? It is. Seriously.), being in two places at once is impossible.
     I had to go talk to the language teachers ahead of time; they were all so nice and easy-going and happy to work with me! We decided I'd take the Spanish test first and then the French. When I walked into the Spanish room I was really confused. There were no chairs. Not one. Just a bunch of desks pushed against the wall and yoga balls. No, really. The teacher believes students should be comfortable, and apparently yoga balls inspire creativity and a yearn for learning. It was so cool!
     Still not to the cool part. After Spanish I headed down the hall to French. All the students who had completed their respective language tests were standing around chatting. And I don't even know how many languages were being spoken. Several times over the weekend I've seen people find their language-mates and you should see them light up, both becoming much more animated and excited- it is so cool! Yesterday we also had an all-school assembly and to begin some of the students read the mission statement in their native language. I counted at least twenty, no joke. And the vice president told us that there are at least forty languages studied here over the year. Isn't that amazing?!
     I've even gotten to participate in the fun! Someone in the language hall noticed me taking both tests and, after hearing me speak Spanish with the teachers, started talking to me in French (his native tongue), testing whether I really had studied it before. Apparently I passed his assessment :) I've also found someone who speaks Russian, though only one person. This girl's linguistic abilities are also really impressive. She's Austrian  but has studied in Spain and Russia and speaks several languages as well. It's so exciting to speak with someone in a different language!! There's kind of a unique connection formed, and I can't wait to improve my skills and have the chance to speak more!
     One more thing- in the evening yesterday we had what's called "Dance Fun", basically an event where all of the first years learn several of the cultural dances used throughout the year. It was SO FUN. Each time we had to pick a new partner, first-years with second-years, and we spent about half an hour on each dance. There were three- one from Latin America, one from India, and one from Africa. Dance is really big here, and everyone had a blast just being together and sharing cultures.
     Ok, enough of my excited-ness about all the multicultural aspects of UWC, though I'm sure you'll hear more about it later :) Hope all of you at home are doing well!

Monday, August 20, 2012

I'm Not in Kansas Anymore

     Well, it's official- I am a UWC student living in Montezuma, New Mexico.
     In the past 24 hours or so I have met probably about 200 different people and re-met at least half of them. It is so hard to remember so many new faces and names! But everyone is so, so friendly and so happy to help in any way possible to make this experience incredible. What makes it even harder is trying to remember where everyone is from. And then having to explain what Kansas is. Let me give you a couple examples of conversations:

A) The People Who Have Never in their Entire Lives Ever Heard of Kansas
"Hi! I'm _____ from _____"
"Hi, I'm Jessika from Kansas, it's so nice to meet you!"
"Kansas? Where is that?"
"It's here in the U.S., right in the middle of the country."
"Oh, ok, I've never heard of it. What's it like?"
"Um, well... it's very flat? There's a lot of farmland, but I live in a city"

Those aren't very interesting conversations. I never know how to describe Kansas. The next one's a little more interesting and even has some alternate endings! (Yeah, I know, get excited ;))

B) The People Who Have Actually Heard of Kansas. They Know All the Stereotypes. All. Of. Them.
"Hi! I'm ____ from ____"
"Hi! I'm Jessika from Kansas, it's so nice to meet you!"
   i) "Oh, cool! So like, the Wizard of Oz! Do you have red slippers? Have you traveled the yellow brick road? Do you know the Wicked Witch of the West? Oh, oh, wait! Guess what, you're not in Kansas anymore!"
   ii) "Oh, Kansas! So like, do you live on a farm? How big is your town? Do you have, like, horses and chickens? Have you been cow-tipping? Do you drive a tractor?"
   iii) "Oh my gosh no way! Do you get tornadoes all the time? That must be so scary, I can't even imagine. I saw this show once on TV about tornadoes and how they demolished this entire town, it was awful."

Seriously. It's pretty amusing.
     But I'm quite sure everyone is having similar conversations about their respective corners of the world. You would not believe how many countries are represented here, it's crazy! I've met students from the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Peru, Chile, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Spain, Italy, Bosnia, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados (where my roommate is from- her name is Tanya and she's great!), China, Japan, Malaysia, India, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Turkey, Ghana, Sudan, South Africa, and so many more.  It's like a mini- World.
     Dad calls it a fairy-tale. And I can see why, it has all of the makings of a pretty story:
a) The school is a castle. Seriously. In the beautiful mountains of New Mexico, surrounded by forests, a river, hot springs, etc.
b) Individuals from all over the world come together in one place with a common goal- to learn and share their talents with the world in an effort to improve it.
c) Everyone is so nice. And enthusiastic. And helpful. When Dad and I pulled up to the school we were greeted by more than 50 students cheering and introducing themselves and immediately ready to help me unpack and get situated. You can stop anyone and strike up a conversation, and they're happy to learn about where you're from, how you came to UWC and what you're most excited about.
     It really is exciting. And it's only been one day! We have orientation activities all this week, so I'm sure I'll meet and re-meet many more people and have a lot more stories to share! Get ready :)

Friday, August 17, 2012

Bye, Bye, Bye

Today I was completely blindsided by something.
     Well, actually, two somethings. And the first one hit me like a ton of bricks. No, really. I ran into a brick wall, much to my friends' amusement. Turns out when you don't visit a place for a while, your old school for example, you start to forget where things are, important things even, like walls. Ouch.
     But wait. Why was I at my old school? Well, while writing that post yesterday, I had some time to really mull some things over. I decided UWC just wasn't for me, so I'm going to return to EHS and pick up right where I left off! So the purpose of this post is to say, as 'N Sync would put it, "bye, bye, bye" to this blog. Hope you guys enjoyed reading!
     Just kidding, you're not getting off so easily.
     I was at East to see everyone once more and say "see you later" (none of this "good-bye" nonsense, it's too sad). Which leads me to my second "blindsiding": I am really, really going to miss everyone. While I am super excited to begin this next chapter of my life, and I know that UWC will be an incredible experience, I still have to leave behind all of my friends.
     Over the past few years I've had the opportunity to spend time with and get to know some really wonderful people. I've been taught by outstanding teachers, a couple of which have been extremely influential in several of my adventures, and who have supported me throughout the entire UWC application and preparation experience. (You know who you are, thank you SO much!) And I've made friends who I hope will last me a lifetime. From riding the bus as little sixth graders, to a whole list of bio adventures, to all the laughs at pommies, to competing in Spanish, to joint sweet sixteens, to so many more.
     And I haven't even started on those outside of school. My church family especially is hard to leave. Through the church I have met some of the most awesome people and best friends you can imagine. Seriously. I cannot say thank you enough to my priests, my youth director, and everyone else who has helped teach and guide me over the past seventeen years.
     To all of you- you guys have been great and I want to thank you for not only the laughs and memories along the way, but also for helping make me who I am today. I'll be a little farther away now, but that doesn't mean we can't still stay in touch; thank goodness for all of the technology to which we have access- phones, texting, skype! We can even send letters, because who doesn't love receiving mail? I look forward to sharing this adventure with you, and maybe even getting closer because of it.
     So, it's not "good-bye". Just "see you later". I'll miss you guys!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

How It All Began

     I believe that everything happens for a reason, and that each moment of our lives, each obstacle, each celebration, each victory, prepares us for the next challenge that life will throw our way. We may not always understand why we find ourselves where we are, but if we trust that that is where we are meant to be, and that God will help us navigate our way through any adversity, then we are unstoppable.
      About ten months ago, I received a nondescript envelope in the mail. Printed with the name of an institution I'd never heard of and with an address from New Mexico (a place I thought I had absolutely no desire to ever live), that envelope had all the makings of one that I would have picked up, glanced at, and immediately discarded. But if that were the case then, of course, you wouldn't be reading this now. So why did I open that particular envelope?
     Honestly, I have absolutely no idea. Really, not one. It was like my hands just did it, without reporting back to my brain. So there I was all of a sudden, staring blankly at a pamphlet labeled UWC- USA, embellished with a collage of photos depicting smiling students and a castle.
     Wait, what? A castle? No, you read that correctly. Well ok, now they had my attention and our adventure begins. The next two hours can only be described as a marathon searching session during which my mother and I read just about every single word published on the world wide web about a certain international education program. Which, you know, is saying a lot.
     And that's how I learned about United World College.
     I won't overwhelm you with two hours worth of information, if you desire such an undertaking, you're quite welcome to visit the UWC website. Basically, the UWC program is one that strives to unite students all over the world through education. It follows the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (IB), a rigorous, internationally recognized curriculum, and incorporates elements of sport, service, and wilderness into education. There are thirteen locations in all, located in the USA, Canada, Costa Rica, Wales, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Italy, Norway, the Netherlands, Swaziland, China, Singapore, India, and Venezuela. One must be accepted to attend and there is quite a lengthy application process, after which the student is assigned to one of these locations. All in all it's a really, really cool program. And right up my alley.
     You've already guessed I applied, because otherwise, again, you wouldn't be reading this. Here's the part where I have to trust the philosophy I outlined in that first paragraph. I wanted so badly to be assigned to Wales. Every time I prayed and every time 11:11 came around, I thought, "and please, please, please, let me be accepted to UWC Wales". Wale, no such luck (see what I did there? Wales ---> Wale/Well, get it...? Ok, never mind).
     I was accepted and assigned to UWC- USA, located in Montezuma. New Mexico. Yeah, you've never heard of it. It's in the middle of nowhere. I was a mess at youth group that night.
     "Jess! What's wrong?!"
     "I heard back from UWC."
     "Aww, honey, I'm so sorry. You didn't get in?"
     "No," (sniffles), "I did."
     *Confused expression*
     Yeah, no joke. But wait, that's not all, folks! Since that fateful April day, I've done some more research about the USA location, and I'm really excited. Each location has its own flavor, and the USA school has a strong focus on International Relations, the field in which I'd like to work. Life works itself out in interesting ways, and I'm really looking forward to attending such an amazing program. Two hundred students from all over the world will come together in one really amazing place (Or so I've heard, I haven't actually been there yet; but it really is in a castle, in the mountains, surrounded by forests, with hot springs on campus. Have I enticed you yet? :) I know, doesn't sound all that bad.) I'll be taught by amazing professors, have opportunities to learn new skills, and experience new adventures (including the New Mexican wilderness... I should probably mention now that I am NOT, by any stretch of the imagination, what you'd call an outdoorsy girl. I've never been camping, or hiking, and I'm terrified of snakes and spiders and other creepy crawly things.But it's a required element of the program.) It's going to be amazing.
     So, why am I telling you all this? The idea is to keep this blog as an account of all that happens this year. Many of you are probably friends and family from back home (Wichita, KS) who are curious about all that I've gotten myself into, though some of you may have just come across this blog randomly. Either way, I hope you'll forgive my lack of blogging experience and understand that I really just want to share my experience. Thanks for reading, and I hope you'll stick with me through this amazing adventure!
     I go to school in just three days (Aug. 19, 2012)- wish me luck!