Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Reflections on my experiences as a BICer from 2007 to 2011

            When I began considering the final Capstone memoir and what I felt was important to write about, I was overcome with an overwhelming sense of uncertainty, and for the first time I was completely stalled – I had not even the slightest vision of what direction my story would go. What could I possibly include that would be significant enough to be even slightly interesting to hold a college professor’s attention for fifteen to twenty pages? I struggled with questions of these sorts for about a day, returning from time to time hoping that a fresh, creative idea would eventually come from it. After much frustration, I finally sat down and began to write. I read the expectations of the paper, and began reflective brainstorming. Eventually, I had written nearly a two-page account of why I decided to attend Baylor and what factors influenced that decision. This is the first time, in all of my four years of college, that I have sat down and examined my life, and it is certainly the first time I have put it down on paper. It is sort of ironic – the emphasis on critical and complex analysis and the rigorous curriculum that trained me to affectively achieve such high levels of understanding is the exact reason I was blind sighted when I was unable to offer a straightforward account of my academic career.

            This is when I realized the real purpose of my paper, or at least what I understand as its purpose: the real objective of the Capstone paper is to provide a point from which I can begin to examine myself and to reflect upon my own life. It is a means of “wrapping it up,” a way to recount my college experience as a whole and how truly unique my college experiences were because of the BIC.
            After coming to this conclusion, I realized that I just have to write. Some parts of my story may seem irrelevant, but I hope that the themes will become more evident by the end of the memoir. Overall, I want to stress the themes of transition and decision making that are unique to my story and play an influential role in how I changed over just a short period of time. Most importantly I want to stress that my awareness of  “the examined life” and the importance of self-reflection has finally taken form after four years.


College years are some of the most important developmental years of a young person’s life (for those who are blessed with the opportunity to attend college and take it seriously, of course). College is not only a means of intellectual development, it is filled with years and experiences that shape and influence the rest of our lives. It is often the first time away from home, a time when we are left to make our own decisions, to learn from our mistakes, and to search for the person we truly are, or the person we want to be. College is where you make friends for life and the decisions and connections we make can determine the paths that we will follow.
            My transition from high school to college was unique in many different ways. My ability to make a smooth transition to living on my own is in large part due to the fact that I am an only child, raised in a single-mother household, where my mother was constantly working to support us. From the time I began school and throughout my life, my mother taught me to be independent and self-sufficient. The sense of responsibility and independence remained important values even after my mother remarried and my stepfather, Chris, became a part of the family.
            My sense of self-determination was most often a positive quality, but occasionally it created trouble. I was stubborn, argumentative, and often restless. Throughout high school I my stepdad and I were always at odds with each other and we constantly battled with the stepfather/daughter relationship. But my parents never really had to worry about me as a teenager – I was a good student and never got into trouble. I was always determined to make my own money and held a job from the time I was fourteen (the legal working age in North Carolina). Apart from the occasional “terrible teens” episodes, I was self-sufficient and motivated, engaged in many extracurricular activities such as cheerleading, student government, National Honors Society, and I was very politically engaged, founding political clubs on campus and working on campaigns.
            There was, however, one very significant person upon whom I was dependent, especially throughout middle and high school – my grandfather, who I called Papa. After my grandmother, who I called Amma and with whom I was extremely close, died of breast cancer in 2000 (when I was just about twelve years old), Papa and I developed an extremely close relationship that resembles one that I cherish as a father/daughter relationship. Papa and I never developed much of a personal relationship when Amma was alive. I spent most of my time with her and Papa was always working at the restaurant from sunrise to sundown. When Amma died, our family was torn to pieces. She was young and truly an angel on earth. She was the bond that held Papa, my mother, and my uncle together. With so many clashing personalities in one household, the only time tensions were lifted was when Amma’s presence was felt. But in a sense, Amma’s death created wholeness between my mother, uncle, Papa, and me, that filled in the holes and gaps in our relationship.
            Papa and I found a unique sense of comfort and support in each other’s presence in particular. While we lost of one of the most important people in our lives, we developed a new understanding that transcended that of grandfather/granddaughter, we were best friends. We supported each other through the hardest times, building a mutually dependent relationship. I talked to Papa about everything, I went to see him every day, and he provided support and guidance throughout my high school years. I can say that Papa was the sole person upon whom I relied and in whom I trusted everything.
            By my junior year in high school, my restlessness became more pressing, and I used my college choices to fulfill my longing for a change. The summer of 2006 was my first step toward making the first monumental transition of my life. My father worked in the oil and gas industry and was living in Texas at the time. After many years of a broken relationship, I felt the need to be closer to my father so that we could grow closer. So after visiting Baylor, I fell in love with everything about it, and my mind was made up that Texas was where I wanted to be.
            After four years of answering the question, “What brought you all the way to Waco, Texas from Cary, North Carolina?” I have realized the underlying source of my decision to go out of state for college. The real reason I left home and moved so far away lies in that restlessness and stubbornness that characterized my behavior all throughout my life. I wanted to experience a totally new environment, meet completely new people, be successful by my own standards, and achieve success on my own. Although I may have not realized such motives when I made the decision to go to Baylor, I realize now that I was selfish and ungrateful, not realizing that there really is no way to get through such a pivotal point in life and make such a transition successfully without the help and support of others. My mother, stepfather, Papa, and other family members provided a foundation without which I would be nothing.
            After four years at Baylor, this is the first, and most humbling realization with which I have had to come to terms. My experiences as a student at Baylor and an undergraduate have shaped who I am and how I see myself in the future. As I began my Capstone memoir, I realized that this is my opportunity to reflect on all of my experiences at Baylor and what I have achieved, what I have learned, and what I am taking away as most important and influential as I leave this environment. The memories upon which I have been reflecting illustrate some recurring themes and ideas that characterize my life at Baylor: transitions, experience and exposure, holistic and encompassing attitudes/approaches, self-examination, expectations, decisions. These themes/terms generally describe my journey from my freshman year to the last weeks of my senior year. We are constantly growing as we gain experience and knowledge, but from your first year of college to your last are like nothing else you will experience – my intention is not to offer a novel of my four years in college. This is my story of the people, challenges, and experiences during college that have shaped me into who I am and that have created the foundation upon which I will build in the future.

Transitions, Expectations, Attitudes, and Decisions

            When I arrived at Baylor in August 2007, I was excited and anxious to begin a new chapter of my life. Unfortunately, such confidence and high expectations of my ability to be left on my own so abruptly did not prepare me for the shock of overwhelming isolation and loneliness I experienced almost immediately after we said our goodbyes and my parents left me in my dorm room. Not even fifteen minutes after my parents left to go back to North Caroline, I was a sobbing mess. I already missed my friends and family, I was alone, and I was overcome with the realities of moving half way across the country to a seemingly foreign country. I had no connection to Texas, I did not know a single soul within 500 miles of this totally new environment, and my roommate did not even show up to move in until the Sunday before classes were to begin. I was on my own to be situated in my new home at Brooks College, to learn my way around campus, to prepare for classes to begin within just a few short days, and while at the same time to meet other freshmen and try to make friends. Such realities hit me like a ton of bricks, and I was totally blind sighted by the blow of solitude. Instead of feeling free and independent, I felt abandoned with no direction and no one to turn to for guidance.
            It was not long until I was able to compose myself (after taking a long nap) and rebuild my confidence. In the back of my head I knew that there was no time for feeling sorry for myself and that I had been through worse. I had made the decision to embark on this journey so I needed to suck it up and keep moving forward. Looking back, I am actually impressed with my ability to regain my composure on my own – this is perhaps one of the first experiences I had at Baylor in which I was forced to find strength and determination. Throughout my first semester I was extremely homesick and struggled with one of the first major decisions I had to make as an undergraduate – whether or not to transfer back home or to remain at Baylor.
            My decision to remain at Baylor and to continue into my second semester was largely based on the opportunities I saw in my academic career, particularly within the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core (the BIC). Many first year BICers struggle with the rigorous first and second year curriculum, and some of my colleagues dropped out of the program. This was not my perspective. I was a pre-law International Business and Economics major – with the intent of going to law school that had been a part of my plan since I was four years old. The BIC was probably the most influential factor that motivated me to remain at Baylor and receive the education that I anticipated. I wanted to take every opportunity to develop the skills and knowledge that could help me succeed in law school. After making up my mind, I had committed myself entirely to my academic career, marking a peculiar period of transition in my life – I was devoted to standing firm in my place at Baylor while at the same time embarking on a three year journey that I did not realize was about to lead me into adulthood.
            My freshman year concluded successfully – I made good grades, found my place with a group of friends, and I had a boyfriend (a relationship that ended up amounting to only about a month). I was ready to go home and spend the summer with my friends and family. But the summer of 2008 proved to be one of the most life-altering points in my college career – after struggling with some family issues, I was forced to withdraw from Baylor and move back home indefinitely. The details as to why I had to move home are not as important as how much this experience affected me mentally, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. I was in summer school; I had become close with a number of people and had a regular group of best friends. I finally truly felt like Baylor was where I needed to be. I never expected that within two days I would be at home, trying to enroll in classes at North Carolina State University and looking for a place to live in Raleigh. The Fall semester of 2008 proved to be one of the lowest points of my life. I ended up dropping my courses at N.C. State because I simply was not able to fully engage with an online course, especially a course in accounting. I was working two jobs, neither of which were fulfilling. I was simply existing, living day to day, and feeling unaccomplished and empty. The only part of my life that provided any sense of peace was my boyfriend, whom I started dating over the summer. We began dating during the summer when I was home, and then we broke up when I left Baylor. The relationship became serious and we decided to begin planning our wedding once I had been accepted to a university in North Carolina.
            This period of my life appeared only a brief transition period during which I would have to simply readjust and pick my life back up in North Carolina. I was expecting a marriage proposal in the near future and the prospect of being accepted to any North Carolina university of my choice was bright and optimistic. I should have been over the dramatic withdrawal from Baylor, finding comfort instead in the new life and future plans that I (and everyone else) anticipated. But I was fighting a deep, internal battle with myself. Internally I was unrecognizable and empty. I was deeply disconnected spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually. When I realized that I had lost my sense of confidence and determination, I made the decision that I had to go back to Baylor. My health and my future depended on it. After some last minute planning and decision-making, I was re-enrolled in classes at Baylor by the first week of the Spring 2009 semester. Jonathan and I were still together, and I had a diamond promise ring on my hand to remind me that I just had to get through the next three years and we would be together again forever.
            That year was perhaps the most transformative, turbulent, life-altering year of my life – academically, mentally, physically, and emotionally. During my time off of school, I gained a totally new appreciation for college as a privilege and I constantly longed for academic engagement. But upon returning after an entire semester completely isolated from a classroom (and apparently not being able to register my business class failure at N.C. State, that I am not suited for business) I failed practically all of my business classes miserably. So, I immediately changed my major – which was also a huge decision with which I struggled. I had to admit failure and pursue the traditional course of study for pre-law students: political science. But some practical voice of reason left a nagging question about choosing a traditional history and/or political science degree – what if I decided not to go to law school? (At the time this was an outrageous question, because there has never been any other option for me but to go to law school) How far would a bachelor’s degree in political science get me before I realized I really could do nothing but go to graduate school? So I decided on a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies.
My decision to change my major to International Studies (IST is the abbreviation used by contemporary scholars that discuss the discipline) proved to be one of the best decisions I made in college. Of course, I eventually decided to postpone law school for a year or so to really think about such a commitment. For many reasons, including financial factors, I reached the conclusion to explore other opportunities and ensure that law school is what I really want to pursue. Although I know that my decision is the best option for where I am in my life, I really struggled with myself and my ultimate decision to put aside my dreams – most importantly I was changing my plans that have been in place literally since the time I was four years old.
I struggled with considerations of delaying law school for the last year and a half, so I pursued the first three years of college with the strong intent of pursuing a career in law. Perhaps this is why I really appreciated the nature of the curriculum that characterizes International Studies. But the significance of my decision to pursue a degree in International Studies rather than one in Political Science became evident throughout my time at Baylor.

The BIC Experience

            I am very hesitant to take on the task of articulating the BIC experience, and I am especially hesitant to put it on paper. This hesitance is based upon four years of continuously being at odds with the BIC – most of the tension (and every BICer will tell you that this is a very real tension felt by all) was due to the rigorous curriculum that challenges tradition. Sometimes I just wanted to make flashcards, memorize definitions, and take a test. Instead I spent late nights in the library struggling to learn the information and then create some sort of outline that will hopefully provide some information so that I can write at least one of the four essays after I have attempted at the fifty multiple choice questions that came first. I have and every other BICer has experienced this stress, so we curse the BIC and ask ourselves why we stuck with it and that is when the tension is temporarily broken (at least until the next exam). These are the moments many BICers remember when describing the “BIC experience;” long, long, nights, pages upon pages of reading assigned every night, and writing papers that “normal” Baylor students could not even imagine having to write, and The New York Times. Of course, these are just a few of the many experiences of a BICer, but I have the feeling that these are some of the big ones that without which a BIC Capstone memoir would be incomplete.
There are some clear changes in method in Capstone. Capstone explores how yoga has been the means of exploration of Truth, a physical dimension that has not been explored in lower-level BIC courses. Through ancient texts and contemporary memoirs, Capstone interestingly supplements the BIC’s characteristic use of primary texts with contemporary memoirs. The use of social sites like the Blogs maintained by individual students creates a new sense of community that is encouraged throughout a BICer’s career.
            Of course, there is the intellectual aspect of my development throughout my BIC years. I have developed essential critical thinking and reasoning skills as well as skills in writing and persuasion. Overall, the BIC certainly contributed to my development as an engaged, cultured, and open-minded young scholar. These experiences are not necessarily what I want to emphasize in my Capstone memoir, but they are important aspects of my BIC experience that are evident in all of my academic pursuits and, therefore, cannot go without mentioning. The experiences that have reached deeper and have influenced who I am today deserve the most reflection.

Who I am Today and Where I am Going

            Self-reflection has been a fundamental aspect of the principles encouraged throughout our academic careers in the BIC. Looking inward and knowing myself on a deep level has never been very evident in my activities because I was so preoccupied with grades, assignments, and everything else that comes with balancing a life in college. Everything about Capstone embodies the principles of BIC that become a part of every BIC student’s identity.
            Capstone has made me realize how widely misunderstood the practice and philosophy of yoga is today. However, there are many aspects of yoga to which BICers can relate. To put it in the most basic way, yoga philosophy and practice is all about the pursuit of Truth – an unexplainable sense of knowing the Divine on the deepest spiritual level. Practitioners of yoga understand this basic principle and communicate it in their own unique way. This search for Truth with a capital “T” is an important concept for BICers because for the last four years we have just been trying to understand that journey through the works of some of the most influential intellectuals of all time. capstone
The final Capstone course on Yoga and Philosophy puts the academic and scholarly concerns away for a while. The true essence of the BIC and its ability to impact my life as a student and beyond has culminated in one final BIC course, drawing my college life to a close with a profound sense of achievement and ability to move into the next chapter of my life.
            It has surely been a challenge to write a memoir. But through my work on this project, I have realized so much about myself, not only in how I have developed throughout college, but who I am today. Most importantly, I have come to realize that I have a bright future ahead of me in whatever I may pursue and I am well prepared to make that journey.

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