Monday, April 24, 2017

"The places where I made friends" - A thank you letter

Dear CCI Global Scholars,

There are a few conversations in life that you never forget. Sometimes they come at big, dramatic moments – but maybe they’re the chat you had with your Uber driver. Sometimes these conversations are sweet, sometimes stinging: perhaps they are poignant or unexpectedly profound, but for whatever reason, it’s these little exchanges that shape the way we view the world.

I’ve had one of these conversation tucked away in the back of my head for the last four months. When I was idle in Sydney, it wandered to the front of my brain where it replayed again and again.

It took place during the fall of last year. I was volunteering at the WUOT public radio station, packing mugs into cardboard boxes alongside a man whose name I remember as Jim. Jim, like many of the WUOT volunteers, was a former UT professor. He had travelled all over the globe and worked with study abroad students for a large portion of his career, so when I told him I would be spending a semester in Sydney, Australia, we had a lot to talk about.

When I asked him where his favorite places were, I expected some exotic answers - maybe a remote island or a Soviet Union bloc country that no longer exists. I got something else.

 “My favorite places?”

Jim paused for a few moments.

“Well…I suppose, the places where I made friends.”

That’s it, the snippet of the conversation I will never forget. I just can’t shake the thought of an old man sifting through a whole world-full of places in his memory and concluding that the people he met were what defined the best ones.

During my time in Sydney, I’ve found that Jim’s words applied to my experience as well. As much as I loved Australia, it was the people I met who made my time worthwhile: that became more apparent than ever when I remained in the city after my fellow CCI Global Scholars headed home. So here is my message to you all:

To Abby: I am so proud to share a name with you. Thank you for your hilarious but quiet humor, your sweet hugs, your kindness, and your wisdom. Thank you for your hesitance to dance, your willingness to share vitamins, your deep appreciation of a good towel, and for being Kip from Napoleon Dynamite for Halloween that one time in high school.

To Adam: Thank you for your giant heart and your ability to make a variety of KILLER dishes that contain green beans. You are always the first to volunteer to help someone out, and I really respect that about you. Thanks for being down for leg day every day.

To Austyn: Thank you for being the instigator of roommate dance parties. Thank you for being passionate about all the things you love – be it Gay Time donuts, the funny habits of your father, or your country. I am always so impressed by your capacity to have fun and be serious, and I know you will do amazing things whether you choose law school or reporting.  
To Catie: Whoa roomie, my list of things to thank you for is realllllly long. Thank you for having a playlist for everything, for cooking for and with me, for calling me out when I desperately needed to do laundry, for having great book recommendations and incredible insight, for listening, for dancing, for being efficient. This could continue for a long time, but just know I love you. We’re more than roommates: we’re SISTERS.

To Cayla: Thank you for always having a kind comment to add, a smile on your face, and a cool activity on your list of things to do. I love that you know who are you are as a person and that you are willing to share that person without forcing yourself on anyone. You described yourself as having the temperament of a koala to me at the start of the trip and you are every bit as cuddly.

To Elle: Thank you for your intelligence and independence, for your love of dachshunds and impeccable fashion. Thank you for always teaching me something I hadn’t considered before, and for sticking through the entire live coverage of BOTH the record setting human Power T and April the Giraffe giving birth. 

To Emily: Thank you for making the 24-hour trek to Australia with me. Thank you for being so dang cool but appreciating goofiness – I can’t wait to see how the WOW video turns out. You are hardworking, talented, and I think you just have an awesome attitude about life.

To Mary: Thank you for being so caring, patient, and spiritually wise. Thank you for spoiling us all with pancakes and muffins and biscuits and being the lady with a plan. I think you have an incredible insight on the world, a lovely sense of style, an amazing ability to make things happen, and it’s a joy to be around you and hear your perspective.  

To Haley: Thank you for filling 1713 with smiles and laughs. Thank you for loving whales and Sassy the Chihuahua, for reminding us all to have fun, and for surviving a smorgasbord of bizarre injuries and infections (I’m shocked you made it after all that, honestly.) Strangers brighten up around you, and that’s a real gift.  

To Hunter: Thank you for your hilarious commentary and for your ability to get in really, really weird situations (remember that time when you got stuck in a hurricane and that time you had to share a tent with a girl?) and make the absolute best of them. Your organizing skills helped us have some really fun experiences, and I think you’re a natural leader.

To Olana: Thank you for always doing something wildly interesting and then sharing your experience. Thank you for having THE cutest dorm room and for being warm, kindhearted, and profound. Thank you for helping me model t-shirts, appreciating a good slo-mo, and being willing to explore.   

To Sam: Thank you for loving travel, dreadlocks, and Trey Songz. Thank you for inspiring me by running every day, making us laugh with the joy you experience over Rick and Morty, going to TASMANIA (how cool!) and always being up for a good time. I’ll miss trading eggs and avos with you.

To Shelby: Thank you for always being a trooper, for sharing some tips on how to acclimate to the local culture, and for being so witty and creative. I’m still laughing thinking about your skit with the rest of your apartment. I know your internship required a lot, and I’m sure you did a really great job.

So to all of you, thank you. To Dr. Miller and Dr. Swan, a massive thank you as well – you made all of this possible.

To the CCI Scholars once more, I know everything will be different going forward, but please remember this:

You are special. You are loved. You are largely the reason Sydney will always be high on my list of favorite places. Thank you each for being yourself, and adding something invaluable to the biggest adventure of my life so far. I’m always here if you need me (or some sunscreen).



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