Home.

Happy December 24th (whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, something else, or nothing at all, I hope you all had a fantastic day)!


For me, it’s Christmas Eve and I am home for the holidays.  As I have grown up and have moved away it has gotten harder for me to determine where “home” is.  This year especially, I am struggling to find this feeling of “home”…but my best friend Monica helped me realize that home truly is a feeling and not a place as it is traditionally defined.

I grew up in Beulah, where my entire family was born and raised…and never left.  I love the Lake, the closeness to family, the abundance of nature, and the fact that I can hike or run wherever I want in this county…and know exactly how far away from my house (and a public restroom) I am.

When I moved to Marquette for college, I gained a new “home”.  I fell deeply, madly, wildly in love with the upper peninsula, Lake Superior, the small-town feel in a mid-sized city, and my alma mater.  I fell in love with the new experiences and opportunities that I was offered in Marquette, and I felt welcomed by all of the amazing people I met in my four years there.

As you all know, I have been in South Dakota for the past six months, and I am struggling to find my place there.  I am far away from all of the people that I love.  I am no longer a walk away from a Great Lake.

It’s been tough.  But what I do have there are a few great new friends, an amazing job surrounded by some of the most driven and determined men I have ever met, and a lot of opportunities that I wouldn’t have ever been offered had I stayed in Michigan.


So, while I am more than excited to be back in Michigan for the holiday season, I also have had this weird sensation that something is different this year.  Something seems off.  Something is missing.  I am not sure what this is, but I haven’t been in the holiday spirit as I usually am.  I can’t seem to get excited about anything.  I don’t care to go out and play in the snow.  I don’t like the cold weather (thankful for the 40 degree warmth we had today!).  I don’t want to party or celebrate.  I actually just finished wrapping gifts only for them to be opened in less than 12 hours, and I haven’t put a single ornament on my family tree.

The closest I have felt to myself since being back in Michigan was earlier this week when I made the trip to Marquette to see a few people before we all got too busy with family gatherings and year-end parties.

Those digits are not only permanently on my arm, but in my heart as well.  I was overwhelmed with that feeling of “home” the entire time I was there.  Something about Lake Superior seems to do that to me…

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Photo Credit: Senja Spelman

I was able to catch up with some of my Marquette Family.  Spending time with my breakfast buddy, dear friend, and former supervisor, Alexandra was a highlight of my trip.  Thanks for the place to stay, the cat cuddles, and the constant laughs.

Thank you to two of my greatest mentors, Josh and Sarah for grabbing pizza and drinks with me and for sharing all of your insight about grad school, moving away from home, and all things life.

Jeff, you will always be one of my biggest role models.  You welcomed me back with open arms and I was pleasantly surprised by your support and encouragement in my endeavors as a blogger as well as the obvious support you’ve given me in the last few years as my boss.

I love knowing that Senja will drop whatever she’s doing to grab Third Street Bagel with me and catch a hike up Sugarloaf before sunset and that Ryan is willing to extend his stay in Marquette just to sit at BabyCakes for a few hours with me because we are the same human and both require meaningful conversation, endless amounts of coffee, and great muffins for survival.

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Catching up with Rory and Nick and hearing about their crazy first semester this year both as RA’s and as science majors was a ton of fun.  I give you both props for being able to balance the work of a RA and that of a person studying anything in the medical field.  You both amaze and inspire me daily.  I am grateful for the time that we spent together while I was still in school and loved seeing you this week.  I can’t wait to see what this next semester brings for you!

And last but not least, Erin, the one who is always as equally a mess as I am.  You woke up late for our breakfast date, and probably skipped a shower so that you could at least grab coffee with me before you ran off to work.  Always thankful to Monica for introducing us…because we’ve been the three amigos ever since (mostly when we are drinking margs at Sol Azteca, but still…).

Every moment in the company of these great pals was another reminder of what it means to me to be “home”.


So, instead of focusing on the place that I am headed and trying to make that place “home”, I want to try to focus on those simple moments in life in which I already feel it.

As Switchfoot once said: This is home.  (That reference was for you, Sam Red!)

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Happy Holidays!

-Joel

November.

November.  It’s the month of the year that is always hard for me.  It’s definitely not my favorite month.  With the start of November comes the end of my favorite time of the year.  It means that snow covers the ground instead of bright colored leaves.  And with snow comes cold weather.  I am realizing as I get older that I hate cold weather.  I love the snow, but I am miserable in the cold.  This makes for a miserable four(ish) months of my life each year.  I definitely believe that Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a real thing.  I feel a drastic change in my attitude and behavior during the winter months.  Brought on by the cold, lack of sunshine, and lack of time spent outdoors, I go through a slight depressive state at this time each year.  I can blame it on the weather for the sake of pointing fingers but I also know that Winter time is not the only thing that makes me depressed.

I don’t typically share this part of my story, but I feel the need to do so today.  This post is hard for me to write but I want to anyway.  I want to share why exactly I can’t seem to shake this slump that you may witness me in during November.


November.  A time to give thanks; to be thankful for loved ones and jobs and all of the positivity that the last year has provided.  We can be thankful for sweaters and flannel, and hot cocoa and warm pumpkin spice/peppermint flavored drinks.  We can be thankful for holidays and time off of work and school.  We can be thankful for health and for an abundance of other things.

For me, as hard as I try to avoid it, I always find myself in a slump during this time.  I try to remember all the flannels and lights and fun flavored drinks that warm the body and the soul.  But I also remember sadness, sickness, and loss.


November.  The month in which I have experienced the most loss.  Unfortunately, I have lost a great grandmother, two uncles, a grandma, a grandpa and a relationship with running during the month of November.  I have been impacted by each of these losses differently, but each has been tough in some important way.

I was extremely young when I lost my great grandmother.  To be honest, I don’t even remember her very much.  This loss didn’t hit me until recently, actually.  For whatever reason the thought that I don’t remember any of my great grandparents saddens me.  I don’t think a lot of people know their great grandparents, but thinking about how special that relationship must be makes my heart warm.

When I lost my two uncles, I was more hurt for my cousins that were experiencing this loss.  I personally wasn’t that close to either of these uncles, but knowing that my parents, cousins, and grandparents were losing brothers, fathers, and sons makes my heart hurt.

Some may think that this next one is a strange one.  But for me its part of my identity.  If you had known me growing up, you know that ALL I did was run.  Losing that in November of my senior year of high school is still something that haunts me.  My senior year of high school was when I realized that I would never be great at running.  While running was my passion, it wasn’t my strength or my calling or my future.  I realized that I was not as good as the others.  I was not going to compete at state finals.  I was not going to compete in college.  I was not going to compete ever again.

I still run; it’s just a little different.  I no longer have a running community.  I no longer run competitively.  I no longer run for others.  I run for me and me alone.  I run because it is my escape from the negativity in my life.  I run to let go.  I run to prove to myself that I have strength, stamina, drive, and endurance.  I run to prove to myself that I am worth it, no matter what anyone said or thought back in high school.  I run because I love it, and that will never change.

This next one is kind of strange too.  I didn’t actually lose my grandfather.  He’s still alive.  I just lost him in the sense that I no longer believe that I have a relationship with him.  When I lost my grandmother, I lost the thing that tied my grandfather to the rest of my family.  He has become like a distant relative in some ways.  I never see him.  I never speak to him.  Sadly, I don’t care to.  I feel like he doesn’t care about me, or anyone else in my family.  Part of me blames my grandma’s death for this.  I can’t even begin to imagine how anyone who has lost their partner must feel.  Losing a woman as special as my grandma must have defeated him.  I believe that when my grandma died, so did he.  He’s not the same man that he once was.  It sucks.  But, I also don’t care to know the man that he is today, so it is easier to avoid it all and to be distant.

Now, the hardest one of all…my grandma.

Today, November 19, 2016, is the nine year anniversary of my grandmother’s death.  I can’t believe that it has been nine years already.  It seems like just yesterday and it seems like forever.  But it doesn’t matter.  She’s gone.  It is still one of the hardest things to cope with.  My grandmother and I were incredibly close.  She was someone that I looked up to for everything.

I inherited many great things from her.  I inherited my love and passion for caring for others.  She did that well.  She was so attentive to her loved ones, and so willing to sacrifice everything of her own for someone else.  I believe I am pursuing work in a helping profession because of witnessing the love that she shared with others and wanting to do that myself.  I also inherited my outspokenness from her.  My grandmother had a way with words.  She didn’t care who heard what she had to say.  And, boy did she always have something to say.  She was full of stories.  I also inherited my storytelling from her.  I acknowledge the fact that I run my mouth to the point of trouble.  I acknowledge the fact that I talk too much.  I acknowledge the fact that I tell stories.  But I also acknowledge where I got these traits, and why I value communication, speech, and the power of voice so much.

Every November I am paralyzed with that sinking feeling that another year has gone by that I haven’t spoken to my grandma.  I haven’t heard her voice.  Every year I think about the fact that I am losing those memories with each moment that passes.  I no longer know if I remember what she sounded like or exactly how she looked or smelled.  That is scary.  It’s sad.  And every year I fall into this pit of November.

Today, I am far away from family and friends.  I am alone in South Dakota.  I am sad.  I am remembering.  I woke up feeling sick this morning.  I woke up to a work related emergency.  And I woke up to the reality that it was November.  November 19th to be exact.


Since I am working on practicing self-care and focusing on my wellbeing this year, I thought I would share some of my emotions today.  Part of being well is being honest and real with the fact that everyone has bad days.  I want to work on overcoming bad days and bad months and overcoming the demons that November always brings with the cold weather.

With love,

-Joel

We Are All Related.

Tonight I had the great opportunity to attend an event on campus that presented information about the Dakota Access Pipeline.  This presentation was comprised of a panel of speakers, all of which had some connection to or involvement with the protests at the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation.  Hearing the testimonials and spoken word of people who have been protesting at Standing Rock or have donated time, money, resources, energy, and language/communication to the Water Protectors, and to this cause was overwhelming and emotional.

If you haven’t seen my recent posts on Facebook and Twitter you probably don’t know how passionate I am about this particular issue.  I’ve never been much of an activist or a politically engaged and activated citizen, but recently I have felt that I must voice my concern and my support for the Water Protectors in Canon Ball, North Dakota.

The issue with the Dakota Access Pipeline hits really close to home for me.  Literally.  Geographically.  Physically.

No, I am serious, it hits home.

I recently moved to Vermillion, South Dakota.  Being from Northern Michigan, I didn’t know much about this side of the Midwest, but since coming to the Plains region I have found myself attempting to become part of this community.  I am trying to learn as much as I can about the area and become invested in it.  As “Michigan Proud” as I am, this is where I am living for the next two years.  Two years is a significant portion of my life, and I want this to be home while I am here.  In order for SoDak to feel like home, I must work hard to make it my home.  How am I doing this?  I am getting involved, exploring, learning about the state and about the Plains region of the United States.

Anywho, like I said, the Dakota Access Pipeline hits home.  The Dakota Access Pipeline is a 1,200 mile pipeline that will span across North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois, and will carry thousands of barrels of crude oil daily.  If constructed, it will travel beneath the Missouri River.  The Missouri River is the main source of water in the Plains region and is the main source of water for more than 10,ooo people living in this area.  I live in this area.  My friends live in this area.  My home is in this area.

Being from Michigan, the hardest part of moving to South Dakota is the fact that I have very little water near me.  I have never lived more than five minutes away from a body of clean water (a Great Lake) until I moved to Vermillion.  Here, the only water source near me is the Missouri River, and I am fortunate to live so close to it.

I love the water.  I have a deep and spiritual connection to water.  I feel most alive and awake and energized when I am in or around water.  I always have felt this way.  I have an amazing relationship with water.  I firmly believe “Water Is Life”.

If the Dakota Access Pipeline is constructed, and it is constructed beneath the Missouri River, my only clean water source runs the risk of contamination.  The main water source for over 10,000 people runs the risk of contamination.  The entire Plains region runs the risk of contamination, negative environmental impacts, and dangerous threats to our people.

I just moved to South Dakota and I am already this passionate about this issue.  I am already fueled with hatred toward this potential risk to the health of the life around me.  I feel this way, because I imagine this being constructed in Michigan, and running beneath one of the Great Lakes (cue Line 5).  I envision my precious and beloved Mother Superior and Lake Michigan being contaminated.  And then I think of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Missouri River.

No, I will never feel as strongly about the Missouri River as I do about a Great Lake.  I will never find it to be as clean, beautiful, or pristine as a Great Lake.  But for two years of life I will consider it to be home.  The main-only-water source near me.  Therefor, I find it so very important that I protect it and cherish it.  After all, “Water Is Life”.

I simply can’t imagine my life in South Dakota without the Missouri River.  I have already come to value it greatly.  I can only imagine how those who have spent their lives in the plains must feel about the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the risk that it poses to the Missouri River and the life that it provides in this region.

If constructed, the Dakota Access Pipeline will not only travel through four states, beneath the Missouri River, but also along the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.  This may in fact pose the greatest threat of all to these people in particular.

I stand with Standing Rock because like them I value nature.  I value water.  I value the Earth.  I value life.  I believe that every thing has a living spirit and that we are all connected.  I believe we are all brothers and sisters and humans and we are not so different from one another as society makes us out to be.

As I have grown, developed, and become educated, I have realized that many of my values and beliefs align very closely with that of the values and beliefs of the many American Indian tribes in our country.  Their spiritual practices and rituals intrigue me.  Their relationship with nature, practice of environmental reciprocity, and worship and protection of the land is something that I seek.  I desperately wish that more people viewed the resources that the land provides us as loans instead of gifts.  I desperately wish that we lived in a world that practiced peace as the American Indians do.  I desperately wish that we could view each other as relatives instead of strangers and enemies.

One of the things that I love about living in Vermillion and attending the University of South Dakota is the emphasis that everyone here places on community.  Given the size of our city and campus, we must value community, or we would be nonexistent.  Part of USD’s Diversity and Inclusion Statement quotes Lakota Proverb in saying “Mitakuye Oyasin” which translates to “We are all related” in English.  The first time I read this, I fell in love with it.

I seek to live out this ancient Lakota Proverb in my daily life.  This is why I stand with Standing Rock.  This is why we must shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline before it is too late.  This is why I stand with the Black Lives Matter movement.  This is why I stand with Mother Earth.  This is why I believe in all Human Rights.  We are all related.

Sending peace, love, and positive vibes to all my brothers and sisters.

-Joel

Student Affairs: #CSAM16 And How I Found Myself On This Path.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the world of Student Affairs and Higher Education, October is Careers in Student Affairs Month.  NASPA does a Photo A Day Challenge on social media and has a prompt each day that encourages people in our field to share their experiences.  Today’s prompt is My Story.  I think this is by far the most fun prompt of the month because it is so cool to hear why each individual ended up pursuing a career in Student Affairs and how they got there.  I thought it would be cool to share mine.

My story starts at the beginning with the college application process.  As a #FirstGen student I really didn’t know what I was doing and my parents didn’t have the experience or the knowledge to help me out either.  They did the best that they could.  Having helped my older brother three years earlier, they did have some basic knowledge, but we still were going into my college admission process pretty blind.  We were definitely winging it.

At this time I didn’t even really know what it meant to be #FirstGen.  Now, I am wildly proud to identify as #FirstGen.

As a senior in high school I was so ready to graduate.  I was ready to leave my small town and go as far away as possible.  But I still didn’t know where I wanted to go to school.  I have never been a good decision maker, and this choice seemed like the biggest decision ever.  Where would I go to school?  What would I study?  I had no idea.  I felt lost.

Looking back, I laugh.  I laugh at how incredibly stressed out about this decision I was.  Looking back, I find it hilarious that I even looked at other institutions.  I went to my dream school and I know without a doubt that I made the right choice.  Looking back, I laugh because I think deep down, I knew all along that I was going to Northern Michigan University.  Deep down, there was no question of why or where.  I just knew that that was home.  Looking back, I see this scared and confused 18 year old Joel who couldn’t make a decision even though the answer was right in front of me.  I just didn’t want to admit it to anyone and I didn’t know how.  I was scared to admit it because that meant that it was really happening.  And, while I was so excited, I was also REALLY nervous.

After what seemed like the longest summer of my life, the time finally came!  I was moving away to college.  I moved in at 8am Thursday morning.  The first day of move-in weekend.  If that doesn’t tell you how excited I was to be there, I don’t know what will.

My freshman year was amazing.  Right away I found a close group of friends with those that lived around me in my residence hall.  We were all active in our House and Hall governments and I quickly became involved in other areas of campus life.  I loved trying new things and exploring the different involvement opportunities on campus.  Toward the end of my freshman year, I applied to be a Resident Adviser, after having a great relationship with mine, and wanting to be able to reach students the way that she had reached me.

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I received an offer from Alexandra Marshall, the Resident Director of Meyland Hall.  I accepted, and spent Sophomore and Junior year living the wild and crazy and rewarding life working for Housing and Residence Life.

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During these two years, I grew more than I can even express.  I learned so much from that position and my interactions with my students and staff on campus.  I dealt with a lot of crazy situations.  I had a lot of fun throwing really cool events and getting to know those living in my community.  I formed friendships and relationships with some of my closest friends and mentors during those two years.  But what I loved most wasn’t what I got out of the job, but the immense growth and changes that I saw in my students.  I fell in love with student development and watching impacts that learning and living had on others.

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Wanting more experience in this work, and craving access to more students, I applied to work for the New Student Orientation Staff at the end of my sophomore year.  I was offered a position as Staff Assistant and spent that summer learning more about my campus, and the city of Marquette, than I thought was possible.  I fell even deeper in love with both the city and the campus communities, and my passion for watching students develop and grow was sparked into a flame.

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After having the best summer of my life, I went back to school for Junior year and was excited to work with my students again.  But I was also excited for the incoming students that I spent all summer getting to know to come back too.  I hoped and prayed that I would have some of these students living in my community so I could work with them as their Resident Adviser too.

Junior year was a blur.  I had a lot of ups and downs that year.  I had even stronger connections with my students and I dealt with more serious issues.  I was balancing a harder class load, and trying to maintain friendships with my friends outside of Housing and Residence Life.  It was a really tough year, but ultimately I think it was the year that instilled in me the strength that I needed to move on.

I decided to leave the RA position at the end of the year, but was excited to end the year on a positive note when I was awarded the Paraprofessional of the Year Award.

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This fueled me with the excitement needed to spend a second summer on New Student Orientation Staff.  This summer I was the only senior returning to staff and I held a leadership role because of this.  My staff looked up to me, my Director who was just starting at the university looked to me for guidance and extra support.  I had the time of my life my second summer on staff and I built a family with my staff.  I had a bond with these people unlike that of any group of people ever before.  This summer was different though.  While I really felt like I had a great connection with my staff, I felt disconnected from students this summer.  I felt like being a senior, I could no longer relate to them the way that I had as a junior.  In one year’s time, something had changed, and I felt this distance separating me from the connections that I wanted to build with my students.  I did what I could to push through this feeling, and I did end up having some really great relationships with students.  I still got a sense of fulfillment when I saw a student overcome something or take a step out of their comfort zone.  The growth that I saw in these students continued to be what I loved most about these jobs.

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My senior year I lived off campus with three other guys.  This was the first time living outside of the residence halls.  I grew a lot from my experience living off campus.  While I loved the freedom and the kitchen, I also missed the convenience of the residence halls, and that intimate setting with my students.  I still had connections and interactions with students through my job at the Center for Student Enrichment working as a Superior Edge Volunteer Center Coordinator, but it was in a different capacity from my previous experiences.  During this year, I found a love for volunteer work, and community service.  I organized a service exchange with some students from Saginaw Valley State University, and met some of my closest friends today through this service work.

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Seeing the passion of other students and communities and seeing a need outside of Marquette gave me a new perspective and got me thinking even more about a future in Student Affairs.

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Somewhere along the way-I think maybe, my sophomore year-I met up with the wonderful individuals that were part of Marquette Ending Hunger.  This was a student organization that worked to raise awareness of poverty, food insecurity, and hunger in our area.  I loved being part of this group and it was the single most rewarding experience of my college career that was not tied to a job that I held working for the university.  I loved serving others, raising awareness and educating others.  I loved working in the community and hosting fun events like Empty Bowls and NMU Fights Famine in which I fasted for 24 hours in order to feel the struggle that many people around the world feel every day.

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I graduated from Northern Michigan University with my Bachelors of Science in Communication Studies on April 30, 2016.  I loved every second of my time at NMU and I will forever cherish these memories.  It was because of my experiences with Student Affairs that I decided that I wanted to continue my education and pursue a career in this field.

This brings me to today.  I am a first year #SAGrad at the University of South Dakota.  When searching for grad schools I wanted to go somewhere out of state, somewhere that I didn’t know much about, and I wanted to work in an entry level full time position or in a graduate assistantship.  I found that all in one package with USD, and I was able to do so through the Oshkosh Placement Exchange, and the support of my friends that went with me.

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I now work for the Office of Sorority and Fraternity Life.  I live in a chapter house as a 22 year old with no Greek experience.  I am pursuing a Masters degree in Adult and Higher Education.  I am so far out of my comfort zone, but I am learning and growing everyday.

My love for student growth and development is as strong as ever.  I love getting to know the men  of Lambda Chi Alpha as well as the other students that are part of the SFL community.  I am realizing that there are so many options out there and so much to do in the field of Student Affairs.  It’s wild, crazy, fun, exhausting, stressful, rewarding, and fulfilling all at the same time.

I am excited to see what my future holds and where the wild world of Student Affairs will lead me.  But I am so in love with where I am.  I am realizing that I may not be here forever, and I may not even pursue Student Affairs forever, but right now, it’s where I am supposed to be.

There ya have it pals, my story up to date.  And as Natasha Bedingfield once said: “The rest is still unwritten”.

-Joel

Taking Breaks.

Hey pals!

I am going to stray from the norm of writing about Student Affairs.  After all, this blog is about my life and my adventures, and Student Affairs is only one sector of my life.  It does not define who I am.

Anyway, as you know from my post about wellbeing I am trying to focus on my personal wellness this semester.  So, I thought I would give a brief check in and update on how I am doing.

I have been taking my daily wellness tracker and according to it, I have been thriving everyday this month except for one.  I would say that this is relatively accurate, based on the questions that it asks me each day.  I have noticed that by starting my morning with this simple reflective practice, I feel grounded and  in tune with myself so I can focus on the day ahead and what it will bring me in terms of wellness.

This last week was quite busy and my stress levels were heightened.  I have my first presentation as a #SAGrad tomorrow, and I have a paper due this week as well.  The pressure and uncertainty of this week really started to settle in and I got very frustrated and overwhelmed.

This morning, I woke up at 4 am with a migraine.  This was a sign that I needed to focus on my wellness and get some rest.  So, I took some ibuprofen, crawled back in bed and skipped my first hour at the office.  Since then, my day has been surprisingly productive.  I have drank multiple bottles of water, I cranked out my homework, and I booked a flight to St. Louis for the NASPA regional conference in November!  Things are looking up and I’m feeling great tonight.

I spent the majority of my day by myself, at the library, in silence.  I needed that “I” time to restore my energy.  Normally I am not one to enjoy silence or alone time.  But today, I’ve needed it.

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I think that it is vital for us to be honest and to listen to our bodies.  I think of the song lyric “The body talks and meditation helps” from the great Nahko and Medicine for the People.  This message is so true.  We must take care of ourselves.  Be in tune with what our body is saying.  Take care of it and it will not let us down.

Practicing self-care and focusing on my wellbeing has been enlightening in the last month and I am excited to continue along this journey of health and wellness.  I look forward to updating everyone on my wellness as I go, but today, I felt that it was necessary to share my feelings.

Rest up pals,

-Joel

Fostering Multicultural Leaders.

This weekend I was invited to be a facilitator for a Multicultural Leadership Retreat hosted by the Center for Diversity and Community at the University of South Dakota, and I am so happy that I was given this incredible opportunity to work alongside colleagues and professionals in the field of Higher Education, as well as to learn from interactions with students.

In my experience, offsite retreats provide environments conducive to growth and learning in a way that is unlike any other learning environment.  This weekend was no exception.  Being a retreat dedicated to fostering multicultural leaders, the retreat center was designated as a brave space for all participants.  A brave space allows for all who enter to feel comfortable, able, and willing to have conversation, create dialogue, and take steps out of comfort zones and into stretch zones.  We wanted questions asked, statements made, and experiences and growth to occur without judgement or bias.  Creating a brave space allowed for such things to happen.

I believe removing ourselves from our home communities (in this case, the University of South Dakota) and the comforts and distractions of those places, allows for the creation of brave spaces to happen organically.  I’m not saying that we need to leave our communities to create brave spaces-we should create brave spaces everywhere we are-but it somehow feels easier to create brave spaces when in settings that are unfamiliar and uncomfortable, yet sought out, such as at a retreat like this.

Removing ourselves from the comforts and distractions of home also allows for genuinely deep, meaningful, emotional connections to be made and for experiential learning to occur.  These types of retreats act as catalysts for student development and allow for learning to occur in a different way than that which occurs in the classroom or on campus.  This was fascinating to watch and rewarding to be a part of.

During this retreat I learned about intent versus impact.  I learned about the difference between safe and brave spaces.  I listened to stories and experiences told by my peers.  We discussed topics such as race, ethnicity, social class, gender expression, sexual identity, privilege, oppression and so much more.  I engaged in conversations that were not easy to engage in.  We delved into topics that are often avoided and ignored.  I allowed myself to be vulnerable and to be real, raw, and genuine.  I watched as others allowed themselves to do the same.  I learned the importance of having these tough yet courageous conversations with my peers, students, and others.  Most importantly, I grew from this experience, and I know that each and every person in attendance grew as well.

Social Justice and Higher Education go hand in hand, and that is why it is so critical for there to be multicultural leaders on college campuses (and everywhere).  I am excited to keep learning how to be a multicultural leader on campus and in the world, and to continue on a path toward social justice.  I hope to work alongside the students that I met this weekend and to grow as a professional with the other facilitators (colleagues) as the year continues.

I gained a lot from this experience, but the one thing that sticks with me is a quote from Disney’s Zootopia (yes, we viewed this film as a group and analyzed it from a multicultural perspective!).  It is important for us to be having these conversations and to be attending retreats like this so that we may lead the world to change.  So as the wise and courageous Judy Hopps said at the end of the movie…

“Look inside yourself, and recognize that change starts with you.  It starts with me.  It starts with all of us”

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Wellbeing.

Wellness has always been an important aspect of my life, but I never truly made it a priority or thought about how much work I had to put into my personal wellness until recently.  I have always been very active and fit.  As a runner, my physical wellbeing was always the thing that came to mind when thinking about wellness.  I have the stamina and endurance to run long distances and the heart to get out of bed every morning and start my day with a run.  I always feel better after a run than when I start.

For a long time, my definition of wellness was simply running and maintaining an active lifestyle.

In high school I had abs, strong legs, and a passion for running.  I thought that this was all I needed-that and carbs.  When it came to eating healthy, I would say that as a runner, I needed to eat healthy in order to provide my body the energy needed to run the distances that I do.  So that is (sort of) what I did.  Now, I’m not saying that I’m a clean eater and that I don’t enjoy splurging on sweets.  Ice cream is my weakness and I definitely eat my fair share of processed foods, but recently my main diet consists of fruits and veggies.  And a lot of carbohydrate rich foods like pasta and bread.  This was essentially my wellness lifestyle.

Fast-forward to today.  I am a first year #SAGrad and my definition of wellness has completely changed.  I still maintain my physical wellbeing and I still love to run and eat healthy.  I still eat ice cream and carbs.  But now, today, my concept of wellbeing expands so much deeper than my physical wellness and how fit I am.  I evaluate every part of my wellbeing in my daily life (as of recently).

My staff was gifted the book Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements by Tom Rath as a welcome to our job from our supervisor.  As a staff we are reading this in book club style and discussing our wellbeing in staff meetings weekly.  I love it!

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This book walks us through career, social, financial, physical, and community wellbeing (the five elements of wellbeing according to Tom Rath).  I love evaluating my daily wellness in each of these categories and taking the time each day to consciously focus on each element.

Here is a quick breakdown of the five elements of my own personal wellbeing:

As grad students it is so common to think about our career wellbeing because for many of us we have two short years to think about where we want to be after graduation.  I think about this daily.  I am finally taking classes that I enjoy and I am finally excited to learn and to do the assigned reading.  I know that Student Affairs is where I am meant to be and I am using this year as a way to continue growing in career wellness.

Social wellbeing is also a huge aspect of our wellbeing as grad students.  How do we have fun socially?  Who do we want to spend our time with?  Are these connections and relationships meaningful?  This is the big one for me right now.  I moved to a new state, university, and community where I knew no one.  Being a Woo, I love the challenge of meeting new people, but something is different about making friends in grad school in comparison to undergrad.  I am now a university staff member.  I am an advisor of a fraternity and a few student groups.  I have two years to make connections with people rather than four.  This is proving to be difficult but I have also noticed that it is good for me.  I have found that I love being alone and that I need to take time for myself.  I have put effort into meaningful relationships with the few friends that I’ve made so far, and I no longer spend time with people I don’t want to spend time with.  I am learning to say no.  I am excited to see how my social wellbeing evolves throughout the year.

Financial wellbeing.  Need I say more?  As a college student-especially as a graduate student-I fully understand that I am not financially well.  I am constantly worrying about money.  I have never been one to worry about money.  In fact, I hate that money dictates so much of my life already this year.  But I know that I must be frugal and thrifty as a grad student so I can prepare myself for my future after.  I have bills to pay and loans that accrue interest every second, and I always think about this.  It’s a work in progress, but one of my goals for this year is to get better at budgeting.  Wish me luck!

I mentioned physical wellbeing at the beginning of my post, but to recap, I am a lover of the outdoors.  I am a runner and an avid hiker.  These things keep me active and fit.  I have started practicing yoga and stretching more, and I have been focusing on the foods that I eat.  I have cut back on my coffee intake and increased my smoothie consumption as well as switching from my beloved Clif Bars to a healthier alternative, Lara Bars.  I hope to continue working on my physical wellbeing this year, and I am sure you will all hear about it in future posts.

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Lastly community wellbeing has been the hardest adjustment for me since starting grad school.  Moving to a new state, city, and community is tough.  I never thought it would be so hard.  I have felt more alone since coming here than ever before.  I don’t have my close friends and family right next to me anymore.  I don’t walk through campus and know every single person that I pass.  No joke, this was actually my life for the past four years.  I have been jumping at opportunities to meet people and to feel like a part of this community and I know that as the year progresses, it will get easier.  I have attended community and campus events and my job has definitely helped me in finding a strong network among my peers and staff members.  I am excited to see where this adventure leads me this year.

And something that I have learned already in my few short weeks of being here is the importance of self care.  Take time to do something you love every day.  Take time for yourself.  Run, hike, yoga, meditate, read, craft/build, write.  Whatever it may be…take care of yourself and allow yourself to be immersed in what you love in order to rejuvenate each day.IMG_6326

As you can see, my thoughts on wellness have changed in the last few weeks and I am excited to continue working on being a holistically well human being.  I want to thrive in my wellness and I know that grad school is the perfect time to start working on this.  How am I supposed to encourage wellness among the students I work with if I myself am not well?

Take care friends,

-Joel