Category Archives: College Years

My life at NU.

Monte Cristi, Dominican Republic

Two and a half hours from Santiago, Dominican Republic lies a dusty, enchanting town known as Monte Cristi. Here, there is a population of 3,000 people who live in sweltering heat. Here, the roads are mostly gravel with broken slabs of road, and the people will fit a family of four on a moped, and it’s completely normal. Here, in Monte Cristi–or “mountain of Christ” as Columbus called it, due to the fact that the town looked similar to the one Christ was crucified on–I spent one week teaching English to children through an organization known as Outreach360.

Outreach360 is an organization located in two countries: the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. The goal of Outreach360 is to teach English to individuals, mostly children, in underdeveloped areas–and I spent my time in the Dominican.

From the moment my group (5 other ladies from my cohort) arrived at the Manolo Tavarez Center which would be “home” for a week, we were immersed in the sweltering hot culture that is Monte Cristi. Monday through Thursday we taught at one of the schools Outreach360 works with, and during the evening we participated in many different activities, including visiting Monte Cristi’s salt flats, learning the merengue and bachata. Every night we were sung to sleep by the sounds of endless roosters, mopeds speeding down a dusty road, and music blasting from vans with ridiculous sound systems. Showers were cold and asked to be kept as short as possible, and we were asked to be in dress code at all times except for when we were asleep. On Friday, instead of going to school to teach, we (during my stay, there was a high school group from Cape Cod as well as an individual from Boston) went to Dajabon, a Dominican/Haitian market place where prejudices can be put aside long enough for people to make a living, and El Morro, Monte Cristi’s loveliest beach.

We did so much more in one small week that I am at a loss for words to describe it all. I went into this trip with an arrogant mindset–I have worked with Spanish speaking children and I am used to hot weather. Even so, nothing I have ever done in my entire life would have prepared me for the Dominican Republic. I am thankful for my experience here, and thankful for the school project that made me immerse myself in a culture I might have never experienced otherwise.

A paragraph doesn’t quite cover all that I’ve done and all that I’ve seen in Monte Cristi, nor will an entire blog post. As much as I want to, I don’t think I can articulate the beauty of all that I am honored to have been immersed in. Instead, what I can do for you is offer you some highlights from the DR in the form of words and pictures.

A far away view of Monte Cristi nestled against the Atlantic. 

A pier overlooking the Atlantic ocean at sunrise. It has been on my bucket list for quite some time to see the sun rise on the east. 

The streets of Monte Cristi looked like this. It really puts life into perspective. Be blessed by how much you have. 

What made the DR so special weren’t the breathtaking views and the way a cool breeze lifted your hair during merciless heat, even if those moments were beautiful. No, what makes the Dominican so beautiful and special are its people. Here in Monte Cristi, a quiet, off-the-beaten path, and what seems like a forgotten town, live 3000 individuals. These 3000 individuals live in what can be considered a “developing country”. They have very little, and of the little they have, the quality can often be questionable. Yet, I have never seen a child smile so big or a person so warm-hearted and inviting in spite of what many would consider “poverty”. I have never felt so much love and authenticity in any city I have ever had the privilege of visiting. 

At El Morro beach. (I am convinced there is not a good picture of me during this week…and that’s okay.)


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Filed under College Years, Culture, Post Grad, Travel

Change vs Structure

I find in recent days I am a fan of change.

In most cases, I need structure.  For other Meyers-Briggs nerds, I am an INFJ. I was fairly moderate on all, except my “J” which was high. I need closure and structure and concrete plans. Even so, within the lines of my well-defined system I attempt to create in my day-to-day/5-year-planned life, I find myself fidgeting for something new and unexplored. I cannot remain in one place for too long. I cannot watch the same things happen over and over. I need change.

Well, since my last post, a lot of change has happened:

I graduated with my Bachelor’s in Psychology.

I went to Europe (Italy and Austria).

I moved into a new apartment with a friend.

I started a new job which I really like.

BIG CHANGES in a span of a single month!

In the next few months I will start Grad School–which will be hell. I’ll probably want to die every day as I will also be working a full-time job that takes all of my energy (if you think of me, pray for me!).

As I find myself yearning for more change and more chances to see the unknown, I will always love my structure.

As I need to stretch my wings and fly to new places, I’ll always come back to my nest and read a good book, or another addicting show.

As I start  new academic program, I will still be studying the same subject (counseling psychology).

As I live in a new place, I know I will never be in a place without some large body of water near me.

So, I raise a toast to structure and change.

A toast to another new life adventure.

A toast to the next step.

Vienna, Austria

Vienna, Austria

Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy

Rome, Italy

Rome, Italy

Pompeii, Italy

Pompeii, Italy

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Filed under College Years, Personal, Post Grad, Travel

Tick Tock

Tick tock.

Tick tock.



Time has moved so terribly fast this year, and there are many things I could write about, but the most impactful was this:


Tick (Aug 2013)

Sitting in a room full of acquaintances and strangers, not knowing what to say. Looking around and wondering if anyone else felt the same doubt and silent fears as you. Am I good enough? Do I really have what it takes to be an RA? What if they made a mistake in choosing me?


Then you break into a smaller group. This little group of 9 faces, little do you know, will suddenly become the world to you. They will be the people pushing you to do your best. They will be the ones loving you even when you don’t want to be loved, and loving you through your mistakes. For the next 9 months, outside of your residents, your res life team becomes your family.

Your #GPCfamily.

Over the course of 9 months you find your walls breaking down with each fond memory and each picture taken. You find yourself laughing, and crying, and praying and simply being, with the nine people you suddenly can’t imagine life without.

Then one day, all the time you thought you had is gone.

Suddenly, you’re sitting in a room full of people who are your family. You watch with tears in your eyes as each of your beloved family members if affirmed for things you have come to love about them. You feel your breath hitching and your pulse racing as you begin to plead with God and you don’t even care that you look like a hot mess. It can’t be over, God. Please, no, it’s not enough time. I need more time. Fear grips your chest, and you realize you’re scared as hell for whatever comes next.

But you know. Somewhere, beneath your surface selfishness that a family will always be a family, and it is better to watch your beloved #GPCFamily disperse into 9 different paths. While you want to keep them to yourself, you’re happy knowing someone else will get to experience the same joy and love you did.

That blasted clock is still ticking. Your heart is still breaking. And yet, you are smiling. You are smiling because your heart had loved much. Your heart has expanded and grown in ways that you never would have dreamed, and you are still scared as hell, but you excited for whatever comes next.


Tock (May 2014)

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Filed under College Years, Relational, Res Life, School

Strawberries & Chocolate

#GPCFamily 2013-2014

#GPCFamily 2013-2014

For Lent this year I decided to give up sweets.  It was a spur of the moment decision (probably not the best way to do it), and sweets were the first thing I decided to give up.  It was stupid.  I love ice cream.  Tonight, I broke Lent.  Before I dive into why I gave it up, let me tell you what I learned about myself in these last few weeks:

  • I mindlessly eat sweets too much
  • My life without sweets isn’t that bad; it’s the knowing that I cannot have them which is the worst.
  • Lent, for me, had become a legalistic practice.

I have never participated in Lent before, and I wanted to do it just once.  However, somewhere between resisting a muffin and taking my first bite of delicious “Jesus-moment” chocolate, I realized Lent had become a legalistic practice for me–I was completing this more out of religious pride than reverence and remembrance of Jesus.

So tonight I broke Lent.  I ate wonderful, sweet, juicy strawberries (fruit didn’t count as “giving up sweets”) and a square of delightful milk chocolate. As I ate the chocolate, I looked around the room. I was surrounded by the sweet faces of my res life team–the people that have become so dear and familiar to me this past year.  These people, these friendships, these moments…all of these moments will be held dear to me for the rest of my life.

I saw their faces, enjoying the fine sweets before us, being totally present in the moment and laughing together.  In that moment, I felt Jesus.  He was in the faces of His followers that sat around me.

In that moment of breaking Lent I was reminded more of Jesus than I ever was during the weeks of Lent I participated in.  I don’t know if I’ll ever try to do Lent again, and if I do, I hope it will be for all the right reasons.  But I do know I want more moments like I had tonight.  Moments in which I will look around the room, breaking bread (or eating strawberries and chocolate) with the people I love so much, laughing, living, loving, and seeing Jesus.


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Filed under Christian Life, Christianity, College Years, Food, Personal, Res Life, School

To Love and Be Loved

To loved and be loved is a vulnerable thing.

To loved and be loved is a vulnerable thing.

Last week, my res life team celebrated my half-birthday.  My AC LOVES to celebrate, so it’s only natural that birthdays (and half-birthdays for those that are summer babies) are appreciated.  Per tradition, we are to wear Mickey Mouse’s wizard hat and have the res life team bless us.

On the night that it was my turn to allow my team to bless me, I sat on the floor, wishing I could disappear into the strange hat, and trying to melt away into the ground, making myself as small as possible.  My arms were wrapped around my legs, protecting myself as the words of my dear, sweet team started flowing over me.  As their words came to me–calling me loving, sweet, genuine, sincere, quirky, courageous–I found myself lost in my tears.

Their words rolled over and around me, like a crashing wave, and my tears fell, blinding me as I sat paralyzed in my spot, I realized the full extent of how hard it is for me to believe I am loved.  I know that I deeply love others, but I can’t allow myself to be as deeply loved–because it hurts.  Because it requires letting people see me, and I’m afraid they might not like what they see and leave me.  Because I don’t give myself permission to love me.

I don’t give myself permission to love me.

That’s the weirdest thought. I need permission to love me? What?

I know that God loves me.  The Bible says it. He has told me.  Pastors, counselors, mentors, friends, family, etc…they’ve all told me.  You can tell a person something a million times, but when does it finally hit home and become real?

It became real the other night.  The other night when I sat across from someone I often feel the need to prove myself to.  I found myself hunching over, hiding myself, making myself smaller because I felt so unworthy–and he hadn’t said anything.  Then somewhere it clicked.  A still, small voice echoed in my mind.

The voice called out from the dark place I was heading to, “Why are you doing this? Why are you hiding? Sit up straight because you have confidence, you’re not the same girl you used to be.  You have authority, and you are just as worthy as anyone else in the room.  You don’t need someone’s permission to love yourself.  Give yourself the permission to love yourself.”

I wish I could say that in that moment, I was healed of every last insecurity in my heart, but I know I’m not. I know I still have a long way to go–and I give myself permission to say that’s okay.

I don’t know if there’s another girl (or guy) reading this, thinking the same thing–believing in your “unworthiness” and refusing to let others love you.  I wish I could give you three simple steps in loving yourself, but I can’t because I’m still figuring out this journey. I can suggest this:

Look in a mirror.

Look yourself in the eyes.

Remember the love others have for you.

Remember the love God has for you.

Finally, let yourself love yourself.

Give yourself permission to be loved.

Love yourself the way you love people–wholly, with everything, unashamedly.  Allow yourself to be seen through the eyes of God–as someone worthy.

To love and be loved is a vulnerable thing, but it is well worth the effort.

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Filed under Christian Life, College Years, Personal, Res Life

Cherish Every Moment



With every step through my darkened hall, it’s as though every decoration begins to fade and the ghosts of loud laughter follow me as I check on empty rooms, eerily taking me back to the end of summer when I first arrived on Guy 300. Time has flown too fast.  One minute I was applying to be an RA, the next I walked the empty halls during hot summer afternoons putting up decorations, and the next I’m taking down the Christmas decorations, prepping for next semester before I leave for Winter Holiday.  I know that come January these rooms will be filled again and I’ll be walking up and down reminding these girls to be quiet (they don’t listen, haha!)

Buy Guy 300 will not be the same.

While the majority of my girls will be returning next semester, there are a couple that won’t be coming back to the floor.  Two of them are international students from Korea, and they are the sweetest girls anyone will ever meet.  It’s incredibly difficult saying goodbye to people that I’ve lived with for the past 4 months, and while I want to remain optimistic and say “I’ll see you later”, I can’t make promises I don’t know if I can keep.  While it would be a dream to visit them, I’m afraid of letting the dream become something to hope in, especially if it doesn’t happen.

Instead, I have memories.  Memories from laughing. Sweet memories and sweet pictures of beautiful people that I hope to never forget. With my first semester of being an RA coming to a close, I say this:

Cherish every moment. Be SO incredibly present with the people you are with.  That doesn’t always mean being with them all the time, but it means that in the time you have them within reach, cherish that person.  Love them as hard and as wholly as you possibly can. If you’re anything like me, you’re going to get caught up in the “shoulds woulds and coulds” (I should have…I would have…I could have…), and they are terrible reminders that we are only human and we cannot fully satisfy others’ needs sometimes.  While it is painful to get caught up in that spiral, remember that no matter how great or how small, no matter if you see or not, you’ve made a different.

In some significant and not necessarily visible, my life has been changed.  I hope I’ve changed lives along the way too.  Whether it be a memory of someone who simply offered a sweet smile, or a strong memory of a dear friend, the impact that has been placed our very souls are are real.

Every moment has value, from the most grand moments to the minute details…cherish it.

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Filed under College Years, Res Life, School


“No matter what you do in life, no matter what happens, as long as you have your education, that is the most important thing.”  If there’s anything I will ever strongly remember my mom telling me, it would be this quote.  My mom had many aspirations of me becoming a pharmacist (I don’t even understand), something in the medical field, or anything that would secure a bright and prosperous future for me–one she could not secure for herself.

Yet, she has finally come to terms that I am a Psychology major with dreams of changing the world through Social Work and therapy. After having a phone call with my dear mom recently I told her that I wanted to apply to one of the best grad schools in the nation for social work.  I told her that it would be my dream and I wanted to make her proud.  Her exact words back to me? “You’ve already made me proud. I just want to be at your graduation to see one of my kids with a diploma.”

This May, I will be graduating with my BA in Counseling Psychology and a minor in Pastoral Care and Counseling.  I will not be the top of my class.  If I’m lucky, I will barely scrape by as cum laude, and I attend a small Christian school in the Pacific Northwest.

I will be the second one in my family to earn a degree.

I have been in college for 5 years. 5 stinkin’ years! While graduation is still 6 months away, I know the months are going to fly by.  As I sit reminiscing on bittersweet memories: the joy of getting acceptance letters, the pain of moving away from home for the first time, the laughter of making new life-long friends, and the tears of struggling through change…all of these beautiful memories have led me to this: I am blessed to be educated.

Sure, some days I think my school’s administration is a bit ridiculous, but who doesn’t?  Sure, I think papers and exams and all those silly collegiate tasks are more tedious than necessary, but maybe now, I see the point to all of it.  Every sleepless night (even if I still begrudgingly think of them) has helped pave the way for my success.

5 years from now, if I stick on the path of becoming a social worker and am successful, I will have a relatively low income. If I become a therapist, I might have a higher income. If I go a different route altogether with an unknown income, one thing remains constant: I have my degree and my education.

Education has never been in my top two life dreams, but rather it is a dream and opportunity I have come to appreciate as a wonderful gift.

6 months from now, I will be walking across a stage with some of my family to cheer me on from the audience. No matter where I go from there–grad school, career path, anywhere else–I have my education.  I have learned and I will continue to learn.  No one can take away my education, ability to learn, and ideas.


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Still-Frames of Growing Up

I wish I had a photographic memory. Not only would exams for my classes become easier, but maybe then I would be less likely to forget the memories I make throughout the years in photograph form.  I know photographic memory doesn’t really work like that, but for now I’d like to pretend that it does.

This weekend, I had the privilege of watching another one of my really good friends marry the love of his life.  At last minute, I was asked to control the music for the ceremony and reception.  Even though my job was to simply press buttons, I was nervous because I feared I would press the wrong button for the wrong song and everyone would die (because that’s how weddings work, right?).  Even so, it was a classy event, and one I’m sure I will remember for a few years.

The music was kept in a little back corner in a side room where my friend and the preacher waited for the precessional of parents and grandparents to go by.  Before that begun, I looked at my friend to notice him fidgeting with his tie, his collar, and his suit jacket.  He was obviously nervous. I smiled at my friend and patted his arm reassuringly, reminding him that it was going to go great.

The pastor then clapped my friend on the shoulder and suggested one more prayer before my friend would go to the front head of the aisle and await his lovely bride.  My friend nodded in agreement.  The pastor then asked if I would like to join them, and I immediately said yes.  I was surprised when the pastor closed his eyes and bowed his head, and there were a few seconds of silence. I then realized that he wanted me to pray.

I don’t remember the words that I said during the prayer, and soon I will forget the sound of the camera clicking as the photographer captured the moment, but I will never forget the honor of praying for my friend before the wedding–one of his last prayers before he became a married man.

I will forget the moment when my friend walked to the head of the aisle as the wedding party began to walk down and my friend looked at me in the corner of the room and shared a smile with me.  It was in that moment that I flashed back to our 3 years of friendship. The time when we walked around late at night because one of us needed a friend in that moment.  The time when we both realized we were broken people and promised to hold each other accountable.  The time he told me that Jesus has changed his life.  The time he told me he was ready to be a man to lead his woman.  The time he told me I was both his little and big sister all at once.  The time he told me he would jump into freezing water to save me if I fell in. So many other moments in-between that I swore I would never forget, but I have.

I will forget that I cried during the entire event as I watched Austin and Kayla grin from ear to ear as they became man and wife. I will forget the food they served.  I will forget the way my feet hurt from being on heels for a few hours.  I will forget how cold I was that October afternoon as the wedding guests sent Austin and Kayla off. I will forget the music that was played during their wedding.

I wish I had photographic memory to capture all these moments.  I’m sure the photographer did a superb job at capturing the joy and laughter at this event that celebrated these two lives becoming one, but I wish that somewhere in the moments that can’t be captured by film, I would be able to remember the tiny memories like still-frames.

The way Austin played nervously with his new ring.  The way he stood straighter and smiled wider with Kayla at his side. The way Kayla never stopped radiating. The time after the wedding when my friend and I put all the presents into Austin’s and Kayla’s new apartment. The way we laughed as we decorated Kayla’s car so the world will know the newly wedded couple.  The way it felt to watch someone who is like your brother take a giant leap closer to being a mature man of God.

These are moments I hope I never forget, but I know time will deteriorate the memory and they won’t be as potent as they are now.

Getting older and hitting milestones with friends is such a surreal thing, but it’s an honor to do life with the people you really love. I cannot wait to be part of more celebrations with my other close friends. I’m excited to live the moments that will become great memories.


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Changes and Transitions

Fall leaves

Autumn has always been one of my favorite seasons.  I love the gradual change from hot weather, to warm weather, to cool weather, to brisk and foggy mornings that I finally have a warm jacket for. I love being able to see my breath in the mornings as I trek up my school’s hills to get to my classes.  More importantly, I love the colors and the way things change from bright green in vivid bursts of reds and yellows.  I love the general feeling of autumn as the world around me prepares for the roll of holidays–Halloween, Thanksgiving, and finally, moving into winter, Christmas.

I’ve always associated Fall as a time of change–the leave change color and it’s a new school year which always means the start of a new beginning.  Recently in light of the circumstances I find myself in, I now see Autumn as a time of transition–a necessary beauty between lazy summer days to cozy winter nights.

For me, at the end of every summer for my return to NU, I have always been excited by the prospect of being with some of my best friends in a place that I love.  I would look forward to the joy of the start of something new with my best friends by my side to share all the moments in between.  As I geared up for this year at school, I knew that it would look different, but I never imagined it would be like this.

As I sat in my weekly one-on-one meeting with my AC (also known as an RD at other universities), Alison voiced something I had not quite formulated into words: “Serena, it sounds like this is a transitional year for you.”


It is a word very similar to “change”, but not quite the same.  Change is something very different from what you are used to.  It is changing from point A to point B. Transition is the action in between.  Often times when we’re telling our life story we think about the “drastic changes” in our life, rarely thinking about the significance of the transition between, when in fact, the transition is the whole story.

This year is vastly different for me.  My two best friends at school are married to each other, and while they live on campus, due to conflicting schedules I don’t get to see them often.  My usual group of friends have all graduated.  This year I am in a position of leadership (an RA), and I’m working, and I’m a senior, and I will soon be applying to Grad school.

It’s hard to imagine that this time next year, I honestly don’t know where I’ll be.  I don’t know if I’ll be in San Diego– feel as though God has told me that my time there as a resident might be over.  I have fallen in love with the Pacific Northwest, but I have no idea if this will become home quite yet. Next year will be a year of change for me, and for the time being, I am living the transitory moments.

They are painful.  They are difficult.  They are very much unexpected.  I long for the days of yesteryear in which everything was familiar, just as much as I embrace the challenge before me.

This time of year is often difficult for me.  I have a tendency to get more melancholy (seasonal depression–but not that terribly), and it is difficult when I feel as though I’m not being poured in to, but as I tell everyone and anyone who asks: I would not change it for the world.

Transitions are hard to live, but they are what bind my story together: from who I used to be to who I will be at the end.  For now, I am becoming.

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Guy 300

Today the exchange students came to campus.

Wednesdays the new students come on campus.

Friday and Saturday the returning students return to campus.

As for me–there is no rest! These past couple of weeks have been spent in preparation for the 36 girls that will live on my floor. I am 90% done with the all of my decorations and as the days draw closer for my hall to be filled with screaming and other people (after a week of 2 other girls!) I find my heart is so wonderfully full.

I am so excited for these girls to arrive. Today I put up name tags on their doors, and as I pressed them firmly onto the doors, making sure the blue sticky tack would keep them in place for the year to come, I prayed over each individual girl.

I don’t know what this year will bring for either me or my girls. I have no expectations because I’ve learned that my expectations are never met in the craziest of ways–they either never happen or something completely different happens! Whatever this next year holds, I am so blessed to be part of the lives of 36 other girls however that may look. I am excited for the pain and the joy, for the stress and the rest, and for every other thing in-between.

I am most excited for Jesus. I am excited for this messy life of mine to entwine with 36 other messy lives all in this beautiful story crafted by the most perfect Author.

Also, I totally just thought of the verse in John (I think it’s John, forgive me if I’m wrong!) in which Jesus explains that He has gone to prepare a place for us in Heaven. I know it’s such a silly example as I put name tags on crappy looking doors (sorry NU, but it’s true!), but it’s a reminder to me that as I lovingly pray over my girls, Jesus is watching over us (all of us–not just Guy 300) as he prepares rooms for us.

Love from, the RA of Guy 300
Love from, the RA of Guy 300

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