My CIMBA Experience

“What have you learned in the past two years at CIMBA?”
What an impossible question to answer in a simple article. Sure, I have learned that the z-score for 95% confidence is 1.96, bottlenecks determine throughput, and “companies need cash”, but how do I articulate the gradual learning and growth that comes day-to-day operations outside of both the classroom and the comfort zone?

It is said that this is where change begins – at the end of your comfort zone. That’s where CIMBA strives to push all of its students. I knew this before joining the MBA program as a Campus Life Coordinator. However, in the past two years, I have been pushed further outside my comfort zone than either the organization or I could have ever expected. 

In the spring of 2019 – my second semester at CIMBA – one of our undergraduate students had a fatal accident while on spring break. In a small community of just over 80 students, of course we all knew him, had interacted with him. I was a part of his LIFE experience and had heard him express his goals for the future – a future he would never come to realize. 

I still have a hard time talking about it. It’s difficult to express how growth can come from tragedy. The sudden loss of someone so young and full of energy hit me hard – but it hit his classmates harder. They needed someone to be there for them, to give them support. I’ve heard you never know how strong you can be until you have no other choice, and I feel that this heartbreaking situation showed the true strength of the CIMBA family. Everyone rose to the occasion, going above and beyond what anyone could have expected with compassion, understanding, and empathy – all the soft skills that are so often overlooked in the business world, but are ultimately so much more important than the technical skills and knowledge that employers sometimes focus on. This is one lesson I will take away from my CIMBA experience: it is the people in an organization that matter. People are irreplaceable.

One year later, fate decided to hand another blow to me, CIMBA, and the world as a whole: the coronavirus pandemic broke out, with Northern Italy as one of the early hotspots. This calamity has shaken systems the world over, with a particularly harsh impact on international education. The first few weeks of the virus encroaching on the Veneto region came with endless ambiguity and constantly changing information. Information – sometimes conflicting – was coming at us from the WHO/CDC, the Italian government, the American government, home universities, and even worried parents, keeping both staff and students on edge. 

This tumultuous period really solidified one of my biggest lessons from studying abroad in general: how to deal with uncertainty and ambiguity. Essentially, what do you do when you don’t know what to do? Throughout these two years, whether it be sending a package at the post office or managing student concerns amidst a pandemic, I have been put in so many predicaments in which I did not have the answers, did not know the next step. Not ideal for a Type A/planner personality. But I have learned how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable – how to take steps in an unpredictable situation, without letting fear or insecurity paralyze me.

Take the quarantine, for instance. This is the most uncertain, unpredictable time that most of us have experienced in our lives. I am living in a country far away from my family, where I rarely know or understand the latest coronavirus regulations. I am graduating and returning to the US very soon, but my flights were cancelled, I don’t have a job or a place to live after July, and the places I have applied to are all on hiring freezes. Not to mention, my chosen career field (international education) will take a significant hit from the virus. I think it would be plenty understandable to have a panic attack or two at this time. 

But panic won’t get me anywhere. Rather than dwelling on the problem, we should always focus on the solution, and look for the silver linings along the way. I am still applying for jobs, diversifying my target positions, looking to rebook my flight, and in the meantime, I’m enjoying all this extra time I have to sleep in, read, and explore this corner of Italy in-depth. Handling uncertainty at CIMBA and in my travels has taught me that, overall, everything will be okay. I may make a bad decision (I turned down a job in February, whoops), or I may not have all the answers, but things will be okay anyway. As long as I keep a positive attitude and continue taking steps forward, no matter how small, I will persevere, and will likely come out the other side having learned something new.

As I said, it’s hard to adequately express everything I’ve gained from my time at CIMBA. Although I’ve described the most dramatic and impactful events of the past two years, there were hundreds – even thousands – of smaller instances that helped bring about gradual change. I have learned to work closely with people from so many different backgrounds, and how to approach different types of personalities. I’ve learned how to set personal goals and make a plan to attain them. I’ve even learned how to properly play foosball, and most of the Italian curse words to go along with it. 

And I’ve learned to take every opportunity offered to me – to go on that trip, say hi to that stranger, take that online course. To step outside my comfort zone and make a change. Because without change, progress is impossible. So what’s holding you back from taking the leap?

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Student Services with No Students

An article I wrote for CIMBA in April, amidst the coronavirus pandemic:

I have worked in international education for the past five years. When people ask what my favorite part of the job is, I don’t hesitate to answer that it is working with the students – being able to help them through a developmental process, watching them change as they learn and travel, gaining insight and independence. Our students are young, ambitious, and offer unique perspectives that I love to see face-to-face.

Weeks ago, the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak required all CIMBA undergraduates to return to the US.

It was a decision that caused a lot of chaos and emotional charge in our program. I felt like I was being personally attacked. How could they take my students away from me, nearly 5 weeks early? How would they finish their classes, let alone their personal journeys? How was I supposed to be there for them, with this giant ocean between us? What do student services look like without the students?

I have to admit, after a few weeks, I still don’t know the right answer, or even if a right answer exists. I do know one thing: it isn’t easy. When I am in the office 8 hours a day, literally just across the hall from the classrooms, students can take about ten steps to speak to me about anything, whether it’s class issues, travel plans, or the never-ending need for laundry tokens. And if I need to speak to one of them, I can usually just stick my head into the hallway and find them. Now, in order to keep a connection, I have to constantly reach out. Although email is the standard form of communication in academics, anyone who has worked with undergraduates knows this fundamental rule: students don’t read. Where has that left us? With videos, Instagram posts, WhatsApp messages, blog posts, and yes, still emails, as they are necessary.

And so we do these things, to the best of our abilities. We have stepped outside of our comfort zones in an effort to keep our relationships with our undergrads alive. But has it worked? That’s the worst part – I have no idea. It’s easy to see the outcome of my actions when the students are in front of me. I can see a smile, hear a laugh, or feel a moment of thought. Now that we are all behind the screens of our computers or devices, it’s like I’m speaking to the void. There is no response. I can’t tell if my advice is helpful, if my jokes are landing, or even if anything I produce is actually being seen. It’s easy to feel as if all my efforts are completely futile.

As a student services professional, the motivation behind my work is helping my charges. Without being able to see the effects of my work, I feel like I’m not fulfilling my purpose, not making a difference. It has left a pretty big hole in my life.

This made me think – are other members of the service industry feeling the same effect? Flight attendants with no travelers, servers with no patrons, baristas with no coffee connoisseurs, hair stylists with empty chairs. Normally, we all go through each workday, often thinking of how our customers/clients don’t appreciate us. Maybe we didn’t realize we were taking them for granted, too. Although I had often thought of the effect I could have on my students, this situation has certainly given me a new appreciation for the effect the students have on me.

 As soon as our program was cancelled, my focus was on the 80 young adults whom I had spent the past two months with. I had so much sympathy knowing that this amazing experience – once-in-a-lifetime for many – was unfairly cut short. What I didn’t realize at the time was that it cut my own experience short, too. I missed out on 5 weeks of listening to their adventures, learning from their trials, and seeing the final episode of their growth. Although I know I am lucky to be able to work from home, that work has fundamentally changed – and so has the sense of fulfillment that comes with it.

So for any student hesitant to post more photos, ask more questions, or share more stories – Post. Ask. Share. We want to see it!

San Valentino a Stramare

Saint Valentine (at least, one of the Saint Valentines) was a Roman saint from the 3rd century, commemorated on February 14th. There are many churches dedicated to the patron saint of love, happy marriages, beekeepers, and epilepsy. One of them is located in the very tiny village of Stramare, just up the river from Valdobbiadene, the prosecco region of Northern Italy.

Stramare is not a place that I had ever heard of, nor is it a spot most locals could point to on a map. It is a once-abandoned borgo that now has a handful of homeowners working on renovations. There aren’t restaurants or shops or anything remotely touristy. But thanks to their tiny chiesa di San Valentino, every year around February 14th, the sleepy little town comes alive.

My day started around 8:30 am, when two friends picked me up from my apartment and shuttled me to our starting location. After an espresso kick-starter, we embarked on a short but beautiful hike up the hill. We crossed over many little streams, along with the dozen or so other hikers in our group. About an hour and a half later, we arrived at the village of Stramare, and we were not the only ones – the small side “streets”, recently reclaimed houses, and few areas big enough for parking were all bustling with activity.

It’s hard to adequately describe Stramare. Half of the village is rundown and out of use, while the other half is obviously old little houses undergoing renovations. One of them is even an Airbnb, with an incredible view! And it is so quiet and peaceful, even with people flooding the streets for the Valentine’s event. I found this description, translated from Italian, that nicely sums it up: “Currently Stramare is a delightful village surrounded by greenery, bordered by small streams, characterized by stone houses, partly renovated for short and relaxing stays. The silence, the mild temperature, the presence of typical flora and fauna, give it an aspect that fills the sensitive soul.”

The whole event was so adorable, in such an Italian way. There was a living room setup in the center of the town, where two women shared their family’s “love story” history. The church, which could only hold 30 or so people, held mass in honor of their patron saint, San Valentino. The choir sang beautifully outside the church. The fountain in the center of town, which supposedly has the “power of love”, was surrounded. Some couples added their love stories to the red letterbox nearby. And many of the inhabitants opened up their homes and their hearts to the influx of visitors. Ten different houses prepared small plates for visitors to enjoy, ranging from bigoli pasta (typical of the region) and wine, to minestrone and wine, to dessert and mulled wine. Actually, all ten had wine. Like I said, very Italian.

The wine made the descent go by very quickly, even as we explored other sleepy towns down the road. By the time we made it back to our starting point, we were all ready for another coffee (obviously), followed by the short drive home and a relaxing end to my Saturday. Days like these really make me appreciate the unique experience of living in Northern Italy.

The Adventures of Gattino

This story is ten years in the making. Back in college, I lived with a couple who had a feisty, dorky orange cat named Milo. Across the state, my best friend Emma had a dorky orange cat of her own, Pi. Now, back in this ancient period, in the time of the first memes, there was something on the internet known as LOLcats. LOLcats were pictures of cats doing silly things, accompanied by cute, grammatically-incorrect captions (think “I can haz cheezburger”).

Whenever I caught Milo being weird (trust me, there was no shortage of opportunities), I would snap a photo, give it a witty caption, and send it Emma’s way. And whenever I received a text from her, it was sure to include a picture of Pi doing something ridiculous. We call the exchange our “orange cat picture war”. Although other people may have rolled their eyes, Emma and I have always always thought that we are hilarious.

And then, in the fall term of my senior year, I decided to study abroad, taking me away from my awesome roommates and away from Milo. Although I was excited to spend 4 months in Europe, one thought had me a little sad – how would I participate in orange cat picture war?

Emma to the rescue! She gave me this plump little orange cat as a parting gift and, seeing as I would be living in Italy, I named him Gattino (“little cat” – so original, I know).

Gattino on my window sill in Paderno del Grappa, Italy.

Since that day nearly ten years ago, Gattino has traveled with me all over the world. From my term abroad, to a solo European adventure three years later, to beautiful pieces of my home state, to Iceland with my dad, a Christmas trip to Japan, and my current 2-year hiatus back in Italy. You can usually find him in the side pocket of my backpack, taking in the views. My brother often complains that that little stuffed cat has been more places than he has.

Throughout these trips, I snap photos with Gattino whenever possible – especially at particularly cool or famous locations. This does lead to a lot of strange looks from people (imagine someone placing a small, orange plushy on the famous statue you are trying to take a photo of), but it’s definitely worth it. Here is a portion of Gattino’s album, from September 2010 to the present. Enjoy.

Gattino has become my permanent travel buddy and one of my most prized possessions. I hope we experience many more sites and experiences together.

Home, Away from Home

Eleven months is the longest I have ever been away from my hometown. It is the longest I have ever gone without seeing my mom, my grandma, my brother. It wasn’t easy – there were times where I missed my family so much, missed my familiar places, missed even walking down the street and understanding what the strangers I passed were saying. I was enjoying my little jaunt in Italy, but I was missing the comforts of home.

Although it seemed I had been gone for so long, as soon as I stepped foot back in Oregon, into my old life, it was as though I had never left. Going out with my friends felt like just another weekend. Family members barely batted an eye when I showed up for Sunday dinner. It made the whole past year feel almost unreal – like it only happened for me. Everyone else had continued on their steady life path, and I went way off course, did some crazy things, and came back. As if I had taken a short nap, dreamed some amazing things, and woken up in the same spot I started in.

There were a few clear indications that time had, in fact, passed – for one, I got to meet my beautiful new baby nephew! And my niece had grown so much since I had seen her last. I get to see them fairly often through video chat, but nothing can compare to being there in person, feeling the hugs, witnessing the impromptu questions and exploratory actions as they try to figure out the world. That is by far the worst part of being abroad. I’m missing these critical years in which they grow and change exponentially.

There was also the notable and heartbreaking absence of my best boy – Tucker – who passed away in the spring. I haven’t been in my childhood home without a dog of my own to give all my love and attention to since I was about 13 years old. It felt… empty. I had no little fur-ball running out to greet me, wiggling his whole body in excitement. No one to keep me company while I laid on the couch, or to let in and out throughout the day, or even to yell at for barking at nothing. My mom’s dogs were there, luckily, but I know they miss Tucker, too. Home just isn’t the same without him.

Other than that, it was comforting to see that I could go off on my own, and come back to the steady, reliable, country life I had grown up with. I could walk across the fields to see Grandma, go geocaching out in the woods, or drive the beat-up old Jeep down to the Breadwagon to see the whole town come through for dinner. Some things never change.

After two weeks of country living and a short break to camp out of the coast, I made my way back to the big city, where I revisited some of my favorite hangouts and actually figured out the bus system (side note: not having a car in the US is rough). It was a blast to hang out with some of my best friends again! And staying with my “second mom” and fam. There are definitely a lot of advantages to being in a big city that I had been missing. Brunch! Breweries! Bars! Karaoke!

As fun as it was to see everyone, they all still had jobs and life and stuff that they had to attend to, while I was just on vacation. Waiting around all day for people to get off of work got a bit tiresome (even if it did allow me to catch up on some gaming). By the time my departure date came, I was ready to head back to my own current version of life – pasta, pizza, espresso, and all.

What I took away from my summer vacation was that any place can feel like a “home”, whether it’s Portland or Paderno. When you live there, you build a life there – you build connections, create memories, and find favorite spots and activities. But not matter where I go, Home – capital “H”, Home home – will always be there, ever unchanging, waiting for my return.

Cheese Please

Tuesday is a special day in Paderno del Grappa. Not only is it bowtie day (see my Instagram), it’s cheese day! One of my favorite things about Italy is the cheese. So many types, from the hard, sharp parmesan to the soft, spreadable stracchino and everything in between. And all of these are available at Matteo’s cheese truck, which is set up for one precious hour each Tuesday in Paderno.

I mentioned Matteo in this post a while back, but let me give you a little more background. (Disclaimer that this is mostly hearsay and conjecture.) Matteo’s father operated the local cheese truck years back and I assume Matteo grew up helping him out. After completing high school, Matteo studied Economics at university. From what I understand, he has a master’s degree in the subject! I have even heard him described as “the smartest guy I’ve ever met.” After university, he worked in a bank, but apparently the banker’s life didn’t agree with him, because after a few years, he returned home to take over his father’s cheese business.

Now Matteo is married with three kids, and every week, he moves from village to village with his cheese truck, where “little Italian grandmas” wait for him. Occasionally, he even does cheese tastings, with samples of different styles accompanied by, of course, a local wine. After months of anticipation, my MBA class was able to set up one such tasting and it is a highlight of my time in Paderno.

Ricotta: We started the night with fresh ricotta, which I learned is made from the leftovers of making other cheeses! (Side note: “mani di ricotta” – literally “hands of ricotta” – is the Italian equivalent of “butterfingers”.) It was so fluffy and delicious. Some of our small pack asked for seconds… then thirds… then fourths. I had to remind them that there were other cheeses waiting.

Cremoso: Next up was cremoso, which, as you can imagine, was very creamy. It’s made of cows milk and goes well with crackers and the local wine Matteo took out at this point.

Morlacco: Third on the list – but number one in my heart – was morlacco. This semi-soft, salty cheese is only produced in the Monte Grappa region. It’s a very traditional cheese, with quite a production process. Apparently, evening milk is skimmed (in a special room, which allows fresh night air to pass), then mixed with whole milk in the morning. Then it’s heated, left to rest, cut, separated, left to purge (not sure what this means), and proceeds to form. The end result of all this effort is a salty, raw-tasting masterpiece. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. (For a better explaition of the process, you can go here:
http://www.venetoformaggi.it/it/prodotti/formaggi-tradizionali/morlacco-del-grappa.php)

Bastardo: Bastardo is another cheese typical of the Monte Grappa region. It’s similar to morlacco, but is produced with both cow’s and goat’s milk, hence the name. By this point, we were on at least our third bottle of wine and I started wondering how many cheeses we would get to taste.

Montasio: Our cheese journey continued with montasio, produced in the Friuli region, with origins that date back to the 1200s. This was a new one for me, and has since become one of my favorites. Montasio can be enjoyed fresh, semi-mature, or old. Fresh montasio, aged between 60 and 120 days is soft and smooth, with a mild creamy flavor. Yum! Finished the fourth bottle of wine around this time.

Vezzena: I honestly don’t remember this cheese very well (could be thanks to that fourth bottle of wine), but my research tells me it is medium-fat, buttery smooth, and herb-y. Sounds like I need to try it again!

Pecorino: I had used pecorino as a topping cheese a number of times before that night, but it was only then that I learned pecora means sheep, so pecorino is sheep cheese! It’s a harder cheese and ideal for grating, much like parmesan. Sharp and salty. And onto the fifth bottle of wine!

Caprino: Last, but certainly not least, was caprino. Capra = goat, so caprino = goat cheese (this one I did know). It was an aged caprino, so, much like the pecorino, it was hard, sharp, and salty. Matteo described it as “wild”. It had such an interesting feeling on the tongue, like dozens of tiny needles poking you, but somehow in a pleasant way.

All said and done, we tasted eight different cheeses and finished six bottles of wine! It was such a fun, informative, and tasty experience. I’m ready for round two!

30ish Before 30 // Young At Heart // Thirty, Flirty and Thriving // and Other Cheesy Titles

I have started this blog post at least 4 times. Maybe I just didn’t want to face the reality. First it was “In a couple of months”, then “In a few weeks”, then “In less than two weeks”, and now….In less than one week, I will be turning 30 years old.

That’s not too bad, though. Thirty is the new 20, right? Well, my knees and back sure don’t think so. I had to visit a chiropractor for the first time in my life. And he did not magically fix things. I feel like I’ve been lied to.

So many people have a list of things that they want to do before they turn 30, as if their lives automatically become boring and monotonous afterward. I do love lists, and the idea of having goals to accomplish before my birthday appealed to me, so I borrowed an idea that my best friend Emma used before her 30th last year: I put out a jar and some sticky notes and asked others what they thought I should do in my life before hitting that dreaded number.

I put the jar out way back in December, and the responses covered a wide range. From location-specific (see the great pyramids, visit Greece) to the adrenaline-inducing (skydiving, swim with sharks) to the mundane (read a book you wouldn’t normally read, eat 29 brioche). Plus there were some jokesters who had some very comical suggestions (but tattoo, face tattoo… lots of tattoos).

At my work station as a constant reminder. It got a little messy…

Some of the challenges, I had already done. Some, I will never do (refer back to butt tattoos, etc). And some I have actually been able to accomplish in the past few months! A few others will take more time. Enjoy these highlights from my 30ish to do before 30:

Done:

  • Eat something new and weird – We ate blowfish in Japan in December!
  • Dance in the streets of Tokyo late at night – Also during the December trip.
  • Turn 29 – Wow, creative one there.
  • See a play in London – I saw The Tempest at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre during my travels in 2013. It was awesome!
  • Carnevale in Venezia – Went last month and had an amazing time!
  • Go skinny dipping – Summers in Bly.
  • Ski/Snowboard in the Alps – We hit the slopes in the Dolomites in February! So beautiful!
  • Shave a part of your head – Credit to cousin Mindy for this one. 🙂
  • Book the cheapest flight you can find out of Italy and go! – Did this at the end of my undergrad semester abroad. Flight to Rhodes for €8!
  • Visit at least one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World – That cheap flight to Rhodes took us to the site of the Colossus of Rhodes, which sadly doesn’t exist anymore. And then there is my favorite, the Colosseum in Rome!
  • Cheese tasting with the MBAs – We did this a couple of weeks ago and it was incredible. The experience deserves its own blog post.
  • Get another tattoo/Get a tattoo with Emma – Mom will not love this one.

Still Working On:

  • Paragliding! – I got like 5 recommendations for this one, since it is so popular in the Monte Grappa area. I plan on doing it in May!
  • Read a book you wouldn’t normally select/Read a book recommended by Dr. Al – I started one, just haven’t finished it. I’m on chapter….. one, honestly.
  • Speak only Italian for 24 hours – This one is intimidating, but I will do it at some point!
  • Go back to Greece – I would love to visit Athens! It’s in the plans!
  • Eat 29 brioche – I’m sure I have gone beyond 29, but since I’ve started counting, it’s only been about 12.
  • Become a LIFE Trainer

Someday:

  • Hot air balloon ride!
  • Skydiving
  • Visit Africa/See the great pyramids – Soon, I hope!
  • Karaoke in Japan – I can’t believe we did not do that. It was everywhere! We just kept putting it off.
  • Swim with sharks…. maybe
  • Road trip through Oregon – If you count Klamath Falls to Pendleton, I’ve done this, but I would like to see more of Eastern Oregon and as a vacation instead of work/school/sports.
  • Hike a 14er in Colorado

Probably Won’t Do:

  • Face tattoo or butt tattoo
  • Buy your CIMBA students beer – Maybe when I’m ready to be fired.
  • Bike across the States
  • Eat a week of nothing but pizza
  • Run naked in the fields at 6:00 am
  • Call your first S.O. to say hey – Absolutely not.

Overall, I feel like I’m doing pretty well for 30! Obviously, different people have different goals for their lives. Many of the friends I grew up with are married with kids. Although some people in my position may feel like they’re “behind” in that way, I don’t think so. That’s not where I want to be in my life right now, and that’s okay. I’m in decent shape, both physically and financially, I like my job, I’m halfway to an MBA, I’m living abroad and having a ton of fun, new experiences – I’ve got a lot going for me! Overall, 30 is not looking too bad.

I think I will keep my list, and continue to add to it. Maybe make it into a “Things Kim Should Do By 40” list. A few things I need to add: be the best auntie ever, and act as a tour guide for my family when they visit me in Italy!

Any other must-do activities that I am missing? Feel free to offer suggestions!

The F Word

I’ve been living in Italy for about 7 months now. Although my Italian hasn’t improved as much as I would like, I have definitely picked up some new words and phrases. Particularly curse words. In the Veneto region, curses are mostly blasphemies – calling God a dog or a pig. Actually, a lot of them have to do with pigs. Sometimes I don’t even know half of what I’m saying, just that it’s “porco” something or other. Then there are the classics, much like we have in the States: the equivalents of the “f word” and “f off”, et cetera.

How is it that I’ve become so well-versed in this particular area? One word: foosball.

Guys – Italians are SO. into. foosball. It’s crazy! They get ultra competitive, and they are so freaking good at it! As someone who had a foosball table in the house during my childhood, I didn’t even know it was something people could get this good at. I always just hit the ball as hard as I could and hoped it would go into the goal. That’s not the case here. They pass the ball back and forth between the rows of little guys, bounce it off the side walls, and even manage to shoot the ball into the air sometimes! Everything is incredibly fast-paced, and they don’t even allow spinning. It’s hard for me to follow.

A typical match-up in our program is one Italian and one American on each side (we would get slaughtered if it was US vs Italy). So the ball will zip and zing around when the Italian’s little guys hit it, and then when it gets into US territory, we slowly, precisely move the little guys (usually accompanied with, “I got it! I got it!”) and hit the ball backwards as often as forward. When one of us scores, it is a surprise to everyone. At least when the other team scores, I can say the proper curse words, which always tickles onlooking locals.

Recently, I was trying to think if we had anything similar in the States – a fast-paced sort of “bar game” that people get really worked up over. The only things that came to mind were a few card games, but they don’t carry the feeling of urgency and chaos that I was looking for. And then, last week, we went to see a band in a town a little further away. The bar had air hockey. My Italian friend had never played. I whooped her a few times. It felt amazing.

My Views on LIFE

As anyone who has attended CIMBA knows, the LIFE program is quintessential to the organization’s culture. LIFE (Leadership Initiative For Excellence) is described as a small group, experiential leadership development program . It is two and a half days of extemporaneous public speaking, letting go of inhibitions, opening up to others, and pushing yourself beyond your perceived boundaries. It is an intense experience, to say the least. Most participants go through it once, then use what they learned to shape their future. Whether they look back at the experience with fond memories or PTSD, they do not generally jump at the chance to do it again.

I just finished my third iteration of LIFE. I know, I know – those of you who know what that entails are thinking that I’m crazy. (Not as crazy as the guy who did it twice in 9 months, but crazy nonetheless.) However, all three of these experiences were completely different journeys. First, as an undergraduate student, in my early twenties, without a clear idea of who I was and what I wanted. Second, as an MBA student, with a solid understanding of my own strengths and weaknesses, and a better (though still flexible) vision of my future. Third, on the other side, as a Trainer Assistant during the current CIMBA undergraduate’s program.

LIFE as an undergraduate was pretty terrifying. I knew next to nothing about the program when I began, which is how it’s supposed to be. Participants are meant to be in a cloud of uncertainty the whole time, never knowing what to expect. Scary people told me to do scary things, I put forth my best effort, and I failed again and again. The public speaking parts were the worst for all of us. Hands were shaking, voices were cracking – we were all so concerned about what others thought of us!

That same fear was barely present in the MBA group. At that point, most of us were used to giving speeches and presentations, so talking in front of others was no longer panic-inducing. On the other hand, the activities that required us to let ourselves go – really lose control and relinquish inhibitions – were much harder! It’s like we have trained ourselves to stay composed and keep our emotions contained for so long that we don’t know what to do when we have to release them. Being vulnerable with people I barely knew was also more difficult as an adult. I think at that point I had a lot more baggage than I did 8 years prior, so it was more embarrassing and more painful to bring it to the surface.

Team 1098!

The whole LIFE experience from the “dark side” – the trainer’s side – was like flipping over to the opposite side of the coin. I observed the undergrads enduring all of the same things I had endured, and I could see that they were just as anxious as I had been – but from my side, the things that were the most nerve-wracking to do were almost boring to observe. The hardest part was keeping a neutral expression. I couldn’t smile, laugh, or engage with the students at all. And you know, they are really funny sometimes! Worse, sometimes the other trainers would make jokes under their breath to torture me.

Thumbs up!

But all the torture and hard work was worth it: seeing the attitude and behavior of the students shift so drastically was a rewarding experience. As a participant, changes seem so gradual during those 2.5 day that you might not notice the progress you are making. As a trainer, the improvements are more clear – the potential of each student really stands out as they open themselves up. Now I get to watch those students continue to learn, grow, and apply themselves during their 12-week study abroad experience.

Enduring LIFE at these different levels has given me some valuable insight. It’s comforting to know that the things that are difficult for me now might be a breeze in the future. And that we shouldn’t be concerned with what others think of us, because often they aren’t even paying attention. It’s also important to keep in mind that the people who push us the hardest – the ones who tell us we can do better time and time again – are the people who want the best for us. I’m hoping to be that person for many more students in the future. We’ll see where LIFE takes me!

Team 1101 and their awesome trainers!

Christmas in Berlomyo

I have been on a bit of a hiatus from the blog as I traveled over the holidays and then as I recovered from traveling over the holidays and got back into the swing of work and class. Over the 3 weeks of December 17 – January 4, I spent approximately 47 hours on a train or a plane, not including the time waiting in the airports/train stations. No, I was not traveling back to the US for the holidays, much to my mother’s dismay. Instead, I took advantage of the free weeks to explore new parts of Europe, then take a big leap in the opposite direction of home – to Japan!

The answer to the “where should we go over Christmas break?” question was not an obvious one. My friend/coworker Alex and I ran through a multitude of possibilities, including South Africa, Northern Africa, the Middle East (this crazy fool wanted to go to Yemen – you know, that place that is in the middle of a civil war and the worst humanitarian crisis?), Australia/New Zealand, Thailand… in fact, I think the only continent we didn’t consider was North America. Through trial and error and tons of flight comparisons, we landed on this itinerary: fly to Copenhagen for a few days, take the train up to Stockholm for a few more, fly to Berlin on Christmas Eve with a 14-hour layover, then through Rome on Christmas to get to Tokyo. Woo!

Okay, first of all – who goes to Northern Europe in the middle of December?? Why not Greece or Malta or somewhere warm? I don’t know if it was the pressure to pick a place or the cheap flights (cheap for a reason) or what, but no, we decided to be in Sweden for winter solstice, where the sun rose at 8:30 am and set at 2:30 pm, and frostbite set in after 10 minutes. Genius. (Okay, the frostbite thing isn’t true, but the sunset time is!)

Despite the cold, Alex and I enjoyed unique outdoor activities in both Copenhagen and Stockholm. Did you know Copenhagen has the two oldest theme parks in the world? Bakken opened in 1583 (!) and Tivoli Gardens in 1843. At that age, you would think the only things left would be a couple of kiddie rides, a few games, and maybe a small, wooden roller coaster. Not so. Tivoli Gardens has all of the crazy, shoot-me-up-and-drop-me and spin-me-around-until-I-throw-up types of rides that you would expect at a state-of-the-art Six Flags. Plus, it was completely decked out in Christmas decorations. Overall, it was a ton of fun! Highly recommend!

Our outdoor adventures in Stockholm were more rustic: we visited Skansen, an open-air museum/zoo with houses, shops, and animals from Sweden’s history. I would have loved to spend more time there, but as fun as it was to see the bison, snowy owls, and wolves, it got so. freaking. cold. Literally leg-bucklingly cold. After my moment as a Disney princess, Alex and I rushed to the nearest bus stop as fast as our frozen legs would take us. Oh, and it was the queen’s birthday!

The best part of our Stockholm visit was getting the local perspective. My friend Kelly (we met during study abroad at CIMBA!) has lived there for 5 years with her boyfriend Edwin, a native-born Swede. They showed us around the islands (Stockholm is on islands! Who knew? Probably a lot of people, but not me!) and introduced us to a few Swedish essentials: fika,
mead, and glögg. Fika is basically a coffee break with pastries, taken once or twice a day. The prevalence of pastries in Europe is not helping my body image. Mead is, of course, the honey-wine that Vikings used to drink out of drinking horns. We didn’t drink it out of horns, but we did get cool, souvenir ceramic cups. Whether or not they were meant to be souvenirs is beside the point. (They weren’t. We stole them.) And then there’s glögg, a hot, spiced wine served with raisins and almonds. Glögg kept us warm on our walks through Christmas markets and outdoor museums, and in between one bar and the next. America really needs to hop on the mulled wine train. We’re missing out!

On a lovely, snowy Christmas Eve, Alex and I departed Stockholm, landing in Berlin around 9:00 pm for a 14-hour layover. Berlin is one of those huge, busy cities that never sleeps – or so we thought. Apparently people do actually sleep at midnight on Christmas Eve. In one of the biggest party cities in Europe, we had trouble finding a club that was open. It’s almost as if people were at home, spending time with their families. What is the world coming to?

Alex and I celebrated Christmas in the traditional American way: with lots of drinks. Then with a hangover at the airport. Then with hair of the dog on the plane. Happy holidays!

Technically, we didn’t land in Tokyo until December 26th, but I’m still counting it as Christmas. I’m counting the couple hours in Rome, too. Hence, Christmas in Berlomyo. The Japan recap will have to come later. I hope you all had great holidays, too!