Experiential Education

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The Romania Semester has been unique compared to my other semesters at Northwestern.  I’m not saying this in terms of studying in another country, while that has been the source of many wonderful and different encounters and challenges.  This semester is unique in its emphasis on experiential education and service learning.  The incorporation of these techniques of learning makes sense as the New Horizons Foundation strongly endorses and uses this in their youth programs, working to shape the youth of the area to become future leaders and advocators for change.

For us as students, it means we don’t have all of our classes in the typical setting.  While we do have some in-class time, it is not uncommon for us to be going on visits elsewhere, such as churches or even other towns in the country. 

The first experiential education class we had was during the first week of our time in Romania.  After being in Romania for only a few days, we all packed up and went out to Retezat National Park for a five-day backpacking trip. 

This was a new and challenging experience for me.  While I absolutely loved being in nature, I believe it was one of the things that helped me adapt to being in Romania – every day was challenging, both physically and mentally.  The first day was probably the hardest for me.  It was a day of getting used to my backpack as well as figuring out my pace.

That first day I was far too concerned with keeping up.  I did not want to fall behind and be the reason we had to slow down, so I pushed myself to stay toward the front.  While I maintained that pace most of the day, it was not enjoyable.  When we made it to our first campsite, I was excited I made it that day, exhausted from all the work, and concerned about how I was going to survive the next.  I was nervous about the unknown, for the next day, the next week, and looking back on it now, I was nervous about the unknown of the upcoming semester.  We were told that the next day was probably going to be one of the most difficult days in terms of the incline ahead, and I was not looking forward to it. 

It turns out that the second day was one of my favorites and the one that taught me the most.  The day started out slow.  There was only a slight incline and I felt like I was getting used to my backpack.  We stopped for a short break and then we were warned the difficult portion of the day was next.  We had to climb up a sharp incline to get over the lip of a peak.  It took time, and I learned it was just fine to go at my own pace.  I took my time and rested when I needed to. 

While I hiked that day, I would often look up to the group ahead of me and think there was no way I’d make it to where they were.  I would then just focus on the next few feet in front of me, enough that I knew where I was going, and before I knew it, I stood where I didn’t think I’d make it to.  Getting over the lip to overlook the lake below felt like a huge accomplishment in that moment.  That afternoon I became comfortable with the unknown in that trip, and even a little more comfortable with the unknown in my life.  Living in the present and doing what I can in that moment to move forward instead of worrying about what is ahead was a big lesson I learned that day. 

The rest of the trip still had difficult moments, but it was also filled with bonding with others and taking in the beautiful sights of Romania’s national park. 

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Dorm Sweet Dorm

Applying to college is both exciting and nerve-wracking, and it’s not just the academic part that evokes these feelings. After you receive your acceptance letter, everything about college becomes real, including where you’re going to live.

I’m extremely grateful that Northwestern is one of the many colleges that requires freshman to live in the dorms.

I’m extremely grateful that Northwestern is one of the many colleges that requires freshman to live in the dorms. I graduated high school as a shy and introverted gal who avoided social interactions as much as possible. Through my conversations and friendships with the women living on my wing for my first three years on campus, I was able to gain confidence and branch out a little from my shyness. I met other introverts who understood the need for peace and quiet to recharge.

I’m now in an apartment for my last year, and when my other roommates are elsewhere and I’m alone, I sometimes get that sad feeling, wishing I could be back in the lively dorms.

If you’re excited for the new adventure you’ll be on in college but are a little worried about dorm life or don’t know what to expect, let me give a few reasons why your time in the dorms should be cherished:

1.      Community: If you haven’t heard, this is one of Northwestern’s buzzwords. Though it seems cliché to use it, you’ll understand exactly what I mean when you walk down your wing and the doors are open, inviting you in. Pals will sit in the hallway and chat and you have the choice to hop and skip over their legs or sit down and join in. There is so much life in the dorms and I never realized how much I appreciated that.

2.      Buddy System: Maybe you and your roommate aren’t super close, or maybe they are busy or have other plans when dinner rolls around. Fear not! There is a whole wing of humans you live with who need food too. If you need a dinner buddy, you’re almost guaranteed someone will be looking for one too. All you have to do is simply walk down the hall and ask. Some wings also have wing dinner nights, so you’ve got at least one dinner covered.

3.      Wing Events: Part of your RA’s job is to plan events to unite the wing. Sometimes it involves a brother/sister wing or it’s a dorm-wide event, but these are great opportunities to meet new pals, especially at the beginning of the year. Wing events could be going to the corn maze, ice skating, Blue Bunny, late-night Perkins runs, and so much more. And it doesn’t stop with the RAs either! If you’re a huge Harry Potter fan and are searching for others to join in on a movie marathon, it’s not hard to gather a group. I’ve enjoyed the spontaneous adventures and looked forward to planned events. I met so many wonderful friends because of these events and I will always recommend joining in/

4.      RAs: I’m not tooting my own horn, but RAs are a big part of dorm life. When I moved in freshman year, my RA was incredible. I could laugh with her about the silly times but she also held me when I cried. RAs are that person you can talk to about classes, roommate tension, or even the meme you found. We don’t have all the answers, but we can at least point you in the right direction and encourage you along the way. Your RA wants to be that person you can talk to or at least go to for help, so take advantage of that!

5.      It’s Fun: You may be laughing at this reason, but let me tell you, never underestimate the effect of a spontaneous dance party or random pop-in to another room. A quick hello can easily turn into an hour conversation. A shared love for a song you’re jamming out to can be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. I still remember the first two years when little baby ducks appeared on our wing and it drew folks out of their room and we bonded over our love for cute, baby animals. (Whoever did that, thank you. Best prank ever!) You never know what is going to happen, and that makes the adventure of dorm life that much more exciting.

I realize these sound directed more towards women versus men. I can’t speak for the men’s dorms and if they check off every one of these reasons, but there are incredible friendships I have seen formed and have heard about video game competitions and chicken nugget-eating contests, so I’ll assume they’re equally exciting.

Enjoy your time preparing for college and dorm life. Get excited for the opportunity to meet a bunch of wonderful people. Cherish your years in the dorm and milk them for all their worth. The time on campus will fly by faster than you realize and you’ll miss those good times.

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Red Raider family

I remember going on college tours as a junior and senior in high school. Because of my sport, I had received offers to play at schools in every athletic division from one coast of the United States to the other. At times it was exciting; other times it was overwhelming. I would arrive on campus for a tour, and as I walked with the other wide-eyed prospective students like me listening to the tour guide, I remember making mental lists of pros and cons of the college I was visiting.

Like any other prospective student, I waited for the usual “this is home” moment that every undergraduate uses to answer the “what brought you to this college?” question. But as one college visit after another passed, I left with more questions than answers. One of the most commonly occurring questions was: “ok, this tour has shown me great things about this college, and it seems pretty cool, but what is it really like living here for months on end?”. This question faded in and out of my focus over the months as my time to make a college decision was running out. Finally, I had my “this is home” moment. It wasn’t one of the schools I had visited in California or even in Tennessee, but instead it was a school in my home state of Michigan and so happened to be the last one I visited along my journey.

It was a fairly large DII university and before I knew it I had committed to play volleyball there and my first year of college education had begun. Now, if you’re like me, you absolutely love people and being around them. But, at times, you need personal space as well. The science community nowadays calls us “ambiverts.” Neither total extrovert nor introvert, we’re kind of like the omnivores on the carnivore-herbivore spectrum. We need to be able to settle into a comfy chair now and then and read a book of our choosing in a quiet space and simply allow our minds to slow down from its usual pace. At my large university, I could find that space anywhere I wanted. But as time went on I also noticed something that today makes me appreciate Northwestern College all the more since I transferred. You see, while at my university I had a certain anonymity amongst the majority of the student body, I also noticed that with the anonymity of a large university sometimes came empty pangs of loneliness. Sure, I always had my friends and roommates, but at a school of 10,000-plus people, it didn’t matter how social of a person I was, I would never be able to know even a third of the faces I passed by on the way to class each day.

But if you’re reading this and you recognize that hunger for authentic community in yourself, Northwestern College is truly a great investment.

The God-designed part of humans that craves authentic community was surfacing within me as I realized that I wasn’t living in a community of authenticity but rather in a community of complete strangers. Not everyone will feel the same way that I did. I have friends who thoroughly enjoy that anonymity! But if you’re reading this and you recognize that hunger for authentic community in yourself, Northwestern College is truly a great investment.

As I mentioned before, I thoroughly enjoy being around people most of the time. But in other moments I need to have my own thinking space or time to improve myself! If I’m honest, at Northwestern I find that I have the opposite problem than I did at my university. Whereas before I had too much privacy, at Northwestern I almost can’t get enough privacy when I want it! We all know it’s a small college in about every sense of the word. But the beautiful thing is that as much as we students joke about how often we use the word “community” to describe Northwestern College on campus, underneath we are all thankful for the reality of it that we experience every day.

You will know the faces you pass by every day, and what’s more: they will know you. You may not have everyone’s name down pat, but you will be recognized as a member of the Red Raider family.

I have found that even when I am looking for personal space, I am glad that I always feel loved by my friends who somehow manage to interrupt my much needed “me time.” For me, feeling a little too loved sounds much better than feeling alone and anonymous. So, to answer the question that I know all students ask as they consider colleges, being here month after month is a blast because of the sense of community I’ve described. You will know the faces you pass by every day, and what’s more: they will know you. You may not have everyone’s name down pat, but you will be recognized as a member of the Red Raider family. This isn’t some marketing tactic from the college that you can only half-trust. This is the real testimony of a Northwestern student who has seen both sides of the coin. Consider it a sneak peek into the daily life of a student on this campus!

If you’re looking for authentic Christian community with students and professors, I can guarantee that NWC is the place to be. For me and many others, Northwestern College is home.

Fears as a freshman

During the summer before my freshman year at Northwestern, I denied the fact that college was just around the corner. It was something I always knew I was going to do, but inside I rejected that it was ACTUALLY going to happen. I don’t do well with change and was terrified to be thrown into an unfamiliar scene. I was used to high school. I knew the teachers, students, building and academic difficulty. Even though I lived just across town, I knew none of those things at Northwestern and had many fears going into my fall semester. Here are some of the fears I had as an incoming freshman and the truths I learned behind them.

I feared I wasn’t going to make any friends. It is scary to not have the friends you have known for years and years in college with you. It can be equally as frightening to want to have a very close friend in this new place, but not know how to find that person. I’m going to let you know that you meet so many people just during freshmen orientation. Whether it’s by forced introduction or happenstance, you are going to meet people and you will continue to meet people through the rest of your college years. You are going to meet new people in classes, sports, campus clubs and activities, dorms, work-studies, even over meals. My advice for you is to not be afraid to introduce yourself to others and, most importantly, don’t forget that every freshman is in the same boat as you.

Yes, the courses are more difficult than high school, but Northwestern does a great job of transitioning freshmen into more difficult academics.

I feared I wasn’t going to be smart enough. This was by far my biggest fear going into my freshman year. I knew I could handle high school academics and even college-level online courses, but Northwestern’s academic difficulty was a mystery to me. I led myself to believe that I would have piles of homework each night, that the professors would expect me to know things that were far beyond my knowledge, and that I would have to constantly study in order to keep up. I was happy to discover that none of this was true of college. Yes, the courses are more difficult than high school, but Northwestern does a great job of transitioning freshmen into more difficult academics. The professors here want to see you succeed and will help you when you ask for it. If you do your homework, study for tests, and give an effort in your classes, you will be just fine. It’s nothing you can’t handle. 

 I feared I was going to be overwhelmed and busy. I entered into freshman year with a work-study and a 16-credit fall semester. I worried that between classes and work, I would have too much on my plate.

Oh, silly me.

Although I tend to become stressed quite easily, I was unaware of how much free time I would actually have. My classes did not demand hours upon hours of studying each night and my work-study only required five hours a week from me. This year I learned to pack in more, knowing I could handle more credit hours, activities, and even an internship. Working with a busier schedule requires more time management, but trust me when I say you will not be overwhelmed with just a work-study and classes. I even know many students who balance classes, a work-study, and their sport(s) and still have time to be involved in fun ways on campus. Do not be afraid to get involved and join different activities or clubs on campus. You will have time for them.  

Finding my niche

Since this is my senior year at Northwestern, my semester has been filled with lots of procrastination, denial and nostalgia. Lately, I’ve been thinking back to my freshman-year experience and reflecting on just how much things have changed since then.

When I was a freshman at Northwestern, I remember feeling totally out of place for the first few weeks. I just hadn’t found my niche on campus. But luckily, on sort of a whim and with encouragement from some other women on my wing, I tried out for and made it onto the campus improv team, the Black V.

I had never done improv before, but I pretended well enough to trick them into thinking I could do it. And now four years later, I’m co-managing the team with another senior member.

For the timid freshman version of me, the Black V was probably the best thing that could’ve happened. Learning how to do improv, developing a close relationship with my team members, and stepping out of my comfort zone to do some truly weird and unique theatre really help shaped me into the person I am today. The V is a big reason I feel the sense of belonging at Northwestern that I do now. 

Even if you’re like me, and wonder at first if you have a place at Northwestern, odds are that there is some group here that’s perfect for you.

And for me, that’s one of the things that makes Northwestern a cool place. There are so many different micro-communities on campus—not just the Black V—that are filled with people worth getting to know, whether it’s your sports team, your wing mates, the cast of a play you’re in, whatever. Even if you’re like me, and wonder at first if you have a place at Northwestern, odds are that there is some group here that’s perfect for you. And not just one that is comfortable and shares common interests, but one that pushes you to ask yourself difficult questions and do things that truly challenge you.

Now that I’m a senior and have spent all four years of my college career on the V, I hope that it has the same effect on the freshmen on the team now. Right now it’s a weird place to be in, where I’m still invested in this community, but I have one foot out the door. Being a senior is bittersweet, because it marks the end of some of the most transformative groups and experiences in my life. But I’m also super pumped to know that the Black V will live on here at Northwestern without me, and that it’ll continue to have an impact on people’s lives, just like it did on mine.

Members of the 2017-18 Black V.

Members of the 2017-18 Black V.