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So there I was. Peering over the edge I saw nothing but dark, ominous water on top of what seemed to be a 40-foot high cliff. I know, with today’s 300 feet tall roller coasters, skydiving, and other high-risk adventurous activities for the typical thrill-seeker, 40 feet might seem childish. But, let me tell you, its not. Not until you are up there staring into a mysterious body of water somewhere in a Southeastern Mexican jungle.
I admit it: I am not much of a religious man. But believe me, I was saying every Hail Mary and Our Father I could possibly remember. Meanwhile,the tour guide is shouting last minute warnings, in Spanish, nonetheless, a language I was hardly familiar with at the time: “Keep your arms tight against your body. Don’t extend them or you might separate your shoulders!” Great. Before then, I had only jumped off diving boards at the local pool, where I did not have to worry about landing wrong and tearing my ligaments right from their sockets. But alas, there I was, on that peak, and there was no turning back. So I closed my eyes and jumped…
This story, though, really begins many years earlier, during my childhood. I grew up in Michigan, the same city and house my whole life, only to graduate high school and attend college an hour and a half away from my hometown, with what seemed to be a third of my graduating class. In elementary school, I hated being away from home, and would make up excuses to get out of sleepovers at friends’ houses, even my best friends. In middle and high school, I stayed close with a tight knit group of friends, and never really branched out. Like so many other children, however, I grew out of that phase. I made friends, went to college, moved away from home. This, though, was what every graduating senior had done; I still had yet to delve into the truly unfamiliar.
That is until my experience in Ottawa, Canada. I know, Canada is not what springs into mind when one thinks of adventure and excitement. But it was there that, for the first time, I was thrust out of my comfort zone. I began working in the Canadian government with no students I knew, in a country that, although is Americanized, was still vastly different from our own.
Being in Ottawa, right on the border between French Quebec and English Ontario, I saw a different set of customs and traditions among people who, at times, did not even speak the same language. The diversity was ubiquitous. For example, inside The House of Commons, where I spent a portion of the day, was an amalgamation of French and English, where many Parliament Members would respond in French from a quip in English, or vice versa. Even young children, on tours with their teachers, would be given instructions in English and respond in French. This mixture of cultures and languages was entirely different from anything I experienced in my humble Midwest milieu.
It was this bilingual environment that piqued my interest in a foreign language, and led me to pursue Spanish, a subject that I had studied in high school but, at best, only had an apathetic interest in. This, along with the desire to learn more about my mother’s heritage led me to a study abroad program in Guanajuato, Mexico. Once again, I found myself in a foreign country, with no friends, speaking a language that I hardly knew. I was not frightened, as I would have been only a year earlier, but rather, I cherished the opportunity.
While most of my friends were bumming around Ann Arbor, I was able to travel to the pyramids of Teotihuacán, tour Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul, attend the famous Universidad de Guanajuato, and live down the road from the Alhóndiga, an old granary that is essentially the birthplace of the Mexican revolution. I met new friends from Mexico and all over the United States, most of whom I still remain in contact with, and I also had the fortune of traveling all over the country, partaking in dangerous, exciting adventures, including white-water rafting through a nearly pristine jungle.
Which brings me back to the cliff. On a break from rafting, the tour guide convinced me to jump from this overhang, which from the top seemed nothing short of a mountain. Years earlier, there was no way I would have jumped from that rock face into the great unknown, nor would I have ever been there in the first place. But all my experiences brought me to that point, and I knew I could overcome any challenge and obstacle I faced.
Now, I love the unknown. New challenges, new places, new people, all of it exhilarating. Next year, I will be teaching English in a small city in Southwestern Spain for an entire academic year. During that time, I cannot go home for holidays, including Christmas and Thanksgiving, or birthdays, even my own. I know no one in the program, nor do I have a place to live yet. Despite this, I could not be more thrilled. Another journey in a foreign country means another chance to learn about an exotic culture, and an opportunity to expand my knowledge about the world we live in, which seems to grow smaller and smaller everyday.
The same is true for law school. It will be completely different from my undergraduate experience and will provide an outlet for me to challenge myself academically. I cannot wait to study environmental law, or civil rights litigation, or perhaps develop a completely new interest in an entirely different arena of law. It will be like jumping off that cliff; something that might be terrifying, and probably regrettable about half way through, but also a brand new endeavor that I cannot wait to delve into.
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