Merriam-Webster says that a vacation is a period of time spent away from work in order to rest or travel, but my vacation was much more than that. My time spent in Nashville, Tennessee, blended together family, fear, and future into a two-week adventure.
I’m from Iowa, a state that others tend to ignore, where cornfields are more common to see than houses, and where farmers are too busy harvesting to take a vacation. Iowa was stifling, and I felt trapped. I needed to leave in order to better understand me my ambitions.
My two week vacation was spent at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. I was attending a highly coveted summer camp, called VSA (Vanderbilt Summer Academy), to learn all about environmental law. When most people think of a vacation, they think of laying on a beach with a glass of lemonade, or sitting inside a taxi in New York City, heading to Central Park or the Statue of Liberty. They think of itineraries and lists, heaps of local food to try, and tons of destinations to explore. For most, my vacation sounds boring but it was just what I needed.
In order to get to the camp, I had to submit my transcript, letters of recommendation, essays, and an explanation as to why I wanted to attend VSA. This was a camp for gifted students, and I had to prove that I would be able to keep up with the curriculum. It was difficult to get in, but they accepted me during the summer of my sophomore year of high school.
Have you ever been in a place where you belong? I’m not talking about where you live, or where you have friends. I’m talking about a deep, spiritual connection to where you are. A place that makes you happy every moment you’re there. A place that you never want to leave.
For me, that place was Vanderbilt University in the summer of 2016. In that week and a half, I made friends that I could imagine being friends with for the rest of my life. I felt loved by people who weren’t my family. I truly felt like I belonged.
In my small town in Iowa, being the smart girl with big ambitions wasn’t cool. Sure, I had friends, but none of them understood me. They didn’t have that drive to succeed like I did. At Vanderbilt, I met people just like me. People that not only understood me and my gifts, but who had big dreams, too. People who also couldn’t connect to those around them. While I was there, I was loved and accepted for who I was.
My vacation to Nashville might not have been a vacation by the defining term. It wasn’t a period of relaxation. I worked hard and tested my brain in every way possible. I walked over a mile every day to get to my classes and went to bed exhausted, but that didn’t matter to me, because I was happy.
My vacation taught me many things. I learned that being scared to do something is a good thing. I learned that family members don’t have to be genetically related to you. Most importantly, I learned that the people at my school were wrong. Having big ambitions is cool, which I learned after attending a summer camp full of scholarly love and acceptance.
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