Charleston – okay, America – the Beautiful

There’s an old conceited saying that I’m rather fond of.
Charleston is a peninsula where the Ashley and Cooper Rivers come together to form the Atlantic Ocean.
Charleston really is the most beautiful city in the world. All semester, my new friends in Perugia had to put up with me boasting, both in English and Italian, about my hometown. When we met someone new and began talking about travel or where we were from, I would inevitably pipe in, “You should visit Charleston, South Carolina. È la città migliore nel mondo. It’s the best city in the world.” It kind of became a running joke, but I’m serious. Home is not the best just because it is a comfortable security blanket, surrounding me with dear friends and family. It is the best because every natural backdrop is stunning and the people are friendly and the weather is perfect…and my heart is never quite as content or quiet as when I am sitting on a bench looking out over the marsh.
Before I left for Italy, my advisor gave me this bell curve to demonstrate the emotional roller coaster of a study abroad student.
It looked way too scientific to be accurate, with the honeymoon stage, culture shock, and adjustment; life isn’t that predictable, I thought, but it surprised me. I remember week by week passing in Italy and comparing my experiences to that graph. It’s like I was following the predictions of a growth chart right on target. I saw everything in Perugia through rose-colored glasses, until I did not. When life is different from the norm, no matter how easy or exciting it may be, it becomes challenging. I missed the luxuries of home, I missed Mama’s encouragement, I missed normality. Every day, I was blindsided by another ignorant American faux pas I made in Italy. On good days you laugh. On other days, you just get sick of it. Like the way Italians complain – no, that’s not right. They whine. Often. Nothing is ever as it should be, and these fully grown, supposed adults, yell at each other all the time. It got old. Eventually I adjusted to life in Perugia and the Italian way, though, and I learned to appreciate, adopt even, certain parts of their culture.
This time two weeks ago, I was on a plane returning to America. In the first forty-eight hours of being home, I embraced all of the things I had missed so much about Charleston. First, the weather. When I stepped off the plane, it was 70 degrees outside, and then remained perfectly humid, creeping into the 80s, for the next week. Plus the weatherman told me the temperature in Fahrenheit. Only in Charleston is it necessary to rock shorts in December.
Then, there are these views.
Which, by the way, I went to by driving directly in a car. Public transportation is great, but it does not – nor will it ever – beat a car. Back to the marsh. I do not tire of this view, and, given my jet lag, I was not tired in the morning, so I awoke early to watch the sunrise from the Pitt Street Bridge in the Old Village. The fog didn’t cooperate, but it’s still beautiful. It remins me of a naturally gorgeous woman still groggy from a deep night’s rest. She would be stunning with a little makeup, but she is already lovely. My heart melts for the radiance of the Lowcountry.
 The first person I saw that morning waved to and greeted me. He was some middle-aged man walking his dog, but he still said, “Good morning,” like any gentile southerner. Strangers have been saying hello every day since then. There’s a reason Charleston is the friendliest city in the country. The only time people wave in Italy is to get someone’s attention.
I’ve got a lot more luxuries to write about, but when I think about it, they’re not really limited to Charleston. So I concede. My hometown is still the best, but I just have a greater love for all of America now. Even the bad, commercialized, materialistic focus it has. I don’t care. I’m glad to be back. A month ago, I dreamt of the day when I could use a dryer again. It was as good as I imagined. Same goes for the dishwasher. Wow; what an invention. Other little indulgences include deliciously fruity, unseasonal food, like the first thing I ate when I landed in the Philadelphia airport.
That’s right. That’s a chain brand Chik-fil-a salad with all kinds of frutis that should not be available right now. It is also dark green. Not this insalata mista iceberg lettuce with one tomato nonsense.
That night, I unpacked my stuff, and there were drawers for my clothes and shelves for my books. Why? Because America has space! Lots and lots of uncramped room for all of our personal bubbles. Alright, I’m getting a little dramatic. But we do like things big. Like coffee.
Oh yeah. That is the smallest available cup of chain brand Starbucks Skinny Peppermint Mocha, accommodating the season and my American Splenda health whimsies.
The wireless on my laptop automatically connected and hasn’t dropped since. All I have to do to print something is press the button, and boom. There it is in the office. I slept in my own bed, on an amazingly comfortable, springless mattress. I ran for miles on paths because running is condoned in America. Then I ate fattening Christmas food, because that’s what you do in America in December, and I am American. You run, and then you eat; ‘tis the season. Those first few days, if there was a way to literally hug America, I would have. Italy is not even a third world country, but life is still so different.
Now that I’m back, I’m sorting cultures out. Some things are external, like not saying “Ciao” to people when I greet them. Mainly, though, the issues are inside. I have a greater appreciation for the American luxuries I have returned to, but I also miss the simplicity of Perugia. I have been shocked by the materialism of America. Yes, I admit it. I like to shop and buy practically anything I want. But I also realized how little one really needs, and I want to maintain the simpler lifestyle I adopted there.
I’m learning to take longer breaks and spend time with friends, something my roommate Abby really taught me to do as we lived together for a quarter of a year. I’m trying not to beat myself up for not being very productive, for not keeping a quiet time with God every day and not blogging in over two weeks. I’m trying to enjoy time with family and not freak out about my future. Surrounded by longtime friends with a deep and evident love for God, I’m figuring out how and when to (or not to) verbalize the Gospel. Italy didn’t wreck me into the faith crisis I experienced in Cambodia. I am Christ’s daughter forever, of this I am sure, and I never intentionally hid my relationship with Jesus. In fact, I relied on Him almost every day in Italy, and there were times when I saw Him do some really beautiful things. Maybe, though, I unconsciously tempered it.
The truth is, my whole semester in Perugia feels like a time vat right now, totally disconnected from any other experience I have ever had. I left Charleston in August with few responsibilities and no stress, and I returned to the same scenario, the same people, even the same weather, three and a half months later. It all feels comfortable and familiar, yet strangely odd. I am perplexed in ways I struggle to articulate. Being abroad definitely changed me and forced me to grow up a little more. Whatever happened, I do think it was for the better, but I’m still searching for some very important clarity keys.
I have a lot of questions and a lot of thoughts I’m obviously still working out, but I’ll keep you posted. Italian stories are definitely not over. I finally had the opportunity to experience day-to-day life in a foreign city, to live in another country. I made friends there I know I’ll keep, and together we set out on many adventurous weekends.
Could not have asked for a better semester with greater people.
Where did you go in the fall?
I will treasure these memories for the rest of my life. For now, though, I am struggling through “readjustment,” the last part of this strangely accurate bell curve. I am grateful to be back in this city and this country, for the happy familiarity of Charleston and the easiness of life in America. I am grateful to recuperate in the midst of hugs from longtime friends and the relaxing pace of winter-break nothingness.

Summer 2013

Two years ago was the best summer of my life. 2011 will always be the summer. I graduated from high school and had the world by its tail. I was looking forward to the new circumstances of college. All of June I interned at Camp St. Christopher. Sure, I mopped kitchen floors and filled up water coolers, but I was also a part of an incredible camp staff and grew a lot in my relationship with God. Weekends consisted of swing dancing, grillouts at Oakland, and City Church.  Native Charlestonians a year older than me, those who had previously been mere acquaintances, returned from their first year of college, and deep friendships were kindled between us. That summer I gained an appreciation for who I am and where I am from.
But this summer. Dang. What a summer. It was totally different, but it, too, was very sweet. Forever sealed in my memory as the Family Summer. I am bound to a  special clan – the Compton Clan – and I never feel quite as whole as when I am back with them. You probably don’t even know exactly what this past summer looked like for me because I blogged about 20% as often as I wanted to. (Sorry). But I was living, and sometimes it’s hard to slow down enough to devote the necessary time to truly share all that has happened. So, just as I did at the end of April, let me give you a small recap of the highlights.
I chose to come home this summer because I knew it very well could be the last summer at home with all of my siblings. Gosh I love them. I didn’t end up doing anything too intentional, but just being, living together. Eating dinner, going to church, exercising, watching movies. It was just really special. Most college students are itching to leave after a few weeks, but that never happened. I have loved snuggling with RoRie and being available to go to breakfast with Hoffa or run errands with Mama.
Cambodia – I wrote. A lot. My faith was challenged. A lot. I experienced the culturaeof Southeast Asia, and I loved it. Sitting on an ancient temple watching thousands of Buddhist monks parade by. Listening to Vuttah’s laugh. Meeting the most polite, genuine people. Playing with the cutest kids on earth. Witnessing dirt poverty and passing by real brothels.  Long, bouncy bus rides. Red clay roads. Unreal tropical beaches. Dry rice patties. Five extra pounds of steamed white rice and Blue Pumpkin Icecream. That is what I remember.
Costa Rica – Walking. Lots and lots and lots of walking. Adventurous excursions. Chill time. Unreal sunsets. Green on green foliage. Early sunsets and earlier sunrises. Ten hours of alarm clockless sleep. Getting creative in the kitchen. Casados. Mojitos. Expensive grocery stores. Real conversations with my siblings. Strangers becoming friends. Family Bible studies. Finding God on a mountain. The kindest people on earth. That is what I remember.
Cove Creek Camping – Every summer we move half of our possessions to a valley in the Pisgah Forest for four days and partake in some serious upscale camping. This summer, we outdid ourselves with a new Taj Mahal of tent canopies.
As I walked about ten feet behind, a passerthru’s kid pointed to our site and proclaimed, “Mom, that’s not real camping!”
“No,” I piped up, “but it sure is comfortable!”
Hiking. Skinny Dip Falls was my favorite this year. Always hiking. But also feeling like an actual grownup. And realizing all of the other kids are teenagers. Investing in relationships more than hiking. Hanging out in the lower meadow. Laughing at (and also being kind of concerned about) at my navigationally challenged sisters who turned a 45 minute trip from Ashville into a seven hour tour of the state. Frigidly floating down an icey river on an overcast day. (That was my awesome idea.) Fellowshipping in the truest sense of the word. That is what I remember.
Waitressing – “Hey y’all! Welcome to Taco Mamacita. My name is Jessica, and I’ll be serving you this evening. Can I get you started with something to drink?
“Would you like an appetizer? Guacamole, Queso, Chips and Salsa?”
“ We have three types of salsa – red, verde, and mango.”
“Escabeche is pickled onion.”
“Chorizo is Mexican sausage. They’re kind of like bacon bits.”
“No, we don’t have normal beef tacos. Or quesadillas. Unless you want to spend $12.99.”
“I recommend the Mexican Street Corn. It is an ear of corn with chipotle cream sauce and parmesan cheese.”
“Yes, it’s spicy.”
“Y’all enjoy.”
“I’m sorry, I’ll have the manager fix that right away.”
“Can I get that out of your way?”
“How about some dessert? We have King of Pops!”
“Thanks for coming y’all! It was a pleasure serving you.”
These lines are an engrained part of my memory taking up a little too much space. I learned a lot and worked hard in a way I have not before. Shifts turned into weeks of work on work, all blending together. I messed up a whole lot, and then I just messed up occasionally. I improved, and I didn’t get fired. I have a new appreciation for the people that serve me when I go out to eat. I know how to tip 20% in my head now. I made and saved some money. I learned a new management style. I hung out with people I wouldn’t have otherwise, and I think I got to bless some of them, too. I wanted one summer to waitress, I got it, and now it’s out of my system. I’ll remember my waitress schpeel forever.
House – I also got to help Mama a lot with different odd jobs at home. We cleaned out the garage and the office at Old South. Filing and counting, a lil’ bit of Point of Sale stuff at the barn. I went grocery shopping for her at Trader Joe’s sometimes. Occasionally, I made dinner. It was so fun to spend time with her and help this saint out in whatever ways I could. I love her a lot, and I like to make her life easier.
IJM Application – I blame this application on my absence from the blogging world. But yes, it is done. I have applied to be an intern at International Justice Mission in the Spring, and you know what? It might just happen. I don’t want to get my hopes too high, but I’ve made it through the initial application, the survey questionnaire (it rolled onto the 9th page people), and a phone interview. I had pretty low expectations to begin with, but the more I invested in each step of the process, the more I really want to work here. So we shall see.
So here I am, sitting at gate A26 in the Philadelphia airport listening to old potbellied Italian men speaking their native tongue.  It’s impossible to smear the smile of excitement off my giddy, squinty-eyed face. The day has finally arrived; I am going to study in Italy. Hopefully, I’ll do a lot more than study. I am going to drink Italian wine and walk Italian roads and speak Italian. I’ll meet new friends and find a Nonna and dance. I will go on some of the best adventures of my life yet. I hope you’ll follow them.


Ride with RoRie

Rosa Marie asked me if we could go on a bike ride today.
“I want to exercise and go kind of fast, though. I need to cross train for running.”
You got it sister. She anticipated going to the old village. She did not anticipate crossing the IOP connector and biking 18.5 miles. In fact, I didn’t really, either, but once we got to Sullivan’s, I had my mind set on making it over the Connector. So, with semi-flat tires and suspiciously perilous noises every time we switched gears, we peddled and kept on pushing. She said her legs haven’t felt like this, like jello, since she first started running with Wando two years ago. Turns out there are a few physical activities that I can still do better — including sweating. See below. Not pretty.