“Oh my gosh, you’re gonna be great. Everyone will love you!”
Maybe, if you’re an extrovert, you’ve heard sentiments like these before. Maybe you’ve been encouraged not to be nervous about entering unfamiliar situations. Personally, I feel like these are words I hear a lot. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful–they’re assuring , kind and remind me to be confident–but I am flawed. Over the past year and a half, I’ve had to learn to be okay with both living up to this phrase and falling short of it.
The first time I met my current Penn State students was May of 2015, at RUF’s annual Summer Conference. I was awkward and stiff and far less friendly than I usually am. I was considering not moving to Pennsylvania and didn’t want my students to like me, or I them, because I wasn’t going to see them again. It’s easy to look back at this time and laugh considering where I am now. My students beamed with excitement, were genuinely interested in getting to know me, and greeted me with the most genuine of spirits. I didn’t deserve it then.
Upon deciding officially to move, I let myself get excited about working on Penn State’s campus. I told myself that I would fit right in and that everyone would like me…
It’s true, I have found kindred spirits among many of my students, but that has taken time. You see, when I first got to campus I did not fit right in. Several of my students are studying engineering or something in the sciences; I graduated with a BA in English. A lot of my students have type A personalities; I very much live in a B type mindset. I spent the majority of my time in undergrad hanging out with friends; my students spend their time studying for exams weeks in advance.
I think I spent the first few months in Pennsylvania intentionally reminding myself of how different I was from my students as some form of justification for why we weren’t deeply connecting. I remember one conversation I was having about Pennsylvania versus North Carolina mountains and one of my students (jokingly) said, “Okay, Jayna. Get off your Blue Ridge high horse!” She said it in jest, but she was right. If I wanted my students to trust me, I needed to show them that they could. I needed to meet them in ways that interested them. I, like Jesus does with us continually, needed to meet them where they were instead of forcing them to find me.
So although we’re very different, I love my students. I wouldn’t trade them if I had the option and so appreciate their kindness toward me. I’m humbled by how welcome and at home they’ve made me feel in their northern world. My students have helped me to appreciate the beauty that exists in difference and have shown me characteristics of Jesus that I hadn’t noticed before. I’m truly content and truly thankful.