Another day clicking in the basement computer lab at Rason Hall, Minneapolis MN. This was the first of two weeks my classmate Kate and I spent building an obscenely complicated scale model for our final Studio Four project. I was preparing the CAD files needed to laser cut over 3,000 pieces of material when I received the email with congratulations in the subject line. I had received the scholarship which would allow me to spend my entire last year in Copenhagen. Of course, technically, I had committed to the program two weeks before, but now it was real. I was going. The email was followed by watery eyes (not entirely due to the dual screens my eyes were glued to anymore), a prayer, frantic texting, and more work on the CAD files that took far longer than intended.
The blue mosque
I didn’t have a good understanding of what study abroad was exactly like when I was a kid. My family made frequent road trips across the United States, but my international travel experience was limited to an afternoon jaunt across the border for ice cream in Mexico when I was a year old. and half. That changed when my brother Ben spent a semester in Turkey when I was 12. While there he sent me a nice card with an intricate 3D model of the Blue Mosque which appeared when I opened it. In the card, he told me about his adventures and strongly encouraged me to try to study abroad when I go to college one day. I became even more familiar and intrigued by the concept two years later when my family started hosting international high school students from Shenzhen China.
Studying abroad continued to be on my mind when I started college, but the 2020 event that will not be named hit in the middle of my second semester. I was stuck with virtual classes for a year and a half and any thought of traveling abroad was laughable. Early in my freshman year, I went back to class and was introduced to architecture studios. The stress of attending classes and my part-time job kept the idea of traveling from resurfacing for more than a second. But I kept my brother’s card on my studio desk.
“Wait, what are you doing? – Brian Dose, aka Dad, Spring 2022
During the second half of the junior year, things changed. My lack of travel experience nagged at me not only as a missed opportunity, but as a hole in my education. The 1+ hour bus ride to and from work through Minneapolis and downtown Saint Paul made me feel closer to the cities. The connection was somehow strengthened by the monotony of a public transport journey. A desire to feel that connection in places I had only seen through B-roll footage was born. When I dug into scholarships and the help I could ask for, the high price that had interrupted my musings suddenly became more attainable. Before I knew it, I postponed internship applications to apply for scholarships and study programs. The breaks between my classes were filled with informational, financial and advisory meetings, and I spent my free time drooling over images of Danish architecture. Then somehow I read an email with congratulations in the subject line.
“Wait, what am I doing? – Stephanie Dose, aka me, summer 2022
Looking back, it seems fitting that the spring semester that upended my expectations was followed by a summer that I never saw coming. I signed a three-month contract with AmeriCorps to work for Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity as a volunteer build facilitator. The job was challenging – there are few things as satisfying as being a 21-year-old woman on a construction site and driving a 16-pence nail into a floor truss in two strokes after a white man middle-aged firmly said it would. no further – exhausting – the sun seems to get hotter as you build – and exhilarating – despite some maneuvers that would make my mom gasp and OSHA, I haven’t dropped to yet through the roof trusses.
On a serious note, working with Habitat has brought me closer to my community in more ways than I ever expected, and the friendships I’ve made and strengthened by sweating and swinging and sometimes swearing are relationships that I don’t want to give up. I ran into friendships I didn’t deserve and in a classic ironic case that I should really expect at this point, I first fell in love just before I left the country.
The completeness and fulfillment I have felt in my personal relationships, the growing connection and commitment to the Twin Cities metropolitan area, and the stress of preparing for international travel while completing over 50 hours of work a week trying to meet hour requirements, all combined to make me doubt my decisions. Do I really want to do this? How could I leave? Did I make a mistake?
The anxiety rises, but when it subsides, the questions fade away. I don’t do this just for me; I want to develop my knowledge of good design that people who live and experience the built environment can bring. I hope this experience will broaden my understanding of what a home can be and help give me the tools I need to improve the lives of others through my work. To quote my favorite author, Brandon Sanderson (yes, I’m a nerd, that really shouldn’t be surprising), “It’s the fun thing about getting somewhere… Once you’re there, the only thing you can really do is leave again.” I may be gone, but it won’t be forever. The support and excitement I’ve received from my loved ones reminds me that they’re not going anywhere in my life and I know bringing the things I love closer together will make me more ready for the adventure I’m on. about to embark on. When you’re about to jump as high as you can, you have to crouch lower to the ground first, and if I’ve learned anything from Habitat, it’s how to lift with your legs and have a steady seat.