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A Piece of McKinley's Story

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Meet McKinley Lewandowski; an International Development student who hopes to one day live in the Dominican Republic! Her loving personality shines through in her leadership positions and those she surrounds herself with! Read more about her humbling experience in Ghana, the struggles she faces, and the advice she has to give!

WHAT ARE YOU UP TO RIGHT NOW? ARE YOU IN SCHOOL, WORK?

Right now, I am a senior at Calvin College! At Calvin I am an orientation leader so I help lead freshman through their first year. I am also a Weekend Programming Intern for Calvin. There’s a group of three students, myself included and we are responsible for planning all weekend events on campus. We host anything from carnivals to fall and spring formals!

WHAT'S YOUR DAILY ROUTINE LIKE? ANY MORNING RITUALS?

I don’t normally snooze my alarm clock in the morning which at this day in age is odd! I also always play music when I get ready. On a normal morning my outfit for the day is set out the night before so I wake up and get ready. I don’t have to fuss with picking out an outfit. I end up going to class then I have office hours and normally a meeting or two on campus. I try to have an hour of “me time” a day. Whether it’s Netflix, cleaning my room while jamming to some music, napping or scrolling through social media outlets. Then it’s back to the grind of homework and studying.

WHAT DOES YOUR IDEAL DAY LOOK LIKE, FROM START TO FINISH?

Ideal day would start with not waking up to an alarm! I despise alarms, I like to let my body wake itself up. That being said, without an alarm I normally sleep in until noon. Slow paced is key. I would love to be able to eat a quality, non-rushed breakfast. Then be able to lay around. Honestly, everyone needs a day to do nothing. That is my ideal day. Nothing looming over my head, just the ability to relax and breathe a little bit. Not having to put on makeup is wonderful too along with staying in my sweats and t-shirt!

SO, YOU'RE GRADUATING SOON...ANY IDEAS ON WHAT LIFE WILL LOOK LIKE POST-GRAD?

Post-grad life...that phrase makes me cringe with terror but also excitement. As of now, I have taken an internship with an organization in Colorado Springs so I will be moving out there in mid-July to early August! Some goals for my post-grad life are to learn Spanish, find a hobby (other than Netflix) and to be permanently living in Dominican Republic by 2022 (five years out)!

YOU STUDIED IN GHANA, HOW HAS THAT EXPERIENCE SHAPED YOU?

Ghana was amazing! I adore Ghana and the Ghanaian people, culture and the experiences I was able to have while I was there. I learned a lot about myself. Traveling with a group of 15 people and spending pretty much day in and day out with the same people, your patience runs thin. You identify everyone’s flaws but you know you’ll wake up the next day and see the same 15 people so you love them despite their flaws. I was able to extend grace more than I ever have been. Traveling the world puts you in your place. It humbles you to see how life continues without you both at home when you’re away and in the places you visit. The world is so big and we as individuals are so tiny. That is a very important lesson to learn.

HOW DOES YOUR LOVING PERSONALITY SHOW IN DAILY LIFE?

I think it gives me a positive attitude. If things don’t go as expected I am able to go with the flow and enjoy the predicament anyway. I am able to love myself and those around me. Being able to love well has developed and led to other aspects of my personality coming through. Love leads to patience, compassion, understanding and a whole host of other attributes.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR FAMILY, HAVE THEY INFLUENCED THE LOVING PERSONALITY THAT YOU HAVE?

To describe my family I have to give some context. I was adopted which I think is pretty stinkin’ amazing!! I have two wonderful brothers, one older and one younger and incredible parents. I have such great role models for loving people well. They have relentlessly loved me despite my never ending energy, sassy attitude, and tendency to be entirely too loud. They have most definitely created my loving attitude and willingness to go with the flow.

ASIDE FROM BEING LOVING, WHAT ARE THREE OTHER PERSONALITY TRAITS THAT DESCRIBE YOURSELF AND HOW SO?

Leader; over the course of the past five or six years I have developed tremendously as a leader. I have been able to learn through doing. Calvin College has given me incredible avenues to hone my skills as a leader of a dorm community, freshmen students and the student body. Leading is something I love doing because it gives me the opportunity to walk alongside of people and make things a little easier.

Loyal; loyalty is what I expect from others. It is unfair for me to expect and ask for something that I don’t practice. There’s something so special about looking back over the course of a year or years and identifying people who never betrayed you, always supported you and loved you no matter what.

Sassy; I have been referred to the as the sass master. I’m a person who will say whatever is on my mind, assert my opinion (while remaining open-minded) and be stubborn just because I can be.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BIGGEST OBSTACLES YOU HAVE FACED AND HOW HAVE YOU REMAINED LOVING IN THOSE SITUATIONS?

In the majority of my leadership positions I have been in charge of leading specific groups of people. The majority of the time these people have been strangers to me. I am a person who tends to be stuck in my ways. So interacting with and leading groups of people who all want to do what they want to do has been consistently challenging for me. My patience runs out, my irritability heightens and my sass level increases. As I’ve encountered these situations I’ve had to constantly remind myself to breathe and to meet people where they and as they come. In remaining flexible I have been able to continue to love and lead people despite differing opinions and leadership styles.

Apart from that, I am constantly badgered about my racial background. On a weekly basis I am confronted with questions like “what are you?” “are you mixed?” “are you black?” “why is your skin dark?” This is a never ending struggle for me. It is hard for me to love strangers who come up to me and ask questions like that, especially when they follow up their questions by putting their hands in my hair. Yes, people have actually touched my hair without asking. Racial ignorance is alive and well in this country. I use these opportunities to educate people. I do not yell at them or call them racists. I explain myself, my racial background and my hair to people. I choose to not focus on the ignorance I experience but on the curiosity. People are going to make mistakes, ask stupid questions and invade your personal space but I know I’ve been there and done that to people unintentionally so why do I have a right to blow up on them?

WHAT DO YOU LOVE THE MOST? (A SPECIFIC FOOD, PLACE, HOBBY?) AND WHY?

Candy because it’s delicious. Cats because they’re independent, cuddly and marvelous. Dominican Republic because it is the place that has stolen my heart. I absolutely love the way of life, the sights and sounds of the country. The history of Dominican Republic is fascinating! I feel like I am embracing my true self when I am in Dominican! 

WHAT'S THE BIGGEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU'VE RECEIVED AND HAVE YOU USED IT?

One of my favorite movies is We Bought a Zoo. During the movie there’s a scene where the main character, played by Matt Damon, is questioned about his motivation for buying a zoo he knows nothing about. His answer is “why not?”

That has become my answer and motivation in life. When people look at me like I’m crazy because I’d rather live in a third world country than in the comfort of the suburbs and they ask me why, I tell them, why not? Why not go live this crazy, adventurous life? Why not choose to help people for a living? By answering ‘why not?’ I am forcing myself to actually ponder the cons of something and the majority of the time the cons and repercussions aren’t nearly as big as I have dreamed them to be.

Check out more from McKinley below!

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Email: mcklewie@gmail.com