Caroline, not Carolyn

Caroline Blackburn - Brazil


July 12, 2013

Life, as I have learned, is full of changes.  And it goes without saying that my life is – and will continue to be – full of worldly adjustments to cater to those changes.

As anybody who has lived in Cheshire will tell you, it’s a very friendly small town, wonderful for raising a family, but known for having a very limited supply of surprises.  At most, the only events that would cause a Cheshire-villian to ever raise an eyebrow or two would be either during another rained-out Strawberry Festival Sunday when they’d run out of strawberries for strawberry shortcakes, or if the dome encapsulating the Cheshire Community Pool were to collapse again due to another bout with excessive snowfall.  Nothing is outrageously noteworthy in our little town, but life is okay.  It’s safe – subdued.

While I was growing up happily in this charmingly stagnant town, there was only one thing that plagued my daily life.  Much like several others with my name, I was cursed with the “Caroline” vs “Carolyn” pronunciation dilemma.  Anyone else with this problem might’ve called it a minor setback, a mild annoyance, or perhaps completely inconsequential.  But to me, it used to determine whether or not I was going to like you, whether or not we were going to be friends, or whether or not I was going to smile while I shook your hand.

“Hello!  Carolyn, is it?  Nice to meet you!”

Nope.

But after a good twelve years of the Carolyn vs Caroline battle, I came up with the simple solution: why not give myself a nickname?  I went on from there, experimenting.  What was a good nickname for Caroline?  Carrie?  No.  Carol?  Ick!  Carley?  Nah.

I tossed around several possibilities until the name finally came to me.  Kat.  My name would be Kat, derived from my middle name, Kathryn.  And it wasn’t Cat like a feline, it was “Kat” with a “K.” (Which was another problem I’d be faced with in the future with incorrectly spelled name tags.)  Adjustment came into play from here as I was called my new name, which I felt was a better representation of my personality; anyone who ever saw me playing in the mud as a child knew that I was indeed no ‘Caroline.’

This new name caused an uproar of sub-nicknames from my friends as they adjusted to it as well.  Soon, it was “Kit Kat,” then “Kitty” and “Kitty Kat.”  And then as I reached high school and attended the Educational Center for the Arts, the kids in the theater department cleverly added “meow” to my name, pledging me in as “Kat-Meow.”  I was officially the girl with several feline-themed nicknames, but at least I wasn’t Caroline.

From there, my life continued to have a series of changes, starting with my double school schedule with Cheshire High School and also the Educational Center for the Arts (ECA), which started at 7:30am and ended at 4:00 from Monday through Thursday.  My sleeping schedule was thrown off completely and I was forced to adapt, coming home from ECA at 5pm and crashing for a nap around 6pm every night.  It was tiresome, but it was worth it.

I even learned to be independent in a place that was far more active. ECA was located in New Haven, a setting almost completely opposite of sleepy Cheshire Village, and the buzz of the city was a far shot from the little town I’d grown accustomed to.  New Haven was a vast, urban jungle of artistic prowess and tangled one-way streets in contrast to reliable, evergreen Cheshire.  Within a month, the unpredictability of New Haven had already taught me to rely on practicality above all.

Four years later, senior year approached and I began to ponder what I was going to do for college.  I was already sure about the field I would be studying: since the first time I’d seen an article about the Girl Effect, a program designed to financially aid women’s education and medically support women in developing countries, I knew that I wanted to help the cause and go to college to learn more about women’s rights.  Also, my father was an international traveller which prompted me to want to follow the path he led, eventually inspiring my curiosity about Latin America and the cultural economics of Brazil and its surrounding countries.  I knew there was a way I could make a difference, and I wanted to see the world first-hand instead of burying myself in books.

But campus after college campus, nothing struck my senses as a place I’d be able to make my new home.  I dove into my pile of college reference books and began my search for a college that provided abroad programs for students with interests in international studies.  Many results surfaced; colleges from the US west coast to Canadian Universities popped up, each offering outstanding opportunities in the field of abroad studies.  I was sure that one of these would be the place for me, but why wasn’t I feeling security in any of them?

And then it hit me – was I really ready to just dive right into college?  I was so used to being on the go and jumping from school to art school.  Was it wise to apply right away?

So I’d sit in my room, anxiously pondering whether or not it was a good idea to take a bridge year before going to college.  On one hand, all the knowledge I gained from high school would still be fresh, whereas taking a bridge year before college would render me a little rusty.  But on the other hand, I’d just gone through four years of nine-hour school days.  If I jumped into college, what was the guarantee that I’d be able to pull that off for another four years?  These questions mocked me for several months until I suddenly had an idea:  what if there was some sort of program out there I could attend that allowed students like me to experience the world first before going to college?  Did such a program exist?

As any curious youngster in this day and age would, I plopped into my desk chair, took out my handy-dandy laptop and typed “gap year abroad programs for high school graduates” into the Google search box.  I didn’t expect to get any results, but much to my surprise, the second option on the results page would be the answer to my bridge year vs no bridge year inquiry.  “Global Citizen Year.” Click.

I read the testimonies of fellows who’d gone in previous years and watched Abby Falik (founder of Global Citizen Year) give her presentation on what the program is and the goals each student would reach by the time of their return to the US. I was sold immediately.

I applied and here I am, sitting at my laptop and writing my introductory blog entry (which is entirely too long for a first blog entry, might I add) and smiling to myself, thinking about how lucky I am to have stumbled upon so many amazing opportunities in my life.  From my four years of bouncing from CHS to ECA up until right now, I look back and realize that I’m a very lucky kid to have found such incredible opportunities.  I’m very thankful to have been given the chance to meet the other kids in this program and I know that, come fall, they – as well as myself – will be in for an adventure even our imaginations can’t comprehend.

The adjustments that may follow are a mystery, but welcomed because it’ll all be worth it while I’m discovering the world in its true form…

…as Caroline, not Carolyn.

 

 

Caroline Blackburn