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I had never been on a retreat until I joined Amate House. I didn’t know such things existed before college, and even at the University of Notre Dame, a place I deeply loved, I never felt the need to go on one. Retreats were spaces for people more thoughtful than me, more spiritual than me, and more dedicated to meditation and reflection than I ever could be. Luckily, ever since beginning Amate House, I have found that my expectations of myself and my abilities could be exceeded and celebrated.

This winter retreat began with a short drive up to rural Michigan, crossing through fields and fields of Illinois and Indiana. When we got there, we began to settle in and have our four discussions on our pasts, presents, and futures, as well as our relationships to each other. It is always nice to be able to slow down and appreciate where you are in the moment, and there is no better place than at retreat. We got to share in a space we created as a community and laughed and clapped for each other as we allowed ourselves to be vulnerable without fear of judgment.

The best part of the retreat, however, came when we were able to take time, just the six Amate Fellows, and go to Warren Dunes. I had grown up in the Chicago suburbs but I had never had the opportunity to see the vast expanses of billowing sand, not even two hours from my childhood home. But that just made it even more special when six of us squeezed into one car and made our way over. As we parked, we realized we were in a vastly different landscape. In February, the Warren Dunes are windy, misty, and beautiful. The towering dunes offer many opportunities for hiking, sledding, and being blasted by the windchill, but I never felt closer with my cohort than when I was walking with them through the cold weather. There is always reflection to be found in nature, but especially when one climbs to the top of a hill and takes in their surroundings. We could see Gary, Indiana and Chicago from the Warren Dunes, but mostly we saw rugged landscape and choppy water. I believe that we all found solace in that sight.

Being this close to my cohort is not something that happened overnight. I didn’t wake up one day and suddenly decide to share my innermost thoughts with people I had suddenly found myself living with in August. Being vulnerable and opening up took time, but I am very glad that it happened. On our first retreat in October, the other fellows and I laid out our plans for spending more time together and crossing the line from housemates to true friends. The fruits of our labors were present in this winter retreat, and I can confidently say that the reflection and introspection that Amate provides for us greatly impacted that positive outcome.

As we headed back home after retreat, I found myself being especially thankful for the bonds and reflection that Amate has provided me. At this time last year, I did not know what I would be doing now, but I am grateful that I am making lifelong friendships and growing into a person I am proud to be. 

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