Ever since I knew I was going to Disney World for the first semester of my sophomore year, I knew I’d be missing my mentee’s first semester at college. I knew I’d be missing family dinner dates, helping her schedule, all the stuff mentors do for their mentees during the confusing first semester of college. With missing the majority of semester one activities, I knew I’d have to come back for the one that counted the most; Mentor/Mentee Retreat!
I was in close contact with Jessi Ekonen about when the retreat date would be and the best way for me to surprise Emily. Right when Jessi emailed me the date of the retreat, I emailed Disney not even 20 minutes later to request the weekend off so I could fly home to be a part of this retreat. Jessi told me before I left for Disney, so I had to do some emailing to complete strangers asking for the time off like three months in advance. Looking back on it now, it was the best decision because when you get to work at Disney, every single weekend is requested off by various people. You could request a weekend off but only get two days off instead of three.
Coming back to Michigan from Florida for just a weekend was very overwhelming for me, to say the least! In Florida, I wasn’t having the best time and I was very homesick on top of all my issues with my workplace. Having Mentor/Mentee retreat to come back for was what I was looking forward to the most.
The morning we left, my mentee still didn’t know I was in town, let alone the state until I popped out of nowhere to say hi to her. I had communicated with her boyfriend the night before asking when the right time to surprise her would be. I had the intention of being super casual and asking “so, where do you want to sit?” (standing in front of the bus) but I think I lost my cool when I saw her in Barnes lobby.
After our little moment, I went around saying hi to people I hadn’t seen since our mentee’s orientation day way back in the early summer. We finally boarded the buses and headed on our way to YMCA camp near Saginaw. Emily and I sat in the bus seat with such little room because of my suitcase I hauled all the way from Orlando sharing the seat with us.
We got to this beautiful campsite where there were cabins, a common hall, zip lines, ultimately a college kid’s dream! We carried our luggage down a huge hill to listen to announcements for safety, room assignments, and groups for the weekend. I was freezing my butt off because in the 70 degrees Florida I left, I didn’t think much to bring warm clothes so I rolled with my sweatshirt I wore the entirety of the two days at YMCA.
My group was up first for the “climbing challenge” I’m going to call it. It was this huge vertical climbing course that looked near impossible to do. With the obstacles spinning and rotating in place, it made climbing hard to do. There were mentee and mentor duos who made it to the top, there really were. Emily and I kept hyping each other up so much that we agreed on “nothing less than the top!!!” which I would learn to be the hugest mistake I could set myself up for!
Seriously, I have no upper body strength in me. I think the way my mentee was talking about the top got me fired up to complete this course while I was standing on the ground, but the second I got up there I totally freaked out. My muscles kept tensing up, I kept looking up to see Emily seriously climbing this course at 1,000 MPH… I kept screaming at her “how the cuss did you get up there so fast, Mentee???” Ultimately, it’s safe to say the vertical course won against me.
Next, we had the zip line which was across the little lake on the property. It looked so close to the water that we were sure someone was going to get a dip before the day was over. Of course being the leaders’ we all are, everyone in our group jumped at the opportunity to go first on the zip line. Emily and I got put near the end, but it was fun watching everyone go first.
We finally got a harness and had the mile walk over to the zip line launch spot where we individually went up a flight of stairs to jump off the platform to go to the other side. Emily went first; go mentee, go!
Last up on the agenda for the stations we had the team bonding activities which were pretty frustrating at first but ended up being a blast in the end. We had our ever so famous ‘helium hoolahoop’ activity first. All of us completed this activity when we were competing for the scholarship so the game was familiar. That didn’t help us figure the activity out any sooner. We actually spent a great amount of time on this activity. The goal of the activity is to get the hoolahoop to go to the ground. The catch is we all only use our two pointer fingers to lower the hoop. With different heights of people, it made the activity super difficult.
After finally completing that after 30 minutes or so, we did an activity where it was a tipping platform. We couldn’t let the platform tip completely to the ground on either side, so we had to keep the platform in the middle. We had to get all of our group members on this platform without it tipping to the ground on either side. We discussed our strategy for about 10 minutes, then it all clicked to us. We had to have one person in the back, then have two people mirroring each other on both sides to even out the weight distribution on this platform. We got this activity done in about 20 minutes because of how slow we all had to walk onto the platform and to verbally communicate with your partner when you were moving.
The last activity was a wooden box that you had to either crawl under or hop over. If you, for example, hopped over into the box, you had to exit the box underneath by climbing under. If you climbed into the box, you had to exit by hopping over. We had to do lots of communication as well as trusting one another to lift us in over the box.
At the end of the day, we had dinner then we got to have our huge bonfire we do every year. This year, the tradition of the compliment circle was broken because of our dance party around the fire. We were wobbling, we were cha-cha sliding, turbo hustle, you name it, we did it! This was also a great opportunity to get to know all the mentees just because I wasn’t here the first semester, I wanted to get to know the mentees so I wasn’t a complete stranger walking back into the second semester.
We finally went to bed after a long period of time of chatting, card playing, dancing and laughing. Emily and I won the raffle that night so we could do the high ropes course the next morning during free time.
When we woke up, we ate breakfast then immediately did pictures of cohorts. I love that moment because each cohort gets an opportunity to have yet another grade picture together for the memory book. With our cute matching shirts, I loved getting to have pictures in them. There were also about 1,000 Instagram posts of the same picture, but I loved every post.
After we got pics, we ran over to the high ropes course which was much different than my mentee year of the mentor/mentee retreat. My mentee year my mentor, Teddy, and I were together up on the high ropes course. We depended on each other to do each obstacle whereas this one, you were all by yourself depending on completing the three differe obstaclesals they had. After waiting for our shining moments to go up there, my mentee and I absolutely killed it up there! She did a much better job than I did, but I still got across all in one piece.
After we were the second to last duo to go, we packed up our things and headed to the common area to eat one final meal before heading to the busses. I was super happy I got to come back because even just talking to Emily, I could tell I picked the right mentee for me. The way she jokes and speaks is exactly the way I do. I also absolutely love that she is best friends with Julie (Ashleigh’s mentee) because I’m great great great pals with Ashleigh. That means many mentor/mentee lunch dates for the four of us!
As sad as I was to leave CMU and head back to Florida, I’m so thankful for the time I had with Emily that weekend. Even though she could probably quote word for word how I was doing at Disney to anyone at any given moment, I got to know her on a more personal level which I’m super excited to expand on when I get back to campus next semester! Ugh, I can’t wait to get back into the swing of things and get to see my mentee and pals every day!