I’ve found myself saying the phrase ‘Juniata is what you make of it’ a lot recently. It sounds like something I found on genericquotes.com : “Insert word here is what you make of it” (life, time, sweet potatoes, etc). So I questioned myself. Cliché phrases often don’t mean much once they’ve been dissected. But the more I think on it, the more certain I am that for me, my college experience has been what I’ve been able to make of it. And that is exactly why, when people ask me if going to Juniata has been worth it, my answer is a firm yes.
My reasons as to why are multi-faceted, but I will start with the fact that I will be graduating at the end of my 4-years with both an American and a French diploma. I understand that this is perhaps an accomplishment specific to my French POE, but I know for a fact that these kinds of extra achievements are not hard to come by at Juniata. If you are dedicated and passionate about what you study and your outside interests, you WILL find yourself involved in projects, trips and programs that you would not have encountered so directly at a bigger school.
I believe that an enormous catalyst for my experience has been the fact that my professors know me as Erika, an individual person, not just as a student. Juniata IS a small community in the grand scheme of things. If you participate in class (and most of the time, even if you don’t), it is inevitable that your professors will get to know you. They have worked hard with me to develop my skills as an independent thinker and intelligent human being. The connections that I have here with them will extend far beyond May of 2015 when I will graduate from Juniata.
Choosing to go to a private college or university is a scary, personal decision. It’s a financial undertaking and commitment to live the life of a student. Additionally, it requires confidence that your time will be fruitful and ultimately lead to better opportunities and connections. In my case, choosing to attend Juniata College was a choice that I will fervently stand behind and always be grateful for.
“What class do you belong to?” asked Andrea Morillo of Nourish International, referring to the random ticket that we received upon entering Ellis Ballroom for the OXFAM Hunger Banquet.
“Low-income class,” I answered humbly.
“Please take a seat on the floor,” she replied.
As I sat down on the hard, wooden floor, I talked with the growing population of lower-class citizens that started to surround me, and I looked around at the middle-class citizens, who were sitting comfortably in chairs, and at the upper-class citizens, who were starting to eat fresh salads with shiny cutlery.
I was jealous that they had forks… Never in my life did I ever think I would yearn so strongly for a fork. My food finally came. It was a tiny bowl of rice, yet I still wasn’t sure how I was going to eat it without a fork. My hands had been touching the floor, so I was concerned that I would catch some type of disease if I ate off my dirty fingers. But desperate times call for desperate measures.
It wasn’t until this event that I truly realized how much of the world lives in poverty. I’ve helped serve food in areas where poverty is prevalent, such as in the Dominican Republic, but I never knew what it would feel like being the one sitting on the floor waiting for my food to arrive.
When one of the middle-class citizens, Anh Ha, was asked how she felt about the upper-class citizens, she said, “Not one of them offered any food to the people sitting on the floor. They say that they feel guilty, but they don’t do anything about it.”
She makes a really good point. Most of us come from middle to upper-class backgrounds. Sure, we may go on community service trips where we serve the poor, but then we return to our homes and eat nutritious and oftentimes, overly-filling meals.
I’m not sure that I have a grand solution to these inequalities quite yet, but I do encourage you to be more aware of the economic situations of others. At Juniata College, we have several clubs that focus on minimizing these inequalities. To name a few, Nourish International, Power Up Gambia, and Amigos de Guanin are all currently fundraising for communities in Uganda, Africa, and the Dominican Republic, respectively.
Although I don’t expect everyone to immediately join a club and serve in third-world countries, we can start with small steps, such as serving at local soup kitchens, donating to homeless shelters, offering food to people who can’t afford it, etc. It may not seem like much, but little by little, we can and WILL make a difference.
The Dance Ensemble puts on one dance showcase each semester. All of the pieces in the show are choreographed by students in the club. This semester, I taught contemporary, ballet, and tap classes and choreographed two pieces for the show. Here’s a behind-the-curtains look at the choreography experience.
Tuesday, September 9th: Here’s where it all begins
Tonight was the first night of my dance classes this semester. I’m teaching three classes and choreographing two pieces for the fall dance show. The contemporary class will be dancing to “Tee Shirt” by Birdy and the ballet and tap classes will both be dancing in the same piece set to “I See Fire” by Ed Sheeran. We have six weeks to choreograph the pieces and get them ready for the show. The show is October 19th which seems so far away now, but I only have 5 more weeks of teaching before the show.
I had a great turnout (dance pun intended) for all of my classes tonight. The first week is a drop/add week, so I know I won’t have this many people next week. I taught a few sections of choreography this week and I’m already excited about all of the pieces.
Tuesday, September 23rd: Halfway already?
It’s so hard to believe I’ve already taught three of the six weeks of dance classes for the semester. Tonight, I finished choreographing nearly all of “Tee Shirt,” which is very exciting. There’s still lots to do for “I See Fire,” though. I’ve taught the ballet and tap classes separately up to this point, but next week I’ll start teaching them as a 1 ½ hour combined class. I’m starting to panic a bit about “I See Fire” because I only have three weeks left to put this piece together. Most of the pieces for the Dance Ensemble show are about three minutes, but “I See Fire” is five minutes long. That’s a lot to choreograph and teach!
Tuesday, October 7th: Crunch time
I have one week of classes left. One week. That’s kind of terrifying, but I’m also starting to get excited about the show. “Tee Shirt” is looking pretty good so far but “I See Fire” still needs a lot of work. Since “I See Fire” is so long and involves some partner work, I’m still not totally done teaching the dance yet. And I only have one week left. Yikes!
Sunday, October 12th: Extra rehearsal
This afternoon, the Dance Ensemble held an extra rehearsal for all of the dances. We didn’t have much time (15 or 30 minutes per dance), but something is better than nothing. I’m still feeling nervous about “I See Fire.”
Tuesday, October 14th: And then it was over…
Tonight was the last night of my dance classes. The “Tee Shirt” rehearsal went very well and the dance is looking very clean. The “I See Fire” rehearsal also went well and I’m feeling much more confident about both pieces now. The dancers got their costumes tonight- we have several drawers of costume pieces that we can use for the show or we have the option to order costume pieces as long as they aren’t too expensive. I found enough of all the pieces I wanted to use in the costume drawers, so I did not order any costume pieces. Now that all of the dancers have their costumes and the dances are completely finished, I’m starting to get excited for the show. T-minus four days until show time!
Sunday, October 19th: Just dance, it’ll be okay
I just finished dancing in the show and I’m feeling tired, sore, and very happy! This morning, we had our dress rehearsal from 9:30 to 12:30 and then were required to be back at the auditorium at 3 to stretch and prepare for the show.
One of my favorite feelings in the world is the little burst of adrenaline I get every time I step onstage to dance. Participating in the Dance Ensemble shows lets me keep feeling that awesome adrenaline rush and it has opened up even more doors for me as an artist. And now, in addition to dancing in the shows, I get to choreograph pieces for the shows!
As a theatre POE, it’s my goal to participate in as many productions as possible, or at least attend the ones I’m not a part of. Tonight I had to opportunity to attend Juniata’s production of The Glass Menagerie, a play by Tennessee Williams. I decided not to audition for this show in fear of over-scheduling myself at the beginning of my first semester. After seeing the play, and all of the hard work the cast and crew has put into it however, I am seriously regretting my decision not to be involved.
The cast of The Glass Menagerie is a small, four characters. Andrew Kilpatrick plays Tom, the protective poetry-writing brother who works to support his family. Megan Smith is Laura, the incredibly shy, crippled sister who believes she will never amount to anything. Lauren Dobbs plays Amanda, the faded southern belle mother who struggles to accept the flaws of her children. Finally, a friend of mine, Jamison Monella is Jim, an old high school acquaintance who strives for success and love in his adult life.
I’ve been taking two theatre classes this semester, and have become very close with my teacher and academic adviser Kate Clarke. We spoke about the production and how incredible the shows at Juniata always are, so I knew I had to see the show for myself. I was blown away. I’m used to seeing musical theatre productions with large casts of at least forty, with show-stopping musical numbers and intricate choreography. The Glass Menagerie was not one of those shows. This production gave off an eery, realistic vibe that pleasantly surprised me. The acting done by my fellow peers was phenomenal! The students seemed comfortable, and were incredibly believable on stage. It’s hard to truly justify the talent I witnessed tonight, so if you get the opportunity to attend this show or any other theatre production Juniata offers I definitely recommend trying to see one.
As we progress into the midway point of the semester, I have been able to think about how I’ve been doing so far at Juniata, and what I can do to better enjoy myself here. The first thing I always think about is getting more involved in the events going on around campus, and especially in the Theatre Department. Although I don’t think I will have time to participate in the other performances occurring this semester, I am definitely making sure to audition next semester!
When I was visiting colleges as a prospective student, I remember thinking that I definitely wanted to work in a Writing Center and to be a tour guide. This year, I am doing both.
As an English POE, I am thankful for the opportunity to work as a Writing Center tutor. The opportunity not only to edit papers, but also to work on writing skill acquisition is as beneficial to the students I work with and me. For me, the Writing Center is an opportunity for me to use my skills and talents to help others, but it is also a channel for personal and professional growth. Of course, every day of work is an opportunity to solidify and strengthen my own analytical and writing skills, but working at the Writing Center is more than that. It is a collaboration between tutor and student to improve a paper for the present and skills for the future. Working with other students is great for interpersonal communication skills. Also, the Writing Center functions as a team. Throughout the seven weeks of the semester, I think I have learned valuable lessons about teamwork that I can carry with me throughout my Juniata College career and beyond.
I’m the type of person who feels an intense loyalty to his school, and I think acting as a campus tour guide is one of the best ways for me to share my fondness for Juniata. I really enjoy answering questions about campus and talking about Juniata traditions and my personal experiences at Juniata. Speaking directly to prospective students and families and answering questions has improved my communication and public speaking skills, and the small trivia facts that I’ve picked up about campus are interesting not only to the prospective students, but also to my friends. While facts about the size of our window in the Suzanne von Liebig Theatre (we have the second biggest window in a theatre space next to Disney World) or the Juniata chestnut arboretum (we have a chestnut sanctuary to help regrow American chestnut trees which perished during the chestnut blight in the early 1900s) are fun topics of conversation, I’ll be able to take professionalism and communication skills with me into my career.
The relationships I’ve developed with my coworkers and the skills I have acquired through these positions are really important to my college experience. The hours spent at my jobs are some of the highlights of my weeks.
The semester is starting to go by fast just like everyone said it would and as a senior it is typical that my mind is racing to figure out what I want to do after I graduate. Will I find a job? Will I be happy at this new job? Should I go to graduate school instead? All of these questions and thoughts are not unusual so I don’t feel alone. Every senior goes through this with all their worries and hopes to have a bright future. My class, like any other, will be entering the real world with its infinite possibilities and possible failures. However, it will still be something to learn from that I am both nervous and excited to experience. Although I have learned many things from Juniata College, Professor Wei-Chung put it correctly when he said, “We are in a little protective bubble that is Juniata”. We are in this protective bubble that shields us from the outside world and the harsh reality that we are not yet prepared for, maybe we will never be prepared for it until we have to actually go through it with all of its unpredictability. That is why I am glad that Juniata has a variety of professors that will nurture their students and the ones that will tell you the brutal truth.
It’s the best of both worlds. The professors at Juniata have real world experience in the field that they are teaching so it benefits the students to learn what they need to know in order to succeed. It isn’t about just learning the general ideas and pushing the students on their merry way so they can cruise through college. The professors care about what they are teaching and want to provide us with the skills we need and can utilize once we enter the real world. Some professors incorporate a “Learning Experience” into their course, which means we get real experience with business, people, or programs as if it were a job that we need to know results for. It helps students by putting the knowledge from the course into action because what better way to learn then to experience things first-hand.
I’m not extremely worried about life after college because Juniata has provided me with many opportunities in regards to experience and I have built numerous connections through traveling and events. Career Services provide students with chances to attend seminars, meetings, and trips to job fairs so that we have resources and ways to improve ourselves. Juniata is so focused on providing every aspect possible to help its students not only through course work but with life. The curriculum requirements let you look at different subjects outside of your major so you can get a wide variety of knowledge. There is no limit and I have customized my major to my needs. I take the courses I want that will prepare me for the type of job I want or suits me in the future. Not many colleges allow you to do that, but Juniata does. I didn’t imagine that a college would provide so much to my future and care so much about it until now. Everyone at Juniata wants to help you to improve your future and that type of support is needed when trying to build yourself.
Candy Chang, a fellow TED talker and urban planner, came to Juniata to speak on her creative community togetherness projects. These projects include the Before I Die Wall, I Want This To Be Stickers, and How Much Do You Pay For Rent Post It notes. All these projects are to inspire self-reflection and community communication.
Since the semester began, I have been having an identity crisis concerning my POE. Candy Chang gave me some of the best advice without knowing it. She opened her talk with a quote by Joseph Campbell reading, “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are”. Candy stated that ever since she was a child she always wanted to be an artist, however the word artist to any parent is quite a frightening because it says “unstable” and brings to mind the picture of a starving artist. She started out college as a pre-med student and upon receiving a D+ in a course, she decided to take a different route – architecture and graphic design.
Candy’s advice was that you have to dabble in a lot of things, and go down many different paths, because the different experiences that you have teach you who you are on a different level. She uses her own journey as a way to illustrate that you have to do what interests you. However, the hardest things about doing what interests us is discovering and analyzing our pasts, presents, and futures and reflecting upon who we are what we really want out of this life.
The Before I Die wall, is a way of sharing ourselves without community and breaking down that individualistic wall. It is a place where we can reflex upon our lives and figure out just what we want to do with it. The glory of a liberal arts degree is that it gives you the opportunity to explore many different disciplines to find out exactly what you want to do. I personally wish I would have come to Juniata without a degree in mind, because then it would have given me the opportunity to explore a lot more things than the POE my mind was already glued to.
Candy’s mission is to bring back the 1950’s era of community, where neighbors knew each other, trusted each other, and passed a little bit wisdom onto one another. Today we are so focused on our individual lives that there is a barrier there between ourselves and the people who live just next door. Candy’s public space programs are based around change. She calls these chalk boards, and stickers a honest mess, because they represent barriers falling down between us as we open up and be vulnerable, allowing ourselves to show our humanity.
Candy loves reading what members of the community write, not only on the Before I Die Wall, but also on projects such as ‘I want this to be’. ‘I want this to be’ are stickers posted on the side of abandoned buildings where people anonymously state their hopes, dreams, and ambitions, for a public space. She reads answers from “I want this to be a grocery store”, “book shop café”, “an apartment building” have appeared and it has inspired real change in communities. However, more importantly Candy says that this self-reflection done by individuals has led to more community involvement, and communication.
Candy’s final message was that curiosity and keeping an open mind allows us to do more things, and do them better than anyone else because we are inspired. She wants to share that inspiration with the community and bring neighbors together like they once were in the 1950s.
Life-changing experiences don’t happen very often. If they did, they wouldn’t have such a profound impact on the person experiencing them. When they happen, you know they happen. You’ll look back at your previous life in disbelief, wondering how you could have ever been so unaware of this whole other realm that you now call home. For me, my life was changed when I stepped out of the plane in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
I had been anticipating this trip for a while. After studying abroad in Orizaba, Mexico for a month during the summer after my freshman year of college, I was more than excited to enhance my Spanish-speaking skills and to do some volunteer work in the Dominican Republic for the January 2014 Cultural Learning Tour sponsored by the Office of Diversity & Inclusion and the Community Service/Service Learning Office at Juniata College.
What I had not been anticipating, however, was that I would come home from this trip with a much larger and more culturally diverse extended family. Over our two-week stay in the Dominican Republic, we lived with host families in Santo Domingo and traveled 45 minutes to El Centro Cultural Guanin, an after-school program located in the rural, impoverished community of La Piedra, meaning “The Rock.”
During our first week, we went on some touristy adventures, which included a boat ride on the Atlantic Ocean to Los Haitises National Park, a day-trip to Juan Dolio beach, and a horseback ride to a beautiful waterfall known as el Salto del Limón. When I first learned about the trip to the Dominican Republic, the touristy things were honestly what I was most looking forward to, since I had never been to too many places outside of the United States, but I quickly realized that it would be the people who would have the most remarkable effect on my life. During the second week of our trip, we worked closely with the community of La Piedra where we painted houses, cemented floors, taught English, helped cook food, and played with the kids. Despite the many hardships that these people were going through, their smiles sparkled and their laughter loomed day-in and day-out.
I went on this trip hoping to make a difference in the lives of others, but I came home with a whole new perspective on my own life. I immediately started a club on campus called Amigos de Guanin, which would fundraise so that more students could travel to the Dominican Republic on the annual Cultural Learning Tour. For the next four months, I worked vigorously on a grant application through the National Society of Leadership and Success. Fortunately, I was awarded $4,000 to work on an agricultural development project in January 2015 and to travel back in March 2015 to see that the project continues.
Thankfully, I have been able to keep in close contact with my new Dominican family, and when I travel to this beautiful island, I don’t think of myself as going away anymore, but rather as going home.