Reflections on Freshman Year

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Just a casual selfie with President Troha

I can’t believe it. Freshman year is almost over. This year, time has passed more quickly than I could’ve ever imagined, but I think that might just mean I’m doing it right. I could give you the stereotypical “there’s been ups and downs,” and honestly I probably should because that’s the truth. I wish I could write down everything I’ve experienced, but if I tried to even summarize everything for you, we would both be here for hours. Let me give it to you in one word: joy.

That’s all I can think when I think about this last year. My life has been filled with joy ever since I arrived at Juniata College. That does not mean times weren’t hard, or I was never sad. I’ve been distraught here. I’ve been mad, and I’ve cried. However, I’ve also laughed until I couldn’t breathe, I’ve smiled until my face hurt, and I’ve gone on an incredible amount of adventures with the people I love.

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Now that I’ve gone through the ups and downs of a year of school, I think I’m old and wise enough to give you some advice on what to expect when you come to Juniata College.

  1. Pack lightly. Be aware that even though our dorm rooms are fairly large, they will not fit everything you bring. I promise you, you will accumulate a lot of things over the course of a year.
  2. There aren’t exclusive cliques here. Yes, there are groups of friends, but all of the ones I have encountered have been incredibly welcoming, so take advantage of that.
  3. Don’t always wait for an invitation. Okay, no, you should not invite yourself to someone’s birthday party or third wheel on a date, but if someone is going to play Frisbee golf, ask if you can go along. College students don’t always know that some people are waiting for an invitation.
  4. Time management is so important. Juniata is an academically challenging school, but it is incredibly easy to balance those academics with other activities. Prioritize and manage your time.
  5. Ask for help. Everyone I have met here has been more than willing to help me, so if you need or even just want a support network, Juniata has an incredible one.
  6. Enjoy it. Don’t count down until you can go home for Fall Break or until the semester is over. Appreciate the people you meet and the experiences you’re having. It’ll be gone before you know it.

Wherever you decide to go (I hope it is here, because this school is wonderful), just make sure it’s somewhere where you can take advantage of all college has to offer, because let me tell you, freshman year is fantastic.

LAS 2K16: celebrating undergrad research

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Some of the presenters and their presentation titles (including me!)

 

The Liberal Arts Symposium is one of the most popular traditions in the spring semester, and is where classes are cancelled and the entire college community celebrates the research, project development, and performances of Juniata students. I remember my freshman and sophomore year attending the different presentations and thinking with excitement, “I’m going to present MY thesis senior year!” Well that day came, and let me tell you, I was not feeling excitement anymore but sweaty palms and a knotted up stomach.

This entire year, I’ve been working on my senior honors thesis. As I wrote in my last blog, I’ve been looking at how the Indian media talks about corruption, and though I’m still writing my paper, I was able to share with my friends, classmates, and professors my preliminary findings. (Which is that the way we think about corruption, innocence, and guilt in the West is very different than the way Indian newspapers frame it in a specific politician corruption case.) I practiced my presentation a countless number of times, but that didn’t keep me from feeling extremely nervous before I went.

It ended up going pretty smoothly though! To be honest, I don’t remember anything about it except that I think I talked pretty quickly. Whenever I stumbled over my words or suddenly felt uncertain about what I was saying, all I had to do was look out into the audience, where I had so many friends and classmates supporting me. After it was over, I felt so proud; it was so incredibly rewarding, sharing what I’ve been doing with the Juniata community.

Other presentations were just as good! One friend presented on U.S. immigration policies, and another presentation I went to was on research looking at how to genetically modify mosquitos to halt the spread of malaria. My favorite presentation, though, was about synesthesia and the museum experience – the two presenters are even designing their own art exhibition based on their research findings! All in all, the Liberal Arts Symposium was an amazing day!

Francophone Fest!

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French Club members (Thibault de Prémorel, Marie Rouyer, Laure Monthuis, Maria (Masha) Golovinova, Yasmine Allaya, me, Océane Briffaut, Cécile Lee, Marthe, and Mathilde Doubrere) photo credit by Haruka Kamekaya and Futaba Asakawa

As the school year comes to an end, there are more and more activities and events on campus. Most recently, I was involved in the week-long Francophonie festival, which was organized by the French club. After having been recognized by the French embassy for its diversity and contribution to the French Language, the French club celebrated and showcased the various cultures of French speaking countries. The club members and I pulled our strengths together to make dishes, create performances and presentations, and promote Francophone culture.

The week-long festival started with short country presentations given to the public by students representing a particular francophone country, including Côte d’Ivoire (given by me!), Tunisia, Bretagne (a region of France), Burkina Faso, and of course, France! I even learned some fun country facts; Planet Tatooine from Star Wars is an actual town in Tunisia! There were also movie screenings such as Kirikou and the Sorceress, one of my favorite animated films, and Timbuktu, an Oscar nominee for best foreign film, which shows the effects of Jihadism on both the victims and culprits. I was very happy to see that some of the events were considered extra credit for various courses!

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Yasmine Allaya (right) and Marie Rouyer (left) serving couscous to audience members. Photo credit: Haruka Kamekaya and Futaba Asakawa

To conclude the event, we organized a dinner, with dishes from various francophone countries. As a result, I decided to make our famous alloco (fried plantains), fried sweet potatoes, and my own recipe called sardine fried rice. This dish in particular was a combination of a fried rice recipe, taken from my host mother during my stay in China, and Ivorian spices! The biggest challenge was obtaining ripe plantains two days before the dinner. Although it seemed impossible, we were able to find the ideal plantains in the local Walmart! Other dishes included Tunisian couscous and gratin dauphinois from France. In the audience, there were middle and high school students present, and they enjoyed the food as well as learning about the Francophone world.

Finally, the dinner came to an end with an energetic dance performance by me, Haruka, the French club’s president, and Joël from Burkina Farso, to a song called “Remanbele,” by Serge Beynaud. The dance moves were mostly based on an Ivorian dance and musical style called coupé-décalé! My friend, Yasmine, also performed an Arabic dance from Tunisia. Given the success of the festival, the French club and I look forward to making the event happen again next year, and every year after that!

The Multicultural Storyfest

Each year, Juniata holds a Liberal Arts Symposium—a day when all classes are cancelled and students have the opportunity to present their research to the campus community. Oftentimes, international students are not able to contribute to the symposium because many of them study at Juniata for only one semester. For this reason, Grace Fala, special assistant to the President for diversity and inclusion and professor of communication, developed the “Multicultural Storyfest.” This event takes place during the Liberal Arts Symposium and invites international students as well as other interested students to share parts of their heritage with the community.

This year, I am receiving two credits to serve as the intern for the Multicultural Storyfest. I have been working very closely with Grace and a few other students to help coordinate the largest one yet. We will have a total of 19 performances representing the following cultures and co-cultures: African, American Indian, Amish, Burmese, Buddhism, Chinese, Indian, Irish, Italian, Filipino, German, Japanese, Korean, LGBTQ, Maori, Middle Eastern, Pakistani, Salvadoran, Thai, and Vietnamese.

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Thida Win ’17 from Myanmar talks at the 2015 Multicultural Storyfest.

Personally, I will serve as the emcee for the event and also be a part of the performance representing Maori culture in New Zealand. One of my best friends studied abroad in New Zealand, so we are going to incorporate what she learned into our performance. We will be teaching about common greeting words and customs used by the Maori people. Other students will be dancing, singing, playing instruments, modeling, and reading poems.

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Andrea Morillo ’15 from Honduras performs at the 2014 Multicultural Storyfest.

All in all, I have gained so much valuable experience and many budding friendships from organizing this event. I have been able to meet and talk to people from all over the world!

If you’re interested in attending the Multicultural Storyfest, it’ll take place on Detwiler Plaza on Thursday, April 21st from 1:30-3:00 pm. I hope to see you there!

The On-Campus Atmosphere

As a rising senior, I was approved for off campus housing next year. It’s a bittersweet moment because I really love Juniata’s campus. I’m going to miss being able to look out the window and see the quad. I’m going to miss walking to dinner with my friends and only having to take a two minute walk to their dorms on the weekend, no matter my location.

Juniata’s on campus living experience is a memory I am fond of. My first year here, I lived in Sherwood, a freshman dorm. I was kind of disappointed with this, as a sophomore who transferred here, but was surprised with the experience it provided me. Sherwood was my favorite dorm. All of my friends were on the same floor. The walk wasn’t even two minutes—more like two seconds! We always had our doors open and were worried if a door was shut.

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I remember when the infamous “dress” started going around on social media. I heard a scream down the hallway and so I ran to my friends room and exclaimed “what’s wrong!?”

“Tell me this dress is white and gold,” she said about the blue and black dress.

“That’s definitely not white and gold,” I said.

Before I knew it, the whole floor was in her room debating this dress.

I’m going to miss that dynamic. I loved Juniata’s dorm experience from the beginning to end. It’s a bittersweet moment being approved for off campus housing because, as much as I’m excited to learn how to live in a house and pay rent, I am really going to miss the experiences I had daily on campus with all of my friends.

Flying Solo

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Julia LaPlante (’17) practices her solo performance.

For the past few weeks, my Performance Lab class (run through the Theatre Department) has been building our show, Solos, which opens in two weeks! Performance Lab is an incredible class that Theatre Performance POEs get to experience, where every few weeks different guest artists come to school to work on specific techniques or skills with us. We’ve worked on movement, scene studies, playwriting, and stage makeup, and learned what it’s like to be an actor after we graduate. I’ve only had two semesters of Performance Lab so far (as a Theatre POE we need five semesters), and it is definitely the best and most rewarding class I have taken at Juniata. We get to build so many different skills, work with incredible artists, and make outside connections in the “actor world.”

Recently, we have been working with Leigh Hendrix, an actor and theatre performer based in New York, who is serving as our mentor for our solo performances. Each student in our Performance Lab class has created a seven-minute piece, and is starring in it alone. The themes and stories are all incredibly different, and my classmates have worked to portray a multitude of diverse characters.

For my solo, I wrote a short play called “Out of My Head”, which shows the struggle of a girl who is arguing and sometimes being controlled by the voice in her head (which I believe everyone has had some experience with at some point). I will be playing the girl and the voice at the same time, switching back and forth between the two simultaneously. Playing two characters at once is something I’ve never done before, so I’m really excited to continue working with my play in rehearsals. I probably re-wrote my script a dozen times, always tweaking and changing little things here and there until I found a draft that I am very satisfied with. As an actor and playwright, it’s nearly impossible to find “the perfect draft” of a play because every time you read it, or listen to it being read, you find new things you want to change. It’s a really fun but strenuous process.

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Theatre Practicum students work to set the stage for Solos in the Movement Studio.

Solos are being performed April 20th, 21st, and 22nd in both the Suzanne Von Liebig Theatre and The Movement Studio. Since there are eleven students in our class, we split the group in half, so six will be performing in SVL Theatre, and five in the movement studio. I definitely recommend coming to see a performance, because it’s really amazing to see some of the work Juniata’s performers can do. If you want to see all of the student’s pieces, you’ll need to come two nights (since you can only be in one space at one time). My friends and I have worked really hard on these original pieces, and I can’t wait until we can show everyone!

Thoughts on the Juniata Concert Choir

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Figure 1: I took the picture a bit late but the Choir received a standing ovation after their last song “Set me as a Seal.” Choir Alumni joined the current members for this last song.

This weekend was the Juniata College Concert Choir’s Spring performance. At this show they presented all the work they have been practicing and perfecting since January, all of which they performed on their recent domestic tour through Pennsylvania, New York, and Connecticut. It featured traditional religious songs and several songs of Czech origin, two of which were written and composed by Antonin Dvorak. It was a moving auditory and even visual performance, and one that I will not soon forget.

I first heard the Concert Choir fifteen or so years ago when I was in kindergarten. The Shuler Theater in Raton, New Mexico, is run by a man named Bill Fegan, a Juniata Alumnus and a master at getting hard to get performances to come to a small middle-of-nowhere town. Bill managed to get the choir to swing through Raton on their Southwest domestic tour and although I don’t remember most of the performance there is one that stands out in my memory.

The choir had come down from the stage and had spread themselves out in front of and around either side of the audience. I don’t remember the song or even the tune, I just remember that even at such a young age I was in some sort of awe. I relived this awe this weekend as the choir neatly removed themselves from the stage and positioned themselves around the audience. The first song they sang in this formation was Remember Me. The Baritone’s deep voices perfectly balanced with the soprano’s high tones, and the Tenors and Altos blended it all together to make a hauntingly beautiful masterpiece. I don’t remember this song so much for the tune or even the words, but for the emotional response it brought. Throughout the entire piece I fought with being happy as it seemed that two souls were going their separate ways and moving on. But as the song went on, I realized that it was really someone saying goodbye for good, and the final line of “Remember me and be sad” hit home.

I have listened to a fair number of choirs during my life, but none so powerful as the Juniata Concert Choir. While many of them are wonderful singers, none except for their director Russell Shelley are what you would call professionals. Yet this group of young individuals comes together and manages to not only sing well but to also convey a breathtaking amount of emotion that caused the lady sitting behind me to exclaim “Oh, wow” after every song.

Taking a Break

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Figure 1: One of the Profile Pictures… With a beautiful sunset in the background.

Since I live in New Mexico I go home twice a year; Summer and Winter breaks. That means I either stay on campus or nicely ask a friend to stay with them. This past weekend was the three day Easter Weekend and since I was on duty (and because I had nowhere else to go) I stayed on campus. This is a hard thing to do, especially when the majority of your friends have gone home to be with their families for the weekend. Fortunately, there are several groups on campus that put on events for those of us who have to stay because we live so far away.

My weekend began with a trip to the cliffs, a beautiful location just north of campus. The rocky outcroppings jut out into a canyon through which the Juniata River runs. In the fall the leaves on the oaks, maples, and elms are shades of red and orange so vivid, that when the wind blows through the trees it looks like a raging wildfire has engulfed the canyon. My friends and I wandered down to the cave at the base of the third cliff and then continued exploring down the lower path, picking our way through brambles and dead bushes. We got to the fourth cliff and I suddenly had the bright idea to climb up instead of walking back along the trail.

There is something strangely relaxing about doing something risky after weeks of stress. My friends and I climbed up the wall of thorns and rotten logs and loose rocks half hoping, half praying that we wouldn’t fall. It was nice to get back to the simple things, to just focus on where we were and where we were going. When we finally reached the top we just sat, relaxed, watched the sun set over Huntingdon, and of course took new profile pictures.

After we had got all the right angles for our new profile pictures and captured as much of the dying sunlight as we could, we continued on down the trail to the fourth, fifth, sixth cliffs. When we finally reached the end we realized that it might not be the best idea for us to walk all the way back through the dark along the trail so we bushwhacked our way through a bramble thicket and back into civilization. We ended up several blocks away and down a very steep hill from our car so it took us another couple of minutes to actually get back to campus.

One of the best things about Juniata is its proximity to beautiful places in nature. The cliffs and the Peace Chapel are the closest of these, but if you ever get a chance, take the drive out to A Thousand Steps. The climb up all of the steps can be difficult and long but all of that is worth the views from the top. It is easy to get lost in your school work and clubs and sports teams and social life, and all that is well and good for being a successful college student. But sometimes you just have to take an evening, afternoon or an entire day to just go out into nature, take a breath, and just enjoy the sunset.

Extending My Abroad Experiences

My study abroad experience was absolutely life-changing, so it only makes sense that it’s having lasting effects now on my senior year. Last year, I studied abroad in Russia in the fall and India in the spring, and though unique to each other, both gave me independence, self-confidence, and a greater understanding of other cultures.

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This semester I am sharing that understanding of other cultures with local schools through our Language in Motion program. This program links any student who has first hand language or cultural knowledge (so anyone who studied abroad but also international students too) with K-12 teachers. I haven’t visited any classes yet, as I’m still trying to find a time that fits both my schedule and the teachers’, but I’m excited to share my experiences with the students! Throughout the semester I have been planning lessons, ranging from teaching basic words in Russian to smelling and tasting different Indian spices. Language in Motion not only enriches students’ knowledge and encourages them to study a language/go abroad but also allows me to share my experiences and practice my public speaking and teaching skills.

In addition, I am writing an honors thesis this semester, which was heavily inspired by my time abroad. One similarity that both Russia and India has is its endemic nature of political corruption. This fascinates me (especially the overarching acceptance of corruption), and resulted in questions such as, “How are corrupt acts seen by those living in the society?” “How does external information and dialogue influence the behavior of those receiving the information?” “How is corruption talked about in media outlets?” The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this topic could easily get out of hand and become a PhD dissertation. That last question, however, was manageable and grew into my thesis project.

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Working at a non-profit in India exposed me to the functioning of everyday bureaucratic life, including the questionable, not so great aspects (but these kids were awesome)

For several months now, I have been looking at a single political corruption case and through qualitative methodology, I have been analyzing the language that is used in news outlets. It has been a daunting task, and I still have a ways to go.  It’s been keeping me busy, maybe a little busier than a second semester senior would like! This process has and will continue to be very rewarding, though, as I’m learning so much about qualitative research and at the end of April I will present at the Liberal Arts Symposium (eek!). Ultimately, studying abroad has opened up many different avenues and opportunities for me, and I will always be incredibly grateful for that.

Wildlife Student Conclave 2016

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In high school, and even in college, you work on projects that are hypothetical. They don’t play out in the real world, or really determine much in your life besides a grade. However, in college, I’ve found one project that really does make a difference.

As I have said in a few of my other postings, I am a member of The Wildlife Society here on campus, and we’ve undertaken a huge project. Every year, each region of the United States has a student chapter that hosts the Wildlife Conclave. Our chapter members decided last spring, “Hey! We can do this!” and signed us up.

When I signed up for Wildlife Conclave planning last semester, I wasn’t sure what exactly I would be getting into. It turned out to be a massive event – we have almost 150 people attending – that would require months of planning, budgeting, and long meetings.

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The planning committee

In attending events, I never really thought about how much time and effort went into it. It was just something I would go to, enjoy, and go home. In planning an actual event, I have learned that it is a lot more than that. We have to think about site logistics, funding sources, workshop assignments, making nametags, planning meals… the list goes on forever. At first, it was incredibly intimidating. It seemed like the planning would never end, and that this event would never actually happen.

Now, looking back on the past two semesters, thinking about how the event is only a week and a half away, I’m a lot less intimidated, and I realized that I have learned a lot. I learned to make a vanguard to plan when things need to get done, how to make a budget, how to coordinate orders, and how to be committed to deadlines. None of this would get done without the amazing work of everyone in The Wildlife Society, and the motivation to do that work.

I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, there is something special in knowing that the project I’m working on is a real thing. The pens and water bottles I ordered for this event are tangible. The people are coming, whether we’re ready or not, so we have to try like crazy to be ready. My work matters here, and that is an incredible experience to have.

If you are interested in learning any more about the event we are holding, or The Wildlife Society at Juniata in general, always feel free to contact me or to like our page on Facebook!

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