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This spring break, I decided to participate in a community service trip to Bithlo, Florida. This was mostly because I had never had the opportunity to volunteer, and this was a chance to experience living conditions in other regions of the United States. Technically, Bithlo is part of Orlando, but unlike the booming and wealthy parts of town and the affluence of Disney World, Bithlo is an unincorporated and impoverished community. Bithlo has been neglected after the town went bankrupt in the 1920s, but along with UCF (the University of Central Florida), Millersville University, and other community members, we were able to provide some support to the community by cleaning the gardens, painting houses and aquaponics, and serving as mentors for the students at the local charter school.
When we first arrived, my first instinct was to be with the children, and the experience was wonderful. The kids ranged from kindergarten to 3rd grade and were so full of energy and enthusiasm. They wanted to learn all sort of things, from French to Spanish to Chinese, and even English! Luckily I speak both French and Mandarin and was able to teach them several words. The older students, ranging from 8th to 11th grade, had a great thirst for knowledge. Some of the students had been through many hardships and traumatic experiences at their young age, but I was able to relate to them nevertheless. I remember one student in particular, Stevens, with whom I shared a passion for astronomy, manga, and anime, and I encouraged him to attend college if he wanted to gain in depth knowledge and have access to books about astronomy. Other students aspired to be actors and actresses and video game designers.
One of my favorite memories was our time spent at Cocoa Beach, which was my first time ever to go to the beach! I went to the beach thinking that I would be able to purchase some coconuts, while relaxing on the sand, but there were no coconut trees nor coconut vendors in sight! Although I was very disappointed, I had a good time. At first, the water was very cold and I was scared of the waves because I cannot swim. However, with the help of my friends, I was able to relax and enjoy the gentle waves coming toward me. When I wasn’t in the water, I took a short nap and later convinced Melissa, one of the volunteer UCF students, to learn some pop-cultural dance moves using the “Bet You Can’t Do it Like Me” by DLOW. She quickly picked up the moves and so did the kids at the school!
Overall, the trip was worthwhile, as I was able to connect with various people and create relationships. I still miss the dynamic of our group: Nahui’s contagious laugh, Ray’s awkward remarks, Jacob’s boyish laugh, Jared’s sensual voice, Brad’s introversion, Savannah’s sassiness, Daisie’s shining smile, Thibault’s shocked facial and surprising verbal expressions, and Jess’ crazy anecdotes. Most importantly, I miss doing a dance move called “the dab” with Mike as our signature picture pose. I certainly will go on another service trip adventure!
Spring break is a time when many students travel to tropical islands for a week-long adventure, while several others venture back home for a relaxing time with family and friends. In the past, I’ve had both types of experiences, so for my final spring break, I decided to try something a little different. I had heard about an interfaith service trip to New Orleans, and while I’m not actively involved with a religious group at Juniata, campus ministry welcomed me with open arms.
Although I had always heard about the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina, I thought that after 11 years the city would be restored. Although most areas of New Orleans have recovered nicely, the Lower Ninth Ward has not fully recuperated.
While in New Orleans, I, along with 17 other Juniata students, worked with an organization called Capstone, which aims to provide the citizens of the Lower Ninth Ward with free community gardens. To help out, we weeded, planted, and watered the gardens; constructed and painted boxes for honey bees; cleaned and fed goats and chickens; and helped with other jobs as needed.
Since this was also an interfaith trip, we explored and discussed different religions, such as Judaism, Christianity, and Unitarian Universalism. Additionally, we were able to learn about the culture of New Orleans by talking with local citizens, eating beignets at the famous Café du Monde, visiting a Mardi Gras museum, and touring the renowned Saint Louis Cemetery.
Lithuanian-American writer Ruta Sepetys once said, “New Orleans is unlike any city in America. Its cultural diversity is woven into the food, the music, the architecture—even the local superstitions. It’s a sensory experience on all levels, and there’s a story lurking around every corner.” After experiencing New Orleans first-hand, I could not agree more.
As I was enjoying my Spring Break and talking to some friends from high school, I noticed that my friends at other colleges are having a drastically different college experience than I am. I don’t mean that my friends don’t get to experience Storming of the Arch or Mountain Day or Liberal Arts Symposium. I understand that different schools have different traditions, but one of my friends who attends a large university said something that I couldn’t even fathom from my Juniata College mindset: he has never met his advisor face to face. Of course, this led to multiple problems with scheduling, internships, and degree requirements, but I couldn’t get over the fact that while I see both of my advisors multiple times per week, he has yet to meet his.
When I returned to campus and talked to my friends here about this strange phenomenon, they were all as surprised as I was initially. Juniata runs on a dual advisor system, meaning that all students from their second semester onward have both an academic and a general advisor. The academic advisor is from the student’s academic department, while the general advisor is a professor or faculty member from outside that department. Both my advisors are great; I’ve met with them (face to face) multiple times, had them for class, and received multiple letters of recommendation from both of them. With all that my advisors have done for me and how instrumental they’ve been in my college career, I was taken aback by a student one year ahead of me at another school saying that he doesn’t even know what his advisor looks like. When I asked if he thought my advising situation was as strange as I thought his, he said that Juniata’s advising actually sounded great.
I guess aspects of college like advising are sometimes overlooked or taken for granted. I’ve heard students say that getting both advisors’ signatures on papers or forms is a bother, but I think that never seeing my advisor throughout my college career would be infinitely worse. The advising system at Juniata is a tad unusual in that it involves two advisors, but between my own personal experiences with my advisors and what my friends told me about advising at their schools, I am very grateful for the advising that I’ve received here at Juniata. I’ll be sure to thank my advisors for their work the next time I see them!
The week after Spring Break is usually the easiest or the hardest, but besides that, the sun is FINALLY coming out! This past winter felt as if it would never end, but the only wonderful benefit of a winter full of snow and ice is that it’s completely acceptable to burst out into the Frozen soundtrack and let it go.
As spring begins to come back to Juniata, so do the spring activities! One of the most stressful activities is room draw. Room draw can either be the easiest thing you will ever have to do, or, it can be the hardest. Luckily for me, it was pretty easy because my roommate and I know how to use our resources and the fact that we will both be studying abroad in the spring of next year. WOO!
Another spring activity to look forward to is Pig Roast. This is exactly what it sounds like. The entire campus spends a Saturday at Raystown Lake and has a blast while a giant pig is smoked for our stomachs. Since the Juniata Rugby Team hosts the event, which means it’s not technically a JC event, you never know what will happen or what you will see at Pig Roast! The only thing I would recommend, especially for the pale white ghosts, is to bring a blanket and tons of sunscreen.
One of the greatest spring events is Relay for Life! Every year, groups of friends get together to help raise money and awareness for cancer. The entire campus gathers around the quad to create the circle that teams will walk around. Each team does a different type of fundraising. Last year, my team sold bracelets. Some of my favorite teams are usually the ones that sell baked goods. The best part about walking laps is that you can get a cupcake along the way.
College is a time to be exposed to the new and to add experiences that you never thought possible. Joining clubs and getting involved is really some of the best advice to take to heart. Traveling/studying abroad can really be a life-changing event and can be some of the best memories to cherish forever.
One such opportunity here is Juniata College’s Concert Choir. This one-credit course travels on tour to sing and share their love of music with more than just the Huntingdon community. Spring break is usually their biggest tour (a majority of the time being in a different country), with a New York one accompanying a week later.
The concerts are acapella and consist of memorized repertoire. When not singing and traveling to different locations in the country we had a chance to rest, site-see and engage in the culture. This year was a week tour to Guatemala.
Antigua, Guatemala City, Panajachel, Xela and Cantel were a few locations visited during the tour. The Fuentes Georginas hot springs, volunteering at the Asturias Academy and a musical exchange with members of the Coro Municipal were a few of the unforgettable additions to the trip. The singers were allowed to take a break from the focused performing setting and were able to engulf themselves in what Guatemala had to offer them.
About nine concerts were performed and sang all over the country, with different audiences attending each one. Two separate news stations filmed and broadcasted a performance on the local television station, which was really exhilarating for the choir to be a part of. Post interaction between the members and the audience was so rewarding because it really showed how the music touched the natives’ lives, even if half the choir members couldn’t speak the Spanish to fully communicate.
The choir was the first group to perform from the Pennsylvania area in Guatemala, so it was not only a special event for the choir but for the Guatemalan people. When first beginning the tour, the choir had not yet developed the sense of fully communicating the messages each song held. As the week progressed and the family began to form, the music began to wrap and interlace itself throughout the choir to form the quality voice that is the intent of tour.
Breathtaking sites, endless views and a beautiful country was all worth the hard work and countless hours of practice. Juniata Concert Choir is more than just a class, it’s a family. With support of the group, one amazing director, a solid foundation of songs and the common love of singing, spring break as a member of JC Concert Choir is one to rank at the top of incredible life experiences.