Thursday, May 14, 2015

A New Chapter

The summer before college, I was occasionally preoccupied with thousands of stray thoughts – from the idea of being a freshman again, having to learn all the new names and faces, going into college undeclared, and moving to a new place thousand miles from home. I was excited for a new journey, yet nostalgic for high school. I was happy that the college application process was forever over, yet worried about the future yet to come. In addition, when I applied to colleges, all I knew about Minnesota or Macalester was hearsay. I never had the chance to visit the campus. The truth is that although Macalester was on the top of my college list, it was not the first-choice school that I applied early decision to and I waited until the very last day to submit my application to Macalester. I thus came into college with a lot of uncertainty. I was not entirely sure if Macalester was ultimately the right choice for me.

But all of my worries were soon alleviated after I arrived at Macalester, where I now call my second home. From the very first days, I was impressed by the professionalism, the big smiles, the warm personalities, and the kindness of Mac students and staff. Although I went to a high school where there was a diverse student population, I often felt that there was still an intangible line between domestic students and international students. But at Mac, that border hardly exists. Students, professors, and staff all come from many different racial, ethnic, socio-economical, and academic backgrounds, and hold different religious and political beliefs, but everyone respects others’ opinions and voices, embraces all the differences, and more importantly genuinely wants to learn more about others.

At the beginning of the school year, I was also lucky enough to be selected to participate in the Ametrica Project sponsored by Macalester’s International Student Programs. The Ametrica Project is an annual program composed of weekly dialogues, where domestic and international first-year students come together to discuss everything from the very mundane topics of relationship and love, to more global and controversial topics such as privileges and identities, foreign relations, and global citizenship. Participating in Ametrica was a really rewarding experience to me as I got to not only voice my opinions, listen to my friends’ perspectives, and develop a greater intercultural sensitivity, but also to make new friends and have a great time with some great people. 

I and some other Ametrica participants gathered for dinner at the house of Mr. Brian Lindeman, Macalester Director of Financial Aid.

Through Macalester’s International Student Program and the Host Family Program, I have a host family. My host family often kindly invited me over for traditional American holidays’ celebration such as Thanksgiving dinner and Easter and always made me feel like home.

Academics life at Macalester is challenging, yet intellectually engaging. Before coming to college, I was often prone to enjoy classes that I did well in more than classes in which I didn’t do as well. However, I have come to realize that what matters more than the numbers on the tests is the process of learning itself. Instead of just taking what is written in the textbooks at face value, I have learned to embrace knowledge. Trying to derive equations and figuring out the origins of equations and their underlying principles on my own has now become an intellectually stimulating habit that exhilarates me and gives me a rush of adrenaline each time. Moreover, at Mac, I never view my professors only as professors, but as as intellectuals, scientists, philosophers, and all-rounded human beings. They are great friends to count on and amazing mentors who are always willing to help, talk, and give advice to students. Thanks to the support from my professors, my family, and my friends at Mac, I recently declared to be a Chemistry and Biology (Biochemistry emphasis) double major in my first spring semester of college!

Me out in Macalester’s Ordway Field Station collecting samples for Biodiversity and Evolution class!
I have learned outside of the classroom and from my friends more than I ever did in the past. My first-year course was Chemistry, which is a residential course. I got to live under the same roof with my classmates in Turck Hall and discuss homework questions anytime I want! Every day, from morning classes to late-night talks in the lounge, I constantly learn so much from my peers. They are all really supportive, fun to be with, and passionate about learning and intellectual pursuit.

My Chemistry first-year course has dinner with the professor.
Outside of the classrooms, I also had the chance to join Macalester Mock Trial team and competed in many in-state and out-of-state tournaments. Before coming to Macalester, I never thought that I would ever do mock trial. As an international student who still often stumbled on words, I never thought that I would be given an opportunity to join this demanding activity. While other colleges with strong mock trial programs often hold auditions and just admit a small number of students into their programs, Macalester Mock Trial is open to every Mac Scot who is eager to learn. I tried out many different roles, from a plaintiff attorney, a defense attorney, a psychologist, to a crime scene investigator, and even the defendant in different tournaments… Being in Macalester Mock Trial, I get to meet, watch, and learn from amazing teammates. It is a delight to watch my teammates using their outstanding rhetorical skills to elegantly make their arguments in examinations and delivering statements with great eloquence in the mock court room. Although people may say that mock trial doesn’t have much to do with my science major, it has truly taught me many valuables skills and earned me some great friendships.
My team - Macalester Mock Trial Team 1361 competed at Regional Competition in Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Macalester has helped me to self-explore and become a better person in many ways. I have figured out the answers to many of the questions that I had before I came to college. In these 7.5 months, I have formed many great friendships, declared my major, and figured a lot of things out. Macalester has indeed become a second home. Macalester is the place to be. I am grateful to be here and I would never choose otherwise. At Macalester, I get to be the captain of my own life, and be the truest version of myself. Every day is no humdrum, but filled with challenges, knowledge, and exciting stories.

Hoang Anh Phan ’18, Hanoi, Vietnam

Monday, April 27, 2015

An Extracurricular for the Real World

As a Macalester sophomore, the extracurricular that I’ve taken the most pride in thus far has been serving in the admissions office. In addition to being a whole lot of fun, working in admissions helps me develop skills that will be vital in a professional setting after I graduate. I have been a campus tour guide since the spring semester of my first year, and beginning this semester I’m also one of the student coordinators of the tour guide program. My duties in that position include recruiting, training in, and mentoring new tour guides, keeping in contact with guides about their tour times, and answering questions from campus visitors via email and social media. I have also applied and am waiting to hear back about working as an admissions assistant in the summer, which would involve writing articles for admissions publications and interacting with visitors face-to-face.
There are two main reasons that I believe my roles in admissions are important for personal and professional development. First, my current job as a tour guide coordinator has extraordinarily developed my ability to work as a member of a team. I have five colleagues in the coordinator position, and together our task is to keep in contact with campus visitors and about 70 active tour guides, plus new trainees every semester. With so many people depending on us to communicate effectively and efficiently, it is essential for all six coordinators to let each other know about what emails need to be sent out, which guides have conflicts during someone’s work shift, how many visitors are coming at each tour time, and anything else we may need to know to perform our jobs at the highest level. We do have fun in the office, but we take our jobs seriously and hold each other accountable, knowing that this is the best way to achieve our common goal of putting ourselves and our school in the best possible light.
The second reason also happens to be my favorite part of the job. Being an admissions ambassador means you learn to how to interact with and assist people with an enormous range of unique backgrounds and interests, treating them each as individuals even if they may not be used to it. Between standardized tests, online applications, and mysterious admissions counselors whose faces you rarely see as an applicant, college admissions can have an unfortunate reputation of being impersonal. That’s where the beauty (you might even say the necessity) of the campus visit comes in. Student admissions ambassadors are volunteers, and tour guides must pass through a training process that takes a total of seven to ten hours over a few weeks. I think that speaks volumes about how excited we are to meet perspective families and show off our school.
When I get to interact with visitors on campus, I’m often intrigued by the interesting and sometimes exotic things that people are passionate about. I think what attracts a lot of students to Mac, myself included, is the huge variety of activities that are accessible both on campus (through student clubs) and off campus (since we’re right in the middle of a metropolitan area that’s easy to get around via bus, light rail, or even on your bike). Students involved in admissions work make it a goal to interact with each student and family as individuals, tailoring our advertisement of Mac to their particular interests and answering specific questions as best we can.
My personal favorite off-campus activity. The Midtown Greenway is a car-free trail cutting through Minneapolis and it’s easy to get there from campus on roads with dedicated bike lanes!


That said, my knowledge of Mac life is limited to some degree by the personal college experience I’ve shaped for myself. I could talk all day about the things I’m involved in, but the minor downside of having so many opportunities is that one can’t do everything as a single student. Sometimes, to quote Ringo Starr, I have to get by with a little help from my friends. If I ever can’t come up with a satisfactory reply to a question, my next step is to put the visitor in contact with someone who can.
In this way, being in admissions builds my social and professional interaction skills twofold. I learn how to best help people with different backgrounds, and it encourages me to build a diverse community of friends so that I can have someone at hand for virtually every question. In addition to building these skills, I take personal pride in accommodating each visitor to the best of my ability, since I know it will help preserve Mac as what it is now: an institution where diversity is welcomed and encouraged, and where everyone is able to thrive from a strong commitment to their personal passions.
Dan Klonowski ’17 (Chicago, IL)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

An(other) Story Circle: Grappling with Heterosexism

On March 10th, students and staff gathered at the Cultural House to attend this semester's An(other) Story Circle: Grappling with Heterosexism. A four person panel comprised of students and staff spoke to how they have reconciled manifestations of heterosexism with their personal identities. In other words, the panelists spoke to how heteronormativity and homophobia has influenced their upbringing and how they have established strategies to maneuver a world that is institutionally oppressive. Although the panel was diverse in sexual orientations, the panelists touched upon a few similar concepts and frustrations. All spoke about how they demonstrate their sexuality and chosen gender with the power of a haircut and a few changes of clothing choice. Perhaps most importantly was the idea that identity can largely be defined externally and then internalized due to perceptions based on what is considered the "norm." Highlighting the stories of the "otherness" is crucial for all in our efforts to intentionally create the inclusive community. 

By Elise Ong ‘16, Emily Walls ‘16, and Keri  Ann Yatogo ‘16,
C-House Program Assistants

LEARN MORE about the Department of Multicultural Life!

Monday, April 13, 2015

College is What You Make of It

During my college selection process, I had lists of colleges, lists of pros and cons for each university, lists of facts and figures, and lists of my lists.

I originally heard of Mac when I was contacted by the head coach of the men’s soccer team, Gregg Olson. I had applied to several schools on both coasts, so the small Midwestern Macalester College didn’t seem as exciting as the bigger schools. At the end of the day it was a tough choice, but it came down to three benefits: 1) I could continue playing soccer 2) the biology program has a great track record for acceptance to medical school and most important, 3) the merit scholarship offered by Macalester would enable me to earn a debt-free undergraduate degree, giving me more options for grad school.

My roommate Zeke (#1) and I (#3) leading the post game cheer after our 1-0 victory over Gustavus Adolphus College.
After I made my decision, I was feeling a mixture of excitement and nerves because I knew college is an experience that would probably determine my career path. I still wasn’t sold on the whole liberal arts experience, but my older brother, a senior at Santa Clara University in my home state of California told me, “College is what you make of it.”  

I’m a second year student here at Mac, and I am starting to realize the truth behind his words with the passage of every week. I have found that college presents so many opportunities to participate in clubs, organizations, sports and much more. I play on the men’s soccer team and I couldn’t imagine attending college without being a part of such a tight-knit group. Playing soccer has not only given me the opportunity to represent my school but it has also helped me make friends I know I will have for life.

I showed up on the first day of preseason soccer not knowing what to expect. The coach had hung the fitness test over our heads all summer to make sure everyone came to school fit. We ran and ran and ran, and then we became best friends. The guys on the team eat every meal together, many upperclassmen live together, and we all work out and play soccer together multiple times per week. The team is getting better, with an improving record over the last two seasons, and we are determined to make the conference playoffs again in fall 2015. As my brother said, college is what you make of it, and the Mac men’s soccer team is making the most of our time together.

 2014 Macalester Men’s Soccer Team
Soccer has also helped me tremendously with time management skills. During the season we play six days a week, so we have to balance our work on the field with our classwork. The busy schedule actually helps me stay on task and carve out time for other interests. I am studying both English and biology, a perfect path for a liberal arts student. I am learning two very different approaches to processing and applying information, which I really enjoy.

Here’s Patricia Baehler’s 18th Century British Literature Class after we practiced writing letters with quill pens and ink.
Macalester has so many great opportunities for sports, volunteering, art, internships, iand student organizations, which means it’s really up to each individual how involved he or she will be. The Macalester community is filled with people who have a broad range of interests, and it’s a place where participating in eclectic hobbies and activities is celebrated. Ours is a community that allows everyone to make the most out of college.

Austin Burrows ’17, 

Roseville, CA

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Musings on Friendship at Macalester

When I first visited Macalester, on a Fall Sampler Day in 2013, I attended a student panel in which five students talked pretty openly about their lives at Mac. I got the sense that Mac was a place of diverse interests, social/political awareness, and acceptance, so I applied Early Decision, and was happy to get in for those reasons. Of course, I was right about all of them.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that, as important as all of my considerations were, the most valuable factor in my college experience would be friendship. This sounds like a no-brainer—the people make the place, after all—but I didn’t worry too much about making friends. I assumed it would happen, but didn’t really think about how the people I met would change me. So far, friendship at Mac has been full of pleasant surprises; I’ve learned so much about myself because of it, and I have become a happier human being.

From left to right: Bridget, Sarah, Claire, and Andrew singing an impromptu version of Taylor Swift’s “Forever and Always.” I’m not a big Taylor Swift fan, but this was too sweet not to share.

I made a lot of friends within just my first few weeks at Macalester. Most of the friends I have today are people who lived on my floor that first year in Dupre, one of the three residence halls available to first-years. Quite a few of them shared a first-year course and had met that way; others, like me, did not have a residential FYC. One day I joined the big group of laughing kids gathered in the floor lounge, and the rest is history.

Although I had some friends at my high school, I never quite felt like I fit in. At Macalester people are kind and want to like one another, and my circle is considerably wider here than it was in high school. So much of what makes my friends my friends isn’t about common interests, such as liking the same TV shows or having the same worldly ambitions (though those things don’t hurt, either). Instead, they’ve become my friends because they are kind, fun-loving people with tremendous senses of humor. We take care of each other and affectionately mock each other. They are my fellow armchair philosophers, overflowing with big thoughts about the world, as well as fodder for jokes about its minutia.

From left to right: Sarah, Thali, and Sean. Thali chose to pose with his eyes closed. Sarah and Sean, mired in chemistry homework, were grateful for the distraction.

I’ve really enjoyed my classes, and have had a lot of fun in the orgs (a.k.a. clubs) I’ve joined, but living with all of my friends will probably be what I miss the most when I return to New York this summer. (However, a lot of my new friends live near me, so I hope we’ll hang out.) When I move into a new dorm this coming fall, I know I’ll miss the days when we all gathered in the Dupre 4 lounge.

Me (right) and my friend Mikayla in the locker room at the Leonard Center, taking fitness seriously.

At Macalester, people really do care about ideas. Don’t get me wrong about that. We have strong social and political convictions. We challenge and argue with each other. We are excited to learn. But everyone should have a safe space to relax, to rest unchallenged for a few moments, to feel that the connections they make are not conditional on a constant sharpening of their intellects—to feel cared for, and even loved. Macalester provides many of these spaces. I’ve seen students make those connections among themselves, and I have been one of those students. It may be a standard part of the Mac experience, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel immensely lucky—both that I have these friends, and that I get to be at Mac.

—M.L. Kenney ‘18, Queens, N.Y.