Friday, April 18, 2014

Swing Dance at Mac

When Peter Strom, the winner of the American Lindy Hop Championships, came to Macalester to teach a class, we were more than a little surprised that the first thing he did was let his partner lead. Here was this 6-foot-5-inch man, nationally renowned in swing dance, being whirled around the Kagin Ballroom by a girl half his size. Then he said, “So as you can see, it doesn’t matter if the person leading is a guy or a girl, but someone has to lead. When you’re driving a car, does everyone get a steering wheel? No! That does not work.” The whole room laughed.

My friends and I before a 40s-themed swing dance in a World War II
airplane hangar, fall 2012.
That was my first lesson in the Lindy Hop, an energetic swing dance that has stuck around since the 1940s. I was hooked. That night, I swore I would find a way to get to his Wednesday night lessons in Uptown Minneapolis. I never did, because as a guitarist, songwriter, org leader, and a cappella singer, there were always music rehearsals to attend. But, Macalester being the flexible, friendly, and event-filled place that it is, I found other ways to explore this dance.

Every Monday night, the junior and senior leaders of the group went to Rhythm Junction, the most happening Lindy Hop venue in the Twin Cities. I started getting ahead on my homework each weekend so I could tag along. Having taken just enough Jump n Jive lessons to know the basic steps, I vowed to learn the rest on the Rhythm Junction dancefloor. It wasn’t the easiest way to learn, or the most graceful. Believe me, I stepped on more toes than I care to admit.

Whipping out some swing dance moves at Winter Ball
Maybe I was too bold for my own good. I knew I was going to botch more turns, swivels, and swingouts than anyone else in that room full of seasoned Lindy Hoppers. But I never let that stop me from asking guys to dance. “I’m still learning,” I would just say to my partners with a smile. “So sometimes I get confused.” One semi-pro, who had every right to critique my flailing footwork, just smiled right back and said, “I’ve never seen someone have so much fun being confused.”

So there you go. When you love something so much that you’ll willingly make a fool of yourself to get better at it, you probably shouldn’t stop. Without Mac Jump n Jive, and its leaders who took me under their wing, I’d probably still be plotting how to get to my second lesson.

Practicing in Wallace Lounge. Knowing how to
 lead can come in handy!
My friends caught the bug too. Our sophomore year, we would move all the furniture in the Wallace dorm lounge so we could practice new moves. I’m a senior now, and although Mac Jump n Jive doesn’t formally exist as a student org anymore, my friends and I carry on the mission of the group: to get people out dancing in the Twin Cities. Yes, we are “those people” who will dress to the nines in 40s fashion, pile into my car, and go to Saturday night sock hops. We’ve danced everywhere from Minneapolis dive bars to nearby Universities like St. Thomas, Hamline, and St. Kate’s. We’ve even been to a dance held in a World War Two airplane hangar, complete with a live Big Band. I took Peter Strom’s advice and learned to lead as well as follow, since I wanted to know what it was like to“steer the car.“

As it turns out, I will be staying in the Twin Cities after I graduate this May. I am so glad that I can continue to be a part of the vibrant swing dance community here. And I plan to finally take Peter Strom’s lessons in Uptown.

- Andrea Wilhelmi '14

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Finding That Perfect Roommate!

Hi my name is Alysia. I like long walks on the beach, *NSYNC, rom-coms, and anything with Morgan Freeman. Okay, I’m joking—well kind of. But finding your perfect roommate match is a bit like Internet dating. You have to ask all those important questions, such as, “How clean/ neat are you?” “What time do you go to bed?” and “Which way do you pronounce gif?” so that you ensure that your lives together won’t be one big conflict.

You want someone who is like you smart, clever, attractive, the full package— but also different enough so you won’t hate him or her by the end of the year. This can be hard because we tend to think rooming with our friends is a great way to go. “I mean we’re best friends! We’ll get along beautifully! We spend everyday together anyway.” Exactly, you spend every day together.

When you don’t live with your friends you have a place to escape all the drama at the end of the day. If you live with a friend, that escape is lost. Now you’re spending most of your day, and night, with the same person. It may make your friendship 100 times stronger, but even so, you won’t really meet all the amazing people this campus has to offer because you’ve become comfortable with the same core group of friends.

On the other hand, spending everyday together could amplify all those little quirks you never really liked about your friend. Next thing you know you’re spending less time together during the day because you just can’t take spending 24-7 together. Neither instance leads to a failed friendship, but rooming with a close friend can definitely change the dynamic.

Instead, your best bet is to find an acquaintance similar to you but possessing all the qualities you wish you had. These acquaintances are most likely not hanging around you all day, so you can come home to new conversation, new points of view, and a new friendship dynamic.

To give a you solid example, I’m a hermit. Staying in my room watching Netflix, scrolling through Tumblr, and listening to music is a good time to me. However, I’ve heard that’s not how you’re supposed to live your life, so I chose a roommate who likes to do things off campus and visit new places. I still get on Tumblr and watch Netflix, but now I also get to go do things with her and her friends on weekends and evenings. I’ve been able to balance my daytime life with my home life and push myself to do things I wasn’t doing before.

One of the greatest aspects about living with a roommate is creating a home dynamic with them. There are things you do in public and there are things you do at home. Keeping these things separate allows you to feel like you’re actually going home at night and not just sleeping in your locker.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Second Year, Still Full of Firsts

Here I am, almost halfway through my college career, feeling remarkably self-assured. I’ve officially declared a major, I’ve been approved to study abroad next semester, and I’ve managed to maintain my sanity as a dual-sport college athlete. However, as I write this blog post on the flight back from the water polo spring break training trip, I feel obligated to admit that I still have much to see, do, and understand. As a matter of fact, this trip confirmed my cluelessness.

I spent this spring break the same way I spent last year’s: with the water polo team, between two coasts, in four different beds, and playing 11 water polo matches. When my team left the Leonard Center a week and a half ago, I expected our trip to be uneventful. I definitely did not expect to spend 11 days relearning a lesson that Macalester never fails to teach me—that I still have much left to see and do in this beautiful world. 

I quickly became wrapped up in delight over all of the “firsts” that I encountered on this year’s trip. This tournament was my first visit to Utica, New York. More importantly, it was the first time I had experienced good barbecue above the Mason-Dixon line.
How else would we pose for a team picture at Dinosaur BBQ?

As a native Marylander, I don’t claim to be from the Deep South, but I do know good barbecue when I taste it. Let me tell you, Dinosaur BBQ (in Syracuse, N.Y., of all places!) was definitely up to snuff. 

That’s my “up to snuff” face.
Then, following a cross-country flight, I arrived in Northern California for the first time. There I got to spend one night with my teammate’s family. I tried bubble tea for the first time. I rode in a convertible for the first time. And get this: I picked an ORANGE right off a TREE.

This is me containing my excitement.

Maybe it’s because of my East Coast upbringing, but that had never even crossed my mind as something that people actually do. I mean, obviously oranges come from somewhere, but I had always envisioned some mythical land of citrus. I was clearly wrong, because Maggie’s family had their own orange tree in the backyard, and they were kind enough to let me pick one (or three). After we left Maggie’s house, the team spent a little time exploring San Francisco. We definitely made time to see the Golden Gate Bridge; we heard it was a pretty famous landmark.

Me, in front of the BRB (Big Red Bridge)

That evening we flew to Los Angeles for the final leg of our trip. Between our remaining games, we managed to find some time for trips to the beach and Hollywood. 

The famous Hollywood smudge

The beautiful Corona del Mar beach

We made it to the last day!
After we finished our last game, our coach treated us to s’mores and a bonfire on the beach. The whole team gathered around the fire, laughing, singing, dancing, and enjoying our last California night. All of a sudden I realized another first: my first sunset over the ocean. It seemed a fitting way to end a trip full of firsts—with teammates I love, on a beautiful beach.

There is no better form of team bonding
If you check my Facebook profile, you’ll find that my favorite quotation is from Angelina Jolie: “I was just a young woman who realized there was a lot I didn't know about the world. And I wanted to understand.” I think this quote is particularly germane to my trip. I’m not saying that snapping a picture of myself in front of the Golden Gate Bridge has led me to a greater understanding of how the world works. Honestly, it was incredibly humbling to realize it took me 19 years to see just one iconic landmark that some people see every day of their lives.

Despite everything I’ve figured out so far in college, my spring break trip confirmed that I am still clueless in the best possible way. My classes all remain challenging, my knowledge of the Minneapolis/St. Paul transit system is still a little shaky, and my first time picking an orange was just a week ago. I think it’s pretty clear that I still have many more “firsts” ahead of me

However, I would venture to say that I know almost everything I need to know for right now—even if it’s not much of anything at all.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Fears for my First-Year Course

Our First-Year course

I didn’t get my top-ranked first-year course. Or my second. Or even my third. I ended up in my very last choice class: Introduction to Islam. The description sounded fine, but I just wasn’t thrilled about this class. During Orientation I plastered on a smile when people asked what first-year course I was in, feeling a bit of dread as everyone else spoke with enthusiasm about their classes.

Introduction to Islam was a nonresidential first-year course, so I hadn’t had much casual interaction with any of my classmates. We met with our class during Orientation, and I sat down quietly. We all introduced ourselves, and then our professor talked about the course, himself, and college in general. I left without talking to anyone and resigned myself to taking a class I would just have to endure.
With that attitude, I slunk into the classroom on the initial day. The first thing the professor did was recite everyone’s name. I brightened a bit. Obviously he’d put some effort into remembering each person’s name. He smiled a lot and asked questions about things we said—just chatting, but it was such a reassuring gesture. I couldn’t help but like him.

The chit-chat was nice, but I didn’t change my mind about the course until the professor began to lecture. Not only was his presentation filled with extensive details, it was dynamic and interactive. Questions were discussed and answers analyzed. Puns were made. I walked into class thinking, “Please just let this class be over,” and left thinking, “I may be able to enjoy this class.”
By the end of the semester, my thoughts were more along the lines of, “NO WAIT, THE SEMESTER CAN’T END, THIS CLASS MUST GO ON FOREVER AND EVER.” I enjoyed everything about the class. The other people in the course became my friends. We studied and did extracurricular group activities together. The material I thought would be useless ended up fascinating me. For the final paper, I wrote about a topic that I love to ramble on about. (Ask me sometime about Azerbaijan.)

The professor is not only one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, he is also among the kindest, most helpful, and most genuine. The class I thought I would have to endure became one I looked forward to attending every day.

Ironically, plenty of other students ended up having less positive experiences with their first choice classes than I did with my last, often because they didn’t like the subject as much as they thought they would. But you know what? That’s fine too. Better for them to find out right away that they shouldn’t major in that subject.

In the end, very few Macalester students regret the first-year course experience. It’s a chance to try something out, to get a feel for college classes, to meet people you’ll run into in the Campus Center for the next four years. Those who sign up for residential first-year classes get to know their classmates especially well.
As for me? Well, I liked the class so much that when second semester registration came around, I signed up for another class with the same professor on a similar subject. And to top it off, I just declared a concentration in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, something I’d never even considered before taking that first-year course.

Needless to say, I am really, really glad I didn’t end up with my first choice. Or my second. Or my third.
- Ashley '17

I got a little excited for my final paper.  (i.e. the library’s entire collection on Azerbaijan)

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

My Intro to Photo

My name is Yinong Ding. I’m a senior majoring in Economics and Applied Math & Statistics. This semester I am taking a course called Introduction to Digital Photography. I have enjoyed this class a lot so far, partly because I have been interested in photography for a long time, and partly because Professor Eric Carroll teaches us so many cool things about how make photos better.

For the portraits assignment, our first big one, we were required to take pictures of various people, including strangers. The final assignment was to submit four portraits of different individuals—two environmental and two neutral.

When I started to plan this project, I felt that taking pictures of people in sports would be really cool. I decided that Cole Callahan, a friend who is a football player, would be a great subject. He agreed, so we quickly set up a time to meet at the Leonard Center. The photography process took about an hour. Cole was playing basketball, so I tried to capture moments I thought would be visually interesting. Cole was a very cooperative model who would not only agree to whatever weird requests I made, but also tried to think of funny poses himself. 

The photography class has been very fun and I enjoyed working with my friends on this assignment. I consider the black & white photo my best so far. I hope that you like it too.


Monday, March 17, 2014

My First Year...

A favorite study spot in the Library
For high school seniors this is both an exciting and a stressful time of year, as the college process finally starts to wind down toward a single decision. With all the new friends I’ve made and fun times I’ve had in college, I can hardly believe it has only been a year since I was in those shoes myself. As the time for acceptance letters and final spring visits approaches, I thought I’d share some of the things about Mac that I’ve come to love most.

First, in terms of academics, I’ve appreciated the intimate community here at Mac. In fact, it was what most attracted me to the school even during my Spring Sampler visit last April before I’d enrolled. The week before, I had sat in on a cell biology course at a large state school. Since I’m enthusiastic about natural science, the material was certainly interesting to me, but the lecture hall looked more like a large theater than a classroom.

Outside on Kagin Lawn just after the first big snowfall in November
At Mac, I visited a course with comparative subject matter, and the difference was incredible. I sat in the front row of a class of about 15 students and got to ask questions that were thoroughly and clearly answered by both the professor and the student presenter. Since arriving on campus as a student I’ve been struck by how much opportunity there is to seek out academic assistance. Professors are frequently in their offices and eager to help, and then there are student tutors and even librarians assigned to help with research projects. Simply put, I have never had an assignment where I felt stuck and alone. There is always some way to find help on campus, even if it’s just working collaboratively with other students.

Speaking of other students, I’ve been blessed with new friends from a wide variety of backgrounds. Everyone I meet seems to have a unique passion, both academically and extracurricularly. One of my own passions is baseball, and when I moved in last August I was disappointed not to find any new teammates on my dorm floor. Fortunately, the baseball team members were quick to introduce themselves and make me feel like one of their own, while the tight community on my floor has helped me broaden my horizons and appreciate new things.

My next-door neighbor Talia performing at a poetry slam on campus, Just one of the broad range of talents and passions on my dorm floor
Among my floormates are athletes in ten other sports, four a cappella singers, an African Music Ensemble member, a quiz bowl competitor, and a slam poet, just to name a few. Living so close to my peers has allowed me to form great friendships with them, which motivates me to attend their games, concerts, and other events to support them and their hard work. Being thrust into a community whose members have such varied interests has been a great learning experience for me.

Macalester is unique in being a liberal arts school in the middle of a large urban area, which was definitely a draw for me. The advantage of such a city location is that there is something for everyone to enjoy. The theater scene is one of the best in the nation, and includes the world renowned Guthrie Theatre. Art and architecture fans can marvel at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Walker Art Center, and the beautiful buildings of Summit Avenue, the  St. Paul Cathedral, and the Minnesota State Capitol.

The cities also have done a  good job of preserving their natural beauty. You don’t have to go far to find a walk that will lead you through woods and past waterfalls, along rivers and quiet lakes. Then there are the four major league sports teams in town, and the fantastic network of bike trails, which I’ve often explored alone or with friends. Plus, the convenient and easy-to-use bus system makes it easy to see the Twin Cities without a car.

Over my first year I’ve found Macalester to be an extraordinary place, with excellent opportunities to learn and get involved on campus, paired with a vibrant and easily accessible urban environment. I am excited to meet prospective students at Mac’s spring samplers and show them my school in person, and I wish them the best of luck as admissions decisions are sent and they move towards their final decision of where to spend the next four years.

—Dan K. ’17 (Flossmoor, Illinois)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Dalai Lama At Macalester

This morning all my social media feeds are full of photos of His Holiness the Dalai Lama wearing his usual monastic robes—plus a blue Macalester baseball cap. Yesterday, President Rosenberg and Provost Kathleen Murray presented the Dalai Lama with an honorary degree, along with the hat, which he gladly wore throughout his lecture to 3,500 students, staff, and faculty.

Saturday, His Holiness attended the Nobel Peace Prize forum in Minneapolis. The idea that he agreed to spend the next afternoon with us makes me smile. Before his talk to the entire community, he held a private audience with the neuroscience capstone class. The Dalai Lama has a special interest in looking at how Western science is similar to Buddhist philosophy, and more generally, how science and compassion might develop in harmony. He sees this harmony as the key to a nonviolent 21st century. And, he wants us, the world’s young students, to make this happen. “I really feel that you are the shaping force of a new world,” says His Holiness. 

His talk was, above all, a call to action for all young people. Yes, when His Holiness walked onstage, the room fell into one of the deepest silences I’ve ever heard. Yes, just the sound of his laugh delighted the audience into laughter. But the afternoon was about more than just the starstruck awe of having a world leader in our midst. I walked away with the sense that I truly could be the change the Dalai Lama was calling for. Even though I’m not a neuroscience major or a Buddhist philosopher, I can unite ethics with education and compassion with global consciousness. 

Students created a number of pre-visit events to share what they knew about His Holiness’s historical and political context. In this way we helped each other get the most out of the Dalai Lama’s talk. My friend Sarah Fleming, who attended Emory University’s Mind/Body Sciences program in Dharamsala, held an informal discussion group at her house. Sarah knew that the Dalai Lama’s address to the Macalester community would probably concern his vision for Mind/Body Sciences, which investigates the link between Buddhist practices of compassion and better medical treatment. 

Relaxing on Sarah’s couch, our winter gear piled by the front door, we students—who came from many different spiritual and political groups on campus—pieced together the history of the Tibetan conflict. Along the way we learned a lot from Sarah—including that the Dalai Lama’s monks enjoy a good debate, a game of badminton, and Facebook—but we brought our own diverse perspectives as well.

Sarah and Izzi Speer, who was also on the Emory exchange program, also spoke on a discussion panel hosted by the college’s Center for Religious and Spiritual Life (CRSL). Other panel members included Emily Wade, who spent a semester in Dharamsala working with the Tibetan Nuns project, and the co-chairs of Students for a Free Tibet. Religious Studies Professor Erik Davis, whose Introduction to Buddhism is always one of the first courses to fill up each year, shared some thoughts about the pairing of Western science with Buddhist philosophy. He encouraged us to remember that this juxtaposition has a rich history, going back as far as the Enlightenment. 

This discussion was standing-room only, which is one of the things I love about the Macalester community. In our busy lives, with midterms closing in, it would be easy to just go hear the famous person speak and skip the rest. But my fellow students consistently make time for these extra learning opportunities, determined to wring all they can out of any potential learning experience. 

When we show our families pictures of His Holiness wearing our school’s baseball cap, we won’t just get to say that we were there. We’ll get to say we made it count. 

Andrea Wilhelmi '14