Showing posts with label Collin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Collin. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Ngingumfundi eKwaZulu-Natal (I am a student in KwaZulu-Natal)

Sanibona! This is Collin, coming to you from Durban, South Africa.

A little over a month has gone by since I first departed from the United States to begin my semester abroad. Time feels as if it's gone by so quickly, and yet I can't even begin to remember all the amazing experiences that I've already had here in South Africa. I can say one thing for sure, though - an SIT study abroad program is far from the routine day-to-day of college life. Experiential learning is the name of the game here, and it's exactly what I'd hoped it would be.

SIT South Africa is about 20% classroom, 40% site visits, and 40% active field engagement through various projects. To give you an example, my first week here was spent going from Johannesburg to Durban, visiting the Apartheid Museum, touring Soweto, exploring the Constitutional Court, seeing springbok bouncing outside my window, and having a braii each night with our lovable program staff. And that was our slow orientation week. Recently I just finished spending a week in Amatikulu, a rural area in northern South Africa, teaching at a high school while conducting ethnographic research on a local sangoma and learning dlala induku (Zulu stick fighting).

A rural view.

My rural accommodations. The black basin served as my bathtub for the week. There was no need for an alarm clock, as the roosters woke me up each morning.

The rural school where I taught. Ages of the students ranged from early teens to early twenties.

Me attempting dlala induku. Not pictured: me getting whacked in the head a second later.

The only typical class I have right now is my Zulu language class (which I’ve fallen in love with; Ngithanda ukufunda isiZulu kakhulu!) Otherwise my days are either filled with lectures given by a range of experts on the various aspects of South Africa, or our group is out on an excursion. We’ve been all over not only the city of Durban, but a good chunk of the KwaZulu-Natal province.

Students at Saint Mary's all-girls school performing a song for us. The school was a stark contrast from the rural school in terms of the quantity and quality of resources, and in terms of racial demographics.

A very small part of Warwick Junction, an enormous open-air market. You can find anything - and I mean ANYTHING - here. Food? Got it. Clothes? No problem. Animal carcasses for medicines? Too easy. The majority of sellers are women from the rural areas, some of whom may sleep in the junction for days at a time.

This is the South Coast beachfront. South Africa has some of the most incredible beaches I've ever been to - certainly better than any in the U.S., in my opinion. The Indian Ocean water during the summer (from December to March here) is unbelievably warm.

These deer spotted us as we drove through the Amatikulu Game Park. Our group got a chance to see warthogs, elephants, lions, springbok, baboons, and water buffalo while we were there. We also happened to be in the middle of a cyclone, but whatever.

It’s far from a vacation here, though. While I’ve enjoyed every minute of my time so far, our many trips and projects have been exercises in engaging with the social and political intricacies, tensions, and changes that South Africa is experiencing as a democracy just barely out of its diapers. Sometimes these are violent, as in the case of an annual strike by taxi drivers. Other times this manifests in very visible wealth gaps; it isn’t at all uncommon to see a plot of tin shacks fighting to stay standing against the wind while luxurious condominiums and department stores loom but a stone’s throw away. Apartheid law may have come to an end, but the effects of a 46-year-long racist state continue to persist in the form of racialized economic classes, segregated communities, social tensions, and the infrastructure of entire cities. It’s here that the value of this program’s experiential doctrine has truly shined, as I would not have learned nor been affected as much as I have been this past month were I sitting in a classroom all day.

Aside from excursions, the homestays that are integrated into the program have been invaluable. So far I have stayed with a family in Amatikulu, and am currently living with a different family in Cato Manor, a township in Durban. My Cato Manor baba (father) has told me story after story about his life during the apartheid years, pointing to the various areas that were designated for Indian or Black housing and recounting the difficulties of raising a large family under a racist regime. My mama is fond of cooking and watching movies with Jackie Chan, the latter of which we have bonded over quite seamlessly. I’ve only just begun to stretch my stomach enough to handle the portion sizes that she serves for dinner each night. The fact that our Indian neighbors insist that I eat with them beforehand every other night hasn’t helped the matter much either, but I’m far from ready to complain.

The view of Cato Manor from the backyard of my family's home. To the left is an Indian family who I spend time with every day. Visiting is as simple and informal as hopping down into their yard, not but a foot away.

Despite each day being filled with a bustle of pre-planned activity, I’ve still had the time to explore Durban on my own initiative. Among my favorite places are Cool Runnings, a tavern that features a large drum circle every Thursday; the maze of streets snaking through Cato Manor; the Sun Coast beachfront; and the bovine area of Warwick Junction, where you can buy freshly-chopped cow cheek to eat (picture below).

Just to the left, out of sight, was an elderly woman hacking away at a cow's head with a butcher's knife. The best way to know it's fresh is to see it being made, I suppose. You just have to watch out for the occasional brain splatter.

Additionally, the University of KwaZulu-Natal is quite visible from the SIT building, perched atop a hill and overlooking much of Cato Manor. Every Wednesday night, the University features jazz musicians from all over. Just two weeks ago, I had the fortune to hear a jazz guitarist from Mozambique play a few of his own original mixes. My plan, originally, was to tape these and post them onto Youtube. However, because the bandwidth here is incredibly limited, I was only able to eek out a short segment. Nonetheless it’s a good taste of what the night held.

I haven’t even scratched the surface of everything that’s gone on here, but to explain it all would take at least a book or two. As for what’s in store next, I can say that I’m looking forward to our third and final homestay in Newlands, a neighborhood predominantly of Indian and Coloured families. I and other students have also begun focusing the topics for our Independent Study Projects, which will fill up the entirety of April. For that month, students are in charge of securing their own accommodations and finding their way through the city, meaning all of our excursions have had the added benefit of getting us comfortable with Durban. While video blogs may be out of the question given the limited internet, I plan to make a few more blog posts while I’m still in South Africa. One thing is for sure, though: nothing can do a study abroad experience justice short of experiencing it yourself. It’s something no one, no matter their major or travel history, should miss out on if the opportunity is there.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Asian Festival

It's hard to believe that I've been attending for Macalester for nearly two years.

But what's even more unbelievable is that I'm still discovering events that routinely occur on campus.

Take, for instance, the Asian Festival. An annual celebration, the festival celebrates the cultures of China, Japan, India, Korea, and many more countries. This year was the first I'd heard of it, and subsequently the first time I had participated in it.

Link to photos of the event:

The festivities ranged from dances

to song

language exhibitions

martial arts demonstrations

and donations for earthquake relief in Japan

You needn't hail from any nationality of Asia to come and watch or participate, nor do you need to know anything about Asian cultures. The Asian Festival is as much a place to celebrate as it is to learn. Who knows? You may even be inspired to study something further, and could even find your true calling!

Maybe a little dramatic, but nonetheless it's true that you can find your passions and your interests at the most unexpected times and in the most unexpected of places. However, even the casual observer or a little curiosity is more than enough to warrant checking out the Asian Festival, or really any event that Macalester hosts.

I personally enjoyed being able to bring not just a show of TaeKwonDo techniques to the festival, but also information on its background, philosophies, and various cultural aspects. It was especially a treat to see professors and staff at the event, sharing in the experience with students. Perhaps one thing I take for granted at this school is how very interconnected you can become with everyone - even your teachers and deans - by way of these events, and through an environment so conducive to interaction through its small community.

Learning about your fellow Mac amigos can be as interesting or more interesting than what you learn in class or what lectures you attend. For instance, maybe that professor of yours who's about as book-smart as they come could also tell you about their karate experience gained during graduate school (true story, by the way). You never know just how or when you'll connect with someone, but it stands to reason that the more opportunities you give yourself in this endeavor, the more likely it will become.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Thinking Bigger

It's been a while since I've last posted, and heavens forbid I fall behind! You may believe (and I may want you to believe) that I've been too busy to do so, but I can't really say I haven't had a good half hour to sit down and crank something out. The problem, however, was figuring out WHAT to write.

I could give out more advice. Goodness knows I've done plenty of that in my previous posts here (check 'em out!). Over the last couple of years, I've come to deep revelations and had to rethink a lot of what I knew, or thought I knew, about myself. College just seems to do that to you.

Today, I was hit by another realization. On my way to my dorm room, after having sent, received, and re-sent hundreds of e-mails, I discovered that what I had been doing outside the classroom these past few days had felt more fulfilling to me than anything I'd done in it. I felt happier, almost, while trekking through the cold, having just chased down Macalester reservations staff, Health and Wellness employees, Athletics personnel, and everyone in-between.

While I had at first looked at organizing both a self-defense seminar and Capoeira classes as a chore, or maybe some twisted character-building, I instead found that I was enjoying the process. I enjoyed opening lines of communication between different departments on campus, working with the college's resources and my own to begin pulling together these two events. I felt a sense of accomplishment, despite the process still being underway, because I had taken initiative and, with the help of our esteemed MMAC president, was bringing a newness, an addition, to this place that would not have been here otherwise (however small they may be).

This isn't to say that what happens in the classroom, or what the professor assigns, can't be rewarding or worthwhile. But I've begun to reflect on my own advice over this past year, and now realize that I can put truth to previously tenuous claims. What as a first-year I thought was the right way I can now, more assuredly, confirm.

Classes are important. But really, truly, it's what you can do outside the classroom that inspires creativity, initiative, and lets you pursue your passions. After all, I can't major in martial arts here (though I do hope someone more ambitious than I can change that), but I can engage in that interest outside of class. I'm working to bring Capoeira to Macalester. Who knows what I could do next year (maybe Kung Fu...)?

When I say: "Pursue your interests here," I don't mean just look for your favorite major. Don't limit yourself to interesting classes, student orgs, choir, etc. There are greater rewards out there than just an 'A', so be bold! Take your passion for magic, sculpting, jazz, parkour, dancing, or whatever, and MAKE something out of it! Something that isn't already here, something that YOU think is missing. Open it up to the whole community; create a project or a class, a major or a school-wide event! Hell, take it city-wide! Think unconventional, think daring.

But most of all...think BIG!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Stress relief

So, as finals roll on, it's important to know what keeps the stress down. High stress equals low productivity. Of course, if you feel that you're more productive while stressed, then you just need to worry about the depression and the heart disease. Either way, doing something that you love can be a great recharger and prepares you to get back into the grind of studies and papers.

Take, for example, the Martial Arts Club's approach.

Pictured: stress relief.

Other people prefer movies, or an episode from a beloved T.V. show. You could try boardgames, a jog (the 9 degree weather is invigorating, to say the least), or writing. Even when it doesn't feel as if you have the time, an hour break can give you that crucial boost in energy. You may find that you're exponentially more productive, and your work will get done faster than you could have imagined.

Macalester also does its best to provide for its students in this time of stress. Dog Day, for instance, is set for tomorrow. What better therapy is there than a cute, furry animal to pet? There's also a midnight breakfast next Tuesday for the late-night grinds. And throughout these last couple of weeks, The Daily Piper (Macalester's campus news via e-mail) has included a "Put Stress on Pause" series that has provided some funny videos and websites.

A personal favorite:

Cute. Furry. Animals.

There's no sense making finals any more difficult. So take advantage of the little things Macalester provides for you, or find your own thing. Everyone deserves a break, after all.

Seriously, this helps.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Your favorite prof

As a shameless plug for this:

Scots on the Spot: Who's Your Favorite Professor?

and because we (the bloggers) have only had one question posed to us so far, I am going to ask my fellow comrades in blogging:

Who is your favorite professor?

You can pick someone because they're funny, quirky, intelligent, inspirational... It can be because of a certain class they taught, etc. You can even have more than one favorite prof, if you so choose.

As for me, it's gotta be Prof. Karin Aguilar-San Juan.

Bask in her glory.

One of the many things I've learned from her is that professors, by and large, are very approachable. They can be terrifying at first (she used to break people's bones, and perhaps still does), but take a chance to chat with them and you'll find they're a lot of fun. Karin certainly isn't the stuffy, disagreeable professor stereotype; she cares a great deal about her students and will go the extra mile to help them succeed in class.

One thing she does so well is have her students think about and do things in very different ways than the typical essay or exam. One project was for her Problem of Race in U.S. Social Thought and Policy class, in which she had groups of students go out to University Avenue and explore the area. The assignment took us through Hmong shops, cultural organizations, businesses, and even the capital itself. It was up to the students to ask the questions, and interpret what they saw, heard, and felt. At the end of the day I'd learned more about the city, myself, and concepts of race, livelihood, and general day-to-day life than I ever could have by writing a 10-page essay.

And did I mention she can break people's bones? That's despite her Ph.D.

Artist's rendition.

So fellow bloggers...who is your favorite prof?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Welcome to Cabaret!

Macalester has a nasty habit of hosting more events than a person can go to. It doesn't help that they're all interesting... Luckily here are some things that hold a higher plane of "must-see"-ness than others. One such event is Cabaret, a theater production directed by Professor Harry Waters, Jr.

Working together with the Music department, Macalester has been able to host this incredible show. Here's just a sample of what to expect.

The music is stellar. The acting is incredible. The four-hour and seven-hour rehearsals seem to have paid off, as even "minor" roles are so involved and fun to watch. In Cabaret you might expect there to be a focal point of action (and there is), but there's also a huge amount of action on the fringes. Everyone has a skill for acting that's certainly made me more inclined to take an acting and performance class.

Comedy, singing, dancing, drama and Nazis; this show has it all. These are the kinds of events you'll find most Macalester students, even the lethargic ones, going to. It's the kind of break you need, and the kind of fun you've earned.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Study Abroad (the search)

Study abroad is to college as that trip you took to Washington D.C. is to high school. If you're an international student, maybe there's a better analogy, but the idea is that study abroad is something that you REALLY don't want to skimp out on.

...or at least, I assume so. Right now I'm beginning the wonderfully wonderful process of applying to study abroad programs and hoping for Macalester's approval of my choice. It's already been many an hour of me reading over document after document after page after page of rules, regulations, and requirements.

Nonetheless, it's an exciting prospect. For some majors, like Anthropology or International Studies, studying abroad for one semester is required. But even for people who don't need to study abroad to graduate, it seems a waste of a good opportunity to not go.

What does study abroad give you that travel on your own can not? For one thing, a little structure. To some that may not sound appealing, but some structure (not complete and total authoritarian structure) can help you to get things done and have some experiences that few others can (like homestays, visits to sites, visits to different organizations, and specialized classes). Often times you'll do service learning, or conduct an independent study project. And all of this is facilitated by the program that accepts you, meaning you can focus more on seeing the sights.

You also get a chance to reflect on an almost daily basis with your peers from the U.S., something a trip conducted alone does not provide for. This seems like it would be especially important in places so drastically different from home, like (for me) areas in Africa or Latin America. If anything, you can look at studying abroad as guided touring, but less stringent in your overall path. You can explore a whole new world with some tips and pointers, but in essence it's your experience to have.

Be prepared sophomore year to think about where you want to go. This doesn't mean you have to have a city map charted out; you can settle for deciding on a country. From there you can peruse different organization websites (SIT, ACM, CIEE...) and see what program you like best. It makes narrowing things down a lot easier...

...but no less stressful.

Friday, October 22, 2010

¡Más música!

OK, so I'll finally cave and talk about my favorite music.

I can never decide what "kind" I like. There's always at least one song from every genre that I'll like, but I will say that I did not know I could enjoy rap until I came here.

For the most part, though, I've always enjoyed listening to metal and hard rock. Apocalytpica is great, as are Avenged Sevenfold and Kamelot. I've also been listening to Kansas a lot; for this past month the song I've listened to the most is Carry on Wayward Son. This may or may not be because I'm such a ridiculously huge Supernatural fan. From Kamelot, I've listened to The Elysium.

For the most part, I can thank our very own Macalester radio program for my new infatuation with Apocalyptica. WMCN 91.7fm features student-run radio programs everyday at nearly every hour. "Metal and Mystery" is the creation of two very good friends of mine, the "Metal Madams", who run the show from 8:00p.m. - 10:00p.m. every Tuesday.

Tune in to see what I mean!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Biden comes to Macalester!

All right, so I know that the Orange has posted a question for us, but I'm going to be a rebel and talk about something else - something really cool. I'm not usually one to skip class. In fact, this week was the first time I ever have, but I've got to say it was worth it. Why? Because this last Tuesday, Mac was the site of a democratic political rally featuring such celebrities as Al Franken and our very own Vice President, Joe Biden.

Yep. Joe Biden.

This guy.

Shockingly enough, I've never been to a political rally before. The event was held to support Mark Dayton, who is running to become Minnesota's governor. Even more shockingly is that I wasn't aware of this; I'd just heard that Biden would be speaking and, well, how could I miss out?

Now, aside from the way-too-expected slogan of "Republicans are this, that, and this while we, the Democrats, are so much better" (which is not unique only to the Democratic Party), Biden presented his views on the economy - particularly how the poor state of affairs would be affecting college students like us. He spoke at length about his own experiences of putting his children through college, of the heavy costs involved. This, by far, was my favorite part of his speech. While the political promise was nice, I found his stories on being a father to be the most sincere.

He'd said how the longest walk a parent could ever take was up a stairway and to their child's bedroom, to tell them that they would not be going to college anymore because of the tuition was too high or their debt was too large. Politically motivated or not, it's stories like that, garnered from life experience, that really ring true for me.

Oh, and there are some more photos I took:

They sang.

Potential Minnesota governor, Mark Dayton.

Big sign.

Minnesota state senator, Al Franken.

The man himself.

The man's face.

Friday, October 1, 2010

An Average Day

You know, I've been wracking my brain for a topic, and it finally came to me that, as a prospective student, you know very little about the day-to-day schedule of a college student. So I've decided to give you all a snapshot of some typical days for me.

I can't say that I'm the "average Macalester student", whatever that is. But hopefully this can give you an idea of what to expect when you begin college for the first time.

Monday's are my busiest day. I have an 8:30a.m.-9:30a.m. Spanish class, followed by Social Psychology from 9:40a.m.-10:40a.m. From 10:50a.m.-11:50a.m. I come to work here, at the Communications and PR Department, before grabbing some lunch. From 1:00p.m.-5:00p.m. I'm going through metro transit and conducting an ethnographic interview with my informant. Once I return I get some dinner, then begin to do my homework (usually transcribing notes from my interviews) until 7:00. From 7 to 9 I go to Capoeira class. Afterwards I continue transcribing until either midnight or (if need be) I'm too tired to continue.

Tuesdays are much more low-key. I have Ethnographic Interviewing from 9:40a.m.-11:10a.m., then work from 11:20a.m.-12:20p.m. After lunch, I go to my Human Rights class from 1:20p.m.-2:50p.m. Once that's finished I usually end up doing homework until around 11 at night.

Wednesdays are very busy for me. I have Spanish and Social Psych again, work and lunch, then work again until 2:00p.m. From 2:20p.m.-3:20p.m. I have my spanish conversation lab. I grab dinner at 5, then head to Weapons class at 5:45. At 7 I have a 2 credit class that goes until 9.

Thursdays are exactly like Tuesdays, but with Amnesty International club thrown in from 9:00p.m.-10:00p.m.

Fridays I have my Spanish and Psych classes, work until 3:00, and then Brazilian Jiu-jitsu class from 4:30-6:00.

The weekend is always different. Consistently I'll teach my TaeKwonDo class on Saturday and try to get to the sparring class on Sunday. And of course there's homework.

So that's a typical week for me, excluding any events I might go to, any breaks I may take (and studying I may put off), and any friends I might go visit. Even with all this scheduling, every week ends up being so different that no two seem to be the same. This is mostly because of all the different events that Macalester has to offer and that I frequently attend.

Again, I don't know if I'm a typical Macalester student. Some people may have a job, some people may be involved in many or few clubs. Finding out your schedule, what you're comfortable with and what you can manage, is part of the whole college process. Take heart that others will be experimenting, scrambling, and trying to figure things out along with you, even if they don't show it. =)

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Thank You to Kao Kalia Yang

College is a time of opportunities; or so say all the brochures, magazines, books, and faculty of and about the world of higher education. But what are these things - "opportunities?" Will we know them when we see them? What do they look like and what can they do for us?

Truthfully, I had never really even considered what a college "opportunity" was. My assumption was that I was getting something special simply by living away from home, learning what I wanted to learn, and being promised better job opportunities after graduation. Essentially, college is putting me on the "right" track to a productive life. Exactly what a B.A. is supposed to do, right?

Not until yesterday, really, had I begun to re-think this idea of "opportunities." Because not until yesterday was I given an opportunity that I never would have imagined possible, nor an experience that I will ever forget. The chance to sit down with Kao Kalia Yang, author of The Latehomecomer, and to interview her will remain not just a highlight of my college years, but of my life.

Some of you may know that The Latehomecomer was the class of 2014's reading for this year's Common Read. Her book is a memoir of her life and the lives of her family members as Hmong refugees fleeing Laos and Thailand, trying to make a life in America. After reading this book, I expected to meet a woman eight feet tall and desensitized after a life of hardship.

So expect my surprise to meet someone shorter than I, speaking in a voice that sounded on the cusp of tears (at first I thought of sorrow, but now I believe they would be tears of joy). Yes, this is an opportunity that Macalester gave me: to meet someone who I'd met through the pages of her book. To meet someone I've looked up to and admired ever since I read her story. Are these not the kinds of opportunities that college gives you?

No, they're not. You don't meet famous or amazing people only in college. Those aren't the opportunities that I see college as giving its students. So what are they, then?

I would have had a completely different answer twenty-four hours ago. Before meeting Kalia, I doubt I would have really stopped to even wonder. She asked me the questions that I should have been asking myself. The interview may have been about her, but I'm the one that walked away a changed person. She has done exactly what she said: "I want to make memories with others. I want to write on the fabric of their being."

Put simply, college offers you the chance (and in some ways, forces you) to be vulnerable.

Throughout my life I've constantly been exposed to the idea that we are individuals, friends and family to others, but ultimately alone. We are born alone and we die alone, so the best way to live life is to protect yourself. To protect your heart. To save yourself from pain.

And then I spoke to Kalia, and she told me more about herself than any stranger ever would. She told me how she cherishes her vulnerability, how she opens her heart up to people, and let me see the world through her eyes and her words. And I asked myself: why would anyone cherish their vulnerability? Was was the point of opening yourself up and risking your well-being?

The answer, simply, is to grow. Kalia opens her heart to everyone she meets. She said to me that she wants more people to be able to share their hearts with one another, and asks how she can expect such a thing without doing likewise. She is genuine in her feelings. The story of her family's hardships have brought tears to her eyes, yet she continues to speak to others about these things, these traumatic and emotional events. And from meeting her, from speaking with her, I feel that I've changed, that I finally know what the opportunity is that college, that Macalester, presents us. It allows us to open our heart, to risk ourselves, in order to grow.

I feel that I've changed for the better because of how difficult of a change college has been, and still is, for me. I can no longer see my family every day, nor any of my friends back in Nebraska. I'm confronted with the questions of whether or not I'll have a job after I graduate, if I'll be able to get into Grad School, if I'm truly going to be able to meet my goals in life. When you take a risk, there's always the chance of failure. But I know (in the words of Professor Marlon James) that I would rather "aim high and miss" than "aim low and hit."

Now I'm learning to cherish my vulnerability. I cherish being able to meet so many new people here and risk rejection or disappointment. I cherish the classes that make me work harder than I ever have before. I cherish doing things that scare me, that I fear. Vulnerability is how I will grow. Opening my heart is how I will, in turn, connect with the hearts of others. Even if it causes me great pain, I don't want to miss out on all that is life and the people who constitute it.

So what are the "opportunities" of college? What can you do here that you can't do anywhere else?

You can do everything. You can meet everyone. You can overload yourself with work, with activities. You can go with friends to a concert or movie at 3:00 a.m. on a Monday. You can go without sleep, share stories that no one else knows, date someone who's way out of your league. You can open your heart to so many new things because they're all here, on one campus, in the places and the people. You can cherish your vulnerability, the fear and the risks of the unknown, and embrace every experience - good or bad - to grow.

So maybe you feel homesick. Maybe you had a bad break up. Or maybe you're stressing out over your future. Take heart that these are the kinds of things you should feel, because you're taking a risk that many others can't, or don't want, to make. They're the risks that make us all better, make us stronger, and make us wiser. The risks that Kalia has taken.

While interviewing her, she said that the softness of her voice does not reflect the profundity of her words. And in her soft, almost musical voice, she asked me two questions that gave me more insight into myself than anyone has ever been able to.

I encourage everyone to ask themselves what Kalia asked me, and to answer honestly. Though they're two questions, they are actually two parts of one whole.

Do you know what you want to do professionally?

Do you know what your life work is?

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Nooks and Crannies

After a long summer and two weeks of classes, I'm back to blogging! Yes indeed, for another year I'll be giving you all the advice and fun facts I can about Macalester and what it has to offer you.

Now, usually I would write some grave advice about majors or grades or studying, but I figure I should start out with some helpful advice that's a little more upbeat. So here are the fun little nooks and crannies that I've found around campus, perfect for your work and play needs.

1. Library - Fourth Floor
This is a place for STUDYING. And I don't mean just studying. I mean STUDYING. It's the top floor of the library and is a void of absolute silence. No food, no drinks, and cellphones must be off. For anyone who's dead serious about getting a paper done or finishing some readings, it's nothing short of a windowed vault. But it's not as grim as it sounds either. The quiet can be very nice, not to mention it usually has few people there (and you probably won't notice them anyway). Also, check out the giant face up there.

Yeah. Giant face.

2. Campus Center Cafe - basement
Tucked away next to the Highlander store in the Campus Center basement is something of a cafe. It's equipped with a large T.V., pool tables, a Foosball table, a popcorn maker, and comfy couches. This is a fun place to grab a drink or a bite, relax and have fun, or just sit down and talk. Plus there are occasionally some open mic events down there. Decidedly not the best place to study, but wonderful for everything else.

3. Janet-Wallace Fine Arts Center - Gallery Room
O.K., I'm not sure if that's the official name of the room, but it's pretty easy to spot. Just walk in the front entrance (between the Humanities Building and the Art Building) and you'll see a room with white walls, a statue or two, some plants, and paintings all around. This is a beautiful place that I wish I'd known about sooner. There's a couch in the gallery, so it works wonders as an almost zen-like place to do homework. Just don't fall asleep! (like I've done)

4. Old Main - Fourth Floor
At the top of the Old Main building is something of a lounge, very large and equipped with a butt-load of couches, chairs, and tables. Another good studying place, or somewhere to just escape the general chaos outside. Also, you're near to the Link, which is the bridge connecting Old Main and the library. The Link is open 24 hours and is equipped with tables, lamps, chairs, and vending machines. Very popular for late-night studying sessions or last-minute essays. The only thing it's missing is a bathroom...

5. The Women's and Gender Resource Center and the Info Shop
I'll admit right off the bat that I haven't yet been to either of these two places, so there isn't as much that I can say about them. Located at Kirk, down a set of stairs before you enter the courtyard, you'll find these two places. The Info Shop, I believe, is dedicated to socialist and Marxist literature, and the Women's and Gender Resource Center is aimed more towards subjects pertaining to Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Yet again, a great place to escape and get some reading done. But also check out some of the literature they have; couldn't hurt to increase your socialism repertoire, no?

You'll find your own favorite spots as you explore campus, which I wholeheartedly support. Go out and find any nooks and crannies you can! My friends give me crap for having a bad sense of direction, but there's nothing quite like getting lost somewhere that will let you discover new and wonderful places.

'til next time!

Friday, May 7, 2010

First Year's End

I happened to get my finals done early (I was fortunate enough to have mostly essays), so I thought it only appropriate to have a closing post to end a year's worth of blogging.

I don't have any years to compare this one with (not yet, anyway), so I can only say this: it's tough. A lot of things will be new to you, and you'll have a lot of responsibilities to shoulder. You have tough classes to contend with in addition to being thrown into a completely new environment with a bunch of strangers. Essentially, a lot more pressure and stress than high school.

But just as quickly as this change occurs, so too does every day you're in college go through a change. It's amazing how unstable things can be. One day you could be on top of the world, and the next you could sink no lower. That adds stress onto the already stressful atmosphere of succeeding in college. Yes, Macalester has quite a few stress freaks, as does any college. As much as this school and its students might claim there to be a "laid-back atmosphere" (and there ARE students who are like that), there is a vast quantity of people who flip out if they get anything less than an A-.

There's only a bit of advice I can give you, and I hope it helps as you enter into your first year.

1. Remember what I said: everyday is different and things change quickly. Your identity especially. I've seen people declare themselves economists or mathematicians one day, and the next day they'll be swearing off the subject altogether. Be ready for this by having something stable, be it your job, a sport, a daily walk, etc. College is a process of discovering who you are and who you want to become, so there are bound to be bumps along the way.

2. Don't let stress be your fuel. You may have heard how some people thrive on stress, and that may be true. However it's also an unpleasant way to go through college (and life). And it's not just a burden on you. Your friends here go through a lot of grief as well. I know, having been in a lot of situations where I've been unable to console a friend as they broke down from stress. It's hard, and does no one any good. College is supposed to be hard work, but there's an enormous difference between hard work and misery.

3. At the Student Organization Fair that is held at the beginning of every fall semester, sign up on EVERY club e-mail list. You're not signing yourself up for the club. You're just getting info on meeting times/places and upcoming activities. None of the things that you sign up for will (or can) obligate you to do anything.

4. Be disciplined. This is maybe the hardest part for a lot of people. You want to hang out with friends, maybe go see a show, or just sleep for 12 hours. Then the deadlines are on your ass for a whole bunch of essays and exams. If you put things off, then you'll end up doing them last minute. If you do things early, then you can sail on past the deadline without a care in the world. I did this for my final essays this semester and it was wonderful. Just work hard early on, when there are no due dates to worry about, and pretty soon you'll be playing Halo or going to Mall of America while everyone else is cramming.

5. Don't walk past the cafeteria card-swiper, Harold, without stowing your backpack first. He's really a nice guy, but people don't seem to think so because he's always stopping them and telling them to store their backpacks. Students seem to conveniently overlook that they're really annoyed just because they couldn't steal extra food. Always get to know a person, be they student, faculty, or regular employee.

6. Get to know your professors. There are plenty of nice ones, and they're wonderful people. Some will invite you to their house for dinner, or enjoy chit-chatting with you. Others are helpful with class work and projects and give great advice. Probably one of the best persons I've gotten to know here is a professor.

7. All-in-all, just BE YOURSELF! Don't cave into any crap about re-inventing yourself or your "image." Macalester and its students cater to a broad array of personalities, despite being a small school. If you try to act in a way other than who you really are to try and make friends or find a romantic partner, odds are you're going to end up unhappy. Embrace who you are, and also be open to developing yourself and trying new things. Always wanted to learn to use a katana? Join the Martial Arts Club. Curious about Hmong culture? Join Ua Ke. Feeling ambitious? Do an internship, or maybe volunteer somewhere.

In the end there are more possibilities than anyone can ever hope to grasp. But don't limit yourself. This is the "college experience" for crap's sake! Take advantage of this 4-year opportunity and take the world by storm. A chance to use that cliche "once in a lifetime" doesn't come often, but I know for a fact that it has a place here, at Macalester College.

I'll see you soon, my friends. =)

Friday, April 30, 2010

What is Liberal Arts?

Macalester is indeed a liberal arts college, as many of you know. But what exactly does that mean?

Some of you have probably heard that universities focus more on research and liberal arts schools focus more on teaching/learning. Personally, I would take that with a grain of salt, although in my experience it is usually true (with exceptions, of course). Still, even Macalester students occasionally seem to lose sight of what it means to be a liberal arts student. Half of the game is the "learning", and that comes to be the sole responsibility of the student him/herself.

You're going to need a major. Yes, it's inevitable if you want to graduate. But to be a liberal arts student doesn't mean being someone whose sole purpose is to fulfill requirements and get a degree. You're here to learn, but that doesn't mean just completing a major. It means gaining a breadth of knowledge.

When you flip through the Macalester Catalog you'll quickly come upon their general education requirements. You'll notice that Mac requires credits in a number of fields as well as second language experience and some diversity courses. The point of this isn't to ruin your plans for a triple major; it's to try and get you to explore.

In essence, you're here to gain a lot of knowledge from everywhere and to develop as a thinker, not as a cog in the wheel of society.

See an interesting Religious Studies class, but you're a Chemistry major? Take it. But it won't help with your major or field of study, you say? Doesn't matter. You're interested and want to learn about it, so take it. Seriously, take it. Your life won't be ruined and all opportunities for a career and everlasting happiness won't be lost if you take some courses for no other reason than because they look interesting.

The fact of the matter is that there are going to be A LOT of courses you'd love to have. Maybe you'd quintuple major if you could, because all these departments look so great. Well, you're going to have to pick and choose. So don't limit yourself with a double/triple major or concentrate only on fulfilling requirements. You miss out on the chance to explore classes, with openings in your schedule to take a class for the sake of LEARNING and ENJOYMENT instead of fulfilling requirements.

Essentially, you miss out on being a liberal arts student.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Mac Martial Arts

Since the martial arts club here just put on their annual show, I have to take some time to rave about the club.

As someone who was a part of this show, I have to say that it's nothing but fun! You get to choreograph fights with other martial arts club members, making them as cool as possible, and then perform it in front of a packed Campus Center. And there are no lines to memorize; you just flap your mouth while the lines are read (to mimic bad dubbing).

The people IN the club are wonderful! Unfortunately one of our leaders will be graduating this year. But this just means a new group of people to plan for next year's show and run the whole operation. Despite being trained in all forms of killing people, the martial arts club is nothing but camaraderie and fun.

The club is for anyone, no matter if you have 10 years of experience in a martial art or none. Think of it as a free class with no stress, and a great work out that teaches you how to kick butt! I'll most likely be co-teaching the TaeKwonDo class, but I also plan to take Weapons (yes, you learn how to use cool weapons in this class). I encourage anyone who's even remotely intrigued to try out the club; you're bound to find an art you like. And if you're already a master of one, try learning another!

Friday, April 16, 2010


As promised, I'm here now to talk about a lesser-known part of the Macalester curriculum: concentrations.

Unlike majors or minors, concentrations are very interdisciplinary. Classes from all kinds of different departments will be included in the course list for concentrations, and the requirements are usually less stringent when fulfilling them. Usually a concentration has so many options for classes, or the chair is so open to adding different classes, that concentrations become very malleable. Thus, they can be made for you.

Here's a list of concentrations:
-African Studies
-Community and Global Health
-Global Citizenship
-Human Rights and Humanitarianism
-Urban Studies

What a concentrations can do for you is help to focus some of your studies. I'm an Anthropology major, and I've always been interested in addressing human rights issues. Therefore, the Human Rights and Humanitarianism concentration, which incorporates some Anthropology classes, allows me to orient some of my studies towards the topic of human rights from an anthropological perspective.

Another advantage is that a concentration has many different areas of study all wrapped up in one. Therefore a student who is involved in a concentration is very likely to get a wider breadth of knowledge than simply staying in their own department. Additionally, those different academic perspectives are applied to a subject they enjoy. It's win-win!

What's the first step to finding out if you really like a concentration? Declare it. Yes, declare it. If you find you don't like it, it's very easy to change the concentration. But if you've declared it, you're automatically put on their lists and will receive e-mails about events and such for the concentration. So heck, that could be the first thing you do when you get here. Otherwise talk to the steering committee for the concentration(s) you're interested in.

Well, that's it for now.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Big Question

"What's my major?"

Few incoming First Years are going to have to worry about this the moment they get here, or probably even their entire first two semesters... But as of about right now I know a lot of my peers are starting to get nervous about finding a major.

It's hard. I suppose a lot of other high school seniors were like me in that they knew exactly what they were going to major in. After all, every major is so glaringly different that it's easy to pick out which is better. And no matter what anyone says about "your mind will change so-and-so many times while in college", I know I'll be the exception.

Macalester took that mindset, tore it up into little pieces, and kicked me right smack in the jaw.

I went from being an English major to an International Studies major to a Political Science major, then over to a Psychology major, back to an International Studies major with a minor in Political Science. After that I was an American Studies major, then a Sociology major. I went back to Psychology again, then FINALLY settled in Anthropology.

Crap... So, needless to say my assumptions were thrown out the window. Finding a major, for a lot of people, is not easy. Throw in a double major, multiple minors, concentrations, pre-med, and you've got a potent cocktail of headaches and anxiety.

Now, I can't say I know best, nor do I know what works for everyone. I do know the strategy that worked best for me in terms of picking a major, so hopefully this will help.

For Triple-majors

I think about all I can say here is: Good luck. Personally, I would never do it just because that would eliminate the idea behind a liberal arts education. You want to be able to explore and have a wide breadth of knowledge. Triple-majoring is going to keep you from that, locked in those three subjects that probably overlap extensively anyway.

The advice I give: I know I've said this in a previous post, but the things you need to discover about yourself are the questions you want to ask and how you want to go about asking them (your method of inquiry). Having a triple major either means you like three methods of inquiry or have no idea what method you prefer.

For Double-majors

More do-able than a Triple major by far, but still not easy. Making a plan for your next four years here would be crucial; you need to know what classes you want to take and when, organizing it so that times work out and professors won't be on sabbatical. Also, there are more likely to be two different methods of inquiry that you like and could use in conjunction.

The advice I give: Double majors are much more common at Macalester. When you do a double major you'll still be sacrificing a lot of your ability to explore classes and departments, but there may be a tad bit of room. Just don't forget to fulfill general education requirements. Personally, I wish I could Double major, but I just wouldn't be able to do all of the other things I really want to do. There are some classes in a multitude of other departments that I want to take.

For Single majors

This is the most common, of course. You have a lot more room to work with requirements and have the flexibility to have multiple minors and/or a concentration. You also have room to take a good number of classes from all over the department spectrum. This is what I'm doing now, and I find that I like it quite a bit.

The advice I give: People will tell you all kinds of different things. Some say that having as many majors, minors, and other fancy departments as possible on your transcript is impressive. Some say it's the classes that matter. Some say it's the grades. Parents can sometimes push their kids towards certain majors. In my opinion the undergraduate experience should be, and is, for you. You should use this opportunity to both learn about things that you think are interesting while also exploring, finding other interesting things and becoming a more well-rounded person.


Talk with your adviser. It can be the luck of the draw on whether or not you get a good one, but don't fret if you don't. Professors all over campus are more than willing to talk and give advice. Likely as not you'll have one that you like in your first year, so get to know him/her. They're smart; that's why their teaching college students.

Long post, right? Could be longer. And next week I'll probably talk about Concentrations, which a lot of people don't really learn about (which is too bad, because they're so wonderful).

Friday, March 26, 2010

Your Godsend

The link above is to a resource that EVERY college student should cherish. Some of you may already know of it...

Everyone I've talked to at Mac concerning this website has either used it and been extremely grateful for it, or not used it and seriously wished they had. For anyone who doesn't know about it, is a website for college students to talk about professors and classes they've had, primarily focusing on the strengths and weaknesses of the professor in question.

A bad professor can ruin any class, no matter how interesting you think the subject matter is. One friend of mine is a major lover of math, but upon taking a calculus class taught by one of the worst professors at Mac (according to ratemyprof, which he didn't use beforehand), he found that he couldn't bring himself to enjoy even a single hour of class. There are all kinds of stories like this floating around campus, so when you get here, don't be shy to ask upperclassmen about their experiences. They would probably love to tell you who the best profs at Mac are.

Most people, inevitably, are going to have a bad professor. It may be by accident, or you may have no other choice if there's a class you need to take. But even some of the professors I've talked to here have said that if they could do college all over again, they would have taken classes with the best professors, no matter what class it was.

As you begin looking at First Year Courses and, later on, the other three classes you'll be taking, I would strongly encourage you to use Some people have ended up with crummy advisers or unpleasant class experiences right off the bat, in their first semester in college.

Don't let yourself fall to the same fate.

Friday, March 12, 2010


It's probably my biggest pet peeve.

When it comes to majors, ego can often times come int play. For professors it's understandable; they've devoted their careers to the area of focus in which they teach, so it's only natural for them to preach about what makes their department stand above the rest. In my experience it should all be taken with a grain of salt. The only way you can really know if something is right for you is to try it out for yourself.

My adviser, Karin Aguilar-San Juan, gave me some of the best advice any student could ever hope for. Sure, she tended to lean towards the American Studies major, but she also recognizes that, as a student here, it's my responsibility to figure out what I want to do. Long ago I'd narrowed my focus down to the social sciences, and she had this to say:

"When you're picking your major, it shouldn't be about the courses offered or what you think the focus is. They're all asking questions, and what you have to figure out is what questions you want to ask and your method of inquiry."

People are what I am fascinated with. I want to learn about them, understand them, and help them (as do most students at Mac). As such, I already knew the kinds of questions I had. The trick then was, and is, deciding how I want to go about answering them.

Macalester upholds the idea of creating lifelong learners. Your education doesn't stop once you graduate, but continues on for the rest of your life. Think about the problems or issues of today that you're interested in, the kinds of questions you have. Then, decide how you're going to go about asking and answering those questions. Every department has a lot to offer, and every student and professor will try to brag about their major and/or point out the flaws in others. However majors do NOT exist in some kind of a vacuum. There is no "best" or "worst." There is only what works for you and what doesn't.

Take your first year or two here to explore as much as you can. Try to get a feel for a variety of departments. I was someone who thought I knew what I was going to major in, but that ended up changing more times than I can count. Now I'm in a department I never expected to be in, and that still could change.

The general premises of my questions never changed. They've become more refined, more 'fleshed out', but what drives me has remained the same.

All roads lead to the same destination, so to speak. The major isn't the destination you seek, but the road you decide to take.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Founders' Day

'ey, it's Founders' Day!

Well, technically yesterday was, but regardless it's an event that I can't pass up the chance to talk about.

March 5th was Macalester's birthday, the day in which its student body and faculty celebrate the people who have made this college what it is. All week long there were speakers and events to commemorate the birth and life of the school, culminating with Friday evenings festivities that centered around a 70's theme (hence my far out get-up!)

Anyone who's curious can see all the goings-on that happened and information about some of the people honored during Founders' Day here: .

As for Friday's fun, the Campus Center was the main hub of celebration. A live band played all night while people danced, sang, ate, and/or checked out some of the stuff that was set up around the building (like Twister, 70's commercials, Atari games, etc.). As a special treat for anyone 21 and over, there was a bar at one side of the cafeteria where students could drink and chat with their professors and other faculty members. A good time indeed!

I kept hearing that this was one event that you didn't want to miss, and often wasn't. As packed as it was, and as much going on as there was, I would have to agree. Any Mac student can look forward to the annual Founders' Day events; there's bound to be something for everyone!