Archives by Year: 2010

Escaping to Europe

Hear O' Followers!


During finals week everything seems to be dominated by the
shadow of looming exams, so to truly relax during winter break I’ve been
recollecting on the blissful days of study abroad.


I think my bio mentions that I studied at Oxford last year.
But, that doesn’t really explain it all. The way I came to apply to Oxford is
strange enough:


Every Colby student is asked to fill out a preliminary
application to the Office of Off-Campus Study (OCS) so that the office can
begin to compile data of who is going abroad where, when, and for how long. To
many people’s astonishment, I wrote that I wanted to study at the University of
Hawai’i. (Yeah, it’s not technically abroad, but I’ve never been there… so it
would be a different experience. That counts, right?) But I received an E-mail
from OCS saying, “Michael, please schedule an appointment with us as soon as
possible.” When I finally met with an OCS representative, I was told that Colby
would let me go to Hawai’i, but not through OCS — i.e., not for credit. So I
said, “I’ll apply to Oxford then.” If anybody at Oxford is reading this: Yes,
you were my second choice to the State University of Hawai’i. (I just think I
can philosophize better on a beach)


But once I got to England, I found out quickly that Oxford
should have been my first choice. The city was beautiful and filled with old
buildings, old statues, and even older history. But walking through the
streets, I couldn’t help by laugh at how more than 80% of the population was
18-25 years old.


But why was abroad “blissful?” First, I didn’t have to take
any exams (or, as the Brits say, “sit exams”). Next, although I was writing at
least an essay every week, the topic was often “write anything on this topic.”
But the ultimate bliss of Oxford was the semester schedule. Oxford is on a
trimester schedule: 8-week terms followed by 8-week breaks. And since I despise
flying, I just took the train to Europe for my breaks. The food, the beer, the
people, the sights, and the travel! Because so many Colby students study abroad,
I traveled from one Colby friend to another: Salamanca, Paris, and Florence.
And when these epic breaks were over, I just returned to the quaint medieval
city with her “dreaming spires,” to study amid the gothic architecture and
700-year-old schools.


Oxford was an intense academic experience, but it’s hard to
concentrate on that part when I had so much fun tramping across Europe.


Snap back to reality. My daily view of the Radcliffe Camera
is now a view of the Chrysler Building. Happy and Sweet New Year.

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Holiday Cheer!

Christmas carols were echoing around me, lights and snowflakes decorated the windows and reflected off the snow outside, and the aroma of peppermint hot chocolate wafted through the air as my friends and I enjoyed our first class dinner last night!  I honestly had no idea what to expect as I walked into the Dana dining hall, but I had heard about the tradition of class dinners several times during the semester and, as part of the class council, I had been a part of the planning process (although I had no idea how it would turn out!).Hurrying back from Crew practice I heard people chatting about it and was so eager to go see for myself! I was definitely not disappointed. After a long and stressful last week of classes (and a week of papers and finals to look ahead to!) I was able to let loose and just have fun. While there have been times that I have felt that the Colby campus seems small, I was reassured and excited by the number of faces in my class that I had never seen before, and also comforted by the number that I knew and looked forward to seeing. The fact that we all have tests, papers and reading looming over our heads didn’t stop us from decorating gingerbread men, or staying long after we had finished eating to watch “The Grinch”.  Our class presidents, Brandan and Cole, as well as the rest of our class council put a lot of effort into creating the mood and planning the details of last night and deserve a huge congratulations and round of thanks. It is experiences like last night that make me thankful that I go to a small school where this kind of evening is possible and where it truly feels like we have a Colby community. Last night was also a great reminder that while we are all stressed and overwhelmed by the amount of work waiting for us before the end of the term, it is important to find balance, take breaks, surround yourself with friends and good food, and create the memories that will stay with us long after the exams and college years are over.

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Classes are done

Hey all,

Today is the last day of classes and, I think for one of the first times in my school career, I'm sad. If I think about it, I only have 3 semesters left at Colby (I know I'm a sophomore, but I'm going abroad for a year). That's 12 classes I can take here at Colby. And, for one of the first times in my school career, I really, truly liked all of my classes. I felt after every class that I came out a more learned and thoughtful person. So now that I have only 12 classes left at Colby, I have to very carefully choose which classes I take. If I pick one dud, I may regret it later on. And, who knows which class will be the one that changes my life. 

But, one thing that is certain is that Colby has changed the way I view academics. Throughout high school, I never cared which classes I took (usually I just aimed for the hardest), nor did I feel like any really changed my life. But, here, I am deeply invested in the material and I care for my classes.


So, there you go, Colby. You've changed me.


Peace and love,


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What’s exam time like at Colby?

Funny that you should ask. You see, it's almost exam time here, in another, uh, 6 or seven days, I'll, along with hundreds of other Colby kids, have my first fall final.


Am I scared?


I'd be nuts not to be. Finals can be trying. All students anywhere are a little scared of finals.


How long is a final?


A math-type final lasts anywhere from an hour and half to three hours.


What's a final, and why is it such a reverred thing?


In a final exam, they bring together a semester's learning and test the students to see how well all materials were learned. Finals can be cummulative, or non cumulative.


What does it take to ace a final?


A copy of Einstein's brain, enough sleep and preparation before the exam.


Who is well-known for acing finals?


President George Bush, uh no. Obama? None of the well-known public figures were particularly good exam takers. Except maybe for Lil Wayne. He got straight As in school. Don't ask me how!


So what happens in a final? Do you have to take the Pledge of Allegiance and, you know, swear the oath to an old Bible?


No. It's not like visiting the mortgage broker. It's like a regular visit to the doctor. Only with none of the needles and calorimeters.


What happens after finals?


Winter break, for all sorts of hard-working Colby kids. 


What's the best part of finals time?


Reading period. 


What's reading period?


It's a few days' of study and getting ready. 


Wow, final time sounds exciting. How long does it last?


Uh, all things exciting are over in flash. Finals has a half life of two days. 

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History of Jews at Colby

Take heed! Your shepherd speaks:

The funniest part of going to a residential college is the unexpected drop-by and the ensuing spontaneous activities. For some reason, it’s completely normal at college to act like Cosmo Kramer from Seinfeld for four years. Today, my friend Robyn dropped in and invited me to a talk by Prof. Freidenreich and his student research assistant and paper co-author, Desiree Shayer. Over the summer, I met Desiree and heard about this project — luckily, Robyn stopped in before going to the talk, otherwise I might have missed it. (I should mention, about 200 students hang around campus for the summer to work at student researchers. I, however, was giving tours to our summer visitors.)

The Prof. Freidenreich and Desiree’s paper was on Jews at Colby in the early 20th Century. It was a comparative study with Jews at other liberal arts institutions in the Northeast, especially Bates College. I think it’s pretty much common knowledge that Bates, Bowdoin, and Colby are very similar schools. But Bates shares some additional similarities with Colby: Baptists founded both schools, Waterville and Lewiston were large Baptist communities around the turn of the Century, and both schools retained their religious affiliation until relatively the same time (WWII). But where the schools differed was in their admissions practices regarding Jews. Colby historically admitted more Jews — more than double — without ever having a quota for the maximum number to be admitted.

The consequences of this practice were varied and interesting. For one, it kept Jews in Waterville — the rabbi of the B’nai Brith synagogue in Waterville was offered a job in a larger Jewish community, but refused because he wanted his kids to receive a college education and knew that Colby’s open admissions policy would provide his children with that opportunity. The Jews of Waterville also gained considerable wealth because of the Colby’s open policy. In Waterville, two-thirds of Jews attended college (mostly at Colby), whereas in larger Jewish communities like New York City, only 30% of Jews went to college.

Colby is also the only NESCAC (New England Small College Athletic Conference) school, which has had a significant Jewish presence on its campus for close to 100 years. Colby also has the oldest Jewish Studies department in Maine. Both of these facts are likely due to Colby’s larger number of Jewish students.

Of course, today, quotas do not exist at either school. As it should be, the admissions process in both schools is almost entirely meritocratic (the exception being legacy, but that’s for another post). But it did give me a warm feeling to know that my tribe has been welcome at Colby for nearly a century.

By no means do I mean to bash Bates. However, I’m going to the Colby-Bowdoin hockey game this weekend, and I plan to bash Bowdoin until my voice is sore.

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Winter Wonderland!

It's here! It's finally here! No, I'm not talking about finals though those are coming up soon. It's finally snowing! Well, technically, it snowed on Halloween, but it was pretty insignificant to count.

While most of the East Coasters are probably used to it by now, as a Californian, I must say I've never actually lived in snow. Sure, I've seen snow before in the California mountains and vacations, but those mostly come from a machine. The snow here is pure and powdery, a delight to step inside. I love every bit of this snow for now, even the cold doesn't faze me (the penguin downcoast probably helps).

Right now, I'm not even jealous of my friends who are going home this weekend. I want to absorb every bit of my first White December to its fullest, even if I have to spend most of it studying for finals.

And now, to wrap up this fluffy post, pictures! These were taken by my camera phone so I apologize about the quality.




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Because I Knew You, I’ve Been Changed For Good

I wish I had a tender tale to follow up that gripping headline, but actually, in case you didn't know, it's taken from the ending theme from Wicked.

 Which I saw.  Tonight.  In London.  Eleventh row.  For Less than fifty US dollars.  Talk about awesome.

I had seen the Facebook statuses, heard the fevered whispers, and read the rave reviews about Wicked, but I think I had to experience it first-hand to truly understand quite how awesome the production is.  The venue (Apollo Victoria) is imposing yet comfortable, the costumes incredibly imaginative, and the story-line both classically familiar and beautifully nuanced.    

I don't know if I've shared this tidbit about myself yet, but I think now is the time.

I'm artistically challenged.  I literally can't draw a stick figure.  They always end up with three legs, two long and one short, sort of like a man with a tail.  After four years of piano lessons, I was advised to look for another hobby.  The one music class I took at Colby was strategically more of a history class.

And even I, the eternal mascot of the musically stunted, could tell that these actors and musicians were incredibly talented.  I felt lucky just to be in their presence.  I laughed, I cried, and I silently cheered as the two main actresses brought down the house with the finale.  It did not require a PhD or a position as a choir director to ascertain that their harmony was flawless.  

 And I think, even in my artistically deprived state, because I witnessed the epic talent present on stage tonight, I've been changed for the good.   

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‘Twas the middle of the night, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. But then…

It was 3 am. I was snug in bed and had finally fallen into a deep sleep, which, for a semi-insomniac, is a big accomplishment. Then, the fire alarm went off. So dreary, still half asleep and practically blind (because I wasn’t wearing my contacts), I uprooted myself from my bed and tried to grab a few things before facing the thirty degree Maine weather. I managed to grab my room key and a pullover sweater.

I live in Foss, which is a chem-free dorm (an alcohol and substance free building), so not many fire alarms get pulled here, because there aren’t half as many drunken people around to pull them. So, you could probably imagine how surprised I was to hear the alarm go off, especially since the only other case we had was a drill that security ran because our dorm wasn’t getting enough practice evacuating the building. So I darted outside, only to realize that I had forgotten my shoes. Boy were those twenty minutes some of the chilliest in my life.

Afterwards, because I couldn’t fall asleep again, I started thinking. I realized that fire alarms are just one of the little annoyances of college that first years just have to get used to through experience. Sure I was a little startled at first, especially after one of the hotels my family and I stayed at a couple years back for vacation caught ablaze at a similar hour. But still, in college, fire alarms are more common of an experience than in hotels. Getting used to living with a roommate is another of the annoyances that you learn to love through experience too, in college. Some others include being sick without having a family member around to bring you crackers or ginger ale, or having a different lunch time every day instead of a set period as in high school. Still, these annoyances have their pluses. In fact, I am happy to report that because of my first real fire alarm experience, I met a few people outside that night whom I hadn’t even known lived in my dorm!

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When I saw my friends from back home during Thanksgiving
beak, one of the first questions I was asked was how I liked college. It’s
supposed to be a simple and standard question. It certainly was not unexpected,
and there was always the reliable “fine” to go back upon. But the more I
thought about the question, the more muddled my answer would become.

First of all, I haven’t fallen completely in love with my
college experience, like some people (including some of my friends back home)
do.  That’s not to say I hate Colby
or college in general. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve had many
good moments so far and met some great people. But I’ve definitely struggled
with many things: homesickness, lack of sleep, the comprehension of calculus,
the almost persistent feeling of loneliness, and procrastination. It’s been a
challenge and that was exactly what I asked for when I decided on Colby.

Like it says on my profile, I’m from California. I come from
a place where sub-50 degree weather is unheard of, and where there are 3 shiny
shopping centers in town. A place where good Asian food is abundant. A place
where the people tend to be more conservative and shy. Every day I feel like
I’ve done at least one thing wrong.

But I’m slowly learning from my mistakes. I’ve learned that
if you go to bed before 6AM, it’s easier to pay attention in classes. I’ve
learned to schedule my time better, to properly introduce myself to people
without fear, to let things go, to speak up a little more, to be a better and
more conscientious friend, and to try things I haven’t tried before. One semester
has passed by and I already find myself growing as a person. Obviously, I have
many ways to go and I doubt the changes in me are noticeable. But in 2014?
Yeah, we’ll see.

People expect different things out of their college
experiences. Some treat it as a sort of four year job training for a future
career. Others pick places where they feel like they can belong among kindred
spirits. For me, I picked a college where I could challenge myself and grow as
a person. So to all you high school seniors reading this, think about what you
want for your college experience. If you want to challenge yourself and grow as
a person, Colby may be the college for you.

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Thriving in Third Grade

I’ve always loved being around kids. I worked as a counselor at a school program last summer, have always enjoyed babysitting, and love all of the little munchkins that make up the Queen Avenue kids (the street I grew up on). From the time I was little and was asked the favorite question of many adults, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”, I promptly responded "pediatrician or teacher." Of course, those two professions are wildly different, but for me they both involved working with kids and I knew that connecting with their enthusiasm and energy really made an impact on me, and I hoped to make an impact on them.  While Colby has many great service opportunities, the popular program CCAK, or Colby Cares About Kids, resonated with me the moment I heard about it.

CCAK allows Colby students to become mentors to young students from preschool through eighth grade in the surrounding Waterville schools. As mentors, CCAK volunteers agree to spend at least three semesters mentoring the same student twice a week. It's quite a commitment, meant to establish a relationship–a friendship– that can really make an impact on the student's life. I wondered, at first, if I would have the time for such an activity–classes, homework, crew, broom-ball and other activities were already devouring every hour of the day. But I signed on, went through my training, and entered the George Mitchell School a month ago both excited and nervous.  

My little buddy is a third grader, and on the first day there was no awkwardness as he took my hand in his sweaty little one, beaming,  and excitedly took me around to introduce me to his teacher, classmates and even some of his previous teachers! Walking down the hallway, I was thrown back to my own days in third grade–decorated lockers and classrooms, the smell of crayons and markers, boots and mittens hanging on radiators, and an ever present energy permeating through every inch of the school. We thoroughly enjoyed our time together, quickly getting acquainted through games in gym, reading books during snack time, and looking at the work they have done so far in third grade. My little guy is pretty far behind in his grade level, but he is energetic and eager and couldn't wait to show me what he was capable of. As I was leaving, he melted my heart (and could have melted all the snow in Maine or Minnesota!) when he gave me a big hug and I heard him whisper to a classmate, “she’s my mentor!” Although we've only been meeting for a few weeks, we're getting to know each other and are forging a bond. The hours I spend with him remind me of how important it is to sometimes get off the Colby campus, where the vast majority of people are between the ages of 18-22 and where it is so easy to lose perspective and forget how lucky we are to be getting this education.  Don’t get me wrong– I love my college friends. But on some days, there’s just nothing better than seeing my little buddy's face. . . and third grade recess!


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