New London seems as if it might be in the middle of nowhere. It's easy to forget, however, that we’re actually quite close to major New England cities; we’re less than an hour to Providence, two hours to Boston and two and a half to New York City. All of these places make for great day trips, as well as cool opportunities for class field trips. Most recently, Mike and I headed to the United Nations with our CISLA class where we met with the delegations from France and Iran.
The delegations are inconspicuously housed across the city. As we entered what appeared to be an ordinary office building, I found myself temporarily confused — where were we heading? Forty-two floors up, I found myself at the New York home of the Iranian delegation, a simplistic office with white walls featuring photos of Ayatollahs Ruhollah Khomeini and Ali Kahmenei, the Supreme Leaders of Iran. Ushered into the library, a representative from the delegation gave us a brief introduction to Iran’s history and current foreign policy. The gist: Iran is not perfect, but they’re working on it. “We are the most stable country in the Middle East,” the delegate told us. Our course instructors encouraged us to respectfully ask difficult questions, and we found ourselves inquiring about the right to organize within Iran, the Houthi movement in Yemen and the implications of the nuclear deal with the United States. It was interesting to hear how his responses aligned with the official view of the Iranian government. It was a contrast to the French delegation, whose delegate met with us in the “parlor,” an ornate ballroom with tapestries, hardwood floors and a chandelier. He answered with his personal perspectives about social tensions, the Charlie Hebdo shooting and the potential use of secularism as a guise for the social exclusion of Islam.
This past weekend was one of my favorite meets as a track athlete: the Silfen Invitational or, as I call it, the Conn Home Meet! Conn only puts on one home meet every year and it also serves as a chance for our families and friends to see us compete. Also it means no travelling, which is awesome.
This meet is always especially important to me because I am from Philadelphia. Like many Conn students, it's hard for my family to attend my regular meets, but they make an effort for the Invitational. In addition to my immediate family coming to this meet, some of my extended family comes as well. This year, I had one aunt, two uncles and my grandfather to cheer for me as I do what I love.
I also had friends who came to support me. I was pleasantly surprised when they came because there was another all-day event happening on campus and I wasn’t sure they would make it. With competitions all over the East Coast, it's unusual for my friends to see me compete, but this weekend was a great exception. There were many alumni who visited as well, friends who I'd competed with in years past.
This was my third home track meet and it is different every year. (It was actually the first year we competed at home with decent weather.) It was so sunny that I actually got a bit of a sunburn. It was worth it.
What’s amazing about the newly renovated Shain Library is that the Academic Resource Center (ARC) is now more accessible than ever for students. When I first started working at the ARC at the beginning of this semester, we were located in the Plex, above Harris Refectory, a temporary location which was a less recognizable location than Conn's main library. Needless to say, I love the new space! We are located in a beautiful glass office on the second floor. There are so many white boards, desks and study spaces at the students' disposal.
I work a night shift at the front desk of the ARC and ever since being relocated to the library, so many more students come into the ARC and collaborate on work and get academic assistance. From my seat at the front desk, I can watch the scenes unfold: Groups come in to collaborate on projects together, friends meet up for homework and students come in for appointments with the ARC counselors (who, by the way, are amazing and informative). There's a social element, too: As students study, they update each other on their lives and classes. It makes me happy to see the ARC so active and constantly moving, even at night.
The best part about my job is the interactions I have with the visitors who come through our glass doors. No matter if they'e requesting a form to request a tutor or a form to sign up as a tutor themselves, I enjoy every second of getting to meet new faces. A student once came in and we just started talking about social complexities. I had never even met him before, yet here we were, having a discussion about contentious subjects. Working at the ARC is a thrill because it is a vehicle for exposing me to the eclectic students here on this campus; it's like I'm making up for lost time.
At Connecticut College, the journey for your junior year internship starts during orientation with the first workshop. Throughout this journey, I have taken seven workshops ranging from how to write a cover letter or résumé to interview prep. I have sent countless emails to my CELS adviser and have met with her many times.
This past semester has been the most exhaustive of all my CELS training. This was when I put everything I knew to the test in order to secure my junior year internship. I am very happy to say I succeeded and I will be spending 10 weeks this summer working as a communications intern at Environmental Defense Fund.
It was not an easy process; as my friends and I joke, applying for internships should be a class. I spent countless hours researching internships, writing cover letters for each application and drafting emails to send to potential employers. I think one of my most valuable assets were my two friends, CELS Fellows Natalie Calhoun and Mike Amato.They would look over my emails and cover letters whenever I needed their help. One memorable time was sitting down at lunch, sliding my phone over to one of them and asking, “Is this an OK email?” Without hesitation, they advised. I don't think I would have gotten the internship without them.
The internship process is difficult at any school, but I'm so glad that Connecticut College provides these kinds of resources (and I happen to make friends with the resources) so that I can get all the help I need while applying to internships.
Last week, I went to a birth contol panel in the Women's Center run by a representative from Planned Parenthood, a group of students and a women's health specialist from Student Health Services. I didn't really know what the expect from the panel, but I felt a duty to go as someone who's mainly been educated about birth control by MTV.
Sure, I've had health classes before. I know what birth control is, but knowing what it is isn't enough. It's kind of an important thing — and not just because of the controlling births part. Certain types of birth control can also help to regulate hormones and menstrual cycles. It's also necessary to know which types of birth control will prevent STDs and STIs and which will not. In addition to all of this, women need to know what their options are (there are bunches) and how their bodies will be affected by each of these options.
Sure, it's a topic that creates giggling, but it's a topic that needs to be discussed by both women and men so that everyone can have control over their reproductive organs, and be able to take care of themselves and their loved ones.
I ended up learning a lot at the panel. We started off by making a list of all the types of birth control we'd heard of. Ok, that's a lie — we started off by eating Indian food, but list-making was the second thing we did. Then we all wrote down questions anonymously. The rest of the time was spent answering those questions and any questions that came up in the meantime. Throughout the panel, we learned about our resources for feminine health here on campus and in the New London area.
It was a very informative event, and it reflects an overarching theme on our campus: No matter how hard it is to talk about something, there will be a space for it to be talked about. With everything, but especially with issues related to health, this type of openness is paramount. I highly recommend that everyone (yes, males too) attend next year's birth control panel.
I’ve always had grand ambitions for myself; I’m always looking ahead, wondering what the next phase of my life will look like. College was no exception. Starting in the early days of high school, I formed an image of what my life might be like in college and dreamed about green quads and the friendships formed in residential halls. Coming up with a mental image of what that future may be helps me work towards it. The result was that the minute I stepped foot on campus, the image I had created began to be challenged.
After my first few weeks on campus, I found myself signed up for 10 clubs, involved with student government and performing with two different musical groups. I had many more activities planned for the next few years. I was swamped immediately. My first semester was crammed full and anyone who glanced over my shoulder at my calendar was immediately surprised. A cornucopia of colors, all associated with different events, meetings, classes, tasks, etc., was what they saw. To me, it all made sense but most wondered why I was putting myself through such an ordeal.
The truth is I’ve always been interested in many things and college was the opportunity I had been looking for to explore them all. By getting involved in so many things, I was learning where my interests really are. Eventually, though, they all tired me out and I slowly began to prioritize. It's amazing how exhaustion can make you focus on what really matters.
Advisers, professors and parents may all warn you about taking too much on but I entirely disagree. By taking too much on, you learn what really works for you. I would not be where am I today, picturing a life after college, if I had not piled so much on in the first place.
Today I’m the producer of TEDxConnecticutCollege, a tour guide, a volunteer at the Mystic Seaport, a floor governor and a writer for this blog. While I haven’t reached the perfect balance yet, I know I’m close. Next semester will be the most interesting one yet.
Late last month, I was leaving a class around 8:30 p.m. when my friend Natalie asked if I wanted to come along with her to an event our other friend Claire was putting on. I immediately agreed and we headed to Knowlton House, the language dorm. I had not been there since I took the Haunted Tour of Connecticut College my freshman year, but we went in and went to the common room where Claire was putting on an East Asian Studies’ Student Advisory Broad (EASSAB) Karaoke Night.
Just so we’re clear: I do not sing. Not in English, or any other languages for that matter.
But I went in as a spectator and was rewarded with a super fun night I was not expecting to have. A bunch of students went up and sang, including my friend Claire. One memorable performance was a student who sang “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid in Japanese, which included all of Ariel’s little side notes and emotions. We also got performances from a professor who sang an amazing lullaby song, and Natalie got up and sang a song in Spanish! One really amazing moment was when I suggested to Claire that she sing “Let it Go” in Chinese, and she pulled up the lyrics on her computer. Everyone (including me) gathered around and sang along as best we could, and then sang it again in Japanese! After that, we digressed into looking up our favorite songs in other languages and singing along.
I guess I should change my earlier assertion that I don’t sing ever — I do sing, but only with people that I feel comfortable around, which I was able to find at this small, spur-of-the-moment event.
Since I'm a chronic overachiever and don't know when to quit, I decided to take six four-credit classes this semester. In all honesty, it wasn't that bad of a decision; I love all of them and my professors have been a lifeline for me. On top of it all, I sometimes visit a seventh class on Mondays and Wednesdays. It's called South Asia in the Post-Colonial world and I've taken it before. My adviser teaches it and it's usually so dynamic that it's exactly what I need to get motivated sometimes.
Most students don't think about it too much, but professors are in a constant state of revision when it comes to classes. The syllabus of last year's class (when I took it) is drastically different from this year's. The professor covers most of the same issues — colonialism, war, history of India and Pakistan — but the readings and authors are different. This leads to a different understanding of the material, and I found myself coming across things I'd never learned before. The revised syllabus has a different book on Pakistan, which was published in 2014, and the book on India is much more user-friendly and readable than last year's.
Everything aside, it's as much about students as the professor. Because there is a different group of students this year, the class discussions, the material covered and the topics most felt and understood are different. Last year's class was more historical and local. Including myself, the class had five South Asian students, and we were familiar with the middle school understanding of our region's history. This year, it's different: Most people in the class are not of South Asian descent and there's a larger focus on imperialism, colonization and oppression, as compared to last year. I also find my understanding deepened because these students ask questions that I, having grown up in Pakistan, never thought of. They bring a fresh, unbiased perspective to class, and it's rather heartening knowing that even the same class taught at Connecticut College year after year will be different and fresh.
Recently, I found this photo of President Katherine Bergeron facing a crowd of students, staff, faculty and administrators sharing opinions and suggestions in March, while the campus engaged in dialogue about racism, equity and inclusion. I think this photo best captures the spirit we’re striving towards at Conn: groups coming together and discussing tough issues, reflecting respectful dialogue that can lead to great change. At what other school will the president join an informal meeting and hold such a candid discussion for hours on end?
We got to hit the casinos for class! Well, it’s not what you’re thinking — there was no gambling, drinking or seeing shows. As part of a trip for Professor Joyce Bennet's "Anthropology of Tourism" course, however, we did get to tour Mohegan Sun's various gaming rooms, paying particular attention to aspects of Native American culture and the way these details are utilized for aesthetic purposes. Mohegan Sun is located just fifteen minutes from campus. While I’d been to Mohegan Sun before to see Penn & Teller, getting to study the space with an academic lens was an entirely new and fascinating experience for me. The way the lights, sounds and “natural” looking decor lure gamers into a welcoming environment is incredible to study from a bystander perspective. Diligently taking notes and snapping photographs, I felt like a true anthropologist documenting the workings of a unique culture. I’ll always remember how much academic discovery can be found in a space I previously thought was just for fun and games.