I spent last semester, the first one of my senior year, gazing at Tuscan hills and sweating the day away. (The answer to every question you will ask about my abroad experience is probably yes. Yes, it was wonderful. Yes, the food was some of the best I’ve ever had in my life. Yes, it is weird being back in the United States. Glad we’ve gotten that out of the way.)
As an international student, I do a lot of traveling to and from campus. I have missed flights, lost items, been stuck in snowstorms and more. I’ve learned a lot from these experiences. And I want to share some of that knowledge with you. Hence, here are some of my tried and tested travel tips:
I was scrolling through Instagram to see what my friends were up to when my thumb immediately stopped on a photo of a giant coco de mer nut. Lola Pierson ’20 posted the image of the nut which was part of “Revisiting the Nut Museum: Visionary Art of Elizabeth Tashjian,” an art exhibit she was helping to construct. I didn't know much about this museum until a couple of days later when I walked into Shain Library and saw a poster that said the exhibit was going to be open to the public in the Cummings Arts Center. I texted my friends to tell them that we HAD to go. The week that it opened, I headed over to Cummings with my friend to see the museum. The first floor of Cummings is a rotating exhibit space curated by the art and art history departments. Sometimes the featured artist is a faculty member, outside artist or a student. It may shock you, but Connecticut College is actually not the birthplace of the Nut Museum. The original museum was created by artist Elizabeth Tashjian (1912 - 2007) who transformed the first floor of her mansion in Old Lyme, Connecticut, into an amazing eclectic ode to nuts. In 2002, Professor of Art History Chris Steiner saved Tashjian’s art/collection, which was then archived at the College. Now the museum has been brought back to life at Conn.
Did you know there are 35 Godzilla movies? Well, I didn't either until a friend in my improv comedy group suggested going to see the 65th-anniversary screening of the first Godzilla film. My friend, who is a film major, has been consistently going to The Garde Arts Center in New London this year which is how he heard about this special screening. During my first semester at Conn, my first-year seminar “Music and Social Activism” went on a trip to The Garde to see a special screening of a Beatles film. I remember how shocked I was when I walked into this incredibly preserved movie palace. According to their website, The Garde was originally built in 1926. It was then restored and converted into a non-profit movie theater and performing arts center in 1985. Stepping into The Garde you immediately feel like you're transported back in time. The theater itself is really large. There are classic balcony seats above the general floor seats, and the ornate detailing throughout the theater makes it feel like a work of art. Sadly, I hadn't been back to the theater since my first year at Conn. So when my friend suggested going, I decided to join despite never having seen any Godzilla movies (what better way to start than at movie No. 1).
If you were to ask me what defines my experience at Conn I would most likely turn to my Film Studies major. I cannot imagine graduating without the invaluable knowledge and experience I have gained from this department. This semester, I took “Cinematography I” where I learned about the importance of meaningful execution with a camera.
When an admission representative from Connecticut College came to my high school, two things struck me about their talk: the College’s Honor Code and the Integrative Pathways in the Connections curriculum. I remember thinking how cool it would be to self-schedule an exam and learn about sustainability without necessarily majoring in it. When I later figured out that I no longer wanted to major in STEM, I was pleased to find out that Conn’s curriculum is flexible for everyone to find and construct their own niche. Connections is Conn’s liberal arts curriculum which aims to give its students an integrated approach to learning.
Fall Weekend is Conn’s version of a parents weekend, homecoming and alumni reunion rolled into one. It’s the most recently graduated class’s half-year reunion and it’s the first weekend parents of first-years can come and experience Conn without the stress of Move-In Day. However, what happens when your mother lives a 24-hour plane ride away?
Many news articles told me that culture shock has four stages: honeymoon, frustration, adjustment and acceptance. I think I skipped over the first two, disregarded the last two and created my own label: panic. I knew it was coming. But I thought I would be able to handle it as I had already lived in an international boarding school in Swaziland for two years.
As a sophomore, I applied and was accepted to the Ammerman Center for Arts and Technology at Connecticut College. The Center is one of the five academic centers on campus that provides resources to students and faculty doing interdisciplinary work on a specific subject. Learn more about my journey as an Ammerman Scholar.
This semester I’m starting to produce my senior integrative project (SIP) for the Ammerman Center. SIPs are year-long independent study projects that seniors participating in the College’s four center-certificate programs undertake culminating in a final performance or installation from each senior every spring. My project is an attempt to develop a piece of classical music where audience members get to participate. It currently uses the working title “Democracy and Classical Music,” which stems from a challenge posed to me by professors who I have worked closely with developing this project. They posited that allowing audience members to interact raises problems similar to those raised by the challenge of satisfying people with different viewpoints in the democratic process.
I skim every email I receive, even newsletters that seem to come into my inbox solely for me to delete them. However, in a recent copy of “What's New at Shain Library,” a weekly newsletter detailing events, lectures and exhibits taking place at the College’s library, an announcement for a community reading of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” in honor of Banned Books Week piqued my interest. I contacted Carrie Kent, who organized the reading, and volunteered to read for 20 minutes near the end of the day.
Studying away in Vienna was my first experience living in a big city. Although it’s among the world’s most livable cities, I often found getting out of Vienna satisfying and part of what makes it livable. I chose to study away at IES Abroad’s Vienna Center in part because of the great musical and cultural offerings, but also for a personal reason: I am half-German and grew up in a bilingual German-English speaking household. My family regularly vacations in Bavaria and Austria with the German-side of my family. Given my familiarity with German-speaking areas, I wanted to make my travel experience more than the stereotypical city-hopping on budget airline flights every weekend. On days off I would take a train an hour or two outside the city just to explore a new town.
My favorite part about being a barista at The Coffee Closet in Harkness House is getting to experiment with different drinks. The good, the bad, the ugly—I will make it all. Aside from making my own drinks, I also love to support the other coffee shops on campus, such as the Blue Camel located in Shain Library and Coffee Grounds located a couple of steps away from my residence hall in the Katherine Blunt House. And sometimes when I have a little extra time I make coffee in my room. Needless to say, with all of these options I stay caffeinated. I get bored if I have the same drink every day so I like to order different things from each shop depending on my mood or needs for the day. And during my four years here I definitely have found favorite drinks at each shop.
During my first year at Conn, I took “Introduction to Film” and I noticed one of the students looked a little different than everybody else. This student was an older gentleman who was not registered as a student at Conn. He was actually a professor of film at a local community college. He decided to audit our class to learn more about film and improve his teaching skills. When our professor told us that this man was auditing the class I did not know what that meant so I did what most people would do, I looked it up. The Connecticut College website defines auditors as “special students or alumni of the College who attend the meetings of a course but receive no credit for such attendance. Students who wish to attend certain courses may do so as auditors by securing the approval of the instructor concerned.” There is also a section that states that regular undergraduates, like me, are not normally allowed to audit a class.
One skill that I have cultivated at Conn throughout my four years is the ability to hold several spinning plates without letting a single one of them drop. Between three classes, an honors thesis, two jobs and being in an improv group, it is safe to say that every day of the semester is filled with challenges and commitments. Each year at Conn has added another layer of responsibilities. Whether it is taking on a new leadership position, searching for an internship, developing my writing skills or honing my career path, I keep myself busy. Having a full schedule comes at the cost of letting a few of those spinning plates go, so I have to find new ways to stop those plates from crashing.
As I moved through my first year, I increasingly started exploring Conn’s surroundings. In the beginning, as I didn’t have a car, I thought it was going to be hard to run any errands or even leave campus, but the Camel Van made it easy to reach downtown New London, the train station, Target/Walmart and even the bank. I began to discover hidden nooks and crannies around the area with my friends, which made our weekends more eventful.
One of the fun parts about going to college in a different country is all the new food I can sample. A friend of mine was shocked to discover that, even after being in the United States for a year and a half, I had never tried lobster. Hence, a trip to Captain Scott’s Lobster Dock in New London was planned.
Since I was young, I have had a summer job to help pass the time and make some extra money. Last summer, I was accepted into a fellowship with Condé Nast. I was beyond excited because not only would it be my first professional experience for a large company, but it also required me to relocate to New York City, where I have always wanted to live.
During the summer following my first year at Conn, I embarked on a 14-state road trip with my friends Dani Maney ’20 and Samuel Piller ’20. We traveled great distances at once; at one point on the trip, we drove for 10 hours straight across the state of Pennsylvania. Since that road trip three years ago, I have not driven for longer than five hours nor have I rode shotgun or sat in the backseat for an extended period of time until now. Over Fall Break, my friends and I journeyed from Conn to Mount Desert Island in Maine. The drive was 6 1/2 hours each way, but the memories from the weekend were well worth it.
I start most days with an abrupt kick of caffeine and the wafting smells of fresh baked goods around me. I do not bake unless it’s in the microwave. But it turns out that you don’t need much baking experience to manage the baked goods schedule at a coffee shop, so long as you have a group of really talented bakers behind you. That’s one of my roles at The Coffee Closet, a student-run cafe on campus. I manage baking, as well as events and communications.
In the spring of my first year, I was hired as a barista at The Coffee Closet. Two years later, I applied for a manager position and was accepted. A lot has changed since my first days serving coffee. For one thing, I only recently learned how to brew hot coffee. When I was a barista, I worked three two-hour shifts a week. Now I work triple that amount. My new role has given me the opportunity to hone my skills in business management, and as part of that role, I thought it was important to understand the process of how every drink is made, inside and out. I can’t manage a coffee shop if I can’t brew coffee.
Last fall, prior to my arrival at Conn, I spent weeks browsing the College’s course catalog and reading the various major descriptions on the website. There were many interesting classes, but my curiosity was piqued by the College’s language requirement. Every student must complete at least two semesters of a foreign language, regardless of how many languages they already know. Over the summer, we received emails with a language study brochure (Connecticut College Language Study Brochure), which I read multiple times. The Dean of First Year Students, Emily Morash, told us that we were not required to take a language course in our first year but it is recommended so that we don’t have to worry about it in our junior or senior years. I studied French for five years and knew I wanted to start something new. But the question was: Which one? Currently, Conn offers courses in Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Latin, Russian and Spanish.
It’s hard to believe I am mere weeks away from being a rising senior at Conn. After a few more papers and classes, I will be entering my last year at this place I have called home for three years. One of the bittersweet parts of my transition from junior to senior is less about me and more about the people I spend my time with. I’m in a short-form improv group on campus called N20. We meet three times a week to practice our performances. Two members of the group are seniors and this month they will perform their last show at Conn. I will miss their energy and presence but am excited for them too.
I started working when I turned 15 years old as a hostess at a Chinese-American restaurant and as a camp counselor at the YMCA Sports Camp. Although I really appreciate this work experience, which helped me learn many valuable skills, it was just the beginning of my professional career. Since then, I have graduated high school, completed three years of college and tried many positions in various fields as I continue to search for the best career path for me.
The email came the Monday before my senior recital, as I began preparing in earnest to stage my Ammerman Senior Integrative Project in addition to rehearsing with piano instructor Patrice Newman, my accompanist. “Dear Saadya, I am wondering if you might play your Carl Stamitz: Reimagined concerto for Clarinet and Audience at the [Camel Day] Music Forum on April 22 at 9:15 a.m. in Oliva Hall?” Admitted students are invited to Camel Days each year to help them get better acquainted with the College.
My legs swing up as I try to move the top half of my body in a completely different motion than my legs. As I dance, I am listening carefully to the drums, waiting for the moment when the drummers play the break, which cues that the dance will transition to the next step. After an hour and 15 minutes of movement, our teacher Associate Professor of Dance Shani Collins-Achille tells us that class is over. We make our way over to the drummers and thank them by tapping the ground with our hands. Each day I leave class sweating, a little confused and smiling.