Each time I walk into an airport I get scared–heart-pounding kind of scared. I get nervous about all the possible things that could go wrong, like losing my passport, missing my flight and the inevitability of forgetting a full water bottle in my bag before going through security. I also don’t have a ton of experience flying; I can count the number of airports I have been through on one hand. Despite these things, I have loved the idea of traveling since I was a little kid. As I get older I have wanted to see more of the United States (outside of the North East) and also to travel outside the United States. My choice to study abroad in Latin America and the Caribbean was an easy one. I have always been curious about my mother’s experience living in Colombia before she moved to the United States.
I did not grow up speaking Spanish, but my household was always full of the Spanish language. My aunts, uncles, brother and grandmother, all of whom were born and raised in Colombia, were always around. Because of this, learning Spanish has always been a goal. In an attempt to combine my Africana studies major with my desire to learn Spanish, I applied to study abroad at the Autonomous University of Social Movements (AUSM) in Havana, Cuba. The program adopts a social justice framework for learning abroad. An integral component of the AUSM study abroad experience is the homestay with Cuban families, which was my favorite part of the whole experience.
After facing my fear and making the relatively short flight from Boston Logan International Airport to the José Martí International Airport in Havana, I was met by the director of the Cuban program Daisy Rojas who told me and my roommate, Essence, to follow her to a taxi outside. Essence and I were both wide-eyed during the short drive to the municipality Marianao, where we stayed for our whole trip. In Marianao, I met my host family. My host family was big. Not only did a lot of family members live in my house, but my host family was so popular that there was a constant influx of neighbors, relatives and hairstyling clients.
My host family consisted of nine people: grandparents Lidia and Ariel; their son Wilfredo and his partner Isver; Ariel and Lidia’s daughter, Mercedes, and her husband; along with their sons, Dariel and Liam, and Liam’s wife, Leidi. Almost every day I spent breakfast, lunch and dinner with my host family. At first, my roommate and I spoke minimal Spanish and although my host family was extremely welcoming, it was sometimes awkward not being able to communicate. I was encouraged every day to practice my Spanish, and eventually I was able to understand almost everything in my day-to-day conversations. After a couple of weeks, I truly felt like a member of the family. Not only would we eat meals together (the home-cooked meals were the best meals I had abroad) but we also watched TV together, walked along the streets in our city together, picked up groceries together, or just chatted about life and politics. Essence and I would often joke and say “Somos Cubanos!”, which means “We’re Cubans!”, to which the host family would reply “Somos Cubanos!”
My host family and I laughed together, cried together, danced together and celebrated birthdays together. We threw a send-off celebration for our host brother when he left to live in the United States and told stories about our lives. Although it is difficult to describe in a short post how much my Cuban family meant to me, I am certain that they are some of the biggest-hearted and hardest working people I have met. They are always there for each other, their neighbors, American students and whoever else happens upon their house on 100 and 61st Street. Leaving my host family, without knowing for certain when I can return, was difficult, to say the least, but I now feel that Soy Cubana (I am Cuban) and I can't wait to travel back soon.
Left to Right: Wilfredo, Isver, Leidi, Chino, Merci, my dad Charlie, my mom Martha, Me, Essence, Lidia, and Ariel
As an international student, there are days when I miss a simple home-cooked meal. There are also days when I miss the freedom of being creative and whipping up recipes from the Food Network. However, I can personally attest that getting creative in a college dining hall isn’t impossible.
Last semester was the first time in two years that I spent the fall months away from Connecticut College. I was anxious to embark on a new adventure but nonetheless ecstatic to explore a new country and schooling system at the University of Sydney. My semester was atypical from the start—I left for my semester abroad on July 19 and returned November 18. A typical fall semester at Conn begins in late August and ends in the third week of December. When I returned from Australia, my peers back at Conn were still engaged in their studies. I had some time to reflect and anticipate what was ahead of me. It was not easy to return from studying abroad. Life had gone on and people expected me to be the same, but I wasn't. My transition period from Conn to the University of Sydney exemplified and elucidated the ways I changed and the things I missed.
When you picture a coach, you might picture a one like Sue Sylvester from the TV show “Glee,” Jimmy Dugan from “A League of Their Own,” or even a coach you’ve once had. I think of one of Conn’s newest members to the Camel Athletics family, women’s basketball coach Jackie Smith. Her kindness toward everyone she meets, dedication to the success and growth of the team, and gumption to showcase the team’s talent has helped the team improve both on and off the court. I interviewed Jackie to learn more about her background, love for basketball and dreams for her team.
I’m afforded plenty of opportunities to hear my clarinet professor, Kelli O’Connor, perform at Connecticut College. Most recently, she played in two pieces in the music department’s February faculty recital, including Mozart’s well-known “Kegelstatt” Trio, and last December she was a featured soloist with the orchestra’s string section during our fall concert.
Many of our staff and faculty members live close to school, so anytime I’m off campus, I think about the possibility of running into a professor or other employee. It isn’t a bad occurrence, but it’s somewhat cringey to think about what to say to a professor outside of the classroom or context of a class. Even if it’s someone you admire or are very familiar with, there’s always a moment of silence where neither the student nor the adult knows quite what to say. However, this isn’t always the case. I saw a professor outside of the classroom and instead of it being awkward, it was invigorating. I saw him on a stage, in a costume, transformed into one of the most well-known gods of Greek literature: Zeus. Kinda cool, right?
To register for classes at Connecticut College, we have to meet with our adviser and discuss our ideas for what we want to take for the next semester. I meet with two advisers because I am a double major in American studies and English. This fall when I met with my advisers, Professor Catherine Stock for American Studies and Professor Michelle Neely for English, it started off as a regular meeting. We discussed what was going on in my life and academics during the past semester. We looked at my Degree Works page, the webpage that shows what requirements you have completed for your major and your graduation requirements. To see the page with almost all of my requirements completed was liberating. I had been taking classes in my majors of study pretty much exclusively since my sophomore year. During my first year, I took classes to discover what I was interested in and to complete my general education requirements. To see that I was done with my general education requirements and my American Studies major was a strange feeling. This thing that I had been working on for so long was finished. I did still have a few more requirements to fulfill for my English major but aside from that, I was free to take something else that interested me, a feeling that excited me.
Sitting on the tarmac at Philadelphia International Airport, I was frustrated, tired and jetlagged. I had been traveling for nearly 27 hours and plane food has never cheered me up. I was heading back to Conn after one month of winter break and my plane had been diverted to Philadelphia because of the winter storm. I was supposed to land at JFK by 8:30 a.m. and catch the Flying Camel (the College bus between JFK International Airport and Conn) at 1 p.m. It was now 11 a.m. Would I even make it?
The end of the semester is always a busy time for me, and, as I’ve previously written, one of the highlights of this period are the various music department end-of-semester concerts and recitals that I participate in. No matter how intense it gets, the end of semester orchestra concert is still a great highlight and culmination of my hard work. This past semester’s performance was particularly special for me as it presented an impromptu opportunity to play with some of the best musicians in the country—three members of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy Band’s trombone section led by Sean Nelson, who is the music department’s trombone professor, in addition to Connecticut College’s own Gary Buttery on tuba, who served as the Band’s principal tubist from 1976-1998. The group constituted our orchestra’s low brass section for our performance of Antonin Dvorak’s Eighth Symphony.
Experiencing any phenomenon for the first time is always fascinating. However, experiencing something for the first time and being cognizant of it comes with its own set of feelings. For me, this happened when I first saw snow. Growing up in Bangladesh and then eSwatini, I have experienced temperatures ranging from the mid-30s to 110 Fahrenheit. But I had never seen snow.
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 provide resources to students and faculty doing interdisciplinary work on a specific subject. Learn more about my journey as an Ammerman Scholar.
A dramaturg is someone who reads plays and musicals and does an analysis of the texts to help convey messages and historical context to the cast as well as the audience. In November, I worked as the dramaturg for “Life Is a Dream,” the theater department show at Conn. I came on board in September. Most of the work I did early on was independent research, but I went to some early rehearsals when I was able to go. The show was written by Pedro Calderon de la Barca in 1635, the Spanish Golden Age. My initial research about the time period uncovered themes that were also present in the production–the basic themes of which involve religious ideals, honor and the role of women.
The spring semester of my first year, I took a course called Building Culture. A course cross-listed in both the art history and architectural studies departments, it focused on the history of various art movements, how they were introduced by the social climate, and how they influenced architecture. One day in class we focused on modern architecture and Phillip Johnson, a renowned architect, for his Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut. Last weekend, I got to travel to the Glass House with the Department of Architectural Studies for an in-depth tour. Here are some of best moments and features I was able to capture!
As a sophomore, I applied and was accepted to the Ammerman Center for Arts and Technology, one of the five academic centers on campus that provides resources to students and faculty doing interdisciplinary work on a specific subject. This year I’m working on my Senior Integrative Project (SIP). SIPs are year-long independent studies for seniors in the College’s four center-certificate programs that culminates in a final performance or installation from each senior in the spring. My project is to develop a piece of classical music where audience members get to participate. Learn more about my journey as an Ammerman Scholar.
One night during Fall Break I decided to treat myself to a carton of Ben & Jerry’s from the corner store near my house. When I returned, my mom pointed out that eating ice cream must be a rare treat for me with my meal plan at Conn. “Of course not!” I responded, “There’s always ice cream available in the dining hall. We even have a sundae bar every Sunday.”
This October, President Katherine Bergeron had members of the Muslim Student Association (MSA) over to her house for dinner. The MSA at Conn aims to build a warm and comforting environment for Muslim students and to educate the wider Conn community about the nuances of the culture. Established in 2015 by a Bangladeshi Conn alum (just like me!), the MSA has introduced me to new friends and given me a wider exposure to how Islam is practiced in different regions of the world.
Even when you don’t have an important exam, it’s still important to reset your brain and take a break. This has been something I’ve been good at for the most part, but this year, with my schedule much heavier, it’s something I forget often. In my Psychology of Disorders and Dysfunctions class, we learned about Mindfulness Meditation— a type of meditation where you focus on nothing but the present and yourself in that moment. For a few weeks every class, we would take five minutes or so to do what was called a body scan. We all put our heads on our desks and listened to the voice of the women guiding the meditation, doing as she said, aware of our breathing and surrounding sounds. I found this to be a nice break, helping us to regain our focus for the remaining hour of class time. We were then assigned to practice this five-minute exercise, five days a week, for five weeks. After the five weeks was over I realized how helpful these types of exercises are for me, along with other breaks like running outside or going to yoga. It’s tempting to just climb in bed and take a nap after a long day of classes before starting some homework, but you end up being so much more productive if you take the time to get some fresh air or just do anything that works for you to reset your brain.
One of my biggest fears going from a high school class of 45 students to a college of about 1,900 was how I would leave all of the clubs and activities I was involved in and somehow restart in a different, much larger place. It’s hard to imagine having to transition while also trying to find places, groups and clubs on campus that you want to get involved in. When I arrived at Conn for my first year it was important to me that I joined clubs and took on other responsibilities outside of academics because I wanted to meet new people that I had shared interests with.
It’s that time of year when the leaves change, and the weather cools down. In New England, we are fortunate enough to experience four full seasons, and the College is located in the perfect area to appreciate it. I’ve created a list of places and things to do during the fall season at Conn both on campus and off. Here are some of my thoughts:
Anyone who knows me knows I have never really been a cat lover. Cats are incredibly unpredictable and more aloof than dogs. I’m also highly allergic to them, and that basically has given me the only reason I needed to never be near them. Last weekend, however, I was provided with the opportunity to catsit for my faculty adviser, Alison Andersen, a professor in the theater department.
When I was packing to move from Bangladesh to Connecticut College, I mentally prepared myself to choose classes for my first semester, make new friends, be a good roommate and most importantly, adjust to a new country. I arrived at Conn and these four things happened smoothly with minimal bumps. I thought I was doing great at this “being an adult” thing. I even boasted about it to my mom.
Unfortunately, the saying that “pride comes before the fall” is true. In my fifth week at Conn, I got an email from Student Health Services (SHS) stating that I needed to get a Tuberculosis (TB) test because Bangladesh was still considered to be on the list of countries with TB prevalence. Now, I had no problem going in and doing a test. But then I saw that it was actually a blood test they wanted me to do instead of the usual skin test that TB required. I remember frantically rereading the email and telling my roommate in Bengali about my fear of needles, which she obviously didn’t understand. But my panicked speech in a foreign language helped her comprehend my intense phobia. After much reassurance from her and after my mom laughed at my fears via WhatsApp, a free call/messaging app that I would recommend for all international students, I called SHS to schedule my appointment. On the day of the actual blood draw, I forced myself to sit in the chair with encouragement from my friend Anne and my roommate. All in all, it was my worst moment at Conn but I’m proud of myself for not fainting. This was my first proper step into the world of ‘adulting.’
Four other adulting moments I’ve experienced in the last two months:
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.
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.