Blake Chaplin '23 - Introduction

Hi all! Welcome to my blog!

I'm Blake (He/Him/His), a rising sophomore at Amhest and a member of the class of 2023. I am an international student at the college, originally coming in from the small market town of Selby in the United Kingdom. I love where I live! Selby is an old town, having being continously inhabited for over 1000 years. This age is best symbolised by the prominent abbey that sits in the centre of town, which despite being built in 1069, still opens its doors as a place of worship (And also contains the Washington window, a glass representation of the Washington families heraldic arms, and a big inspiration for a certain national flag).

At Amherst, I currently plan to major in Economics and Asian Languages & Civilisations, with a focus on Japan & Japanese language, with maybe some computer science thrown in for good measure. The open curiculum at Amherst makes it so hard to choose! Outside of the classroom, I help run the colleges Anime Club, our Japanese cultural affinity group on campus. We run several Japanese food and cultural events throughout the year (e.g sushi night), run several convention trips to New York and Boston throughout the year, and have weekly meetings. I hope to see some of you around! Aside from this, I am always honing my pre-professional skills with the resources from the Loeb centre and as apart of the miekeljohn fellows programme at the college, can access many resources that the college has to offer.

If you ever have any questions, inquiries, or just want to scream into the void, feel free to reach out anytime at Bchaplin23@amherst.edu

The Liberal Arts in the 21st Century: Boom or Bust?

With the current on-going Coronavirus crisis ravaging the globe (at the time of writing), coupled with the fears of rising student debt in the United States in general & the perceived lack of value purported by some in the public. I've been thinking recently about what value that the Liberal arts can provide in the 21st Century, and I've come to the conclusion that the Liberal Arts are more important than ever. I'll explain my reasoning.

 

The big first hurdle to cross is cost &, being a FLI student, is really what drew my eye first. The liberal arts model of education prides itself in intensive & interdisipliary teaching. With this comes the cost of higher professor density, and greater provision of class time across an array of subjects. Here at Amherst alone, we have 850 courses across 40 majors despite having only ~1600 students. With student debt outstanding at $1.6 trillion, is this model really justifiable if it fuels a corresponding proligation of student debt?

However, it is not so simple, and Liberal Arts colleges fair much better than the overall trend. Though the Gross cost of attendance has been rising across the United States, the 'sticker price', Net cost of attendance ('sticker price' - Finance aid/Federal assistance) has been stable for many Liberal Arts colleges. Research by every students' favourite company, The College Board, found that for most students, rising levels of grant aid from Private 4 year non profits Colleges (e.g. Majority of Liberal Arts Colleges) meant that the cost of attending did not increase in real terms between 2003-2016 . Furthermore, this rising level of institutional grant has been applied radically based around need - meaning that families from low & middle income families have tended to receive the most aid as per their need. I was pleased to find that Amhersts commitment is long standing and strong and that both average costs to attend have not increased since 2000, and that aid to low income students has vastly increased. 

 

Next to address is the supposed value of a Liberal Arts degree. Though nothings perfect, the model of the Liberal Arts has significant benefits for students that can often be overlooked. The aim is not to have students overspecialise, but to have them read widely, develop students' critical thinking skills & be able to apply this knowledge in a variety of ways to real world problems.

Take climate change. The science is strong, and required a vast effort from metereologists, biologists and environmental chemists, amongst others. However other approaches are required. The massive social changes caused by a worsening climate will have to be studied, with psychologists looking at worsening climate effects on mental health & economists will have to design new economic models to allow civil society to cope with upheaval amongst others. A Liberal Arts education is condusive to this way of thinking and, I believe, is preparing students a great deal to solve new problems. A look at the continuing work that Amherst alums are doing in an array of fields gives me greater confidence in this belief.

 

We are all different, and the liberal arts may not be for everyone. But this model of education is here to stay, and still provides excellent value for students, and wider society alike.

100 Reasons Why the Amherst Economic Department is the best (Number 77 may shock you!)

It's no secret that I love economics - I came into Amherst planning to be an econ major, and thats still the plan. Overly clickbaity headline aside (I don't actually have 100 reasons why, this article might be a bit long if I did), Amherst has an incredible econ department that any incoming freshman should consider taking classes in - major or no.

A little about the major; It consists of 9 classes that you can take at any point throughout your time at Amherst. There are some requiremed classes for the major - the department wants everyone to come out with a strong understanding of the fundamentals. Each student therefore takes ECON 111 - Intro to Econ, as well as Microeconomics, Macroeconomics & Econometrics (The intro class can be tested out of & replaced with another elective). The rest of the classes you take can be chosen by you, and to reflect your interests. I think this is where the department shines strongest, as these electives often reflect a professors personal research, and so they are passionate & knowledgable about their contents to astonishing degree.

Some of the electives I've taken so far at Amherst are:

  • Public Economics: Environment, Health and Inequality: A brilliant class, taught by Professor Reyes, covering the outline of traditional public health economics, and then challenging these standard assumptions by analysing divergent outcomes around the United States through the lens of Race, Class & Inequality. Professor Reyes intelligently links these variations through factors such as access to healthcare, environmental quality, and even to factors such as the amount of environmental lead in an area, and the human cost of it. We were able to cumulate all of this knowledge into developing public policy recommendations at the end of the class. (The lead-crime hypothesis is something we covered extensively in the class, a very interesting idea and worth a google if you're interested)

 

  • Development Economics: A great class covering the fundamental topics that govern the development of nations. Taught by Professor Gebresilasse, the class covered a vast array of economic theory, and its real world applications to current developing countries. We covered topics that affect nations, such as migration, institutions & industrial aid, as well as ones that primarily affect the individual, such as health, aid & education. Throughout the class, we each focused in a currently developing country, and researched how these ideas interracted with each countries level and mode of development. From this, we developed two reports: One that outlined the situation currently in the chosen country, and another that sought to identify a key issue facing the country, and propose a policy that would support development by tackling this issue. I found the class to be very interesting, and it has sparked a love for development economics as a field.

 

  • Financial Globalisation: Growth and Crises: A deeply interesting and topical class, teaching about the fundamental institutions and forces that affect financial structures internationally, and how these forces relate in the current era of increasing financial globalisation. Professor Honig, the teaching professor, was really interested in understanding why some countries are able to maintain stable and open capital flows, while some were incredibly unstable, especially when it came to developing economies. In the class, we covered models that current govern the way capital flows are governed, the national institutions that underpin international capital flows, and importantly, the ideas and thinking that lead to capital flight and economic instability. Given the lingering effects of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, it remains important for us to study the effects of financial globalisation and how we can design economic systems to be successful. I really liked this class, and would recommend it to anyone interested in current affairs or international economics.

I hope to continue my economics education at Amherst with Microeconomics this semester, and Macro the next. At the end of your time at Amherst, those who are interested can take a class as a means to write a senior thesis, a piece of new research that you can undertake and create yourself. Hopefully I can do this, I think it would really round out my time at Amherst nicely.

These are some of the cool things you can study at Amherst within the economics department. If you're interested, give the catalogue a check over as the classes taught each semester change and develop. Even if you don't plan to major, the intro class is assessable, and provides a really cool insight into the field.

Thinking Ahead: The Loeb Centre & Careers at Amherst

When choosing if and where to attend college, there are many considerations: What to study, Where to study it and importantly - what do I want to do after college? It was something that preoccupied a lot of my time as a FLI student in the college search process; how could I balance my personal and professional interests, study what I love, without disregarding my professional ambitions? Looking back on it, the freedom in choice that Amherst gives its students, and the support we get from the Loeb centre makes achieving both possible.

Amhersts trademark open curiculum facilitates a lot in allowing students to develop in their own way. With no general requirements to meet, I've been able to follow my interests in philosophy, computer science and Japanese in a deeper and more meaningful than I would have otherwise, while also continuing my core academic interests in Economics. A truely unique academic situation that reflects all my interests and yet despite the wide array of topics I take interest in, the small classes and quality instruction that Amherst has mean't I get a significant depth in each of my classes. ///

In addition to its academic offerings, Amherst supports students in translating their liberal arts education into professional success with the Loeb Centre for Career Exploration & Planning. They provide an array of professional development options, including:

  • Career Advising - The loeb centre offers advice from careers advisors tailored towards specific fields/industries
  • The Charles Hamilton Internship Programme - A comprehensive paid internship programme which matches students with suitable internships, provided by employers looking to recruit Amherst students.
  • Career specific programming,events & networking throughout the year 
  • Funding options for summer internships students might wish to undertake
  • Support for recently graduated students and alumni

In addition to all of this, the college operates the Meiklejohn Fellows programme, a careers development programme aimed at developing the professional skills of first generation/low income students, so that they might get the most out of their time at Amherst. The programme consists of several active sessions throughout the year, as well as support from Casey Jo, the excellent director of the programme! It's been great to be apart of the programme, connecting with other FLI students at the college & confiding in our shared experiences. Being able to channel this shared energy into developing our skills has been a gratifying experience.

My experience is one amongst many, but is by no means unique. If you are proactive, willing to try something new and embrace the freedom that choosing for yourselves how to balance your personal and professional life, strongly consider an Amherst education.

私はアムハーストで日本語を勉強しています - Starting a New Language from Scratch at College!?

So, you've always been interested in studying a foreign language, but you've never had the chance. Well, Amherst has you covered!

It might seem like a daunting task, learning an entirely new language from no profiency or from the couple of classes in high school you took. Amherst has your back here. The open curiculum and low student to faculty ratio really comes into its own, with lots of face to face time available with professors. The curiculum caters for speakers of any profiency, so prospective students can jump into classes at a comfortable level of previous knowledge. The College and Professors alike clearly feel passionate about making languages accessible. In my experience this is pretty evident. 

But before you start studying, you need to decide which language you want to study. Amherst College has excellent language departs on campus, teaching the European languages French, Spanish and German and the Asian Languages Japanese and Chinese. The college also teaches Russian and also possesses one of the largest collections of Russian literature outside of Russia. Not bad for a small liberal arts college! Alongside the study of your chosen language within a deparment, you have the opportunity to supplement language learning with classes that delve into the local customs and culture of that country, sometimes being able to make use of your language skills to read texts in their native language! But if any of those languages don't take your fancy, you can check out the Five College Centre for World Languages. With over 40 languages available, ranging from Albanian to Swahili, you can probably find one that suits you!

In my case, I chose to study Japanese within Amherst Colleges Asian Languages & Civilisations department. I have had a long standing interest in Japanese culture and a strong desire to study the language, but never had the opportunity to study it until now. Amhersts long standing ties with Doshisha University means that the Japanese department is well established and well equipped to teach beginners like me (Doshisha is a private research university in Kyoto, Japan and was founded by Joseph Hardy Neesima, Amherst Class of 1870. The colleges have a close relationship and study abroad between the two institutions is common). 

It's been a great experience studying Japanese and I'm glad I chose to. Coming in at the most basic level, we studied both sets of Kana, hiragana (ひらがな) and katakana (カタカナ) that are used to write in Japanese. Building upon this, I have begun to build up my understanding of Japanese grammar and sentence structure through both speaking and writing exercises. We do this though having group a group study session with a teacher present and then a later more intensive session with a smaller group and a professor. I think this system is really valuable because of the amount of study time we have with a professor, and it supplements our own private studying very well. The pace of learning is brisk but managable, and significant amounts of support are there for students that may struggle. I hope to continue my studies moving forward, and develop a profiency in the Japanese language.

I think college is a special period in your life where you can have the opportunity to discover new interests, and learn a bit about yourself. Because Amherst has the open curiculum, you're not forced to make choices between intellectual, professional or personal interests. If your proclivities are so, taking a language can be a deeply rewarding experience and is something I would recommend to all who are interested.

If you guys have any further questions about languages, or the Japanese department - Get in touch!

 

読んでくれてありがとう - Thanks for reading!

No Time to Lie: The Student Visa Experience

You've gone through the hassle of applying to Amherst internationally, filling out the common app, getting those supplements in and, with your great talents and a little bit of luck, you've gotten in! Enjoy the moment, because now you have the important visa and legal considerations to manage before you enter the United States. However, you don't need to worry! The process looks daunting but is actually straight forward, and hopefully I can share a little of my experiences here to lessen your worry.

Most international students come to America on the F-1 Visa, a visa designed specifically for students, but there are many different circumstances that may require an alternative. I will primarily talk about my F-1 Experience, but this isn't by any means the only way of coming to Amherst, but arguably is the most typical route. CISE - Centre for International Student Engagement is the best place to direct your visa questions relating to Amherst specifically Email: cise@amherst.edu and can help point you in the right direction.

So the process begins with you receiving the I-20 from Amherst - You now have legally binding documentation that you can study in the US! DON'T LOSE THIS! It is important for your continuing studies in the states so making copies is a prudent move. Now you can fill out the SEVIS I-901 (The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) form on the US immigration website, and pay the fee using your I-20 details.

Next comes the actual visa application. For me, I needed to fill out the DS-160 to start my visa process. It's fairly straight forward, but they do ask about everything. It goes without saying, but answer truthfully, because if you lie, it may haunt you later. It's also illegal, so don't do that. Submit the form and choose the embassy which you'll go for your interview!

After a period of waiting, I went down to the US Embassy in London to have my interview and get my visa approved. It took the whole day, and was a daunting experience at first. The embassy in London is vast. Its architecture is modern, making congenial use of glass and metal to project itself across the London skyline. I found the moat it has very amusing - very much in keeping with the UK's historic love of castles. It is a busy building, with a constant queue outside. I spent a couple of hours waiting outside to get in, and slowly moved inside and upstairs. The waiting process continued. Upstairs is where you go for your interview. Perhaps in the style of the most grand doctors office ever, you sit and wait until they call you.

The interview is fairly unremarkable. As a prospective college student whose financial aid makes it possible to come to Amherst, the interviewer asked little about how I'll support myself (An important consideration for issuing a visa) and what I planned to do in the states. We made small talk for a little bit, and off I went to wait again. Now it was the wait to go to the desk to get my visa approved. Time passed and my visa was approved at the Desk! You provide them with your passport, and they sent it back to me, visa stamped in and all.

 

Some top tips for navigating the visa process:

  • Start Early! The added stress of time constraints and co-ordination issues isn't something you need. Make it easy for youself
  • Collect and store all your documents safely - Make copies if you can. You do not want to lose your documents and put yourself in jeopardy.
  • If you can, start saving early. The fees and cost of getting a visa can be onerous if not accordingly planned for. It's probably the best investment you'll ever make, so don't feel too bad about being nickle and dimed for fees.
  • Be aware of any restrictions between your home country and the US. Depending on the situation depends on any extra steps you might need to take. It may also affect the length of time your visa is issued for.
  • Breathe - It's a long process, but just take it one step at a time, and you should be able to get through this.

I hope this outlines the process a little for you guys. Whether you're an international student, or an Amherst student looking to study abroad, visa issuance is an issue you'll have to grapple with. Take advice, and tackle the process sequentially, and you'll not go far wrong!