Brandon Ngacho '24 - Introduction

Brandon sitting at Umass' honors college Hi Everyone! 

My name is Brandon (He/Him/His). Like everybody else, I’m many things, but the ones that are the most relevant here are:

  1. I’m an international student from Kenya. 
  2. A rising sophomore.
  3. A prospective computer science and statistics double major.
  4. A visitor relations intern in the admissions office this summer.

My primary interests are in computer science and computing, but I’m always trying new things to distract myself from programming bugs.

Joining Amherst in a pandemic year didn’t give me the opportunity to be involved in much, but I played club soccer, I was in the graphic design team of the Amherst Student (the official student-run newspaper). I was also a part of the African and Carribean Students Union and I did one of the choreos. Here is the video!

Around campus, you’ll often find me laughing carelessly while hanging out with my friends, enjoying a cup of black tea from Val, or working out in the gym.

I’m otherwise excited to share my experiences with you this summer, so feel free to reach out to me about things Amherst at popondo24@amherst.edu.

What is a class like at Amherst?

To all incoming/prospective freshmen that are looking for a glance into what Amherst classes have to offer, this is a reflection of one of my favorite classes so far. I hope this reflection persuades you if you are thinking about exploring classes that are outside your primary interests and comfort zone. Come on, it’s an open curriculum.

Before I arrived on campus at the beginning of last spring, there was a list of things I wanted to do in my first semester in America. Two of those things happened to be having coffee from Starbucks and understanding the impact moving 7000+ miles away from home would mean for me. In addition to not being able to leave campus, I doubt there is a Starbucks location in the nearby Amherst town. If anyone knows any, please let me know. Starbucks was therefore off the table for me. 

Understanding what moving away from home therefore became top-priority for me and for this reason I decided to take Narratives of Migration from the English department which was taught by a visiting writer--Kirun Kapur. I still remember the expressions on my friends’ faces when I told them I’ll be taking an English class. They were quick to remind me that they didn’t see how the class would be helpful to me since they knew I’m very STEM-oriented.

I must mention that the only thing I regret about taking that class was that I took it virtually, though I understood that it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and it might not be offered in future.

For introductions, the professor was keen on understanding why everybody in the class was taking it, and it was very relieving to hear from my peers. They too mostly wanted to understand the impact of their migration or their parents’ migration on their lives. Throughout the class, we read interesting articles, poems, chapters from books, and books on different stories of Migration. Additionally, we had Rishi Reddi--author of Passage West and Karma and other stories--and Eduardo Corral--a poet whose work includes Slow Lighting and Guillotine--visit our class for reading and discussion of their work.

A copy of Ocean Vuong's On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous Between Robert Hayden’s Middle Passage and Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous, we engaged in discussions surrounding migration: from forced migrations of the slaves, to voluntary and involuntary migrations of families around the world seeking better conditions. This class in my opinion, was a good way to get caught up with many policies and events migrants clash with in both the US and around the world while learning about the causes of migration issues that can be a bit more complicated than the political, economic, and social issues that are painted as. 

This class helped me in understanding that with migration, comes changes, and many of these changes require some level of patience and grace to accept. It also helped me devise strategies on how to keep in touch with my Kenyan origin: mostly speaking swahili with my Kenyan friends whenever we get the chance, and listening to Kenyan music. More importantly, however, this class helped me ground the fact that like many other people, I’m a vessel of experiences, which is why, when I’m introducing myself, I prefer starting with “I’m many things...”

The Litu Things

What is it like to be an international student here? On the weekend of 12th June, The Center for International Student Engagement hosted its first event for International Students on Campus this summer--the second event is a trip to six flags New England on the 26th June (I don’t know if you can tell, but I’m excited for it and can’t wait to write on that!)

The event was at the Ford event space and it featured multiple card and board games, friends and of course--antonio’s pizza. Apart from the friends and good time, this event was a good time to reflect. We all had to write on a blank sheet of paper on what it feels like to be an international student which is kind of the subject of my post today.

I wrote that being an international student has been a million little things to me, but so is being human. I will try to clarify:

The litu (read little) pronunciations.

Back in Nairobi, anyone who said waa·tr would most likely be ridiculed to death, but here I’ve learnt to say it that way, albeit badly. For anyone from home reading, I promise that only the inconvenience of not properly conveying my message has converted me to this crowd. I must mention that it’s not just water, it’s a couple of other words too.

Talking, no complaining, about the weather.

I’m sorry Nairobi, I took the weather for granted, and I wouldn’t hear anyone talk about the weather. In fact, there was barely any weather to talk about. Since I came to Amherst though, I can barely go for a day without really complaining about the weather. Don’t get me wrong, it’s totally inhabitable, but sometimes you leave the Greenways when it’s absolutely stunning outside, and you reach the dining hall 30 minutes later drenched in rain. Sometimes you leave your room without checking the weather app, and the chilly wind of western Massachusetts hits you halfway into your destination. It’s just how it is. Moral of the story: always check the weather app.

Crossing the road without fear of being run over.

It’s not all complaints though. I love the fact that everytime I cross the road it’s not a life/death situation. Thank God for the Massachusetts state law that gives pedestrians the right of way. I think this is how things should be done. I really see no reason why I must borrow a couple of lessons from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War just to cross the road. I will really miss this when I go back home.

The Color of The Trees.

This has to be the one I’m really looking forward to experiencing in full. Having been remote last fall, I have been here for three of the four seasons. I’ve enjoyed the greening of trees during spring, and I can’t wait to see the progress through both summer and fall.

 

June 25th 2021

CISE Sponsored Six Flags Trip

Where I come from, we barely have any roller-coasters, so phrases like “emotional roller coaster” or, “bitcoin is on a roller coaster ride” didn’t make a lot of sense to me, at least till the second of June 26th. Shout out to CISE for ensuring that going forward, I would understand what a roller coaster ride feels like, and for giving me more than enough content to write in this blog post. Six Flags roller coaster

In a CISE-sponsored trip for the 26th of June, we international students went to Six Flags New England on a Day Pass for a whole day of pure fun and thrill. I have been to six flags before--some of my upperclassmen friends convinced me to go a week after the semester ended. By then, I stepped into my first roller coaster, Flashback, and the flashbacks (no pun intended) I got kept me away from roller coasters for the remainder of that day. I vowed to return to try more rollercoaster rides, so you can imagine when CISE announced this trip.

The trip to six flags was filled with nostalgic energy from my high school trips, and sitting next to my friends on the bus after a year of virtually not being able to was refreshing, though I did take a nap as I hadn’t slept so well the night before. There was also a traffic jam on the way, but that wouldn’t deter me, and all of us really, from the imminent excitement.

Like when I went for the first time, I convinced all my friends to try out the Flashback first, which they were more than happy to. My selfish motive was to gauge whether or not I was ready to explore. It wasn’t as terrible this time, so the idea of opening my eyes in other roller coaster rides I was gonna try out for the rest of the day didn’t sound bad at all. 

Apart from Flashback, I only found time to to try out the sky screamer (a personal favorite), the wicked cyclone (which was an actual roller coaster) before the CISE-sponsored lunch (we love you CISE!!). While my goal was to go on the largest (?) coaster ride in the park (Superman), my friends convinced me to dedicate the whole afternoon to checking out the water pack. I was more than happy to, as long as I could squeeze the last twenty minutes of my time at the park to Superman. This plan would have worked just fine, if I hadn’t spent the better half of my afternoon lining up for the Blizzard River--a perfect, and favorite, water ride!

six flags with friends Later, rather than sooner, I joined my friends in the water park and we spent virtually all of our time playing water games. We had water wrestling (the real, softer version), and tried a couple of takedowns on each other. As you might have guessed, I didn’t get time to go to Superman, so once again, I will go back to Six Flags to try out Superman at Six Flags. Hope CISE sponsors it. 



July 4, 2021

Biking at Amherst

Major Perambulations: on how to ride a bike.

Last weekend, we all congregated to engage in an important task--teach one of our friends to ride a bike. Normally we’d use one of the college’s Bike Share bikes, but because it was put on hold this summer, we borrowed a bike from one of our friends. See, I like to think I can explain things well, but explaining to someone how to ride a bike isn’t as easy as explaining an algorithm to somebody. Part of the problem, I think, is that riding a bike has no one algorithm on how to do it. Having said that, we made the best of our circumstances.   

After grabbing lunch from Val, we set out for the bike path along the tarmacked area for practice. We brought out our speakers and blasted some Olivia Rodrigo. There are a couple of lessons I learnt myself from teaching someone how to ride a bike. First of all, I take balancing on a bicycle for granted. It’s not easy to pass the instruction. This was by far the most time-consuming step. Once he got that, we had a smooth time. In a cumulative 2 hours, we finally had my friend riding a bike on his own. Massive win.

I have to mention that since we taught him, my friend has had a massive obsession with the bike share program. Spending the majority of the rest of the weekend in the Norwottuck Branch Rail Trail which is part of the 10 mile bike trail for students to use here on campus.

That experience adds another immersive experience I’ve had here at Amherst and specifically the bike path. 

Major perambulations: The Bike share program.

Here on campus, we have a bike share program. This is a free service for Amherst college students. Usually, you check out a bike from the Robert Frost library Monday through Friday 8 am - 5 pm, and you are expected to return the bike the next day by 4:30 pm. You are also required to sign a waiver prior to when you need the bike. 

 

July 9, 2021

TRAVEL!!

This summer has been a summer of mild travelling. But even then, there have been plenty of opportunities to have fun on and off campus. Most recently, CISE (I honestly don’t know what we can do to thank CISE enough) took us to Boston. It was none of the typical high school trips--CISE wasn’t paying for our accommodation, or places we visited, but honestly I couldn't care less. CISE eliminated one of the largest obstacles we, Amherst students, face when we are thinking about Boston Trips. There are a couple of ways to get to Boston from Amherst. Unless you or your friend is driving down, most of the otherways are--quite not as convenient. For this reason, CISE offering us transportation to Boston was more than enough for us.

We left campus at about 7 am and as I was thinking about ways I would distract myself before we arrived at our destination (I really hate all travelling processes. I love visiting different destinations though) my friend Arjun Facetimed me; we all took the call gladly and spent the next hour catching up with each other. I spent the next hour finalizing our Boston plans with a friend who goes to Wellesley. I must mention that this was a nice distraction as we did not follow this plan at all!

Sooner, rather than later, we were at Boston Commons and I--together with my friends--was ready to get lost in Boston. My friend from Wellesley called me to let me know they’d be late so we had to fill our time with different activities. We set out for the freedom trail, took a photo in front of the 54th Regiment Memorial before proceeding to The Corner Mall for some Tasty snacks! We had to meet back at the Boston Commons for a lunch--sponsored by CISE!! 

I thought that was half of my day wasted and to be honest, I was really worried about my plans with my friends from Wellesley! I was proven wrong shortly after. While we were having lunch at the Boston Commons, my friend called me to head over to Fasika Cafe, for a nice Ethiopian meal. She brought her friends and so did I! Do you guys know the anxiety of introducing your friend group to another person’s friend group? What is that all about? You can tell this was the only thing in my mind as we were on the Orange Line to the Ethiopian Restaurant. Unlike what I had hoped for, everybody seemed to have a good time at Fasika. I suspect it was the food that was bringing us together. Injera y’all--a need!!

We thought about going to the beach, but it started raining :(. We decided to go to an arcade to have some fun. By the time we were done, the rain had stopped and therefore we had to eat before going back to our hotel room (we split the costs among ourselves so that helped). We came back to campus the next morning via the Peter Pan Bus Service which is one of the few bus services coming to Amherst on a daily basis. For me though, this trip was a massive success!!

July 16, 2021

What have we (the BESTIES) been up to?

For those of you who have had the chance to visit our--and other--campuses as well this summer, I hope you have been treated to wonderful trips around the campuses you visited. I hope our visitors had a good time, as interns we did. In fact, I think this has been the biggest highlight of my summer, which is to say a lot considering it’s a job (that required me to wake up before nine multiple times) and I’ve spent ten weeks (often in scorching sun, or tempestuous rain) of my time here. Even as we conclude this Friday, many of the elements we had from our very first weeks still remain. I’m actually a little sad that this is coming to an end, because for a job, I can’t emphasize how much of a good time I’ve heard. For my last blog post, I’m highlighting the moments I’ll forever cherish and miss from this job, 

The purple shoes.

After filling in our contracts, we got google forms to indicate our shoe sizes. This was a surprise for all of us, but we were more than happy to take free purple converse shoes. We actually had a debate on low tops vs high tops, and I think we all agree low-tops are the best kind. We have a little tradition, purple shoe friday, so bonus points if you were able to spot all the interns with purple shoes on Fridays. 

Free bagels, ice cream and snacks.

Throughout the internship, our bosses often surprised us with bagels in the mornings, and a bunch of other snacks throughout the day. We also got popsicles and ice cream to keep us cool when it got hotter. Amongst ourselves, we also brought donuts, cup-cakes, pretzels, and gummy bears for everyone to enjoy!

Dogs

All of us interns loved dogs, and this summer we’re grateful for the opportunities we’ve gotten to pet dogs. Sachmo, our beloved assistant dean of Admissions Micheal Hawkins’ dog was our most regular visitor; Shadow, our women's soccer coach’s dog was also a regular visitor. A couple of our visitors would also bring dogs on their visits and we appreciated petting them.

Outings and gatherings.

With energy levels often going down from staying out all day, we planned multiple refresher events. Jess--another tour guide--took us to flayvors in her car (Libby). She was also kind enough to drive me to Scoop at the Silos when my name was nominated to get free ice cream. One thing about me, ice-cream plus my lactose intolerance will be the end of me. Besides ice cream trips, we went to restaurants in town to get food. We hosted a small gathering (accompanied with music and cake) for ourselves and our friends, played beach volleyball, hosted tangerine peeling competitions, game nights, and movie nights and many more! 

 

Sponsored outings!

Our bosses in the admissions office also took us to have meals in town, which was not only a nice chance to break from Val food, but it was also a nice opportunity to get to know our bosses and colleagues.

Friends.

We started this job on zoom, and by the second day I was rethinking my decision. Let’s be honest, it would’ve been terrible to be on zoom for eight hours a day. When we transitioned in-person, it all changed! So, with that, despite the banality, I’ll name it: the real win was the friends we made along the way! I think we had a good chemistry as tour guides, and we related in a way that transcended us to bestie status! Hence the bestie shouts you’ll hear when we’re referring to each other. Among us, we’ve made some pretty cool--and close friends and I can’t wait to hang with everybody else in the school year!

 

Welp! This continuation would be my last blog post, and the end of this job I’ve held for the past ten weeks of my summer!

 

Aug 13, 2021