Marah Brubaker '19 - Introduction

Hello everyone! Guess who's back again! (spoiler alert: it's me!) I'm super excited to be back in my little corner of the blogosphere for another year, and I'm so glad you've decided to join me! Welcome (:

my pretty face

For those of you who haven't met me yet, my name is Marah and I'm a junior here at Amherst. I'm originally from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and I'm a double major in Anthropology and Sexuality, Women's, and Gender Studies (SWAGS for short). I spent my entire summer here on campus working in the Admissions Office. (If you're interested in reading my blog from this summer, you can find it here.) On campus, I love singing with my a capella group (the Amherst DQ--check us out!), running on the trails around campus, hanging out in the Women's and Gender Center, playing intramural volleyball, and (obviously!) blogging for Admissions!

Just for fun (and to keep the tradition I started this summer), I've included a few fun facts about myself to help you learn a bit about me!

  1. I have a condition called phytophotodermatitis, which basically means that my skin chemically burns when simultaneously coming into contact with sunlight and lime juice.
  2. This summer I ate a hamburger for the first time!
  3. My name means bitter. My mom likes to say that it means bittersweet (theres a bible story about God using Moses to turn the bitter river Marah sweet so that the Israelites could drink from it). But it technically just means bitter!
  4. I once lost my sense of smell due to a botched sugery. Ever since (partially) regaining my sense of small after the surgery, I have developed synesthesia with smell / emotions. Weird!

Alright. That's all for now folks! Please please email me (mbrubaker19@amherst.edu) with any and all questions or comments! (Aka please email me so that I know you're out there and I'm not just aimlessly spewing words into an empty void!) I can't wait to see what this semester holds!

Chapter VII: Omelettes

one of my first attempts at making an omelette

On the first day of winter break, my mother made me the most incredible omelette. We are talking INCREDIBLE. Cheese deliciously melted, eggs cooked to perfection, delectible peppers and onions, flavorful broccoli, saporous tomatoes. All of this served up with a tall, refreshing glass of orange juice and a crsip, perfectly-toasted piece of bread. As you can imagine, it was pretty close to perfection! 

So the next day I set out to replicate her deliciousness! But unfortunately...I failed. And I failed hard. I forgot to add water to the eggs, the eggs turned black, I accidentally burnt a hole through a towel, and the broccoli was disgusting. I even tried to persevere and eat the omelette afterwards anyway, but I couldn't manage. It was repulsive. Altogether, it was a very very large failure. It was embarassing and scary and I gave up on ever being able to make an omelette. 

my perfect omelette But then the next morning I woke up and wanted an omelette. And (even though I remembered the disaster that was the morning before), I decided that I was going to make a good omelette. I was determined. By the end of winter break, I promised myself, I was going to be capable of preparing an omelette that I could be proud of. 

And so I worked for it. A couple of times a week, I would make omelettes. For me, sometimes for my family or friends too. I recruited my mom for some instructional sessions. And I made some really bad omelettes (like the first picture in this post). I burnt some towels and some omelettes too. I set off the fire alarm multiple times, accidentally cut my fingers, and undercooked far too many eggs. But, with time and patience, my omelettes slowly began to improve. They began to become a bit more bearable, even bordering on the brink of enjoyable. And then, by the end of break, I could make a delicious omelette. I learned how to do it! And while this may seem a bit trivial or not notable, I felt pretty symbolic to me. I took it as this grand lesson in learning to embrace and overcome the things you're bad at (such as cooking), in willingness to ask for assistance, in learning new skills, and in determination, persistance, and triumph! I learned how to make a delectible omelette. In the bottom picture, you can see one of the omelettes I made the week before returning to campus. Success! It's all about celebrating the small victories (:

So there you are. That's the tale of the Evasive Omelette. And if you ever want to learn how to make the perfect omelette, feel free to hit me up for advice! That's all for now. I'll write again soon!

Chapter VI: Taking a Break

I write to you now having returned to campus after WINTER BREAK. The break was busy and crazy and cold and wonderful, and altogether way too short. But alas, I am back on campus. 

my siblings and grandmother on Christmas So before I get consumed in classes and a capella and friends and life here on campus, I want to take a quick moment to look back over my winter break. Here I have prepared for you a 6-stop summary that details some of the adventures my break entailed. So without further ado, here goes!

First stop: the holidaysOver the holidays, I saw lots of relatives, ate a ton of delicious food, and got to celebrate with all of my favorite people. The first picture I have included is of me, me two siblings, my niece, and my Nana posing together on Christmas day! You have to love the holiday spirit!

my niece on the frozen lake

 Stop Two: A family vacation in the Poconos!

For a few days right after Christmas, my entire immediate family went on a vacation to a cabin in the Poconos! We had lots of fun hanging out, playing board games, reading good books, having good conversation, preparing delicious food, and exploring the area. The picture I've included is of my niece standing on the frozen lake that we explored. We had a blast sliding and skating around! Though unbelievably cold, the Poconos are truly stunning. I would definitely recommend visiting if you ever get the chance! And of course, it's always more fun if you bring an awesome two-year old along (:

New Years Eve!

 

Stop Three: New Years Eve

After that came New Years Eve! I rang in 2018 in my hometown with some of my best friends from high school and some new friends as well! It was great to see some of my friends again before they head out to study abroad all across the globe! Moreso, ringing in 2018 also meant the commencement of my niece's second birthday! Happy birthday Haya!

wedding at Villanova Fourth Stop: An Awesome Wedding!

One of my favorite events over the break was getting to attend the wedding of one of my older cousins! It was an awesome day where we got two celebrate two truly incredible people! My extended family is absolutely massive, so it is always awesome to get to see everyone! I had cousins flying in from all over the country, and it was a wonderful night of dancing and celebrating together! The wedding was held on the campus of Villanova University (it was absolutely beautiful!) and the reception was at a beautiful hotel in Delaware. Altogether, it was an awesome celebration of a phenomenal couple!

escape room

 Stop Five: The Escape Room

Next on the agenda was a family trip to a local Escape Room! If you are unfamiliar with escape rooms, I've included the link to a description here. Basically, it's a physical adventure game where you (and a group of people) are locked inside of a room and have one hour to solve a series of puzzles and get yourselves out of the room! Each escape room has a different theme--from pirates to Sherlock Holmes to the Wild West to Zombies to basically anything else you can imagine! The room we did was at an awesome facility called Escape on Queen and we did a room theme called "The Hideout."

a picture taken during our road trip! Sixth Stop: Road Trip

Right before heading back up to Amherst for the start of the semester, my boyfriend and I embarked on a road trip! I convinced him that there was no particular destination for the trip--just some random spontaneous adventuring. But after stopping at some fun-sounding stops along the way such as Eats & Sweets, the Bagelmeister, Grilled Cheese and Co., and Moo Thru, I surprised him with a visit to his older sister in Virginia! We had a great night at her apartment and even got the chance to visit her at her work the next morning before heading out to visit one of my older cousins in Maryland! It was a very fun trip to see some awesome people!

And as soon as we got back from the road trip, it was time to embark on the journey back up to Amherst. And that brings us to today! I am back on campus, awaiting the impending semester. And as much as I adore and already miss home, I can't wait to see what this semester holds!

Chapter V: A Semester in Review

As finals period descends upon us and the semester comes to a close, I take this opportunity to look back at the semester past.

To be honest with you, this semester was hard. Really hard. Between losing my grandfather and having mono for 2+ months, I found myself often tempted to crumple into a tiny ball and give up. When I first found out that I had mono, both my mom and doctor encouraged me to seriously consider leaving school for the semester. It's impossible to predict the severity or longevity of any given case of mono, but all signs indicated that my case was going to be anything but mild. After lots of internal debate and turmoil, I made the decision to proceed with the semester as planned. And I am certainly glad I did! Even though the semester was by far my most challenging one yet (both academically and personally), it was also the most rewarding. Somehow, I am still doing okay! Though obviously a bit stressed with the end of the semester, I have a feeling that it will all be okay. And let me tell you, I haven't always felt that way this semester! Here's to surviving and thriving!

But it's worth noting that I didn't do it alone. Here is a list of a few things that deserve my gratitude for helping me survive this semester:

  • four incredible professors who were surpassingly supportive as I missed classes and requested frequent extensions
  • smoothies from The Works in Amherst when my throat hurt too much to eat solid food
  • the amazing staff at the Amherst Health Center who were by my side 100% of the way
  • awesome friends to care for me, deliver snacks and food and smoothies, and provide me entertaining company on the days I was too sickly or tired to venture out of my dorm room
  • a support system of people both on campus and back home in Pennsylvania to continually encourage and maintain me
  • the breakfast muffins at Val. They never cease to bring me joy.
  • and (of course) a specially thanks to Netflix for the endless hours of entertainment

This semester was crazy and hard, but survivable. So as I venture forward into finals and the future, I hold tightly to this mantra: 

Like my immune system, I can recover!

Chapter IV: A cappella

Today I've chosen to write about one of my very favorite activities at Amherst: a cappella!

the DQ poses for a picture after our spring show

During the fall of my first year here at Amherst, I decided to go out on a limb and audition for some a capella groups on campus. After the entirety of the audition and selection process, I was accepted into Amherst's only co-ed, secular group: the Amherst DQ! Totally unaware of what was in store for me (but thoroughly thrilled), I entered the Amherst a cappella community!

the DQ performing in our annual Christmas show

Altogether, Amherst has six a cappella groups: two all female, two all male, and two co-ed. All six of the groups range in styles, intensity, and focus! Like I mentioned, I joined the DQ (the secular, co-ed group) during my first year at Amherst, and I have been a part of it ever since. During my sophomore year, I was chosen to be one of the co-directors of the group. Directing the group was definitely one the most challenging (and rewarding!) experiences I've had at Amherst so far!

the DQ acting goofy during our photoshoot

Every year looks a little different in DQ as we participate in various competitions, collaborate with groups from other schools, and host multiple shows of our own. And while being a part of an a capella group isn't quite like Pitch Perfect makes it out to be, it really is an incredible experience. The DQ has become my family here at Amherst, and I can't imagine doing life without them! 

(Also, as a shameless plug for the DQ, feel free to check us out on youtubefacebook, or instagram! And you can hear me solo here!) Feel free to reach out to me at mbrubaker19@amherst.edu with any question about the DQ or Amherst a cappella!

Chapter III: Istanbul!

Today, I write again with exciting news: I'm going to Turkey!!

A beautiful skyline in Istanbul

A beautiful picture of the Istabul skyline taken by Ben Morlok

Not to study abroad (I've decided I will not spend a semester abroad during my time here--something I may write about at a later date), but to visit with one of my classes for two weeks in May! I am taking a class called "Istanbul," which is cross-listed in the departments of History, Anthropology, and Asain Languages & Civilizations. The course is one of Amherst's CBL courses--it is centered upon community based learning. Basically, CBL courses are focused on finding ways to connect the intellectual rigor of the classroom with the wider community and outside world as a whole. They're part of a broad interest in what's called "experiental learning," and they're awesome! A list of community based learning courses being offered in the Spring of 2018 can be found here.

map of turkey

Basically, the course is focused on studying contemporary politics and society in Turkey, and it will culminate with the 12-student class travelling to Istabul for two weeks (paid for by the college!). I CAN'T WAIT!

 

Chapter II: Double the Fun

Today I write to announce that I have officially declared myself to be a double major! To my previous major of Anthropology, I have now declared a second major in Sexuality, Women's, and Gender Studies! Here's to lots of work, but also tons of awesome professors and great classes!

In this post, I want to introduce one of the aspects of Amherst that makes it so great: the Open Curriculum! To be perfectly honest, I am confident that the only reason I am able to double major is due to the incredible open curriculum. You can find a full description of the Open Curriculum here, but I will briefly summarize it for you also!

Basically, if you imagine a whole spectrum of different kinds of curricula, at one end you have schools with a core curriculum. These are schools like Columbia University, where there is a set of common courses that every single student must take in order to graduate. Then in the middle of the spectrum there are schools like Yale that have distributional requirements, where all students are required to take a few courses in various different areas (for example, 3 English, 3 Math, 3 History, etc). And then at the complete other end of the spectrum, you have us! We have what's called an open curriculum. It's the type of curriculum that gives students the most freedom to choose their course. We have only three academic requirements for students, and they are...

(1) First, you must take a first-year seminar. There are dozens of first-year seminars offered every fall, ranging topics of almost everything (from genes to genocide to olive oil!). The list of first-year seminars offered this semester can be found here. These courses, regardless of particular topics, are all intended to prepare you for the academic world here at Amherst and help ease the transition from a high school workload and into college. They focus on the fundamental skills of reading, writing, and thinking, and they are essentially in place to make sure that all students are prepared for Amherst!

(2) Requirement 2 is simply to take four courses a semester! 4 courses per semester * 8 semesters = 32 courses by the time you graduate. No more, no less. Simple enough. 

(3) The last requirement is to complete at least one major. We offer 40 different majors and a complete list of them can be found here. Each major takes a different number of courses to complete ranging from about 8-11 typically (a few random majors take more or less than that, and each major path is outlined on its webpage!). For example, my majors require 8 (anthropology) and 9 (sexuality, women's, and gender studies) courses. That means that just about half of the courses that I take at Amherst (15 of 32) could be completely unrelated to either of my majors! Awesome, right?? This gives so much academic freedom to explore random courses! In my 5 semesters here at Amherst so far, I have taken courses in 13 different departments!

While this freedom is truly incredible, it (understandably!) really scares a lot of students and a LOT of parents. The fear is that students will restrict themselves to only one academic area and put on blinders to all other options. But we really don't see that happening! In reality, about 85% of our students end up fulfilling the distributional requirements of other schools. The difference for us is that students are choosing to do so. No one is forcing you to take anything, so students end up taking classes they are truly interested in. We offer over 850 courses every year, and you get to take eight of them. So if you think about it, in every class you are in, every student there has rejected more than 800 courses and has chosen this one. 

We also have a really strong advising system in place, in which every first year is paired with a professor in one of their projected areas of interest. Once a student declares a major, they will be assigned an advisor within that department. 

 

Alright! I think that's all for now! Moral of the story is that the open curriculum is awesome!! I'll write again soon. 

Chapter I: Beautiful Chaos

Truth be told, this semester has been nothing short of chaos. Sometimes living hundreds of miles away from home is hard. Really, really hard. And these past two months have been incessantly, ceaselessly hard. Here's a brief rundown of my semester so far. 

me and my grandfather

As you may or may not know, I was working in the Admissions Office here on campus all summer. It was challenging and rewarding and exhausting and so many other things (you can read about it here), but the relevant part right now is that I was not home for the majority of my summer. I got to go home for exactly one week between my summer job and the beginning of the school year, and I was greatly looking forward to lounging, being utterly unproductive, and spending all of my time with family and friends. But (like it often tends to) the universe had other plans. Instead, during that week my grandfather passed away unexpectedly. I am one of 29 cousins on that side of my family, and the clan is ginormous, wild, and wonderful. My family is one of the most important things in my life, and my Pop was a huge impetus for that. And while I will be forever grateful that I got to be at home and with family during that week, it was one of the hardest weeks of my life. Suddenly, one of the most influential men in my life was just gone. And I felt like before I had time to breathe or cry or process, I was back on campus and catapulted into regular life.

pretty view

And so began the semester. I missed half of the first week of classes to travel back home for funeral services. And then the next week, I came down with a mysterious stomach illness and ended up missing half of the second and third weeks of class. After that came mono and strep. And then after that came pink eye. And now I am battling what might be bronchitis. This semester just keeps throwing me one thing after another after another--no time for breaks or breathing. My grandfather has passed, my immune system seems either non-existent or defective, I miss my family more than words can express. And yet, somehow in the middle of it all, I have peace. 

contemplating the woods

Somehow, in the midst of the chaos, I still feel like it's going to be okay. Life isn't all bad. This past weekend, my older sister came up to visit me from Pennsylvania, and I got to spend a day adventuring with her. And even though I feel hopelessly behind, I really do slove all four of my classes, am managing to keep my grades from completely deteriorating, and have professors who extend seemingly endless grace (and extensions!). I am blessed by the consistent support of incredible friends, I have an a capella show tomorrow that I am ecstatic about, and Thanksgiving break is less than a month away. In the midst of it all, I still feel pretty darn okay. Pressed but not crushed, I am ready to tackle whatever this semester throws at me!