Marah Brubaker '19: An Introduction

Hi there, and welcome to my blog! I'm so glad you happened to stumble into my corner of the blogosphere (:

my pretty face

For starters, a bit about myself: My name is Marah Brubaker and I am a (rising) junior here at Amherst College. I am originally from Lancaster, Pennsylvania (it's about a 6 hour drive from campus), and I go home to visit every chance I get. Here at Amherst I am majoring in Anthropology, I direct my a capella group (the Amherst College DQ--check us out!), play Intramural Volleyball, work in Keefe Campus Center as a Campus Center Manager, work with our Annual Fund as a Phonathon Caller, and work in our Admissions Office as a Summer Intern. You can find me here on the blog all summer, so stay tuned to hear about my latest adventures and escapades!

Just for fun, I've included a few random facts about me: 

  1. I've camped / tented in a hurricane
  2. I once lost my sense of smell due to a botched surgery. Ever since (partially) regaining my sense of smell after said botched surgery, I have developed synesthesia with smell / emotions. Pretty cool and freaky!
  3. I have watched a human heart beat inside of someone's chest.
  4. My skin chemically burns when simultaneously coming into contact with lime juice and sunlight. (It's called phytophotodermatitis, check it out!)
  5. I once ate 10 sea gooseberries (they're basically tiny jellyfish) straight out of the ocean on a dare from my cousin (I realize now that that was probably horribly unwise, but what is done is done!)

That's all for now, but please email me (mbrubaker19@amherst.edu) with any questions or comments! (Aka please email me so that I don't feel like I'm spewing words out into an empty internet void!) 

P.S. I originally wanted to call this post "Introducing Me" but I was scared no one would get it. Bonus points to you if you understand the reference without having to click the link

Ch IX: Betwixt and Between

Call me geeky, call me nerdy, but every now and then an academic concept comes along that I find so interesting. The first time I remember that ever happening was when I was in second grade and my mom attempted to explain to me the Pythagorean theorem. I was thrilled and perplexed and officially hooked on academia. And that excitement and intrigue has continued to be one of my favorite feelings in the entire world. Most recently, the concept that has captured my interest and enthralled me the most is the anthropological concept of liminality.

Liminality is a term used to describe the transitional, during state. Liminal spaces are the between: the doorway between the out and the in. The lawn between the road and the house. The cocoon between the caterpillar and butterfly. The anthropological conception of liminality was defined by Victor Turner, a famous cultural anthropologist, in the 1960s while he was observing ritual rites of passage of the Ndembu tribe. He described the "during" of these rituals as being a liminal state; a transition. And though I'm not studying these specific rituals of those specific people, I can't help but find myself absolutely captivated by the concept. I love dwelling on the period of time during the between. The limbo space where you aren't quite one thing, and yet you're definitely not the other. 

Lately, I feel like I am inhabiting nothing but liminal zones. College is my liminal zone; a rite of passage between childhood and adulthood. The entire summer has been a space of liminality between my sophomore and junior years of college. These last few weeks of summer are an awkward in between linking the freedom of summer to the schedule of the school year.  

College is a weird phase of life. It's weird to make a home in the limbo liminality. It's a time of negotiating identities and shedding labels and becoming a new creature. And it's hard sometimes, feeling like you can't fully inhabit any particular identity. But that's also something that is incredible about college as a phase of life: you get to be anything you decide to be. It's a play frame in which you get to negotiate and experiment and explore. So this week, my goal for myself is simply to strive to become more comfortable inhabiting my liminal space. 

Ch VIII: Remembering Year One

As move-in season rapidly approaches, I find myself reminiscing about the day just two years ago when my parents moved me into my first-year dorm room and drove away for the first time. It's a terrifying thing, being dropped off at college. That first taste of lonely independence can be paralyzing. Saying goodbye, meeting strangers, living in an unknown place. Those first few days can sound and feel debilitating. So I guess the point of this blog post is just to deliver a hopeful message: it will all be okay. I just found myself going back through some old pictures in an attempt to find a picture of my freshman move-in day to share with you, but in the process of looking for that picture, I stumbled across a random assortment of pictures of some of my favorite moments from my first year at Amherst. So, for your perusing, here are some random pictures to remind you that college is fun, you will eventually make incredible friends, and it will all turn out okay (I promise!). 

My dad pretending to hang off of the foot of a dinosaur skeleton in Beneski Natural History Museum

This first picture is from my very first day at Amherst: move-in day! It's a picture of my dad pretending to hang off of a dinosaur in the Beneski Museum of Natural History!

My A capella group, the Amherst DQ

 

The next picture is of my a capella group, the Amherst DQ, dressed up in silly outfits during the second week of school. This night was one of my all-time favorite nights at Amherst so far!

me with an adorable puppy

The third picture is of me cuddling an adorable puppy on the first-year quad. Sometimes during finals week (or during a random week during the semester), the college will bring in puppies for students to play with to de-stress. Sometimes they even have local dog-owners bring their dogs into the library for us! Also, in the picture of me and the puppy, if you look over my shoulder to the right, you can catch a glimpse of South College, the first-year dormitory where I lived!

the amherst dq after caroling in northampton

Here you can see my a capella group warming up with some hot chocolate after our annual trip to Northampton to carol with a program that raises money for the Interfaith Winter Shelter.

My future roommate and I eating a birthday dinner

 This is a picture of my freshman-year best friend (and sophomore-year roommate!) and I eating takeout chinese food from Oriental Flavor to celebrate my 19th birthday. 

a bit of biology humor

Picture 6 is a realllllly stupid joke that I made about species turnover during my BIO 181 course, Adaptation and the Organism. But hey, I thought you might like to enjoy a bit of biology humor and admire my snapchat-drawing skills (:

some friends and i

 And lastly, a picture of me and two of the best friends that I made during my freshman year of college!

Alright. That's all for now, folks! I realize this post might just be a trip down memory lane for me, but maybe it can instill somewhat of a sense of ease in you. No matter where you end up or what dorm you live in or how scared you are when your parents drop you off at college, I am confident that you can make it an incredible first year of college! Orientation week might feel terrifying, but your freshman year will be defined by so much more than a few days! My message for you: There are great things ahead!

Ch VII: Insecure

I'm really bad at being wrong. 

Like really, really bad. 

I am stubborn and competitive and intelligent and proud, and when you mix all of these things together, you get a complex where I basically stink at being wrong. Every now and then, I find myself waist-deep in an argument with someone when it dawns on me: I'm wrong. It doesn't matter what the argument is about. It can be about current events or sports teams or food or politics or academics--I almost never know how to confess my wrong-ness. I find myself stubbornly defending and arguing and maintaining my point of view, regardless of whether or not I even believe my argument. But lately I've been pondering the question of why. Why is it that I am so excessively incapable of confronting my flaws? And after a lot of debate and thought and self-searching, I have become convinced that, when all is said and done, once all excuses and distractions and pretenses are stripped away, it all boils down to fear. 

I am afraid. 

I am afraid to admit my fallibility, afraid to confront my humanity, afraid to expose my inadequacy. I run from my mistakes in an unsuccessful effort to indefinitely deny their existence. I think my deep fear is that admitting fallibility will ruin my illusion of perfection and expose me as a fraud. I remember during my first-year orientation two years ago, I was first exposed to the concept known as the Imposter Syndrome, and it rang so true for me. I felt so convinced that I was the absolute last applicant admitted into Amherst and there was no way that I deserved to be on this campus. And what's more, I learned that so many of the people around me felt the exact same way. But slowly and surely I have been learning that that is not true. I was not admitted by mistake, and I was not admitted under a pretense of perfection. Even if I embrace my human imperfection, I will still be valuable and intelligent. Especially at a place like Amherst, surrounded by a student body of seemingly perfect and well-rounded peers, it is far too easy to find yourself feeling insignificant or insecure. It's easy to feel pressured by the pretenses of perfection exuded by your peers and to think you must maintain the same facade. But in all honesty, pretending to be perfect helps no one. And I am convinced that exposing your flaws will help not only you but all of the people around you as well. 

Slowly, I am learning that admitting mistakes does not show ineptness or weakness, but rather fortitude and courage. There is no advantage to letting myself be backed into defending poor choices or incorrect stances out of an inability to admit that I am wrong. Excuses benefit neither me nor the people I love. And so, my goal for this week and the rest of this summer is simply to focus on being comfortable admitting my mistakes. 

Chapter VI: Slowing Down

It's easy to forget to slow down. 

It sounds simple, slowing down. But it's not. 

All too often, we get distracted. We get swept away in the current of chaos: classes, laundry, clubs, sports, jobs, responsibilities, dining, commitments, friends, homework, meetings. I have now spent two full years on this campus, and yet I feel as though I've barely paid attention. It feels like just yesterday I was the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed first-year stumbling onto campus with my heart pounding and blood rushing. It feels like just yesterday I was meeting my first roommate and walking these hallowed halls for the first time. And yet, when I take a moment to pause and look behind me, I realize that I have already completed half of my time here at Amherst. And there is so much I still want to do! There are hikes to be had and people to meet and classes to take and memories to make! 

And I guess that's really why I stayed on campus this summer--to slow down. I love Amherst. I love it as a campus and a town and an area, and I guess I really stayed on campus this summer as part of an effort to be able to explore and appreciate this place apart from the school year stresses and chaos. I wanted to break the pattern of the mundane and pay attention. I wanted to live slowly. And yet, as it dawns on me that this summer will end all too soon, I look back and realize that even during this summer intended for slow living, I have all too often let myself mindlessly bouncing between things, running from one job to another, barely pausing between commitments to let myself breathe. I feel myself growing impatient, as frustration arises in me almost instantaneously when confronted with a slow computer or someone driving slowly in front of me. I realize I am not slowing down. So for the few remaining weeks of this summer, I am (re)declaring my intent to slow down. I am determined to restrain myself, pay attention to my surroundings, and cherish every last drop of these summer days.

Chapter V: Stream of Consciousness

Today I sat down to write my blog post, intending to string interesting words into eloquent and beautiful sentences, and nothing came out. I wrote a sentence. (delete delete delete). I tried a new sentence, but could come up with nothing to follow. I wrote and erased and brainstormed and tried..and nothing came out. I wanted to wow you with brilliance, but apparently that isn't going to happen today. So instead, I've chosen to pursue an alternate route: stream of consciousness. The way out of writer's block is not avoiding writing, it's embracing it! So that's the plan. For five full minutes, I am going to share with you all of my thoughts!

Stream of Consciousness Comic

Okay. Here goes. Where to begin? This morning I woke up and I was tired. The world outside was a dull gray, and the rain was tauntingly misting down to the ground. Who honestly likes misty rain? I pride myself on being a person who LOVES rain, but even I get annoyed when the rain is just sprinkling out of the clouds. I figure, if is going to rain, I want it to be pouring! (Wait, now I'm thinking about the saying "When it rains, it pours" and realizing most people don't prefer pouring rain. Oops). I would have loved to wake up to rain on my roof. I guess for me misty rain brings all the disadvantages of rain without bringing the advantages. I'd rather have a beautiful, sunny day in the mid-80s (like yesterday!) or a thunderstorm. But not this! This rain makes you wet and tired and casts a gloomy shadow over the entire day. It's incredible how much I find the weather influences my mood. I think the general atmosphere of the campus changes based on whether it's snowy or sunny or humid or raining or windy or gray. I wonder how commonly that phenomenon occurring (demeanor influenced by weather). Would a more consistent environment influence the mood of the people living locally? I wonder if people would be happier in a place where it's always rainy rather than a place where the weather frequently fluctuates. Is consistency what matters most? Maybe there's no correlation at all. I'm pretty sure people say that Denmark is the place in the world where people are the happiest. I wonder how that's measured. I'm gonna look it up. (Pause stream of consciousness.)

Ooh! Interesting! So I found this link from just under a year ago. It talks about what I was just thinking about: the assumption that warm and sunny weather brings happiness and the reality that warmth doesn't necessary lead to happiness. And yay! Apparently I was right about that Denmark thing. I find it really interesting that people do studies where they just survey the self-reported happiness levels of a bunch of people. I guess that makes sense for marketing and things like that, because happiness is so yearned after. But is happiness the most important thing in life? (Uh oh, I can feel this stream of consciousness getting all philosophical and serious.) I'm gonna cut myself off now before I start philosophizing and confusing myself. That's all for now!

Chapter IV: A Few of My *Important Things

Hello again! 

This week I have set out to aid you in cracking the Amherst application process! I have run around the office, interviewed deans, and (hopefully) compiled a list of helpful tips. To each dean I asked "If you could tell a student applying to Amherst any one thing, what would it be?" Hopefully for those of you too far away to attend one of our information sessions, this will prove a helpful guide of insider tips! So, without further ado, here are their answers!

"Important" Word Art

Samuel Rosenblum (Green Dean): "Be candid and humble." In your application, you don't have to pretend that you are the greatest person to ever exist. Deans here really aren't looking for you to perfect; they just want to learn about you! Unique, quirky, brilliant you! (Also...proofread!)

Edgar Gonzalez (Assistant Dean of Admission): "There really is no such thing as a “perfect applicant” so don’t feel pressured to change yourself into the person you think admissions counselors want to see! Colleges like Amherst look to build a well-rounded student body, but that isn’t achieved by admitting one student who does it all. Instead, spend your high school experience doing the things you love and share these passions that make you geek out with us through your application!"

Lexi Hurd (Associate Dean of Admission): “Be genuine and true to yourself throughout the college search and application processes. Doing so will help you find the right college and for the right college to find you!”

Jayson Paul (Green Dean): "Get a feel for Amherst and what we care about." Before applying, learn what Amherst is really about! Know our school and community. Know why you like the Amherst experience and people and Open Curriculum and Five College Consortium. We don't expect you to be a complete expert on Amherst, but know why you want to come here and why you'd thrive in our community!

Xiaofeng Wan (Assistant Dean of Admission): “Explore the Amherst website fully to learn about our academic offerings, admission requirements as well as campus news. Most important of all, prospective students are encouraged to get in touch with our current students – bloggers, tour guides and diversity interns - to learn what it’s like to be a student at Amherst.”

Tania de Sousa Dias (Assistant Dean of Admission): "For your essay, write about a topic that is unique to you. It doesn’t have to be fancy, eccentric or quirky, but what it should do is make us understand who YOU are better. We all have different experiences in life that are unique to only us, and your essay should reflect this."

Safi Aly (Green Dean): "At the end of the day, wherever you end up, it's what you make of it."    

 

P.S. One of the most important things in applying to Amherst is making sure you know how to apply! Here are a few helpful links to get you on your way such as: a general overview to applying to Amherst, an overview of all of our deadlines, and an overview of applying online! Make sure to keep yourself informed! 

P.S.S. I know this title is pretty dumb, but I thought it was a funny knock-off of last weeks post "A Few of My Favorite Things." I understand if you haven't read that one, this looks really silly. But oh well!

Chapter III: A Few of My Favorite Things

To help you get a better feel for Amherst and what life is like in our little pocket of the world, I've taken the opportunity to talk with a few different alumni/current Amherst students about their time here and their favorite part of Amherst! Below, you'll find brief summaries of each conversation I had.

 

Trenati B. (Class of 2020, from Chicago, Illinois)

When asked about her favorite part of life at Amherst, Trenati responded without hesitation: the community. She spoke profusely about the tight-knit community and close relationships that she has formed even in just spending one year on campus. Specifically, she drew attention to the ways in which community on campus is fostered by the intentionally small residential halls as well as largely by the resource centers on campus. 

 

Stuart M. (Class of 2016, from Kingston, Jamaica)

When I sat down with Stuart, a recent graduate of Amherst, to ask him about his favorite thing at Amherst, he chuckled. Apparently he used to work in the office as a tour guide and he got this question all the time. Needless to say, he answer was succint, eloquent, and phenomenal. His answer: the conversations among students. From the way that even casual conversation is intellectual and meaningful to the ways in which conversations here seem far more genuine than elsewhere, he said that conversation has always been his favorite part. Even before matriculating (when visiting the campus on an accepted students weekend), he was in awe of the ways in which students and conversations on campus seem less 'frivolous' (for lack of a better word) than many conversation elsewhere. Stuart expressed a deep apprecation for a place in which the majority of conversation revolves around ideas and concepts rather than trivial conversations about people or things. 

 

Marah B. (me!) (Class of 2019, from Lancaster, Pennsylvania)

After listening to all of the beautiful and eloquent reasons why my peers love this place, I was forced to sit down, contemplate, and decide my very favorite things about being here at Amherst. And after much soul-searching and internal debate, I have settled upon my favorite thing about Amherst: the people. From my very first interactions with Amherst, I got the feeling that this was a community of people that I would love to be a part of. And since coming here, the people have continued to be my favorite part of the school. I love being surrounded by an incredibly diverse group of students with such a wide range of backgrounds, passions, experiences, and personalities. Every student on campus is really interesting and brilliant in their own unique way, and the diversity of students leads to incredible conversation and discussion around campus. The students (and faculty and staff!) truly are (and continue to be) my favorite part of Amherst!

 

Bonus points to anyone who understood the title reference to My Favorite Things

Chapter II: Staying Cool

One of my favorite parts about Amherst is getting to spend time on campus beyond the school year. If you ever get the opportunity, I highly recommend staying on campus during one of our fall breaks, spring breaks, throughout interterm, or summer! It's a great chance to get to explore the campus and surrounding areas when you are not busy with classes and clubs and events and exams and all of the school-year chaos! BUT, in order to stay over any of these breaks, you must be prepared with both fun activity ideas as well as some helpful tips for conquering the weather. Perhaps I will devote a later post to tips for fun things to do in Amherst or how to brave the winter, but for today, I'm gonna focus on: How to survive the Amherst summer!

TIP ONE: Ice Pops!

Colorful Ice Pops

For only a few bucks at Walmart, you can buy a 50-pack of fruit-flavored ice pops that will last you all summer. Pop (get it? It's a pun!) them into the freezer, and you're stocked for guaranteed cooling on a hot day!

Photo from Pinterest

 

TIP TWO: Blowing Hot Air

A black box fan

Fans Fans Fans!!! For just a few bucks at Walmart or Target (which students can get to for free using the PVTA bus system), you can pick up a box fan or two that will drastically cool off the temperatures in your room! Fans are an inexpensive and easy route to cooling!

Photo from Walmart.com

 

TIP THREE: Water

A Breathtaking Waterfall at Puffer's Pond

The trick to staying healthy & hydrated in the summer heat? WATER! Whether journeying to Puffer's Pond (pictured), tracking your daily water intake, or having a water fight with your friends, water is available to cool you off in a variety of ways! Or (for just a few bucks on Amazon), you can buy fun ice cube trays in the shapes of pineapplesStar Wars characters, or polar bears!

Photo by Michael Masser

TIP FOUR: Air Conditioning!

a thermometer showing a cold temperature

If you absolutely must have air-conditioning over the summer, you can do so through a variety of channels. You can try to get placed into one of the dorms on campus with air conditioning or simply spend lots of your time in the buildings on campus with air-conditioning (like the Admission Office or Frost Library). Or, as a very last resort, I even know of some friends who have attempted do-it-yourself air conditioning

 

TIP FIVE: Ice Cream!

adorable child with ice cream cone

Aaaaaaand, finally, my personal favorite: ICE CREAM. Whether you want to lick your cone in one hand while a cow licks your other hand at Flayvors or you just want to stroll into the town center at Amherst Ice Cream, ice cream options abound. Or, if you prefer, frozen yogurt, you'll definitely want to check out nearby GoBerry!

Photo Cred: The Goodhart Group

However you choose to stay cool, I would definitely say that staying on campus is a cool idea for one of your summers (;

Until next time,

Marah

Chapter I: Why Amherst?

Hi there! Because this is my first ever blog post, I decided that it was a good opportunity to give you a bit more of an overview of myself and Amherst by outlining my top 3 reasons for choosing to attend Amherst. Here goes!

the stunning view from Memorial Hill

The view from Memorial Hill; Photo Cred: Keiana James '16 

NUMBER ONE: Small School, Big Resources

Amherst College is a small liberal arts school with just over 1800 students. This was (and is!) one of my favorite things about the place. Being a small school means tight-knit community, always knowing people in the dining hall, and having unhindered access to faculty. But while Amherst has all of the advantages of a small school, we also have the advantages of a big research university by being part of the Five College Consortium (which consists of us, University of Massachussets Amherst, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, and Hampshire College). What being part of the Five College Constorium means for students here is that resources are greatly exapanded. Not only do we have access to all library resources of the other colleges, but we also share events throughout the year and have acess to courses at all four other colleges. All of the colleges are connected by a bus system that is free for students (the PVTA). Having access to the Five Colleges really allows us a sense of wider community and access to the outside world. 

NUMBER TWO: Diversity!

I grew up in a place where most people looked and thought and lived the exact same way. And in searching for a college, I was largely looking for a place where I would find people who are different than me and can challenge me and help me grow in various ways. Amherst was exactly that! Amherst is one of the most diverse liberal arts colleges in the nation: students hail from 49 states and 54 countries. On campus, 45% of our domestic students identify as students of color and 10% of students are international students (with another 5% being duel citizens). And while this may be a lot of mumbo-jumbo of random statistics, what it means in practicality is that the students on this campus represent an unimaginable range of interests, experiences, passions, backgrounds, perspectives, and ideas. No two students here are alike, and this fuels constant discussion and interesting conversations!

NUMBER THREE: Open Curriculum

One of the only schools in the country to do so, Amherst offers what is known as an Open Curriculum. What this basically means is that, in order to graduate, students must do only three things. (1) Take a freshmen seminar. (2) Take four courses per semester. (3) Complete a the requirements for any major. That's all. That's it. No required courses, no core curriculum, no distributional requirments. And this freedom (understandably) terrifies a lot of students and a LOT of parents. They're scared that our students will restrict themselves to one academic focus and put on blinders to all other options. That they'll come out as lopsided graduates rather than the balanced citizens that liberal arts professes. But contrary to these fears, about 85% of our students fulfill a typical core curriculum from other schools. The main difference here is that our students choose to do this. No one is forcing students to take particular classes, so in every single classroom, every students wants to be there (and they've selected this course over about 850 other courses we offer every year)! Additionally, all incoming first-years are assigned an advisor to help guide them through the course selection process and encourage them to explore many areas of study.

Mammoth Display in the Beneski Museum of Natural History

Beneski Museum of Natural History; Photo Cred: Carolina Hanna

And! Just as a bonus, I'll also mention my two favorite parts of my campus tour (aka two huge reasons I fell in love with this place): the Beneski Science Museum (picture shown above) and the view from Memorial Hill (shown at the top of this post). If you get the chance, definitely check them out! They're breath-taking!