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Tanika Vigil '10
Welcome, potential Amherstites!
My name is Tanika Vigil and I am a member of the class of 2010 here at Amherst College. The harsh truth of that fact is that the upcoming academic year will be my last as an undergraduate student as my fellow seniors and I begin to prepare for the realities of life after graduation next May (i.e. jobs, rent, commutes longer than a five minute walk...etc). However, until that time actually comes around (and I am still in denial that it ever will)I am hoping to soak up all that this school has left to offer and thus, have decided to stay on campus this summer as an Intern at the Office of Admissions. The vibe here during the summer is completely different from the regular school year. There is no bustle at our dining hall, although apparently it will be taken over by young summer campers soon. There are no students lounging on Memorial Hill seemingly preparing for finals but probably just looking for an excuse to enjoy the new-found sun. There are no sporting events to attend and no decisions to be made between seeing Anthony Lake speak at Johnson Chapel or going to the study group for your Intro to Geology mid term. Instead, the campus is spotted with students who are working as summer research assistants, are preparing for their upcoming thesis, or are doing volunteer work in the Pioneer Valley through our Center for Community Engagement.
The vibe here right now is slow and steady and has presented me with an ideal environment to simultaneously prepare for my endeavors post-Amherst and to reflect upon all that I have done here over the past several years. So, in light of that reflection, some brief tid bits about myself...I am originally from Boulder, Colorado where I attended a large public school before shifting gears to the Northeast. Here at Amherst I am a Political Science and Spanish double major and I studied abroad in Granada, Spain last fall. I am writing a senior thesis for my Spanish major this upcoming year and will be exploring how Michele Foucault's theory on the microphysics of power has intersected with women's rights movements, specifically the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, in Argentina over the past four decades. Part of my plan for this summer is to complete my request to the college for thesis funds so that I can travel to Argentina in January and do first-person interviews. Last year a friend of mine got $2,500 and spent 10 days in Spain between semesters doing research for his History thesis. Hopefully I will be so lucky...
In general, this blog is intended to provide some insight into one of the many different paths that can be taken here at Amherst. Please feel free to shoot me comments or questions at email@example.com. Aside from that I will simply continue to ramble...I hope to hear from you soon!
Tanika's Blog Entries (listed chronologically, latest to earliest)
Transitions, and People
With only one week of work left here at the Admissions Office I can feel summer wrapping to a close around me. Today I will move into my official dorm for the year, and quite possibly the last dorm I will ever live in. Sunday I will observe as the 470 person first-year class descends upon campus and begins its own Amherst adventure. And on September 8th I will have my last, first-day of school, at least until I realize that I cannot stand the break from the classroom anymore and decide to apply to law school. The point is, that another transition is beginning. Transitions have become an accepted part of my college experience, especially as I attend a school some 1500 miles away from my home. I am frequently shifting gears from Colorado to Massachusetts and back again. From summer jobs and no papers to write, to 15 paper assignments in one semester. From the small intimate intellectual community here on campus, to the large international college community in Granada, Spain. All of these transitions could easily be exhausting, but instead they have been invigorating. I have come to realize that it is the people around me, the people that I travel to and from that have made this, at times haphazard college experience, feel so natural. This summer those people have been my fellow interns, the admissions staff, and all of the families who have taken the time to visit.
I would like to take this moment to thank those groups of people. To my fellow interns, thank you for successfully sharing a kitchen all summer, for having each others backs on tours when exhaustion set in and most recently, for Sporcle. To the admissions staff, thank you for listening to my endless ramblings about the open curriculum in our information sessions (I just love it so much), and for trusting all of us with so many tours! To Ahmmad and Ashley, an endless thanks for Monday morning bagels, they have been invaluable :-) And a thank you to the families I have met this summer, who have kept me on my toes with questions, have graciously laughed at my food and quidditch stories, and have saved me from several potential backwards-walking disasters.
So on that note, welcome back Amherst students and adios blogging readers, it has been a pleasure :-)
Ok so it is not exactly infamous anywhere else except for here on campus, but I am into the alliteration and it is an important aspect of the Amherst experience. Interterm is the name given to the five or so weeks in-between the fall and the spring semesters where there are no courses offered for credit. The agency students are given each semester in choosing their classes through the open curriculum is sustained during interterm as each student is able to decide how exactly to spend those five weeks. Some students will elect to return to campus. The winter athletes continue to have games and practices while many senior thesis writers will also return to campus in an effort to pump out the final pages of their first drafts or to get extra time in the lab. The increasingly cold weather serves as a good catalyst for huddling away in the library all day I am sure. Still other students will be tempted to return so as to participate in a particular colloquium (this year it was called "Public Education, What Do Our Public Schools Need?") or a non credit course. These courses include everything from "I-phone application development" to "Celestial Navigation" and "Contemporary fusion/hip hop". Furthermore, extracurricular activities are organized, such as weekly bowling nights or perhaps an NYC Broadway Play Day trip. Thus, campus is by no means vacant if you feel as though you cannot possibly stay away for five weeks (freshman year it is a bit of a shock to be gone for so long and withdrawal symptoms tend to sink in after about three weeks). There are, however, other options facilitated by the school but occurring off campus. These options fluctuate each year so you never know what will present itself. Since I have been here there has been a student group that travels down to the Dominican Republic as well as a program called the "Winternship", organized through our Center for Community Engagement, which I was fortunate enough to participate in my Sophomore year.
That particular year there were about 45 students in the program all of whom received support in finding a non profit internship in either NYC or D.C. for three weeks in January and were provided housing in their respective city by Amherst alumni. We all received stipends for our time as well as invaluable experience working in the non profit realm and living in two of the most engaging cities in the world. During my own internship experience I worked in NYC with a non profit called Make the Road New York in Brooklyn and lived with an alumni, her husband and their three children in Manhattan (quick shout out to Sarah and the fam!). The staff I worked with at Make the Road New York were passionate and dedicated individuals committed to improving the health care and insurance options in Bushwick and the surrounding areas. I worked side by side with them, ate lunch at the delicious local Ecuadorian restaurants with them, attended local events and conducted interviews in Spanish with the local population. Equally as important was the family I lived with that opened their doors (and their fridge!) to me with no qualms. Back in Manhattan my evenings were packed with organized activities with more Amherst alumni who invited the other participants and I to their apartments for dinners and talks about grad school, working in law, or how to make a difference while still making a living. One particular alumni who had graduated from Amherst and had initially gone into the business realm, invited us to his own stand-up comedy show (a new found passion for which he had ditched business and that he now found blissfully rewarding) downtown. The generosity of the alumni network never failed to astonish me and made me realize that the supportive Amherst community I had experienced thus far on campus would undoubtedly be sustained post-graduation (this is even more comforting to me now as a Senior than it was to my sophomore self who completely failed to process the fact that "post-graduation" is not merely a symbolic term but an all too real notion).
All in all my Sophomore interterm, and the Winternship program that was offered that year exposed me to more people and places than I had thought possible in three short weeks. I grew up a little bit (commuting for 45 minutes at 7:30 every morning will do that to you), and was humbled a lot by the people back on campus who had organized such an opportunity for me, by the people at my non profit who had dedicated their lives to service, and by the Amherst alumni who had opened my eyes to the possibility of great things still to come.
You never know what opportunities are going to be presented to you at Amherst, during the academic school year or otherwise, so an open mind and a little initiative are always important.
Please keep the e mails coming, they distract me from my office hours! If there are any incoming first years reading this, only three weeks until orientation, woot woot!
To study abroad or to not study abroad
From my experience this summer, many prospective students are already certain that they want study abroad to be an aspect of their undergraduate experience. Others are unsure but would like to maintain the option. Still others cannot imagine the idea of only being able to take 32 classes at Amherst, much less only 28 after studying abroad. All three perspectives can be well accommodated here at Amherst. About 40% of the Junior class will go abroad so if you ultimately decide to go you will have various options to choose from. Amherst hosts two programs, one in Japan and the other in Germany and has approved over 200 other programs all around the world. If you still do not find quite what you are looking for from your abroad experience, you are always welcome to design your own program and petition it to the college for approval. So essentially you are going to have a plethora of options to choose from.
My personal experience abroad was a great supplement to my Amherst College education. I was enrolled in a language program in Granada, Spain, took classes at the local university and lived in residence halls with local Spanish students. As a Spanish major that time was invaluable for my language skills and it also provided me with a portal to meet people from all over the world whom I otherwise would not have met, and to learn in a culture and environment vastly different from the one to which I have become accustomed at Amherst. I traveled all over Europe, ate delicious food, and saw sights I will undoubtedly remember for a life time… That sounds like a pretty standard and corny description of being abroad doesn’t it? It is, I promise, all true. However, just to reassure you that I have not retrospectively idealized the experience here are a couple things I have a much stronger appreciation for after being abroad:
1. The hours of our library on campus. Our main Robert Frost Library is open from 8:30am-1:00am during its standard hours and during finals week there is a 24 hour library available (luckily my procrastination has never gotten so intense as to need that). However, in Granada the libraries are only open from 9am to 6pm and only from Monday-Friday which is conveniently, the hours when you are in class! I could never find a good environment to do my homework.
2. Our dining hall and meal plan. The cafeteria I ate at had only one option for any given meal so if you did not want to eat cold tuna noodle salad with pineapple (as I often didn’t) you were pretty much out of luck. I had cravings for Valentine (our dining hall) and dreams about all the options that would await me on a daily basis when I returned.
3. Academics in general! A liberal arts education is foreign to most students in other countries who have already picked a career path by the time they begin their undergraduate work. Small class sizes, going out to dinner with professors and engaging in frequent and dynamic class discussions were also very rare at the university I attended.
Thus being abroad served a duo-purpose as it opened up new doors and opportunities and simultaneously fostered a greater respect for the environment I had already chosen at Amherst. I came back for the spring semester with tons of memories but ready to delve back into all that Amherst has to offer.
If you have any questions about study abroad options at Amherst feel free to visit the Career Center website or shoot me some questions!
P.S. Just to chat up the open curriculum a bit more…. If you are interested in double majoring, or are interested in studying pre med as an undergraduate, but also want to study abroad, the open curriculum is a great environment to explore all of those options. Because you are not busy fulfilling core or gen ed requirements you have plenty of time to finish pre med work and go abroad as my friend did this past spring in Sydney, Australia.
P.P.S. The photo is of me riding a camel during one of my side trips from Granada, to Morocco. I am so composed...
One size fits all?
One question I often receive on my tours is whether I have any complaints about my experience at Amherst. Otherwise phrased, "If you could change something about Amherst what would it be?". This is, undoubtedly an important question to ask, as no life experience is perfect and constructive criticism is an essential element to making improvements in any realm. Yet, for some reason I have always had a hard time coming up with an answer. The first time I was put on the spot with such an inquiry I quickly filtered through some possible responses in my mind. I thought about academics, campus resources, the student body, our location etc and every time I came up with something that I might shift about my experience I realized that I actually had the power to make those changes and thus, that they could not be lodged as complaints. For example, throughout my college search I was convinced that I wanted to attend a school with about 5,000 students in it. This would ensure I still had access to smaller class sizes but that I would never run out of new people to meet. Clearly, Amherst is significantly smaller than that number with only 1700 students. Perhaps, then, I would change the size of Amherst if I could, so as to be exposed to more people. However, there are over 30,000 college students in the Pioneer Valley. If I want to be exposed to new people there is no need to change the size of Amherst as I actually have way more opportunities to diversify my acquaintances within the Five College Consortium than I would have had at a 5,000 person school and such exposure comes without sacrificing our 8-1 student to faculty ratio and average class size of 17. On the same note, any academic changes I may want to make to my experience (access to larger lecture halls, more language offerings, more time to explore new disciplines, etc) are all accommodated for by either the Five College Consortium or by the Open Curriculum. None of my potential changes to Amherst were legitimate because I had total agency to take charge and actually make the changes I was seeking.
Thus, I continue to struggle with this question because although Amherst is not perfect it is highly resourceful and it optimizes the potential for creativity and flexibility. No college is going to be right for everyone and indeed one size cannot possibly fit all when it comes to the college search. But the point of Amherst is that it accommodates numerous sizes, that is to say, numerous experiences and varying academic and social needs. We are fortunate as students here to have been given the responsibility for our own undergraduate experience through a liberal arts education, an Open Curriculum and a Five College Consortium. So even though I have no control over the weather in the middle of February or the five hour flight I have to take to get home, I do have the resources available to make many other adjustments that are not always afforded to students at a small school. This can be essential as each individual's academic and social needs inevitably change over time. That is some more food for thought for you.
On another note, I got jealous of the fact that Dan included photos in each of his blogs so I am copying his method. This is a photo of Puffers Pond, a favorite spot about 5 minutes from campus for when the weather is warm. This weekend my friends and I bought 5 dollar floating devices at Target and almost died of asphyxiation trying to blow them up but proceeded to lounge on the water there for a quality afternoon. After Puffers we went to Antonio's Pizza for their prized special "Mac Attack" pizza (burger macaroni and cheese on an alfredo pizza slice, you can't go wrong). There's really nothing quite like the summer, so enjoy!
Location location location...
Real estate agents always talk about the importance of location when choosing a home but it seems that location is equally important when choosing a college. For me, college seemed like a great opportunity to explore another region of the country and so as beautiful as Colorado is, I honed in on the East Coast for my college search. That, however, did not narrow it down much as there are still hundreds of great schools in this vicinity. Some reside in urban settings, others in more rural environments and each offers certain benefits. The location of Amherst College is fairly unique and falls somewhere in-between urban and rural. The town itself is rather small with a population of 30,000 that almost doubles when students are around. Most of those students come from the University of Massachusetts which is right down the road from us, but our campus is only a five minute walk from down town. Because of the influence of colleges students this whole area really caters to our age group. That means tons of pizza and coffee and delivery and social events and students all over. In fact, the town of Amherst was just voted the #1 college town in the country by MSN Encarta.
As much as I love Amherst, however, I am a traveler at heart and I often get ansy for new people and places. The Northeast and Western Massachusetts are particularly ideal places to be if you want to "state hop" as I call it. With a car or with public transportation you can quite easily be in three or four states in any given week. For instance, two weekends ago several friends and I traveled to Maine. The drive was less than three hours and suddenly we had access to beautiful beaches. This past weekend I headed down to the Big Apple to visit some friends. In this instance I took Peter Pan bus services which brought me straight from downtown Amherst to Port Authority in NYC. This upcoming weekend I will be heading to Nantucket for the fourth of July to stay with a friend who has been studying abroad this past semester. The ferry to Nantucket is only three hours away. Even for more casual engagements our location is clutch. Last week I drove up to Vermont just to have dinner with my friends grandparents. It only took us forty five minutes to get there! This is all very shocking for my Colorado self. Aside from Peter Pan bus lines we also have an Amtrak stop right behind our campus as well as an airport only 45 minutes away in Hartford, CT. The point of all of this is that as an Amherst College student you will have access to cities big and small and to all the diversity of people and experiences that come with such access. We simultaneously live in one of the best college towns in the country and maintain easy access to "the real world" and all that it has to offer.
If you are interested in learning more about our town you can also check out these articles:
Too many classes, too little time...
This coming year I will take my final six classes at Amherst College. Normally I would be taking four each semester but writing a thesis takes up one class in both the fall and the spring, leaving me with a mere six to go. Choosing these last courses has already been exhausting. I pre-registered for them in May and have changed my mind on a consistent once-a-week basis ever since. I have over 800 Amherst College courses to choose from and some 3,000 if I include courses from the Five College Course Catalog. There are simply, too many options. I still have two Political Science classes I must take to complete my major so that narrows it down a bit. I have decided on “Rethinking Post-Colonial Nationalism” to fulfill this requirement in the fall because I have been fascinated with the concept of nationalism and its link to identity formation ever since my First Year Seminar called “National Identity”. I have also decided to take Intro to Economics this fall. I must admit I am a bit fearful of how my humanities oriented self will react to the re-infiltration of math into my life, or the purchasing of a text book, (something I have yet to do here). Yet, given these current economic times I cannot ignore the necessity of a little economic savvy. This is one reason I am grateful for the open-curriculum here at Amherst, as a Senior I can still decide to take an introductory course in a completely new discipline, be a double major and still write a thesis. On top of those two definite classes I still need a third course for this fall. So, I thought I would throw out my three most recent options just to give a taste of the diversity of classes you may be picking from for on any given semester.
My first option is to take Introduction to Buddhist Traditions. I have yet to take a religion course here at Amherst and although I have engaged in many dynamic discussions about religion with my roommates and peers either at our cafeteria or perhaps during half time of the basketball game, Buddhism has never quite come up. The course description states “we will explore the Three Jewels—the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha—and how they each provide refuge for those suffering in samsara (the endless cycle of rebirth)”. This sentence in and of itself seems quite compelling.
My second option is a History class called the Global Environmental History of the Twentieth Century. Like Economics, my desire to take this course stems from current affairs. Apparently this is a topic our generation will be grappling with for decades to come so I should probably get a head start. Professor Melillo notes that the class will “explore how to use historical knowledge in the formulation of policy recommendations and grassroots initiatives for addressing contemporary environmental issues.” My future self would probably thank me for taking this course.
My final option is a Russian Literature class called Strange Russian Writers: Gogol, Dostoevsky, Bulgakov, Nabokov, et al. I have yet to take a literature class here at Amherst which is surprising because English was my favorite subject in High School. I absolutely have to take one before I graduate. Professor Rabinowitz is a favorite on campus and I remember loving The Idiot by Dostoevsky…
So that is a glimpse into my mind processes today. I will probably choose one class and find an even better option a week later. Fortunately I have two weeks of Add-Drop period at the beginning of the semester to sit in on all three (or more) classes if need be and really determine which one will round out my second to last semester at this school. If you are interested in learning about other courses offered at Amherst feel free to visit our online course catalog. If you have any suggestions for me, or questions or thoughts regarding any other matters don’t be shy and shoot me an e mail!
It is never too soon...
The most interesting aspect of this week’s visitors was the age of the students who are beginning the college search process. I gave a tour to a student who just finished the eighth grade and several students who are only half way through high school. The latest word on the street is that the earlier you start exploring your options, the better. I did the “east coast sweep” of colleges during Spring Break of my junior year in the hopes of falling magically in love with one campus and of finding an admissions counselor who could assure me that I would get in to their institution. Needless to say, of the fifteen schools that I visited, this did not happen at a single one. At the end of the week I had eliminated a few colleges that I knew were simply not right for me, but for the most part I was still left with a large group of schools that each could have offered me a great education. I went into senior year ready to begin the application process but with blurred visions of my future skipping around in my head…
The point of this brief story is that you can never be too prepared. I visited the schools, I did the information sessions and the tours and the stressful driving from state to state (driving in NYC for the first time is a tale I will save for another time) and I was still not quite sure what I wanted. So regardless of what stage you are embarking upon in the adventure that it is the college search process, make sure to get as much information as you can. The young lady I met yesterday still did not know whether she wanted a big research university or a small liberal arts college and as convincing as I think I was in discussing the benefits of the latter here at Amherst (small class sizes, undergraduate research opportunities, great relationships with professors etc), she will undoubtedly need more time to figure out the right fit for her. Luckily for her she has two more years of high school to figure it out. Luckily for me, I decided to visit Amherst a second time. I sat in on classes and met students and finally found my match.
Another trend apparent in our information sessions is the envy many parents feel, including my own, regarding the great educational opportunities that await our generation. There are more great schools out there than ever and many more students have access to them academically and financially. Taking the time to explore these opportunities and to find the right fit for each of us is a luxury. So if you already have or are planning on visiting Amherst or any other school this summer, then you are on the right track. If, however, it is not feasible for you or your family to trek out here, the internet is at your fingertips, ready to be used. Without coming to campus you can still learn about academics or student life or even take a virtual tour . Alternatively, you can always e mail me with personalized questions to get you started in the process.