Jai Gohain '19 is an international student from Kolkata, India. He is a classical studies major, with minors in dance and mathematics. He is also a member of the Connecticut College Dance Club and Connecticut College men's rugby team.
No puedo hablar español fluido porque mi madre no me enseñó. (I can not speak Spanish fluently because my mother never taught me). My mom and her entire family are from Bogotá, Colombia, which means that half of my family speaks Spanish (some only speak Spanish). Meanwhile, I only speak English. All through middle school and high school, I tried to learn Spanish to be able to communicate with my family but I never became proficient. That's why I was excited to learn about The Toor Cummings Center for International Studies and the Liberal Arts, lovingly referred to as ‘CISLA’, at Conn. CISLA is one of the five academic centers on campus; it focuses on the globalization of citizenship through language fluency and study abroad opportunities.
It wasn’t a hard decision to study abroad. I always knew that I wanted to live in a Spanish-speaking place at some point in my life. I also always knew that I wanted the chance to explore Europe while I was still an undergrad and the severity of life’s responsibilities were not yet going to deter me from traveling around for four months. Conn’s study away options are plentiful, so I had many different choices. But, when it came down to it, I was drawn to Barcelona, Spain.
On the morning of Feb. 10, I awoke with nerves the size of the Boeing 777 plane I was about to board. My fears might have been large enough to hold me back, but now I see that my plane-sized anxiety came from fearing the unknown. That day, I left for a four-month semester abroad in Haifa, Israel. It did not occur to me then that spending time away from Conn would be an opportunity to grow in ways I had not imagined.
Editor’s Note: Anne Holly ’17 of York, Pennsylvania, graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in economics and a minors in mathematics. She was a captain of the Connecticut College women’s squash team, which is ranked No. 28 in the country. At Conn, she was also a member of the Peggotty Investment Club, Outdoors Club, Tennis Club, and is Green Dot-trained. She thinks Conn has a great mascot and loves being a Camel. She was a guest blogger for The Experience this spring.
This semester I decided to compete in the Concerto Competition, which gives one winning student the opportunity to be featured in the Connecticut College Orchestra Spring Concert performing a concerto or vocal piece every year. My clarinet professor, Kelli O’Connor, and I had made a somewhat spur-of-the-moment decision in late January that I should enter it this year, so I could experience competing in it.
- Guest Blogger
Ramzi Kaiss '17 and Alexandra McDevitt '17 - Guest Blogger
Editor’s note: Guest bloggers Ramzi Kaiss '17, an international relations and philosophy double major, and Alexandra McDevitt '17, a CISLA (Toor Cummings Center for International Studies and the Liberal Arts) scholar majoring in East Asian studies focusing on Chinese language with a gender and women’s studies minor, traveled to Bogotá, Colombia for the 16th World Summit for Nobel Peace Laureates from Feb. 2-5.
For two weeks in November, Connecticut College Asian & Asian American Students in Action (ASIA) hosted ORIGINS: An Asian Arts Festival, a first for both the club and Conn. The festival brought many amazing cultural opportunities to campus, including a lecture by internationally renowned Chinese artist Xu Bing, a food making workshop, and a student art exhibition in Coffee Grounds, one of the coffee houses on campus.
Over Thanksgiving break, I spent some time at home and decided to binge-watch a Netflix series. With my busy schedule at school, watching television can be rather tricky. Since it was a holiday weekend, I decided to treat myself to a quiet night in with the “Gilmore Girls," a tv classic from the early 2000s . As I watched the show, I found myself drawn to the character Rory, played by Alexis Bledel. Rory sees the fictional town of Stars Hollow, Connecticut, the setting of the show, as her home. Even with her crazy schedule, she always finds herself returning to Stars Hollow, Connecticut. On that night in particular, I found myself in a position quite similar to Rory’s: I am in a period of transition. A place in Connecticut has also come to be my home and I am getting ready to leave this place in three weeks for my semester abroad in Israel.
On April 19, the Connecticut College Hillel and Yalla Bina, the Arabic Language and Culture Club at the College, hosted the most delicious event on campus: The Jerusalem Food Tour. Because I recognize my own bias (I salivate if something is covered in tahini), I did not expect to see many people at the event. However, when I arrived at Cro, I was surprised. The room was like a falafel in pita—stuffed.
At the sight of 80 energetic fifth-graders entering the auditorium, my palms began to sweat.
Students from nearby C.B. Jennings Elementary School had arrived to Connecticut College for the Sixth Annual International Children’s Expo on Feb. 19. At the event, Conn students teach various languages to groups of ten- and eleven-year-olds. In turn, the visiting children expose the Conn students to a fresher worldview than normally found on campus full of old, college-aged farts.
As a French major and Francophile (see A Francophile’s Friday), I naturally decided to participate on the team teaching French. Although I love speaking French, I was less sure of my ability to convince a horde of “kooler than Kool-Aid” kids to love it as well.
Fortunately, I teamed up with three other seniors who have studied French, as well as a first-year from Haiti who speaks French fluently, to teach the lesson. Twenty students meandered over to us with folders and winter jackets dangling from their arms. They plopped down in a half-circle before a large, three-panel poster of French phrases and cultural icons that we had set up.
After living in Paris for seven months to study abroad and intern, I consider it a second home. As a result, I was thrilled to learn that Connecticut College would provide me with the opportunity to return to the city over winter break. Through The Center of International Studies and the Liberal Arts (CISLA), I received a travel grant to conduct research for my senior honors thesis. My thesis examines representations of fallen women and prostitutes in 19th century English and French literature and visual art. I applied for the grant to visit an exhibit at Paris’ famous Musée d’Orsay, a treasure box of 19th century French art. The exhibit I was interested in focused on representations of prostitution in 19th century visual art.
The exhibit, Splendor and Misery of Prostitution, exceeded my expectations. It contained quotes about prostitution from famous writers, such as Honoré de Balzac and Emile Zola. It also presented visual art portraying various types of prostitutes—from working class streetwalkers to wealthy courtisanes who flaunted themselves at l’Opéra. Not only did the exhibit present realistic representations of women, it also portrayed fantastical images of them. For example, several paintings presented prostitutes as demons threatening male power. This resonated with the novel I am studying, Nana. Before I left the exhibit, I bought the catalog, which contains critical analyses of the artwork and articles on the history of prostitution in Paris. The exhibit will certainly benefit my thesis.
With the start of a new year, I would like to reflect on 2015. The year flew by faster than most because I traveled to various locations. Through a program conducted by Middlebury College, I studied in Paris from January to May. While I was there, I also had the opportunity to visit other countries in the European Union. For the summer, I remained in Paris to intern at a human rights organization. I then returned to the U.S. for senior year.
I waited in line for my morning brew as Conn students gossiped about the night before and the strong aroma of coffee beans flooded the room of Washington Street Café. The downtown coffee shops of New London are a staple for a Sunday morning.
Three men sipping espresso gestured their hands from left to right as their voices boomed over the sizzling espresso machine. A fragile woman, with her white hair tied back in a floral bonnet, approached the counter behind me.
I've returned to Conn for my senior year after studying abroad in Paris, France, for seven months. Although happy to return, I did not want to leave my Parisian lifestyle completely behind. Luckily, I have been able to keep French language and culture in my life through the Language Fellows program.
Every language department (Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Russian, and Spanish) has two language fellows. As a French language fellow, I help to plan French-speaking events on campus. On Friday, I posted flyers advertising the upcoming French film festival in students’ mailboxes. Then, dodging raindrops, I dashed to a French department meeting with about 10 others students of French. At the meeting, Professor Nathalie Etoke, the chair of the French Department, encouraged us students to take initiative in order to sustain an active and well-connected French department. “I want YOU to guide ME," she told us.
As an athlete, it's rare that I get to spend a full Saturday at Conn during my season. I'm usually at a track meet or competition and don’t get back until 7 or 8 p.m. This past weekend, however, I was at Conn instead of my meet, thanks to a sprained ankle. It was fortuitous timing, though, because I got to see some friends I had not seen since my semester abroad.
Two of my friends from my abroad program, IFSA-Butler Scotland, were visiting Conn as competitors in a tennis match against the Camels. I set out to the tennis courts around 10:30 a.m. and got to see my friend Mei Lin finish her doubles match while I talked with my other friend from abroad, Ian. After her match, Mei Lin and I went up to the center of campus and I showed her around before getting lunch with her and two other friends who go to Conn and were also on our program. It was so fun and exciting to show her so much of what I had told her about in Scotland. After lunch, we watched more tennis before heading to ArboFest, a yearly music event in the Arboretum with free food, live music and great company. We walked around the Arbo, catching up quickly on everything we had done since leaving Scotland.
When I was abroad, I made a ton of friends, but since we all live so far from each other, I was unsure if we'd ever reunite. This weekend showed that sometimes the odds work out unexpectedly. I am kind of grateful to my sprained ankle, because I got to see my friends again.
New London seems as if it might be in the middle of nowhere. It's easy to forget, however, that we’re actually quite close to major New England cities; we’re less than an hour to Providence, two hours to Boston and two and a half to New York City. All of these places make for great day trips, as well as cool opportunities for class field trips. Most recently, Mike and I headed to the United Nations with our CISLA class where we met with the delegations from France and Iran.
The delegations are inconspicuously housed across the city. As we entered what appeared to be an ordinary office building, I found myself temporarily confused — where were we heading? Forty-two floors up, I found myself at the New York home of the Iranian delegation, a simplistic office with white walls featuring photos of Ayatollahs Ruhollah Khomeini and Ali Kahmenei, the Supreme Leaders of Iran. Ushered into the library, a representative from the delegation gave us a brief introduction to Iran’s history and current foreign policy. The gist: Iran is not perfect, but they’re working on it. “We are the most stable country in the Middle East,” the delegate told us. Our course instructors encouraged us to respectfully ask difficult questions, and we found ourselves inquiring about the right to organize within Iran, the Houthi movement in Yemen and the implications of the nuclear deal with the United States. It was interesting to hear how his responses aligned with the official view of the Iranian government. It was a contrast to the French delegation, whose delegate met with us in the “parlor,” an ornate ballroom with tapestries, hardwood floors and a chandelier. He answered with his personal perspectives about social tensions, the Charlie Hebdo shooting and the potential use of secularism as a guise for the social exclusion of Islam.
Who doesn't like to talk about food? As a member of the Goodwin-Niering Center for the Environment, one of the centers for interdisciplinary scholarship on campus, I was closely involved with the Center's recent, massive Feeding the Future conference. I got to take an active role in the planning, too, by being part part of a small team of students that planned a pre-event kickoff meal. Our event was centered around food, but also discussion about food globally, and the differences in food culture across the globe.
The food that we got was from local restaurants: The Spice Club (Asian/Thai) in Niantic, The Pita Spot (Mediterranean/Labanese) in Mystic, and The Seehund (German) and Osmino’s (El Salvadorian), both from New London.
Our aim for the event was to create some meaningful discussion before the conference started. The conference was mainly lectures, so we wanted to have some talking to start off the conference. The 1962 Room in our student center was filled with students, who happily ate and chatted with friends. At my table, we discussed various populations and how their food culture differs from American culture. We raised the question, "Is there even a food culture in America?" I brought in an international perspective from Scotland, referencing my semester abroad, but we also talked about the southern United States, China and South America.
Overall, it was a hugely successful event with everyone leaving with minds and stomachs fed by the conversation and cuisine we served.
The other day, I got the monthly email from CELS, our career center here at Conn. An item in this month's issue caught my eye: "Attention First-Year Students and Sophomores: US-UK Fulbright Commission 2015 UK Summer Institutes."
Inside were details about a Fulbright opportunity to apply for one of a handful of summer fellowships in the U.K. In most cases, these fellowships include round-trip airfare, meals and some even give students a daily allowance. As someone who's never really had enough time or disposable income to leave the country, that's a big deal. Also, while you're there, you learn about the culture of the country you're in and take classes on the subject of your particular fellowship's theme. One of the fellowships is about how culture affects one's sense of self which, coincidentally, is exactly what I've been studying since coming to Conn.
Sounds incredible, right?!
The catch? It's extremely competitive. Like... EXTREMELY competitive.
That factor worried me. I wasn't sure I even wanted to apply to the program. The application was slightly daunting and the probability of success would surely be minimal. An opportunity like this, however, is nothing to scoff at. So, I decided it was time I turned to my resources.
I first met with Deb Dreher, associate dean for fellowships. Dean Dreher is very talented in her field. Because of her — and, of course, the talent of our students — Conn has one of the highest numbers of Fulbright scholars among liberal arts schools. She gave me the advice to just "attack" the application, and helpful tips about how to phrase things on my form.
After meeting with Dean Dreher, I made an appointment to meet with my CELS adviser, Dot Wang. She, too, was very helpful. I asked her specifcally about the resumé section of the application, and she offered up advice about how to format my resumé and which activities I should emphasize.
After getting the body of the application attended to, it was time to think about recommendations. I asked two of my professors for (rush) recommendations, hoping that they would have the time and energy. Despite busy schedules and other obligations, they both agreed to help me, which I'm very grateful for.
Now everything is all set and it's time to wait. I know that I put my best foot forward with this application and I used some of the most valuable resources on campus to assist me. Despite a crunch for time, all of the Conn faculty I reached out to was able to help me greatly. All that's left to do is cross my fingers and toes!
The academic structure was one of the reasons I was excited to start my spring semester at Conn, following my semester abroad at the University of Edinburgh. The British education system is very different from what we're used to at Connecticut College, and the idea of coming back to a school where I actually understood and liked the education system was relieving.
At Edinburgh, I was taking three classes, and they only met twice a week for 50 minutes. The courses were 100-person lectures where there was no discussion or student input. Outside of class, we did have tutorial — a small discussion of 12 students — but instead of being led by a professor, it was led by a graduate student. None of my professors knew my name or who I was during the entire semester.
In total, my educational commitments were three 50-minute sessions, three times a week, with no homework. None.
My grades were determined by an essay and a final exam, and that was it. One might think that this sounds awesome (and it was for a while), but the lack of structure and the stress of having only two factors determining a grade started to take its toll by the end of the semester. At Edinburgh, the courses were not within a liberal arts system, and students are generally expected to take courses within their major (or degree, as they call it). Students might take an occasional course or two outside of their degree but, unlike at Conn, interdisciplinary is not a regular concept.
All in all, this experience did give me interesting insight into how different countries' education systems work, but it also gave me an appreciation for my liberal arts education that exceeded the appreciation I already had.
Just so no one is confused: I loved my study abroad experience and would not have changed it for the world, but in going abroad, I was able to better understand how I prefer Conn's education system to that at the University of Edinburgh’s. As someone who is combining science and English in her education, I've come to realize I would not have been able recreate the connections between my studies like I get to do back in New London.