A Very Rice Spring Break

The ins-and-outs of Rice life are kind of what you’d expect: on weekdays, we go to class, on weekends, we don’t go to class, and at times when we’re not in class, you can find us hanging out and studying – or hanging-out-and-studying, which is also very popular. But what do us Rice students do outside of school days? In other words, what do we do over spring break? The answer is: a ton of things. Surprise, surprise.

I personally had a grand time on a trip planned entirely on my own. I spent about half the break in Houston getting some work done on my long-term projects, and about half in Austin, not-really attending SXSW and reading a whopper of a book a fellow English major challenged me to read over break: Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace (if you don’t know, the book is about 1100 pages long and includes almost 400 endnotes scattered throughout the text that require a bunch of flipping back and forth). While visiting independent bookstores, jamming along to custom-made mixtapes, and completely failing to make crepes was all riveting, the past week of my life was totally different from my friends’ breaks.

My friend Jessica went on an Alternative Spring Break (ASB), which is Rice lingo for a spring break trip that accomplishes something beyond just vacation, but builds leadership skills and provides further educational opportunities. She traveled with a group to San Francisco to learn more about stigmas associated with HIV/AIDS, homelessness, and poverty. “We bonded over meaningful discussions and home made food,” says Jessica – tired from the week, but filled with stories to tell about visits from different speakers, experiences in San Francisco, and a better understanding of prejudice in health and poverty crises in American cities.

Photos from Jessica’s trip in San Francisco, taken at the Golden Gate Bridge and the Maitri Hospital for those affected with AIDS.

On a completely different note, my friend Matthew traveled with Rice Outdoor Programs and Education (ROPE) on a backpacking trip in Arizona. I remember being somewhat surprised but intrigued hearing about the trip, which sounds to me both a little hellish and a little bit captivating. He describes it as “40 miles of hiking through canyons and over mountains carrying everything we needed on our backs and sleeping under the stars.” That’s time for thought, getting to know the few people on the trip, and challenging yourself.

A photo of Matthew’s trip in Arizona, with his group.

A photo taken on Matthew’s trip in Arizona, backpacking their way across the mountains.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A favorite question among prospective students and their parents tends to be, “Well, what does your average Rice student look like?” This little post answers that question pretty well: it completely and totally varies, but you can guarantee that people are doing something. Whether it’s exploring a new city, taking some time for inner reflection, a personal challenge, or looking hard at a problem in the world, I think we can all agree that spring break was definitely an experience that wasn’t school. Meaning, we’re all a bit bummed that today is Monday, and that we’re not still taking part in the world outside (or inside, in a new way) Rice’s hedges.

Research Says: Follow Your Heart

Whether you’re interested or not in research, there’s no doubt that Rice University offers innumerable opportunities to advance the sciences, arts, and humanities in innovative ways. Early on in my undergraduate career (and even now, if I’m being honest), I was an incredibly undecided student. I was undecided about my major, my long-term goals, and about my career options. I knew that I was fundamentally really fascinated by the human mind and helping others, but my knowledge about what I wanted to do with that pretty much ended there. To resolve this conflict, I did something a bit strange, considering I was a teenager at the time: I followed my parent’s advice.

Another busy day in LA

My mom and dad have always told me to follow my heart and to push hard for what I wanted. That philosophy is a large part of the reason that I ended up at Rice, so I thought it would be a pretty good place to start my journey as an undergraduate student. I began by purely taking classes that interested me – neuroscience, linguistics, and psychology – and I figured out early on that these topics were what got my heart beating (or brain racing, more appropriately). As these classes progressed and got harder, I was exposed to more and more research behind the theory, and started to think: why can’t I be the one conducting that research? This spurred a whole new series of events that led me into the world of social, clinical, and affective research, especially as it pertains to psychology. Although there was definitely a learning curve in the beginning, I’ve learned a lot and been exposed to a number of topics, opportunities, and brilliant people that I never would have interacted with had I not come to Rice. Not many universities allow their undergraduate student body to have an active, independent, and highly engaged experience with the research their faculty or collaborators are doing, but Rice believes that its student body is composed of some of the most intelligent and driven students around, so they encourage rather than dissuade. They lift up rather than put down.

Very scientific doggo in an fMRI machine

It’s this supportive attitude that I’ve readily felt all through my three years here at Rice and that I continue to feel as I engage in research around campus and the medical center. Even now, I sit writing this blog from a beautiful venue overlooking the University of California at Los Angeles, just having finished a conference in social and affective neuroscience with some of the best and brightest minds attending. I think that it is a huge testament to Rice’s belief in its students that a fellow lab member and I were only two of a handful of undergraduates in attendance. Rice funded our trip (and likely many others for similar students in widely different ventures) because they believe that their students are competitive and deserve the same opportunities as graduate students, post-doctoral students, and seasoned faculty and researchers. The only requirement is your passion, dedication, and love for what you do.

A Rice Owl meets a UCLA bear

While I’m saying this, I want to emphasize that I still identify as an undecided student. I may not even continue with research beyond my undergraduate years, even though it’s surely been a wild ride. The point is, I don’t have everything figured out (not by half!) and you don’t need to have everything figured out either – you don’t even need to have most of it figured out. You just have to follow your heart. I sincerely hope that your heart leads you to Rice.

Having Houston as a Hometown and Rice as a Home Away from Home

Rice and its surrounding neighborhoods were a big part of my childhood. My family frequently dined at the La Madeleine in Rice Village. I went to pool parties at my friends’ houses in the neighborhood of West University. My dad took me along to the annual “Turkish night” on Rice’s campus. You would think that growing up in Houston would make Rice feel all too familiar when I arrived on campus my freshman year. Yet, there is more to Rice than I could have expected at the time.

These reindeer were painted and placed around Rice Village last year, featuring Houston, Rice, and Astros (H-Town’s baseball team) themes!

Going to school in Houston and having “Home” so close by has been a wonderful experience. Still, Rice quickly became my home away from home; it felt like a whole new world to me. I realized I had two addresses in Houston; two very different parts of town that were each really cool in their own way. At Rice, I am within walking distance of Hermann Park, the Zoo, the museums, and Rice Village. At home, my local 24-hour Shipley’s donuts was close by and the lively City Centre was a short drive away. I used to live in West Houston and just recently moved to Katy, a suburb of Houston, which also has its own distinct venues, shops, and restaurants that I am still growing accustomed to. One of my favorite things about Houston is how huge and diverse it truly is. There is always somewhere new to explore – even in the areas I frequent the most around Rice, such as Rice Village (which has expanded quite a bit this past year, building new restaurants, featuring more food truck options, incorporating different murals and art pieces throughout its streets, and displaying Rice banners on streetlights and signs).

Having capital-H Home nearby doesn’t feel strange at all. It has made my college experience all the more enjoyable. I can go home when something comes up, when I want to be off-campus for a bit, or when I want to have some Turkish tea with my dad – but that being said, I don’t get homesick. I am more than comfortable and content in my home away from home, which includes my individual room, my residential college, the campus as a whole, and the neighborhoods surrounding Rice. It also includes my close friends and supportive professors – individuals I don’t get to see and spend time with regularly when I’m away from campus. Going to school in my hometown is familiar but fun, and I feel more fortunate than ever to call both Rice and Houston my home.

I am fortunate enough to witness this beautiful skyline view on my drive from my house to Rice.

Coming to Ground: Reorientation of a Post-Abroad Owl

Allow me to preface by saying that returning to Rice has been awesome. Abroad was a whirlwind of new experiences which I am sure to cherish for years to come, but now I am finally back in Houston with my close friends who I haven’t spoken to face-to-face in months. Almost more importantly, I’m finally back in the welcoming arms of queso (oh, how I’ve missed you, molten cheese).

Back at a bastion of quesodom in Houston. We basked in the sunset (and the bright future of our meal) for a moment, before heading inside to chow down.

But things are different now. Not only for me, whose worldview is completely changed after three months of independence and foreign frolicking. My friends, too, have been going through months of various experiences (both highs and lows) without me there personally to talk to them, offer them support, and of course tease them on occasion. How does one go about making up for lost time, as well as the variety of experiences which have made us fundamentally changed people since August?

Coming back from abroad, I find myself straddling two different worlds. In Houston, I’m greeted with the regular issues: homework, social life, working. However, after the long days spent in the classroom and out, applying to internships and de-stressing through nights out and movie nights in, I lie down to sleep and think of abroad. How drastically different life was then.

My final night in London, as seen from the Tower of London. How does one reconcile such an independent, carefree life abroad with the subsequent support network and more stressful life waiting back at home?

Above all, I have been trying to keep things in perspective. I often reach out to friends I met abroad (some of my British “mates”, funnily enough, are studying abroad at various institutions in the United States!) Additionally, I strive to remember what I learned abroad: that struggles one goes through are mere blips in the greater scheme of things. Naturally, this does not mean to cast them aside as inconsequential, but rather to keep things in perspective. Remember that it is often the little things which are of fundamental importance, and (I know, cliché and bloggy as you can get) it’s not the destination which is important, but the journey you take to get there.

I’m continuing this journey of self-discovery back at Rice. I am happy to be back but also miss London. A mixture of emotions which are in a constant cycle of contradiction and reconciliation. I cherish the manifold experiences I had abroad but also realize the importance of the work I do stateside, perhaps now even more than I did before. While I remain unsure about where my path will lead, I know that the choices I make every day are fleshing out the journey which will thrust me into the future!

The Trees of Rice

Do you fear those humid summer days? One of the most common concerns of prospective Rice students, including myself when I was in high school, is the Houston heat. Luckily, you do not need to worry.  Here is why:

  • The hottest months in Houston are from June to August

During the hottest months of the summer, you may not be studying at Rice. You will be on summer break, which means that you will probably get to escape the heat (yay!). During most of the months that you are here (August-April), the weather is actually quite nice, especially during the winter. In January, you get sunshine and 60 degree weather instead of the freezing temperatures of the North. How awesome is it to be able to wear shorts in the winter?

  • All of the buildings have air conditioning

Even though the weather is still pretty humid when you arrive in August, you still get to escape most of the humidity. Much of your time will be spent indoors in classrooms or in one of Rice’s beautiful buildings, which means that you get to enjoy air conditioning. Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night, drenched in your own sweat? Well, you will never have to experience that here because every dorm room in Rice has its own air conditioning.

  • Trees, trees, and more trees!

Did you know that Rice was designated as a “Tree Campus USA?” Rice is an arboretum with 4,300 trees spread across campus. That means that each undergraduate can have 1 tree!

So what does this have to do with the Houston heat?

Well, these trees are not just for show. They provide shade all over campus. Sometimes on a hot day, students can take cover under one of the many friendly trees spread across campus to cool off.

  • Wrapping it all up

Although Houston can have some pretty hot weather, Rice has so many awesome features like air conditioning and trees to keep us cool. As a result, we do not fear the seemingly intimidating heat of Houston.

The endless lines of trees that cover Rice University

Hello from the other side of the world!

As the title of this blog suggests, I am currently on the other side of the world. Guess where? One of the smaller but developed countries in the entire world, formerly a British colony but now the Asian Tiger: SINGAPORE!

This semester, I am an exchange student at the National University of Singapore (NUS), one of the best universities in Asia. However, I will not be talking about how much fun I am having since it needs no explanation. Instead, I want to share with y’all how supportive Rice is for students like me who want to study abroad.

The reason I wanted to study abroad is that I have many AP credits with which I can graduate in 3 years. But if I want to graduate early (many Rice students graduate early, too!), my schedule will become very intense. Therefore, I asked myself: why not take a semester off and see the world by studying abroad?

My parents were not very supportive when I told them my idea. They worried that as an engineering major, I would not be able to get equivalent credits that could transfer back to Rice. They were worried about the language barrier, where I was going to live, who I was supposed to talk to when I ran into trouble. Their worries made me scared as well. However, with the caring environment at Rice, I was able to ask around and found many good resources about studying abroad. I want to share them with you all so that you will not be as confused as I was when you decide to study abroad.

First of all, let’s talk about the people. Rice has an amazing team of study abroad advisors. There is an adult team that can help you with administrative issues such as signing up for a program and keeping in touch with the staff at the programs/universities. You can also just ask about their studying abroad experiences! There is also an ambassador team that is made up of students who have completed their study abroad programs. They are from different residential colleges, majors, and went to different countries for different programs. They are very accessible and are willing to share their fun and valuable memories.

Then, there are two main types of programs: institution-based and university-based. The former one is usually held by an institution such as SIT. These programs focus on certain topics such as bio-diversity, so the people you meet may mostly be from the same major as you are. Some programs have instructors who will lead you to conduct research as well. The university based program is what we usually call the “exchange program.” You will be registered as a student of another university and get to know the local students and staff from various disciplines and with various interests. Fewer students participate in university-based programs since it is more challenging, but I do know students who are participating in exchange programs in Japan, China, Singapore, Spain, and Australia!

Interested in studying abroad but fearing that you don’t have the time? Fear not! There are several programs offered during the summer! The institution based programs offer a lot of summer programs with the same content as the semester program, so you are not missing out. Another option for you is the Rice in Country program, which is perfect for those who are interested in learning foreign languages. The program will assign you to a homestay family and a language partner so that you will be fully immersed in the language and learn more! There are programs in France, German, Japan, China, among others.

If you want to explore the world, studying abroad with help from the Rice community is the perfect option! Do not be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and start your adventure!

The day when I finally got my NUS student card. Officially a student of NUS!