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.

O-Week 2017: Get Hype?

Here’s a timely topic for you: Orientation Week (aka O-Week) 2017!!! This is the first week new students have on campus: a week of fun social events and academic planning and sessions meant to orient you to important aspects of campus life. Each new student is placed in a group of 8-10, with 2-4 upperclassmen advisors who are there to be the first point of contact and the first advocate for a new student.

“But wait,” you say, “O-Week doesn’t happen until next August.” That’s true. Many of the students who will be joining us next year haven’t even been admitted yet and won’t find out about their acceptance to Rice until the end of the semester. It’s the middle of February, sure – but in fact, planning for O-Week has already begun. This is just the point at which things pick up speed.

At Duncan, my residential college, the O-Week theme was revealed last week to be RadiO-Week, which has prompted two things: a wave of radio-related puns to circulate the college and a wave of excitement and mild panic as people rush to fill out their advisor applications. Interviews, decisions, a second wave of applications and interviews and decisions as colleges seek to fill the co-advisor (advisors who are from a different residential college) positions, and so on. It can be a stressful time, especially if it’s your first time applying to advise, especially because it’s a job that attracts so many people. Yesterday, at lunch with the group I advised last year, I asked who, if anyone, was applying to advise. Almost all of my new students said they were, and, further, that “basically the whole freshman class is applying.” So what’s the big deal? Why is it that my whole group – ten wonderful freshmen with diverse interests and backgrounds and personalities – wants to turn around and play the role of the knowledgeable older student?

As for my lovely O-Week family, there isn’t a single one of them that wouldn’t make a great advisor next year!

People have different reasons for wanting to become advisors, but here are some of the ones I’ve heard. Of course, everyone who applies wants to get to know the matriculating class of 2017 and wants to be involved in the college (and it’s fantastic to be part of an environment where those motivations are just givens). But here are other reasons for your future advisors giving up two weeks of their summer vacation and a whole lot of their sleep to make sure the matriculating class of 2017 feels safe and accepted at Rice:

  1. My O-Week was amazing!!! I want to repay the favor for the next group of new students!
  2. I know something could have been improved, so I wanted to see that change.
  3. I want new students like me to feel that they have someone supporting them.

The middle reason may be surprising, but it just goes to show the drive and compassion of Rice students. Other advisors I worked with last year admitted at some point, “You know, my O-Week experience was only okay, but I know that was only because of XYZ thing, so I wanted to sort of make sure that didn’t happen.” And those advisors who are advising for the third reason can be some of the most passionate – they’re people who have felt marginalized at some point in their lives, who struggle with mental wellbeing, and who want to use their experiences to make things easier and more comfortable for new students.

And the best O-Week team (like Duncan’s team last year) has a mixture of all three. So I encourage any prospective students who do decide to come to Rice to look out for the differences in the advisors at their residential college. There is no one Rice experience, and your advisors are going to represent that.

The only slightly nutty advising team at Duncan last year: more awesome than you could imagine

Exploring Houston, One Espresso at a Time

A new habit I got into this semester was something I decided on within the first week of school or so. I made the goal of stepping off campus for a few hours every Sunday morning and finding a nice coffee shop where I could drink a latte and write. This has been possibly the greatest decision I’ve made so far at Rice for a few reasons.

Reason #1: So Houston exists.

Houston doesn’t just exist as a place for Rice to be, but it really exists, and it’s vibrant and unique and has its own cool places and frustrations (looking at you, 59 exit ramps). Now that I have a car in Houston, I’ve been able to explore the local area and get a sense of what the different parts of town are like. And while my search has by no means been extensive, I’m much more knowledgeable on the place I live, which is a pretty cool place.

Coffee Recommendation: Siphosiphonn. They will let you have your own siphon of coffee where you’re sitting, which is just a really neat. Plus, the place manages to be cozy and industrial and prepared for you to work there all at the same time. 

 

Reason #2: Hobbies are important.

One of the biggest problems if you’re trying to pursue writing as a serious hobby when you’re in college – no matter where you go – is that when you get busy, you suddenly find that you haven’t done it in forever – and maybe that’s why you’re more stressed out and feel more emotional and are finding it hard to focus. Having a dedicated time on Sunday has really help me get into the mindset of focusing on the same single project for multiple hours at a time in a routine. Whatever hobby you have, whether it’s poetry or photography or whatever it may be, make yourself time to pursue it. I find myself happier, more focused, and in all honesty more able to prioritize writing in my day.

black-hole-coffee-insideRecommendation: Black Hole. I had been looking for a café that felt very much like where the writing community went for a while, and as soon as I walked in, I realized I’d found it. There are books and newspapers everywhere, and I was not the only person going through a manuscript with a red pen. Plus, they make their own syrups; their Hazelnut Latte is the best I’ve ever had.

Reason #3: Everyone needs their own wellness space.

The dialogue about mental health on college campuses has been only growing since I arrived on campus last fall. While Rice has incredible support networks and communities and resources for students to take advantage of, taking a break from it all has really given me a chance to take that mental break space. It’s nice to allow myself to take a break every Sunday morning, and to hold myself to maintaining that option. Plus, whenever I return to Rice at about 1pm on Sunday afternoon, I am all the readier to jump into my commitments and school work, just for having allowed myself to spend some time recommitting myself to what’s important that we sometimes forget.

agora1bRecommendation: Agora. It’s a bit of a strange sort of vibe at first, but I go back to Agora because it really does feel like a refuge. When you walk in, you step through an archway of trees and into a calm, old-timey building that feels just like a hideaway.

 

Because of these things, I encourage all students – high school or Rice students or wherever you’re at – to do something as simple as exploring coffee shops! It’s an easy habit to build, and it’s absolutely rewarding.

Going Abroad, and the You that Comes Home

This summer, while my friends worked internships and went on family vacations, I decided to spend more time doing one my favorite things: more school! I spent 6 weeks studying German in Berlin, on a program called Rice-in-Germany, which is one of many Rice-in-Country programs that send Rice students to the country of their target language for the sake of learning the language in the best possible way. Not only did I spend a lot of time in German classes, but I also lived with a host family, engaged in community service trips, explored Berlin, and, oh yeah, signed a pledge that I would only speak, read, write, and listen to German for 6 weeks. [protip: German Spotify is kind of limited, but German Harry Potter is every bit as magical.] The trip for me meant that I could go straight to third-year German in the fall, which means I’m that much closer to analyzing literature and looking at historical events in German. It also meant stepping into the location of some of the most thought-provoking events of the 20th century, turning my back on my native language and customs for six weeks, and humbling myself in a way that only study abroad can do. Seriously – when you need to activate your phone’s new SIM-card and the instructions are in a language you only sort of understand, that’s when you really learn to ask for help.

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The Brandenburg Gate, every bit as hopeful and grand as it has been for so many people before me.

The first conversation I had in German with a German person in Germany happened when I stepped off an 8-hour flight from Atlanta to Frankfurt, and a man in a Lufthansa uniform was waiting with a sign advertising the gate numbers for transfer flights.

Me: Uh, hallo. Erika Schumacher? 11:45, Berlin?

Lufthansa Man: Ok, Erika Schumacher – 11:45, Berlin, super.

Then he told me my gate number, and I went on my way, but I was left with a lingering existential question: have I been saying my name wrong all my life?

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Debunking Owl Days Myths

It’s mid-April, Rice, so brace yourselves: the prospies are coming. Owl Days is this week, Admit Days are today and next Monday – it’s the time of year when Rice welcomes on campus the hundreds of admitted prospective students – fondly called “prospies” – and helps them fall in love with Rice the same way we have.

I remember walking on campus for Owl Days with terror in my heart, mostly fueled by my anxiety about most social situations. Because I know many high school seniors feel the same way, I want to debunk a few of the myths your anxiety will try to tell you about Owl Days.

MYTH NUMBER 1: If you don’t meet your best friends over Owl Days, you will remain friendless and alone forever.

Owl Days is really great for meeting people. You’re likely to find a few people staying in the same suite/hall/residential college to talk to, but don’t worry if you don’t click and become instant best friends. I met great people that I still see around campus, but don’t feel totally alone if you don’t click at once with the people around you.

REALITY: Owl Days is great for getting to know your future classmates, but you’ll make friends in your classes and at your college as well!

More Reality: my only picture from Owl Days 2015 happens to be an appreciation of this artistic and tasty owl.

There will also be receptions and mingling opportunities galore, where you can pick up some tasty goodies like this beautiful cookie from Owl Days 2015.

MYTH NUMBER 2: The residential college you stay in is the absolute best college, and you must end up there.

Chances are, your host will be absolutely brimming with college pride and will explain to you that their college is the best college at Rice. It will be pretty easy to get attached, but don’t stay up late at night worrying about whether or not you’ll be placed in the “best” residential college. Every college is widely loved by its members. You’re likely to love whatever college you end up a member of, regardless of whether or not you stayed there over Owl Days.

REALITY: Residential college pride and inner-college friendly competition is strong, but most people absolutely love the college they are in. There is no “best” or “worst” college!

MYTH NUMBER 3: “Rice students are super cool and super busy and super superior to prospies and if you speak out of turn you’ll be shamed ahhhhhhhh”

Okay, so Rice students are pretty cool. Hosts come in every shape and size, from every residential college, and we all have different workloads. (Please forgive us if we have to study – our final tests and projects are happening now or are right around the corner!) Even if your host seems busy or way too cool to listen to your questions, ask questions anyway. People sign up to be hosts because they want to hang out with prospies. You’ll probably find people that aren’t hosts that want to get to know you, too! If you feel terrified and out of place like I did when I first stepped on campus, know that Rice kids are at most a few years older than you, they remember exactly what it was like to be in your shoes, and they’re volunteering their time because they want to get to know you!

REALITY: All we want to do is hang out with the cool prospies. Make yourselves at home!

A lot has happened in a year. I’m no longer the timid high school senior terrified of leaving home and making new friends. So if that’s you, it’s okay; we remember what that was like, and we can’t wait to meet you!

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What the picture says: WELCOME!

~Erika

Appreciation Post: Study Spots at Rice

In celebration of finishing the final midterms before spring break, I wanted to use this post to pay a small tribute to some of the most wonderful and essential resources Rice has to offer: the study spots. Rice is decked out from one end to another in benches and tables, in little study booths tucked out of the way, and wide, open arrangements of tables. So, as a tribute to the long week of studying we here at Rice have just gotten through, here are some of my favorite study spots:

Fondren Library (aka Fondy)

Rice’s big, loveable library, Fondren, is my place to go when I have an hour here or there and want to get some quick work done, or if I need a spot for quiet and focused work.

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Pictured: Erika with her favorite two fixtures of indoor study spaces, windows and corners.

First, there are study booths on most of the floors that are tucked in alongside the stacks. I like studying here when I really need to be separated and focused. There are individual study booths lining the walkways as well as the types of booths you see pictured here, which are near windows overlooking the back of the library and the quad beyond. There are also amazing study rooms on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th floors that can be reserved. Amazing if you want to be in a secluded area, but still be able to collaborate with one or two other people.

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What an ideal study booth looks like.

Another cool spot is the first floor, which has a much more open layout and plenty of options for your quick studying option. I like to study on the first floor if I’m trying to just find a desk to do some little tasks on. And the last of the places I’ll mention is the library’s sixth floor, aka Fondy 6th, the silent floor. As an English/Political Science double major who writes often and has a bad habit of typing loudly, I’ve never been up there. But some people love it for really focused, quiet work.

Residential Colleges (aka your home)

Every one of the residential colleges is set up with different places anyone can go and study. Because I’m a resident of Duncan College, I’m specifically talking about Duncan spots, but every residential college has similar spaces.

First, your college’s commons. This is the place to be if you want to collaborate with your friends on a math or physics problem set, or if you’re looking to do some casual paper-editing while talking to people or waiting for the servery to open. Except for maybe around 6am, you’ll always be able to find people in a college’s commons.

Second, college quads. Since Houston weather is great most days, you’ll want to go outside at least at some point. Duncan quad, pictured below, has a great array of picnic tables in sun and shade. Water Bonus: Duncan has the DuncTank, where you can do your readings for your history or chemistry class while listening to the soothing sound of running water.

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Duncan Quad. Outdoor residential college spaces are fantastic!

Every residential college also has its own spots. Some have awesome open spaces on each floor, white boards and couches that are great for hanging out, convenient, and open for multiple groups to study in. Others have individual study rooms. Other residential colleges (like Duncan), have a Sundeck or other rooftop spaces. There are days when it feels really great to study while overlooking the Downtown or Med Center skyline, and I can do that here!

Water Bonus: Brockman Water Tank

Lastly, I want to shed some light on one of my favorite outdoor study spots: next to the water tank in front of Hamman Hall and behind Brockman Hall. Out of the way, this is also an amazing place I like to spend time when I want to be outside. It’s hidden between buildings, so not a lot of people are walking back and forth, and even better – it’s in the shade at all times. You can be outside while not worrying about the glare on your computer screen! What more could you want? Recommended in particular for all my social sciences and (non-theatre) humanities friends who are less likely to have class over here and ever find such an awesome spot.

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Brockman water tank also makes for a great spot for your casual study selfies.

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A view of Erika’s favorite nook on campus: the tables between Brockman and Hamman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most universities are going to have their share of fun spaces you can visit when you need a place to get some work done, but at Rice I really feel like these spaces are here for me. On Rice’s big and beautiful campus, there are so many nooks, that I probably won’t ever find them all. But that’s also part of the fun of it: you can really make the most of the spaces here and make some of them your own. I recommend finding your escape, finding your focus zone, and finding the place that makes your time at Rice feel a little bit more like home. Happy studying, or more importantly – happy exploring!