Mentality Shift: A Junior’s Final Days

A college junior’s last few weeks is a period of reckoning. It is a timeframe wracked with concerns (for the future), nostalgia (for the past), and angst (in the present). It is the first time your scope is really broadened into the post-graduation context, when you are forced to look beyond the receipt of a diploma, and must instead not only imagine but plan life beyond Rice.

Of late, I’ve been attending graduate school information sessions. I have met with professors regarding recommendation letters and general advice for what lies ahead. At the same time, it is probably the first sustained period of time that I’ve had some substantial hope and anticipation for all that is yet to come: acceptances, rejections, the lot. Especially as an underclassman, one is still not used to rejections. They happen a lot, by the way. When they’re few and far between, one doesn’t really know how to cope with them. Now a tenured recipient of rejections, I’ve learned it is not so much the “yes/no” decision that defines you, but rather how you deal with the decision and learn from it.

The feeling of “looking forward” transcends academics and professional life–I have begun to envision which friends I’ll stay in contact with and which, just as in life immediately following high school, will fade into the white noise of the contextual past. I have also begun to keep better track of all the little things that happen every day at Rice–if I wait any longer, I worry that I’ll miss some!

Rice is small. It seems like everyone knows everyone. As a result, I think we sometimes wind up complaining about the bubble. But in doing so, we forget how nice it is to be in a place of such familiarity. Studying abroad, not knowing anyone, taught me as much.

All this to say that I’ve treasured my time at Rice thus far, and continue to cherish every moment, but before this semester was not really comfortable with the whole graduating thing. However, the only way to take control of your future is to greet it with optimism, not anxiety. It’s a lesson that I couldn’t have learned earlier, and probably the most important lesson I’ve learned.

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!

An Owl Abroad: Maximizing Satisfaction and Minimizing Superficiality

As an Owl Abroad, I find myself happily overwhelmed with how much there is to do. Studying in London allows me all the historical significance of a place that has served in a multitude of roles, from Roman outpost to the center of the world in the imperial age. I have been visiting a museum at least every other day (they’re all free admission in London!), trying out a coffee in each new place I visit (in order to train my tongue for my job at Coffeehouse next semester), and meeting people from all over Europe and the world—not just Brits.

However, I want to take this moment to make every student, whether a prospective Owl or a current one, aware of a key fact regarding the abroad experience: it’s pointless without immersion. Since coming here, I have realized that immersion is akin to Maslow’s self-actualization—you may think you are doing it, but you really have a long way to go. Immersion isn’t just using an alien currency, speaking a foreign language or trying food you never would have had at home. It goes beyond the typical channels of long-term tourism, and is attained through continuous engagement with all sides of a culture. Immersion takes time, and in order to do it properly, you need to see parts of the abroad experience you never would have considered.

Consider my recent trip to Wembley Stadium, the home of the English national football team (yes, I’ve converted to saying football instead of soccer. At least for my remaining 6 weeks in England. I hear it helps with the immersion process.) I found the trip informative, thorough, and generally enthralling. Heck, I probably even thought to myself something along the lines of: perfect. I’m doing the abroad experience. Seeing the sights. Doing the things. However, my most revealing interaction with “the beautiful game” happened not in a stadium, but on a national rail line train returning from Dover last night. It was around 9pm, and my favorite team—Chelsea FC—had just bowed out of the FA Cup in a 2-1 defeat to West Ham United. At the match, some fan violence had broken out, resulting in several injuries and arrests. At Stratford, the penultimate stop, about 30 fans of the two teams boarded. I got into a conversation with a West Ham fan, who had attended the game with his two sons. In that intimate 5-minute conversation before we arrived back at the King’s Cross/St. Pancras station, I learned more about soccer than I had on the entirety of the two hour Wembley Stadium tour. I hereby teach two lessons: First, that immersion is better attained through a small conversation than a big destination. Second, that you grow more as a person through the former.

Me and Sam Levy (Will Rice '18) visiting Wembley. Sam's a decent guy, even if he's not a confirmed Chelsea supporter.

Me and Sam Levy (Will Rice ’18) visiting Wembley. Sam’s a decent guy, even if he’s not a confirmed Chelsea supporter. I’d have a picture of the guy on the train, except it would have been a weird conversation to ask him for his picture.

Many students from universities across the United States use their time abroad to explore a number of places they haven’t been to, not necessarily just in their host country. Generally speaking, this is a good thing. I myself have visited Germany since crossing the pond and will be heading to a couple other countries before my visit is through. Travel is vital in becoming a more worldly citizen, although when done in excess one runs the risk of missing the entire point of the abroad experience. I wholeheartedly believe I got more out of my trip to Canterbury than my visit to Munich, not to mention that my combined visits to Canterbury, Dover, Oxford, Cumbria and (when I visit them) Bath and Cambridge all cost less than 1/4th  the price of one plane ticket to Munich.

On a hike through Lake District National Park, near the town of Penrith. Off the beaten path, and far better than it.

On a hike through Lake District National Park, near the town of Penrith. Off the beaten path, and far better than it.

With all this in mind, I advise traveling. Do so wholeheartedly, even spontaneously, and with an open mind! However, do not neglect the smaller sites, the more minute opportunities for interaction with the respective native culture. At the end of the day, those will be the most important moments.

Sophomore Year: The Pivotal Point in Higher Education

I just started my sophomore year of college, and with it have found myself becoming the worldly and arduous worker I should have been all along.

Freshman year is about academic exploration, as many faculty and family members will attest, but I found that true academic and personal growth wasn’t attainable until this year. Last semester, my coursework tapered into the specific major courses I had long looked forward to. Alongside these courses, I realized, came the seemingly insurmountable task of weekly essays compounded with regular assignments and heavy readings. However, rather than drowning under this new challenge, I found myself rising to it.

Sophomore year, for those who have not yet experienced it, is a ton of fun. Not only are you now familiar with the Rice experience, bizarre traditions and all, but the newfound academic rigor allowed me to develop what I had procrastinated on since arriving at college: a work ethic that not only has reformed the quality of my work, but also my interest in academic material. Finally, almost halfway through college, I’ve relearned my love for learning, something lacking in my life since the end of middle school.

The main reason for my writing, I suppose, is a call to action for those students younger than I am. Too often in the craze of the college admission process and arriving on campus, we tend to disregard the real reason for education. We don’t forget this–rather, we accept the commonly held belief that we should learn for the sake of learning, but it is shunted aside in our desire to get good grades, a degree, and move on as we should.

Rather, it is more vital now than ever to challenge yourself, take classes you enjoy, and delve into them wholeheartedly. Of course, a good grade should be everyone’s aim, but no class should be taken solely because of the guarantee of an A. It took me this long to figure it out, but with a newly developed work ethic, and a renewed adoration and appreciation for my school, I urge others to follow suit–study what you truly enjoy.

Twice at Rice: A Freshman’s Second Semester Sentiments

As I boarded Southwest 468 to Houston I realized that, for the first time in my life, I didn’t have a pang of longing to stay an extra day at home: I was both eager and exhilarated to return to college. Rice has already sturdily stationed itself as a mainstay in my life. I have had an abundance of new experiences since arrival, and it being mid-February has not changed the frequency of these occasions. Yesterday, I basked in 79 degree weather whilst my numerous friends at institutions in the Northeast waded through snow and slush to get to class. Today, I fired a crossbow at a slab of cow flesh. Tomorrow, the world. Daily, acquaintances become closer to friends, and friends encroach on the line separating them from family. As second semester continues to unfold, a freshman cannot help but feel that the Rice experience is no longer a foreign, dream-like wonderland, and far more akin to a second home.

When O-Week ended, we were thrust into the hustle and bustle of college life like baby sea turtles taking to an ocean filled with both promise and uncertainty. Thereafter, the learning experience was ceaseless, as we learned from each speech, meeting and PowerPoint slide that Rice threw at us. Coffeehouse was our fueling station, and our steadfast study habits the vehicle with which we steered ourselves into the future. Sure, we veered left here and swerved right there (frankly, I think I skidded onto the curb once or twice), but returning from winter recess was a completely different story.

Despite being an overzealous freshman and only two months older than I was in first semester, I feel like a veteran already. Waking up for 8am classes became routine, and I eased my way into more personal relationships with my professors, even getting lunch or coffee with them on occasion. Seeing high school seniors gazing up at the arched Sallyport on their tours started to give me an upwelling of nostalgia, rather than the pangs of anxiety I used to feel as I reflected on my own college process. To my utmost surprise, I feel more mature as a second semester freshmen than I ever did as a second semester senior.

A highlight of first semester was the Duncan Gala, during which students had dinner with associates and celebrated Duncan College in full regalia.

Naturally, any upperclassman who may read this will scoff. “Pfft!” they’ll exclaim, “how little he knows!” And they’re right—I’m still just a freshman. I’m still just a rinky-dink teenager trying to figure out what he wants to do with his life, and I will most likely change my major five more times before figuring out what that purpose may be. For now, all that it seems I can do is keep my head above water and continue to relish the youthful stages of my Rice experience.