A Community During Harvey

You could say that this year’s incoming class had a very “unconventional” welcome to Rice. After an eventful O-Week, classes were finally starting, and with that came the hustle and bustle of buying supplies, finding classrooms, reading syllabi, and joining clubs. However, by Thursday, we learned that then-tropical-storm Harvey was on its way to Houston and that the campus would be closing at 3 p.m. on Friday. Most of us believed that the storm watch would last only a few days, but clearly, that wouldn’t be the case.

As many may know, Hurricane Harvey was a devastating and unprecedented storm. Luckily, Rice didn’t experience as much damage as the rest of Houston did. There was hardly any flooding on campus. We were safe and well-fed, thanks to our amazing Housing and Dining staff, and we had access to hot water, electricity, and wi-fi. Sometimes, our only concern was what to do for the entire day.

So, what did we do during our extra week off?

Movie nights, karaoke, Zumba, Mario Kart tournaments, dodgeball, Sporcle quizzes, anything to keep ourselves entertained. Towards the end of the week, Rice professors offered lyceum lectures on topics from “The Physics of Music and Sound” to “The Debate Over Confederate Monuments.” Even though Harvey trapped us indoors, I was able to meet and bond with other students, many of whom are now my best friends here.

But the best thing that came from Harvey was seeing the number of students who got involved in the Houston community. There were many opportunities to help hurricane victims, and Rice students were always there to take them. Students were volunteering at disaster relief centers, donating supplies, and helping families clean and rebuild their homes. It was amazing to see the compassion that was in Rice and in Houston throughout the week.

Since then, Houston has still been recovering from the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, but it’s nice knowing that Rice will always emerge above any disaster as a community.

Being a Twinless Twin at Rice

Turning my back on my sister and walking away from her tear-stained face after move-in was easily the hardest thing I have had to do so far at Rice. Aside from the occasional overnight field trip during high school or sporadic vacation with different groups of friends, my sister and I had never been apart before college. And that scared me.

When applying to schools, we knew from the start that it wasn’t likely that we would end up at the same place. We chose not to dwell on this fact, though, nor let it affect our decisions, and by the spring of our senior year in high school I had chosen to come to Rice, and she had chosen to go to Tulane. We were excited for each other, and we were happy that we both ended up in the south (hailing from D.C., there was a good chance one of us would have ended up in a northeastern school somewhere).

I was lucky enough to get to visit Tulane during Rice’s midterm recess.

We spent the entire summer together, relishing in the end of this chapter of our lives. But the gravity of finally being on my own for the first time didn’t hit me until I sat back down in the commons of my college, in a room full of strangers.

The great thing about Rice, though, is that I knew that I would be happy here before I even set foot on campus as a new student. The O-Week coordinators had been so transparent and welcoming through their emails and messages in group chats, and the roommate they matched me with was absolutely incredible (snapchatting over the summer made us both realize how scarily accurate the roommate matching process is here).

And I was fine. Better than fine, actually – I felt amazing. By the end of O-Week I had a strong group of friends, an extensive support system, and a clear vision of what to expect during my time here at Rice. I haven’t felt lonely, which was a lingering concern of mine, and (more excitingly for me) I haven’t been called the wrong name once.

The Evolution of my Relationship with Emails

I have a love-hate relationship with my email account. And it is one of the most important relationships I have here at Rice.

When I first got my rice.edu address, I was pretty excited – probably more so than most other incoming Rice students. I was proud of finally having a professional email address, one associated directly with my dream school. Gone were the days of “(embarrassing middle school catchphrases/abbreviations)” and the slightly more mature albeit bland “(first and last name followed by a number)” email addresses.

I remember how, in middle school, emailing was a “cool” (and not yet unpopular) form of communicating with my friends. Yes, we made plans to hang out at the mall or go to the movies over emails. Yes, it took longer to make those plans. Yes, that taught me to practice patience and yes, it held me more accountable to my friends because I was more likely to actually show up and carry out those plans – rather than relying on our smartphones and their capacity to send instantaneous push notifications to take a rain-check. So, for me at least, emails have always been kind of a big deal.

Now, in college, emails are more important than ever. Some people, including myself, have a love-hate relationship with their account. At busier times of the year, I find myself swamped with emails, some more pressing than others. When I’m especially busy or stressed, I just don’t want to read an email from a listserv or a club that is not my priority at that particular point in time. Other times, I love seeing those emails because it usually means I can reconnect with a club/group of people/activity that I have not heard much from lately.

The now-familiar Rice seal that greets me each time I log in to my email account.

Emails are efficient and universal (your peers, professors, RAs, and just about everyone on campus is part of the Rice email community), but can also seem excessive or unnecessary at times (e.g., “It’s finals week; I don’t have time to read a lengthy newsletter from this club!”). All-in-all, though, I am grateful that I can stay connected via email. Even when I am too preoccupied to read certain emails, I almost always make time to read them eventually.

I thus take good care of my account. I do an email cleanse weekly, deleting older message threads that are no longer relevant (and will no longer be relevant to my future). I create and organize labels and folders; some of these include “Classes,” “Jobs and Opportunities,” and “Wiess” (residential college related emails). More long-term academic or extracurricular investments get their own labels as well (e.g. “RCSummer,” the program I worked at these past 2 summers).

Even though I (fondly) refer to my relationship with my Rice email as one of love and hate, my email system makes my life a lot easier. It keeps me connected to Rice, even when I am working abroad at a summer camp, or applying for jobs across the nation. Ultimately, my email helps me navigate the highs and lows of college.

Pens are Still Relevant

Though we have all the wonderful technologies of laptops and tablets allowing for less physical writing, the latter is not yet completely avoidable.

When it comes to essays, typing only gets you to the first draft. The Center for Writing, Oral, and Visual Communication will ask you to bring that first draft printed out to your meeting. At this meeting they will tweak, sharpen, rearrange, and improve your essay – but you will need to take notes. The scribbles in different colors of pen will help you better remember what to do for your next essay.

You will have enormous amounts of free pens from various events thrown by the university. And these you will see for moments at a time throughout your four years here, as you trade them amongst your peers and keep them in your backpack at all times for emergencies. These will be great for when you forget your laptop, or when you need to write down a note on your arm from a passing conversation.

For your division 3 classes (hard and natural sciences), typing equations as fast as they are being written is impossible, so you will need a physical notebook to go along with the pens you brought. This strategy transfers to homework that is more quantitative as well. Pens are also required for many exams written in blue books.

You’ll definitely need to to keep a pen on your person during any professional events. If you are at an information session, you will need to jot down the name of every name and email address that comes up in the presentation. And you will take notes during career fairs to remember which companies were the best fits for you. And the type of pen in this case can matter (hint: get a pen that is heavy).

Not to mention there will be many stressful times at Rice where clicking, tapping, and unscrewing will keep your mind at peace.

The Importance of Organization

The other day, an acquaintance told me that I should use a Google calendar. He had good intentions, but I already have an excellent system. I keep a 2.5 ft x 3.5 ft wall calendar for events outside of class and a planner for coursework and assignments. When I am not in class or participating in something on my calendar, I look to my planner so I can do assignments in between. (Note: the assignments take a fairly long time – Rice is a challenging university)

My calendar is color-coded: black is labs, class cancellations, and office hours; dark blue is dance team; light brown is non-dance team exercise; light blue is interviews/job stuff; light green is vacation days, dark pink is social events; red is exams, and orange is impending deadlines (with the intention of being erased upon completion, preceded by a checkbox).

A benefit to using a non-technological calendar is privacy. I like knowing that I have full control of my time to allocate as I see fit. There are gaps in my schedule, but those are necessary breaks to eat, sleep, and be human. These intentional gaps prevent burnout and keep me motivated to continue pursuing whatever I am doing. Many people over-schedule and over-commit themselves to extracurricular activities, which causes them to become more stressed.

You may use a Google calendar or electronic alternative, and that is great if it works for you. You may think my system is old-fashioned or outdated, but then again, I still talk to people on the phone, instead of DM’ing or tweeting on Twitter, so it’s really personal preference. (Note: many people still prefer phone calls!)

The main reason I haven’t gone electronic? “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” My calendar system is a well-oiled machine, and I don’t see things changing any time in the near future.

Don’t Be Afraid to Go Outside of your Comfort Zone

Rice has a bunch of students that all come from different places— from neighboring towns in Houston to foreign countries across the globe. Nevertheless, we all amalgamate together on campus and bring special diversity to the undergraduate student population. In my case, I hail from the state of New Jersey, just a meager 1,607 miles away from Rice. Whenever I mention that I’m from New Jersey, people never hesitate to ask the token follow-up question: “So why did you decide to come to Rice and live in Texas?” As much as I understand why they ask me, over time I’ve realized that the question implies that most people don’t choose to attend a university far away from home without an explicitly good reason.

My token answer to the token question? I wanted to go to Rice because of the amazing community they have with the residential colleges, its proximity to the largest medical center in the world, and its unique social and cultural environment. Additionally, Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the country, with a myriad of great opportunities (academic and non-academic) for college and beyond. I feel like that answer very much justifies itself, but many people still ask me why I wanted to move so far away. Yes, I don’t get to see my friends and family as often, but I do not regret exploring and going out of my comfort zone in a new environment. From my perspective, I’ve had some of the most unique experiences living in Houston, whether that be cultural experiences from living in Texas to academic experiences from interning at special organizations here. I’m someone who can struggle with change, but lately I’ve become more open to saying yes to new things because they are usually the most rewarding. And going to Rice is a prime example of its benefits.

IMG_6271

Houston has so many cool attractions to visit with friends! This is Discovery Green, and they had a cool interactive exhibit this past March.

I’m not saying that it’s better to go farther away from home, but you shouldn’t limit your options. There are many factors to consider (like finances and family), but I think that I made the right choice going to school here. At Rice, I’ve been exposed to such a unique culture within the diverse campus and beyond. Even though Texas is a new environment for me, Rice makes me feel like I very much belong here. Besides, I’m not the only New Jerseyian or Northeasterner here. I’ve befriended many other students who come from the same area as me. There are still internship and job opportunities connected to Rice that are located throughout the country (including where I’m from), so my college experience is not limited to Houston.

IMG_6273

The MFA (Museum of Fine Arts) is super close to Rice. And the best part is that Rice students get in for free!

To any student who lives far away from Texas and is considering Rice: keep in mind that going beyond what you’re comfortable with can yield some of the most worthwhile experiences. And the best part about living far away from school? The trip back home is 100 times more special.