Monday, December 16, 2013

My SMC Family

So, it's kind of insane that fall has come and gone.
And now I'm home.
And I won't be returning to Saint Mike's until August.

Yeah, I'm freaking out a little.

I'll return to those thoughts in my next few posts, but for now I wanted to take this semester-in-review and focus on some of the crazy, awesome, fun, ridiculous happenings that went on while living in #TH103.

Since this could easily turn into another novel, I figured I'd let the pictures do the talking this time.

However, you'll find that the general theme of these photos revolves less around academics (which, trust me, is a VERY important part of college, but certainly not the entire experience) and more around family. Because my SMC friends are not only friends: they are my home away from home. They are an extension of my family. I started thinking about this much more when this happened:


My mom sent me a Christmas package, and inside were a number of little gifts for not only me, but all three of my housemates. This was her way of saying that she understands when I'm with her for Thanksgiving break but then I talk about "going home to Saint Mike's." These girls started out as friends, but they're no longer friends. They're family.


My housemates and I did pretty much everything together this semester. Here, we're dressed up as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for Halloween. Yeah, we're those kinds of girls. Be jealous.


My housemates and I, plus our friends Emma and Merrill, on the day we all moved in. L to R: Emma, Cara, Merrill, myself, Alex, and Cait.


Liz (L) and Sheila (R) have been part of my SMC family since day one. Even before that for Sheila, who lives in my town and went to high school with me!

  

Not that I condone climbing furniture or anything, but if you're running out of places to owl or you need a quiet spot to read, don't rule out the top of your fridge. Cait and Cara had quite the blast with that!

Cara was my roommate this semester. She's an MJD major just like me, so it was pretty cool to have someone to come home to who could share ideas and relate to some of the stuff I was working on--she was even my editor for one of my Defender articles! Whether we were working, acting like 2-year-olds and having finger painting fights at the Art Hop, or getting dressed up for no reason on the weekends, we made some great memories this semester before we part ways for studying abroad this spring.

Nate is another one of my MJD buddies, and we spent a lot of time together this semester with two of the same classes and a group project. We're pretty darn hilarious (or at least we think we are), and we can be pretty crazy sometimes...he even got me to dye a strip of my hair blonde this semester!


Some more MJD family. Juliana, Lauren ("Mazzy") Mazzoleni, and Lauren Carter got me through my 8am Magazine Writing class with lots of laughs. In fact, the two Laurens and I collectively became known as "the Lauren Corner" in that class because we always sat together. When our professor (the fabulous Allison Cleary) asked a question and called on "Lauren" for a response, all three of us would answer!


My blogging family. Juliana, Boates, myself, and Mazzy. Not pictured: countless incredible others, such as Lisa Ritter, Alex Byrne, Alex Brenock, and Merrill Poor, just to name a few...and our fearless leader Christian, who held a Christmas party for us!


Alex was one of my housemates this semester, and I can't tell you the number of times we told each other we wished we had gotten closer sooner. As a fellow blogger and my friend Cait's sophomore year roommate, I was always acquainted with Alex, and we were basically brought together this year because we were both going into our townhouse with Cait. She is now one of my best friends, and we're scarily similar. We did everything together this semester!

Those are my most recent photos from this semester, but it's hardly an accurate representation of the true size and depth of my SMC family. For instance, I've yet to upload photos from our Secret Santa celebration, but that's something I do every year with my core group of friends from freshman year, including my old roommate Maya and three of my go-to guys, Shawn, Danny and Cori. There are the lovely ladies I go to Sloane with every Tuesday, the people I met through group projects, or my entire Reporting for Media class, which got very close as we helped each other revise our final projects. There are the numerous faculty members who I've come to view almost as parental figures in their wisdom. I even had an alumni mentor this semester who did everything from share his personal story to review my resume to make sure I was presenting my best self to possible employees. 

These are all SMC family members, and they are what makes the difference for me. I've been saying since Day 1 that the best thing about Saint Mike's is the people, and I'm still a firm believer in that.

Now, we're all going off in different directions: Sheila, Lauren and Liz to England; Alex, Mazzy and Merrill to Ireland; Juliana to South Africa; Maya and Emma to Spain; Mary to South Korea; Greta to Denmark; Cait to Ecuador; Cara to Costa Rica; my friend Jesse to the Navy; and myself to Morocco. I imagine this is what senior year feels like, except to a lesser extent because we're all coming back. I can't even bear to think about graduation day, but I know it'll be here faster than I think.

I'm really proud of my family and the things we're all accomplishing. These are the people who push me to be my best, and they know what I'm capable of before I even realize my potential. I can't imagine an entire semester without them, but I know they'll be with me in spirit every step of the way. It's great that we're going to have so many different experiences. Then, when we come back, we won't be able to stop talking!

I know I said I wouldn't write a lot, but I lied. Sorry. 

Moral of the story: tell your family (no matter who that means to you) you love them. Not because it's the season to do so, but simply because you do.

Happy Holidays,

Lauren



Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Best Questions to Ask Your Tour Guide, Part 2

Sorry to keep you waiting, folks! As you know, it's "the most wonderful time of the year" (and I mean that with every ounce of saracasm I can muster) in terms of massive assignments and very long papers. But hey, we're all hanging in there!

And when you're hanging with your tour guide, here are some more questions you should remember to ask:

(You can find the first part to this series here.)

3.) What is the social life on campus like?

While there are a lot of things you can probably expect to find on almost any campus, there are also a lot of unique social aspects to each school. Size alone certainly makes an impact: at a small school like Saint Mike's, where everyone lives on campus, you'll know that there's always someone to talk to and that you're never alone. You can also expect that if you don't know someone personally, you probably have a friend who does, and so we're all really connected that way. That's not common at large universities.

I can also mention here that I never heard the term "suitcase school" until I toured colleges myself. Apparently some smaller schools earn this reputation when a majority of the students pack up and go home on the weekends. I've gotten the question a lot on tours, and I can definitely guarantee that at Saint Mike's, everyone stays on campus over the weekend. I live about five hours away, and I believe the average distance for students is somewhere around four. Even if I did live closer, I wouldn't want to leave. If we go away for a weekend, we come back feeling like we've missed too much!

And of course, speaking of weekends...

4.) Don't be afraid to ask. Have the alcohol talk.

A lot of students and parents don't know how to approach this question, but more often than not, it's on everyone else's mind too. The rest of your tour group will probably be grateful you asked.

When students ask me what the "party scene" is like, I tell the truth. Summed up in one sentence: Saint Mike's is what you make it. If you come here looking for a party, you'll find it. If you want to drink, you'll figure out a way to do it. On the other hand, if the party scene isn't your thing, you'll find other people who feel the same way. There are plenty of things to do on weekends that don't involve alcohol or drugs: RAs put on social events in all of the dorms, you can go get free food in the Quad at midnight, you can attend a concert at Higher Ground or a show at the Flynn, hang out on Church Street or at the waterfront, go to campus events such as plays, movie nights or speakers, or even just relax in your friend's room. During the day you can sign up for Wilderness Program outings, MOVE service events, or a number of other things to keep you busy.

I think what I like most about Saint Mike's is that no matter how you choose to spend your time, the other students are very respectful and they don't judge. If you don't want to drink but you enjoy a good dance party, your friends will be cool with that. I've never been pressured into anything that I don't want to do, and I love that. The culture here is one of respect. Students respect each other's choices and decisions, which is another reason why we're constantly talking about the amazing community we have here. 

5.) What has surprised you most about coming here?

A father once asked me this on a tour and it stopped me in my tracks. Thinking back for a minute, the answer came to me quite obviously: I couldn't believe how quickly I started calling Saint Mike's "home".

I distinctly remember going home for the first time my freshman year. I was happy to be back in New York, but I missed all of my friends at school. I don't remember what exactly I was talking to my mom about, but I mentioned that I was going to do something "when I get home."

WELL. Let me tell you, it's not very easy for a mother to hear those words. She freaked a little that I was using "the H-word" in reference to a place that was 5 hours away from her. I grew up in the same house for 18 years, so yes, that is my home...but I've also spent the past three years in a very accelerated state of living on my own, making new friends, and completely navigating a new place. And naturally, the longer I stayed, the more I fell in love with it. So yes, Saint Mike's is my home now, too. And there will always be a special place in my heart for this home--no matter where in the world I am!

So, there you have it. Part 2 of TBQTAYTG. Remember to ask any and every question that comes to mind--you don't want to leave the campus with any lingering questions, and your tour guide doesn't want you to either!

Have a very happy Thanksgiving, and if you're traveling, be safe!

Lauren

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Quarter-Life Crisis

Hey readers!

Does the title of my post look very depressing and off-putting to you? If it does...well, sorry. If it seems all too relevant, however, keep reading. There is hope. I promise.

I was just discussing the idea of the quarter-life crisis with my dear friend/housemate/fellow SMC blogger Alex, and she showed me this post from Humans of New York (if you have never checked out HONY, go click on that link and prepare for a lifetime of awesome and yet another thing to help you procrastinate. You're welcome.): HONY quarter-life crisis

For those doubters, the quarter-life crisis is actually a thing. It DOES exist. My professor even mentioned it in class the other day. She said she was concerned for us because whenever she asked any of her students how they were doing, the major response was "overwhelmed". We joked that we'd just be extra prepared for the mid-life crisis, which as she confirmed for us, also exists.



So I haven't graduated college yet (trust me I'm not rushing it), which means that my quarter-life crisis doesn't totally compare to that of the young HONY couple. But I am 20 years old, so I know a thing or two about the quarter-life crisis, even though I'm just entering it. Then again, I think I'm one of those people who is just very susceptible to it, because I felt its beginning stages very young (or maybe that just means I'm going to live a shorter life...). Ever since about 16, I've been in a constant cycle of freaking-out-ness. This involves asking questions like,

What am I doing?

What am I going to do with the rest of my life?

What have I achieved so far?

Goals? What ARE goals?

Should I be doing more? What is there to do?

Is this all really worth it?

Can I just climb back into bed and stay there forever?

Are you stressed out yet? I am.

I realize that this semester has caused me to plunge pretty deeply into the quarter-life crisis. I always thought that when I got like this I was just being whiny and overly-existential, but it seems that the quarter-life crisis is actually a thing. And so far, its climax is during junior year of college (but I'm sure this is just the beginning. Yay.). It seems that all of my friends are struggling with the same issue. As if your first two years of college are sort of stressful but mostly just a whole lot of fun and self-discovery, and then BAM. The real world hits you.

If you're struggling through your own quarter-life crisis, here are a few things I've found to work well in fighting against it:

1.) Get out of bed. Get dressed. Open the shades. Get on with your life. The longer you put things off, the worse it will be. So I like to make sure that I'm out of bed by 9am on weekends. Sleeping until noon makes me feel like I completely wasted a day to clean, do homework, and get my life together. Once you get focused, time flies, and you can accomplish a lot in one day (probably more than you thought you could).

2.) Set realistic goals. Both long and short term. Make a to-do list for your day, and cross things off as you go along. Remember to put things like "eat dinner" on your list--it's important to take care of yourself. My list for today:

Up at 9; breakfast
Apply for at least 1 internship
Write blog post
Go to Rite Aid
Transcribe interviews
Write questions and prepare for tomorrow's interview
Laundry/Organize closet
Study Abroad meeting; 4pm
Dinner
Chill Time
Bed at 11/11:30

Your long term goals can be realistic too, like "obtain summer internship"; "secure study abroad program"; "go to grad school".



3.) Chill time. Don't overwork yourself, friends. Also, don't sweat the small stuff. If you bombed your history exam, see if you can do extra credit and also study hard for the next one, but remember that one test in one class will not decide your future. Do the best you can, and then leave some room to relax. Last night I went to my friend Sheila's house and just spent time with friends there. Before I go to bed every night, I sit around the living room with my housemates and we talk about our days. When I do this, I'm focusing on winding down and enjoying time with them, not on anything I have to do.

4.) A cup of tea. This doesn't have to literally be a cup of tea, but some little thing you can do throughout the day to appreciate the little things. Repeat your favorite quote to yourself; sing; smile until you mean it. I happen to make myself tea. Probably not ideal (I should invest in non-caffeinated), but if I need seven cups then I'm going for it!   

One of my favorite quotes from Oscar Wilde, also brilliantly reincarnated in this song by Brandon Boyd.


5.) Enjoy it. This is a crazy time of life, sure--and it will only get crazier from here for the next decade or so. But being A Very Busy Adult With Many Important Things To Do* is actually kind of fun. And yes, I know what fun is. But I'm finding that when I'm doing work that means something me, I'm really happy. My favorite homework assignments are when I'm looking for a new feature story topic, because I get to spend hours searching the library and the internet for new things to spark my interest. It reminds me why I like journalism so much--I like to learn about all kinds of things, and this major allows me to research literally anything--from environmental awareness campaigns such as divestment to effective strategies for public speaking (two things I happen to be working on right now). If you're not finding interesting or fun things about the work you do, maybe it's time to consider pursuing something else. But you haven't wasted your time--you never know until you try!

Well, that was a long-winded rant. I think I mostly wrote this for myself, and for all of the friends who are going through the same kind of stress right now. There are plenty of things that could keep this list going, and I love making lists, but the main thing is: We're twenty. We're young. We have a lot of life ahead of us. We don't have to be perfect, and we don't necessarily even need to have a plan right now. All we need to do is look at this moment--right now--and realize the potential it has. We could go anywhere from this moment. That's huge, and probably intimidating. But it's also wildly exciting. So take this moment and run with it, as far as you can.

Now, I can go cross "write a blog post" off my list and get on with my life.

-Lauren

*Phrase shamelessly stolen from Cards Against Humanity.

PS- The Best Questions to Ask Your Tour Guide (TBQTAYTG?) is coming back next week! :)

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Best Questions to Ask Your Tour Guide

I was talking to a friend today, and she's in the middle of planning a few campus visits to several of her top schools. It got me thinking about my first time planning campus visits, and I'll admit, I was completely overwhelmed. When I went on tours, I didn't even know what kinds of questions to ask.

Now that I am a tour guide at Saint Mike's, I've experienced plenty of talkative tours as well as quiet ones. I know that on the quiet ones, the students are probably experiencing the same feelings as I had just a couple of years ago. So, to help you get the most out of your tour, I've compiled a list of the best questions I've received--and my personal answers to them!

1.) What made you choose to attend this school?

I'll be honest--it came down to a feeling. It might sound crazy right now, but you'll know when you find the right school. When I first came to Saint Mike's, I didn't have a tour scheduled. I had been looking at some colleges in the area, and SMC was a last-minute stop on the way home. I knew absolutely nothing about the college but figured a quick look at the campus wouldn't hurt.

I was totally surprised when I got here and started walking around. It seemed like everyone knew I was a visitor. Granted, I was wandering aimlessly, probably looking quite lost, and both of my parents were with me, so I probably stuck out. But instead of ignoring me, every now and then someone walking by would ask if I needed help getting somewhere. A couple of students approached asking if I was thinking about applying. People wanted to get to know me. They also wanted to tell me about their own college search process and how they ended up here. And they would not stop talking about how they absolutely LOVED Saint Mike's. My dad made a joke about there being "something in the water" because everyone was "brainwashed". Turns out, everyone here is just really, sincerely happy.

Needless to say, I planned another trip to Vermont and made sure to include a tour and preview day at Saint Mike's. Once I got back on campus, I pretty much never left--the rest is history!



2.) What is your favorite and least favorite thing about this school?

Favorite thing: THE COMMUNITY. I know, I know. Everyone says it. But the thing is, when SMC students say it, they really mean it. You can talk to anyone who has spent time here--students, alumni, faculty, staff, frequent visitors--and the word "community" would probably come up at least once in their description of the college.

I love that every semester, there are some familiar faces in my classes but there's always someone new as well. I love that I can drop in on my professors in their offices, to ask questions or even just to chat. I love that I have a "family" here, and that we really refer to ourselves as a family. I love that even though it's only a 2-minute walk to class from anywhere on this small campus, I have to leave at least 15 minutes early to account for the time I spend stopping to chat with the various friends I encounter along the way. I love that I've done things here I never thought I'd do, including service trips with MOVE or overcoming my shyness and fear of public speaking to become a tour guide. I love that I've kept in touch with professors from previous classes and even my admissions counselor. I love that when I need a recommendation letter or to ask a favor, I have several people to go to, and I don't feel funny asking a single one of them because I know they're willing to lend a hand. And on and on...

Least favorite thing: When I toured here, someone asked this question to our guide. He stopped, thought for a minute, scratched his head, and finally said, "Well, there are a lot of puddles. Also, I wouldn't mind having Sunday brunch an hour earlier."

The truth is, it's really hard to find something here that I'm dissatisfied with. I'm living in a beautiful place with incredible friends, receiving a good education and making connections, having great experiences both inside and outside of the classroom, and learning how to live on my own but still feeling the support of the community around me. So the first time I was asked this question, I couldn't provide much of an answer. I gave a "puddles" type of response. However, that really got me thinking, and I finally came up with a true concern.

My least favorite thing is the "Saint Mike's Bubble." Any students reading this probably just nodded their heads. Because we are all so connected and comfortable in our little community, it's easy to forget that there's a world outside of 1 Winooski Park. Because of this, any problems that occur seem massive when they're really not, or some things that are okay to do here become habits that we really shouldn't practice. For example, leaving valuables and possessions unattended--I'm sure every student, at some point, has left their laptop sitting alone in the library or discarded their backpack in Alliot for hours. Because we're close here and we all tend to respect each other, it's usually not an issue (though we're constantly reminded by Res Life and other faculty that it's still not a great idea). Another thing: expecting that when you need help from someone, they will immediately drop everything and try their best to get what you need. Although it's a common practice here, it's not great to expect that from the "Real World." It will often take more time and effort to get in touch with people, and it's better off to allocate time for that than waiting until the last minute to schedule your appointment, interview, meeting, etc.

The other issue with the Bubble is the physical Bubble--as in, sometimes I realize that I haven't left campus in weeks. When that happens, I know something is wrong. Because as much as I love this campus, it's important to have an off-campus experience. Off-campus internships are a great way to do that, and you make some cool connections with people in the community. But it's also good to escape the Bubble when you're stressed out too. If you've been working on a term paper for hours and need a break, take a quick walk in Woodside Loop (the nature trails across the street from North Campus). If the weekend is here and you have no plans, grab a friend and go downtown for dinner or watch a sunset at the waterfront. There are always tons of events going on too, and Burlington is one of the best college towns in the country.

In short, the easiest fix for the Bubble is to get outside of it every now and then! And remember: sometimes it's okay to be a little uncomfortable. :)

I'm realizing now that this can turn into one heck of a post, so here's what I'm going to do: "The Best Questions to Ask Your Tour Guide" is going to become a series. I really do think this is something worth returning to, and trust me, I'm full of material for this! Plus, this way I can post whenever I get a really good question on tours, and it will all stay neat and organized so you can find the questions easily. If you have a question that you want me to cover, send it in at lkopchik@mail.smcvt.edu!

Remember, these are questions that can and should be asked at any school--getting a student's perspective is a really important part in choosing where you want to go because you can read all the statistics you want online, but your tour guide or another student is the only one who can really show you what daily life is like at their school. Ask these questions wherever you go, and don't be afraid to speak up: if it's on your mind, chances are it's on somebody else's too. Tour guides love questions--I promise!

Best,

Lauren

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Cool Campus Events

I recently mentioned in a previous post that I've been making a point of attending more campus events. In the past, my main motivation to go see a guest speaker would have been a prompt from a professor. But whenever I go to a campus event, I always end up enjoying it and taking something away from the experience. There are some things that can't be learned in the classroom, or sometimes there's not enough class time to go more in depth with a topic that interests you. That's where these campus events come in--and since they're free, why not make use of them?

As many of you know, I have an environmental studies minor. I've been pretty passionate about environmental issues since high school, and I've recently been reading much more about the environmental concerns of urban communities. Although I am not currently taking any classes for my minor this semester, I've been trying to keep up with current events in ES and staying informed on what's going on locally and globally.


So, I was pretty stoked when I saw that Albert Huang, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), was coming to campus to speak to us. As one of the people working with the NRDC's urban environmental justice program in New York, Huang had much to say about issues such as environmental racism and class-ism. Huang represents low-income communities struggling with environmental hazards. Throughout the lecture, Huang often called on audience members to speak up about their views on certain issues or their definitions of what environmental justice is. Though he was speaking to a large room (the recital hall was full!), the event was very discussion-based. It was really interesting to hear about some of Huang's work and the types of strategies he used in different communities. He stressed the importance of community organization and grassroots efforts to face these issues.

Huang's lecture was actually a part of a lecture series facilitated by our Peace and Justice program as well as other campus organizers. I also went to the first lecture in the series, held earlier this month with Aziz Abu Sarah as the guest speaker. As a celebration of Ghandi's 144th birthday, a peace pledge was held and each part of the pledge was read in a different language by a student or faculty member. Then, Sarah spoke about his experiences growing up as a Palestinian in Israel. As one of the directors at the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy, and Conflict Resolution, much of his work revolves around peaceful approaches to reconciling conflicts.


Another event I attended on campus this past week had a much more local focus. The exhibit "Let Them Eat Cake" was a student art project that called for a way to appreciate our kitchen staff in Alliot (the student dining center). Every month, Alliot workers make an enormous cake in celebration of every birthday that took place that month. The students who produced the exhibit made a documentary showing the process of making a cake that large (which is actually about 6 sheet cakes put together!). They made a few different types of smaller cakes for gallery visitors to sample, and they also had one of these large cakes donated by our own Alliot staff. At the end of the exhibit, we were able to fill out comment cards to thank the workers for all that they do. It was a delicious exhibit and a wonderfully creative idea!


I also attended another environmentally-themed lecture on Monday, when Christiana Peppard, a professor of Theology, Science and Ethics from Fordham University, came to speak to some SMC students about the global water crisis in the context of theology and ethical decisions. I was interested to hear about the Catholic Church's role in calling attention to the global water crisis--I have researched the issue for various projects, but I never looked at it solely through the lens of how religious groups have addressed such a massive ethical problem. Her talk was very interesting, and she brought a renewed sense of passion, decent sense of humor, and realistic approach to what can otherwise be a very depressing, very scary topic. I'm looking forward to reading her book, Just Water: Theology, Ethics, and the Global Water Crisis. It's definitely on my list of must-reads (it's quite a long list, but I'm determined!).

Anyway, I hope you're all doing things that fascinate you. I'm off to work on my homework and then attend a pizza party facilitated by SIT, my study abroad program. I can't wait to meet the representative coming to speak with us--I have tons of questions for her and I'm so excited about Morocco! It will also be really cool to speak with students who have traveled with SIT in the past. I'll be sure to let you all know how it goes!

Cheers,

Lauren

Friday, October 11, 2013

Honest Tea Studies Honesty

A funny little thing happened today. You see, a few months ago when my parents visited over the summer, I posted a photo on Instagram showing an Honest Tea kiosk on Church Street--left alone-- with a cash box saying that it was trusting people to use the "honor system" and that the tea bottles were a dollar each.




A little while later, I found out that Honest Tea was actually performing a study to see how many people would actually abide by the honor system and pay for their tea. They performed this study in cities all over the country. I was glad that my family and I passed the test!

Then, today, I was walking toward Quad Commons after my class when I saw a kiosk set up in our courtyard!

Alex couldn't decide between tea or ade. In the end, she went for half-and-half tea and I went for cranberry lemonade. No worries, we both paid our dollars!

I was thoroughly satisfied (although not at all surprised) to see a decent amount of dollars in the cash box. What can I say, Saint Mike's is a pretty honest place full of outstanding people. They do the right thing...even when nobody is looking (or so they think)!

Another funny thing--I totally saw the person keeping count for the study. That's the benefit of being at a small college...a slightly creepy benefit, since you can always tell who isn't a "regular" on your campus, but I consider it a benefit nonetheless.

Anyway...just another weird/quirky/shenanigan-filled day in Vermont! 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Halfway there?

So, I was sitting in my Media Law class the other day (hilarious class, by the way--who knew I'd ever be so fascinated by law) when Professor Griffith ever-so-nonchalantly dropped the ball and reminded us that our mid-term was coming up this week.

Now, I'm not too worried about the fact that we're having our mid-term as I've been listening in class, taking good notes and following along with everything well; what I'm worried about is that we're having our MID-TERM. As in, it's the MIDDLE of the TERM. Just...wow. Where did the time go?

I know I've been gone from the blogosphere for a few weeks. I've been pretty busy doing a TON of work, trying to keep up with a somewhat in-tact routine of eating well and exercising, sleeping, and also having an otherwise AWESOME semester. I'm still loving the townhouse life (although living with my best friends does make doing homework a tad difficult...I've got to go to the library more often). I'm also enjoying my classes, even when they're simultaneously driving me crazy. With three journalism courses and a history class, it's a LOT of writing. Guess it's a good thing that this is kind of what I want to do for a living. Sometimes when I get bogged down with work, I just have to remember that this is the work that I love. I've always been passionate about writing, including journalism, and other forms of media too. So it's actually pretty great, and I couldn't be in a better place!

Besides, it's nice to see myself making progress. Sometimes when you're just going day-to-day, do this or that, class every other day, hand in this homework assignment, test on Thursday, blah blah blah...well, it can be easy to lose sight of the big picture. But then I'm completely riveted by the discussions we have in class, or something I read in a magazine or see in a newspaper, and I'm like, oh yeah, I can be doing this for a living. So I'm glad that I was finally able to take Reporting for Media this semester, as it enabled me to write my first article for the Defender. It was cool working with my friends on the editorial staff and setting up interviews with really interesting people, and I had a great experience. I'm excited for my next Defender assignment, which will be in November.

I'm also working on creating a magazine for my Magazine Writing class. Really though, and ENTIRE magazine. Not only does this mean I have to work out a concept, audience demographic and the like, I also have to pitch and write feature stories, department articles, and even toward the end of the semester I'll be figuring out a design layout and taking cover pictures and putting the whole thing together. Basically it's the coolest and equally the most stressful project ever (and this is coming from someone who has already taken Global Comm...) but I am SO excited that I am going to have something tangible by the end of the semester. A project like this is kind of one of those things that you never stop working on--like, even when I'm not sitting down to type up a feature pitch or interview a source or do research, I'm still just constantly thinking about it. I am living the magazine. Or, you know, maybe I'm just getting too into it. Ah well.

By the way, the history class I mentioned is the Modern Middle East with Prof. O'Neil. I decided that since I am going to Morocco, a North African/Middle Eastern country, this class would be a great introduction to getting to know some of the commonalities in culture throughout the Middle East. Although we're not specifically talking about Morocco in class, I've found it really helpful for just some general information and I'm also finding it pretty fascinating. Never before had I really understood much about where the modern conflict in the Middle East comes from until taking this class, and I now feel much more informed.

So, what else have I been up to other than work? Well, I've been enjoying attending some events on campus, something that I made a goal to take more advantage of this semester. I'm also a weekly tour guide, which is super fun--I'm glad I get to continue with my summer job and keep telling prospective students my own Saint Mike's story. And, of course, I've been trying to spend as much weekend time as possible with friends. My housemates and all of my buddies, especially the ones I've known since my first year, are my Vermont family, and I can't function very long without them. In fact, my housemates and I all really needed a good day of stress-relieving bonding time together, so we went on a hike with the Wilderness Program last weekend. It was a beautiful day to enjoy the great outdoors, and hiking Camel's Hump was also a great workout!

A view from the top!
 
Alex, Cara and I after our hike up.


It was such a clear day (that's Lake Champlain way in back!)

It was a great time, and I definitely want to get some more hiking in this semester. Now is really prime time--it's nice and cool and all of the leaves are changing!

Anyway, I hope you're all enjoying this fast-paced semester as much as you can. Contact me if you want to know more about my Saint Mike's experience at lkopchik@mail.smcvt.edu or on Twitter @LaurenKopchik! :)

-Lauren

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

SMC: Round 3

Welcome back to school, everyone!

After a wonderful, crazy, busy, and (kind of) relaxing summer, it's finally time to get back to classes. As many of you know, I spent my summer here at Saint Mike's working in Admissions and giving tours. I had a great time, but to tell you the truth, I'm really happy to be getting back to business--it was WAY too quiet and empty on this campus, especially during my last few weeks!

I was actually able to go home and visit family and friends for a week right before school started up again, which was awesome. However, that means I missed the New Student Orientation and all of the fun activities for our new students. So, to the class of 2017, I'd like to officially say congratulations and WELCOME HOME! It's been a pleasure meeting some of you, and I absolutely cannot wait to get to know you all even more (if anyone reading this sees me around campus, don't hesitate to say hi--but be forewarned, I'll probably hug you).

By the title of this post, you may realize that this means I am now a junior--oh, that word is frightening. I feel like I just got here. I've done so much with my time, and yet there is still so much I want to do. I know it's a little early to start getting nostalgic, but first-years, take some advice: Time goes by very quickly. Enjoy the time that you have here, and definitely take up all of the opportunities you can. You only have four years--don't waste them!

Anyway, I have been through my first week of classes now, as well as my first week living the townhouse life. Yep, that's right--I'm living in a townhouse this semester, and it's pretty awesome. Not only am I living in a very spacious home with three of my closest friends (including fellow blogger Alex Brenock), but I am also conviently located in the 100s townhouses, which are right next to Bergeron (AKA Home of the Journalism Nerds). Basically, I can roll out of bed and be in my classrooms in a matter of seconds.




I was so excited, I tweeted about it (Shameless plug: Follow me on Twitter!).

Here are some of the highlights from my first week in pictures (there aren't many, but then again I don't have my fancy Photo-J camera anymore :/ ):


After moving in, I went to Lake Champlain with a bunch of friends--one of my favorite back-to-school traditions.

We've already had friends over for several gatherings at the house. The living room is so cozy!

My housemates and I have decided to make a weekly thing out of buying flowers from the SMC organic farmstand. This way, we can decorate our house while supporting an awesome MOVE program! Small decorative details have really made our house become a home in just a matter of days.


I can't believe I'm already halfway through Week 2 of this semester. I don't want to count, but I can't help it...everything is just moving too fast! I don't want the semester to end any time soon, even though Morocco awaits me this spring. I'm still excited, but I'm also still nervous--and counting down the days doesn't help! My sense of time is completely thrown off--if I'm not worried about how fast it's going, I'm convinced that I have all the time in the world. There's no in-between lately.

I think this is also why I had a rocky first week when it comes to academics. Don't worry, it's really hard to make irreversible mistakes your first week of classes, but keep in mind what I am about to tell you: Time is not infinite. If you have free time and there isn't much going on, start your homework. Don't say "later." Because later, you will want to go visit a friend, or check out the new Quad Commons, or have family dinner with your housemates, or watch a lot of Boy Meets World. It's hard to transition back into school mode after being in summer mode for months, but staying on top of your work will result in much less stress (and much more sleep) during Week 2 and for the rest of the semester. If you start out behind, it's a lot easier to remain behind. As for me--I'm definitely catching up now!

I will probably be posting within the next few days to tell you more about my classes and goals for the semester. Until then, study hard!

-Lauren

Monday, July 8, 2013

First Year Fridays and...MOROCCO!

Hey readers!

So I'm sitting in the computer lab in Jeanmarie 288 (my favorite study spot, as many of you might know), finally getting to another blog post--it's been a while!

I've been quite busy with working in Admissions during the week and having shenanigans with my buddies on weekends. My Vermont summer is just flying by! Despite the rain, I've had tons of fun, and I'm glad I chose to stay here for the summer. It's nice to be able to spend some extra time at Saint Mike's, especially since I won't be here come Spring 2014.

"Hold up...what?"

Yeah, you read it right. I will only be spending the fall term of this year in Vermont. Fear not, readers, I will be back for my whole senior year, and I will also be blogging even during my absence from SMC. And you'll probably want to keep reading while I'm away, because I'll be blogging to you from MOROCCO!

That's right, I've been accepted to the SIT Study Abroad program in Rabat! I am SO stoked. While I'm there, I'll be doing research and working with Round Earth Media to create a journalistic piece, either in print or multimedia. And I'm staying with a host family. And taking classes. Oh, and learning Arabic.

Basically, my life is the best ever. Except for that I'm also slightly terrified. But I think it's healthy to be a little nervous! After all, Saint Mike's is my home away from home, and now I will have to create a new home away from home...away from home (did ya follow that?)

Anyway, I could talk about all of the emotions I have about it all day, but I won't. All I can say is that I'm so glad the application process and waiting period is over. It's like a weight off my shoulders! I have a destination, and nothing can stop me now. :)

So that was the big news, but I have something else for you too! As an Admissions intern, I get to do some pretty fun stuff, including giving tours every day. However, I have been working with Darcy and Sarah, the other two students in my office, and we've teamed up with Marketing interns Dom and Kathryn to create a summer video series! It's called First Year Fridays, and it's a continuation of the series that was filmed last summer. These informational videos are made specifically with incoming first-year students in mind so that we can tell you useful things about living at Saint Mike's and the opportunities that are offered in the Burlington area. If you want to learn more about the life of your average SMC student, definitely check out these videos, as well as last year's ones too! You can find them all on the SMC Youtube channel.

Here's the latest video (sorry, Blogger is having some trouble letting me embed videos today): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jx0-6fC8NXg

I hope you're all having a great summer. See you soon!

-Lauren

Sunday, June 9, 2013

MOVE Trip 2013: CRST Reservation, South Dakota

As most of you know, I've been avoiding this post for a while. I'm not totally sure why--I think it's just that I still don't know how to put this experience into words strong enough for anyone who wasn't there to understand the meaning. But that's the incredible thing about extended service trips with MOVE in the first place: nobody can ever fully understand it except for the people who were there with you at the time. That goes for every trip, every year. Even groups that go to the same place year after year do not have the same experience as the last group.

For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, MOVE is Saint Michael's College's volunteer program, and it stands for Mobilization of Volunteer Efforts. MOVE has tons of programs that run on a regular basis throughout the year, from weekly events throughout the local community to extended service trips both domestically and internationally. Last year, as a first-year student, I went to Beaumont, Texas over my winter break and spent a week at the Big Thicket National Preserve, where my group learned about biodiversity and environmental protection and helped plant trees and take care of the preserve. For my second MOVE trip, which I got home from about three weeks ago now, I did something drastically different. I joined ten others from Saint Mike's for a trip out to South Dakota and into the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, to the town of La Plant. We volunteered to work with a non-profit group called Simply Smiles, and spent the week staying in their community center. Our group was a "guinea pig group" for MOVE, as last year was the first time MOVE ever went out to the reservation and it was a group made up entirely of student leaders who had led other MOVE trips in the past. This year was the first time this trip was open to all students to apply for. Luckily, we were pretty much the best group in the history of MOVE trips (please don't let the bias in this sentence make you be skeptical about the rest of this post...)

Here we are arriving in South Dakota, prepared for the Big Red Bus to take us to the reservation! None of these photos are mine--as I said before, I barely took any pictures. This was taken by Josh Dufresne, a Simply Smiles staff member. The rest of the photos are by Carlos Sian, a member of the MOVE group...although I'm sure some were from the kids playing with his camera!

The reservation belongs to the Lakota people, whose roots trace back through generations to this land. As my group entered the reservation, the Simply Smiles staff reminded us that we were no longer in South Dakota or "in America" as we knew it. We were guests in someone else's place, and had to be respectful of that. Simply Smiles had been welcomed into the La Plant community a few years ago, and they were given the community center to work out of. They had been honored to gain the trust and respect of the people in the community, and paid it back with an equal amount of trust and respect. The reason for Simply Smiles' presence on the reservation is because it is an area of extreme poverty, with little infrastructure to help people survive. La Plant is a very isolated area, and people often have to fend for themselves.

The Community Center, looking on from the back entrance.
Some of the most beautiful sunsets I've ever seen were in South Dakota...and I live in Vermont, so I know sunsets!

Simply Smiles is "dedicated to building bright futures while improving the daily lives of impoverished children." It sounds like a general mission statement, but what it means is that it's taking on a lot of work and tackling several issues at once. That's why it's important to move slowly but steadily, and to make sure things are done correctly. The organization has had some success with their ongoing program in Oaxaca, Mexico, where they began. The CRST project is the first domestic project taken on by Simply Smiles, and they're the only outside group with a presence on the reservation.

So that's a lot of talking, but it's good to have some context before I launch into the whole story. We did a lot throughout our week on the reservation, but the best and most important thing we did by far was make connections. Despite everything else--the hardships, the poverty, the lack of resources or anything material--the best thing we could do for this community is show the people there that they are not alone. We ran a summer camp for the children in the community and spent time playing with them, laughing with them, and just getting to know them. The philosophy of Simply Smiles is that if we made one person smile each day, we were succeeding. Because when faced with so much struggle, it's difficult to smile.





Not only did we spend time with the kids, but we also got to know many adults and elders within La Plant as well. We helped Simply Smiles host a few community gatherings throughout the week, including bingo night, waffle breakfasts, and bison buger barbecues. As we sat down to eat with the elders, they would tell us about life in La Plant or teach us about Lakota culture. One of the highlights of the week was when Steve, a prominent member of the community, led a drumming ceremony for our group and told us about the meaning behind each of the songs they played. It was really great to see some of the younger boys learning how to use the drum, showing pride in their heritage and carrying on some magnificent traditions around our bonfire. We were all really happy to be included in the community, and to have been greeted with such a warm welcome.

 
 

During the mornings, when we were not holding summer camp, we'd work on projects that needed to be done around the community center or within the town. We helped finish renovating the kitchen of the community center, a project that had been started by previous volunteer groups, and some of us helped start a community garden.

Measuring and cutting wood for the kitchen.

I wasn't involved in this project as I was helping out in the kitchen, but many hours (and memories!) were put into the garden.

Some of the more artistic people in the group worked hard all week on the sign for the garden!

Sometimes we had projects that had not been expected by anyone, including getting vehicles unstuck from the mud.

One major goal for Simply Smiles on the reservation is to help provide adequate housing for everyone in the community. The climate in South Dakota allows for extreme weather, with incredibly hot temperatures in the later summer months and winter temperatures that can reach negative 50 degrees. The wind is incredibly strong when it rolls over the plains--I've never experienced anything like it. I can't imagine what that wind is like in the winter. And many people on the reservation live in homes that simply cannot protect them enough from this weather.

When it rains, the dry ground becomes what the locals call "gumbo": heavy, clumpy mud that sticks to your shoes. This kind of soil isn't very productive for agriculture...or walking...

So, as part of our project for the week, we helped set up for what would be the first Simply Smiles-facilitated home construction project on the CRST reservation. These affordably-priced homes were designed by the people living on the reservation, who know better than anyone else the exact issues to consider when building them. The community members also help build the homes, and by involving everyone in each project, people begin to come together and support each other.

 Although our week was too short for us to see the construction for the new home begin, it was really great to know that we were helping to prepare the area where it would be built. This included helping our friend Steve move everything out of his current home and begin taking it down so that the new house could be built in its place. I've been following Simply Smiles on Facebook, and the foundation has been completed. I can't wait to see pictures of the whole thing when it's done. It is one big step in a series of thousands of smaller steps to help build up this community, both literally and figuratively.

It took all of us for a project of this size! This is another photo by Josh.

How many volunteers does it take to move a doghouse?

I could spend hours talking about this one week of my life. I could go into much further detail about these incredible kids; the older community members who I had the pleasure of meeting; the amazing resilience of this one small community; Simply Smiles as a group; my wonderful MOVE group who have become great friends and are possibly the only ones who wouldn't mind listening to my constant rambling; and my ups and downs throughout the week that the rest of my group, and probably the community itself, felt as a whole. I could tell you about how I loved and hated everything about this place at the same time, and try to explain how something like that feels. I could tell you about each of the people behind the many friendship bracelets covering my wrists; or the fact that not a day goes by when that one week doesn't occupy my thoughts and free time; or that I do not just want to go back but feel the intense need to. I could try to describe all of the mixed feelings about that week to the best of my ability, despite the fact that there are things I still don't understand and probably never will. I could even apologize for the long post or the dramatic language, but I won't, because I truly believe that this trip deserves more attention than anything I've ever done. There are a lot of things I will keep to myself, simply because I don't know how to put them into words.

All I will say is that if you're still reading, and if any of this has struck a chord with you, then this trip is for you. You might buy Simply Smiles coffee or send a donation, but if that doesn't sit right with you and you feel that you need to do more, this trip is definitely for you. What Simply Smiles needs in order to work, and what this community needs, is people who care. People who will set their lives aside for a week at a time, people who will forget about their own wants or needs (including the need to know or understand everything and the luxury of indoor plumbing), people who don't mind getting their hands dirty or being challenged with something every step of the way. If you want to volunteer to do something that truly takes all of you, and that you don't do for the "rewarding" feeling afterward but simply because it's something that needs to be done, then volunteer with Simply Smiles.

If you go to Saint Mike's, you can apply for next year's MOVE group: when the semester begins again, pay attention to application due dates. Although all of the trips are equally awesome, definitely consider CRST Reservation, South Dakota as one of your picks. It's truly a dedication, but it's entirely worth it. If you've never been on a MOVE trip, all I can say is GO. I guarantee that whatever your qualms or reservations about it are, none of them are comparable to your reasons for going. Once you go on one, you'll want to go on all of them. They will change how you see the world.

If you didn't click on the links throughout the post, I would strongly advise going back through and exploring. They will describe some things I mentioned more clearly than I did. And if you're interested, check out the Simply Smiles blog to hear from more of the volunteer groups. My group wrote three while we were there; check them out:

First Saint Mike's MOVE Blog

MOVE's Wednesday Blog

Last SMC MOVE Blog

Whatever you do, give it everything you've got.

-Lauren

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Friday, May 3, 2013

MACKLEMORE, P-Day and Finals Week!

Hey everyone!

So in case you haven't already seen any posts from our other fabulous bloggers (and also because I'm STILL so obsessed that I really need an outlet to discuss it), I'm going to tell you a little bit about last weekend's happenings.

Every year, the last weekend before finals is a huge, campus-wide celebration. The weekend kicks off with our Spring Concert, followed by the school talent show the next day, and then P-Day which is always the Saturday before the last week of classes and beginning of finals. P-Day stands for "Preparation Day", and it's sort of like the last hoo-rah before the real stress starts. There's tons of free local food (including Ben and Jerry's!), inflatables (such as a bouncy house) out on the 300s field, free henna tattoos and photo booth pictures, and lots of home-made t-shirts and school spirit!

The Student Association works really hard every year to make this an unforgettably amazing weekend, and thanks to this year's fearless leaders, Eric Jaukurri and (my future housemate!) Caitlin Shea-Vantine, it has been one of my best Saint Michael's experiences to date. The reason being summed up in one word...MACKLEMORE.

That's right, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis were our Spring Concert this year. How incredible is that? I still can't believe it happened--and that I was in the FRONT ROW. I'm so glad that Sheila bugged me to get on line early, because we beat the 3,000 people who attended to the front of the stage. And she got some awesome pictures because of it!

My phone died, so these pictures were taken by Sheila.

He was wearing an audience member's vest during "Thrift Shop"!

Here I am before the show with Wanz (the guy who sings in Thrift Shop), Liz and Sheila on the right. Wanz was really nice and funny, and he likes hugs!


So it was pretty much the best night ever...it was just so cool because Macklemore was obviously grateful to have such an enthusiastic crowd. He said more than once that we were his best audience in the past few shows, and I think it was really easy to tell that his music means so much to us. The Burlington area in general is pretty big into Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, especially since they came to Higher Ground this past fall.

But the thing that really made us happy to have Macklemore as our spring concert is that he definitely understood our sense of community here at SMC--and really took it to heart. Before arriving in Vermont, a few students got in contact with Macklemore's tour manager/fiancee. They told her about a student, Sam Brigham, who had just been unexpectedly diagnosed with leukemia and was upset that he'd miss the concert. Obviously he was already going through such a hard time, and Macklemore's music was helping him get through it. Macklemore was touched by Sam's story, so he went to visit him in the hospital. I don't know Sam personally, but when I heard about this story I could just imagine how much it meant to him and his friends. At Saint Mike's, everyone really supports each other, and it's obvious that this amazing group of people understood and respected that, and wanted to show their own support. Sam's story reached internet fame immediately after the concert, so Macklemore made a blog post addressing his thoughts and reasons for the importance of this visit.

I could talk about Macklemore all day, but I'll leave it at that. Just know that he's wonderful. And if you don't know any of his songs (or anything besides "Thrift Shop"), he's definitely worth getting to know. He has a lot of fun and silly stuff, but he also sends a really important message out to his listeners. "Same Love" addresses civil rights for same-sex couples and the need for hip hop to shed its common stereotypes. He also raps about sobriety, and the personal importance of staying off of drugs. His song "Starting Over" is about how he's become a role model for so many people, and his relapse left him disappointed with himself and afraid that his fans will be let down--but, as he says in the song, "If I can be an example of getting sober, then I can be an example of starting over." Writing songs about social issues, rather than perpetuating them, makes Macklemore stand out from a lot of other modern artists.

Check out a cool multimedia from the Defender about the set-up for the concert.

Okay, NOW I'm done talking about Macklemore. On to P-Day!

Well, it was pretty awesome. I took 841 photos by the end of the day. That's right. Eight-hundred-forty-one. I'm crazy. But I was also shooting P-Day for my Photojournalism final project, so I was just being thorough. And having a lot of fun.

P-Day is just one of those things where you had to be there. So, I'll let the pictures do the talking:



I took this right before the trike race, which is a tradition that kicks off every P-Day at 11AM.
During the race (after just about everyone ditched the trikes and it became full-scale running), the Student Association was splashing water on everyone!
One of the stations in the food tent was a local place called Ali Baba's. I had falafels...yum!
Students get a free P-Day bracelet, and guests can buy one for $20. This allows access to everything for the entire day!
Lauren Kilmister '15 rocks her own SMC P-Day shirt.

 

The student band Business 2 Consumer.



My friends Shawn (left) and Danny racing each other.

Lauren Mazzoleni steadies herself in the bouncy house while Lauren and Cara jump in the background.

Then there was this mind reader/sword swallower/fire eater dude. Not a big deal or anything...

The day ended with a late-night breakfast in Alliot!

So, that was P-Day! Now if you're starting to think that Saint Mike's is just one giant freak show...well, I guess you're kind of right. But we DO get our work done! After all, it takes a lot of work to have this much fun as a reward. So, our blissful weekend of madness was over by Sunday morning, when it was back to the papers, projects, and studying. The last few days of classes went pretty smoothly, and now everyone is preparing for finals. I'm off to make a(nother) website for Global Comm. But I will definitely need to get outside at some point--it's a beautiful sunny day!

Enjoy your weekend and the great weather!

Lauren