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!

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!



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!



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. 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 or on Twitter @LaurenKopchik! :)