End of a Beginning

It’s been exactly a year since I first arrived at Hopkins.

Just 365 days ago, I was a nervous freshman staring up at the white ceiling of my dorm room for the first time, nervously wondering what kind of adventures the upcoming year would bring.

Spotted in front of JHU: a man in a blue turban wearing felt flip flops riding a pink motorcycle.

And what a year it was.

While my year was defined by some pretty big and exciting moments, including when I moved to the U.S.A. for the first time or when I worked in a paramedic ambulance,  I think it was the smaller moments that really made it one of the best years of my life. All of those small moments were completely unpredictable, short-lived and may have not even meant anything to anyone besides myself. Looking back, it was almost too easy to skip over appreciating those smaller moments; thoughts of exams and my aspirations for the future did occasionally obstruct my appreciation of my immediate surroundings. I decided to share two examples of such moments, one at the start of the year and one at the end because this is my last freshman blog for Hopkins.

During the third day of freshman orientation, I got trapped outside the library while it was pouring rain because of Hurricane Irene. It was absolutely miserable and I didn’t really know any other way to get back to my dorm besides walking across the quad, so I decided to just bolt in the rain. While I jogged across the freshman quad, with my shoes getting more and more soaked with every step, I bumped into a group of 5 new freshmen doing the same thing except they were all crowded under a single umbrella. Despite the fact that they clearly could not fit another person under the umbrella, they made a bit of room and we made it across the quad together laughing. It was a great welcome to a new community and a new country for me.

During my last day in Baltimore, before heading back to Italy for vacation,  I realized I had a leftover $10 bill in my wallet and nothing to spend it on. As I was outside of the train station, I saw a homeless man and decided I’d make his day by giving it to him. I walked away and he instinctively said thank you, without noticing what denomination the bill was. As I was about to walk through the doors into Penn Station, I turned around and saw he was behind me with tears in his eyes wanting to shake my hand. Apparently he had not had money to eat for 2 days and the $10 would concede at least a few days’ worth of bread to him.


If there is any point I am trying to make, it is that some of my best experiences were the ones I could not possibly have planned or foreseen. I see my freshman year as a product of those moments, not the times I excelled on an exam or exceeded in performing what was expected of me. The lazy nights I spent in my dorm with my friends are my favorite memories from last year, not some of the crazy times we had out in town.





Fine Settimana in Toscana

I just got back from a great weekend (fine settimana) in Tuscany (Toscana) with a few friends of mine. One of them is one of my closest friends from Hopkins, and another one of my closest friends from Milan. It was actually quite surreal for me to see these two semi-separated worlds (home versus school, Hopkins versus Italy) merge and for my friends to get to know each other.

View from the Tuscany house

I’m still working my full-time job at a microelectronics company, and continue to enjoy the buzz of excitement that comes from being in a company working at the cutting edge of the high-tech sector. Every day has new challenges for me to face, and I’m working with a lot of technology and programming languages that I had never heard of before. For those of you technologically-inclined, I’ve been working a lot with an evolution of the S language called R and interfacing it with various software systems used by the company.

Abe strolling through a vineyard in the Chianti region

Honestly, I’ve been trying to slow down a bit over the last week. Summer has gone by too fast for my tastes (as it always seems to do) and I want to live my last month before going back to Hopkins to the fullest. Don’t get me wrong– I can’t wait to be back on campus– but I want to enjoy the things that I can’t get on campus while I still can.

Tips for Incoming Freshmen

As August slowly creeps around the corner, I can’t help but remembering that a mere year ago I was an incoming freshman with absolutely no idea as to what college had in store for me. I came in feeling nervous, uncertain as to whether I would make friends as great as the ones I was leaving back in Milan and uncertain whether I was ready for the insane tradition that is the beginning of college. A year later, I can’t help but laugh a little bit at how ridiculous some of my concerns were. I’d like to address some of the worries that I had before moving into college, and explain how things turned out.

Honestly, my biggest worry of all was homesickness. Going to college thousands of kilometers from home obviously was going to be a huge transition, and I was terrified to move to the U.S. for the first time in my life. I’ve addressed this concern before, but I actually managed to make it through the year without ever getting badly homesick. I would be lying, however, if  I said it never happened. That being said, the times that I did get homesick did not debilitate me and I was so busy most of the time that I never really had enough time to get homesick. I was recently asked by some of my colleagues whose children are about to leave for college what the best decision I made freshman year was, and it was by far getting involved early. I met most of my friends through student groups or events around campus, and if I hadn’t forced myself out of my element a bit I certainly would have missed out on some of the great experiences I got to have (whitewater kayaking comes to mind).

JHU_Wafa, one of the great people I met through SAAB, taunting me with a Rome scarf

The second biggest worry I had was not adapting to the changing social scene.  Having been at the same school from first grade to senior year, I really had the chance to carve out a niche for myself over time. However, I was about to be thrust not only into a different school but a different country entirely, and that really scared me.  That seems funny now, thinking back on it, but it was a legitimate concern for me. I can honestly say that college really does provide social opportunities for everyone though, and within a few weeks I had met the people who became my closest friends at Hopkins later on. I’m actually going to see a few of them later this summer in Europe!

I’d say my other major worry was the rigorous academic environment.  I was afraid that I would be unable to excel in a place where everyone was exceptional, and felt almost that I didn’t live up to some of the amazing things my fellow classmates had done (starting their own businesses, becoming published authors, and so forth). I can now say honestly though that after a year working  with the great admissions staff of Hopkins, nobody is admitted unless the admissions committee believes they can handle the workload. Naturally, some people have will have to work harder than others just to get by in college, but this shouldn’t be a deterrent. In fact, you can often use it to your advantage and ask some of the people who are ‘ahead of the game’ to give you help!

There people and the resources given to you are sufficient for you to have an exceptional time. What you choose to take advantage of is ultimately up to you, because you are solely responsible for the greatness of your college experience.


Thoughts on the ‘Real World’

Since starting my summer job at a microelectronics/semiconductor company (see last post), I’ve been reflecting a lot on what the major differences between college life and the so-called “real world” are. I decided I’d make and share a list of what I have found to be the biggest or most difficult to handle discrepancies between the two. Here it goes:

Some great people from my high school

  1. You are not coddled. Can’t stress enough how much this one surprised me, especially considering I never felt “coddled” in college or high school. That being said, however, in college you get constant encouragement from the school, your peers and your professors when you do well academically. In the real world, nobody is there to systematically recognize your accomplishments as you go along. Everyone works hard, even those who are naturally intelligent (the ones in college who could get by without studying as hard as the rest). I heard an expression the other day that I think fits this observation well: If you are lucky enough to be one in a million, there are over 7,000 people exactly like you.
  2. Socializing. In college you can pretty much befriend anyone you want just by approaching them. In the ‘real world’, there are power structures that keep you away from certain people and not as many opportunities to meet people randomly. I must say, I miss the crazy and vibrant social atmosphere of  Hopkins while I am here even though I am quite happy.
  3. Time. This was probably the biggest shock for me– working a full-time job [40+hours a week], you wind up having very little time to do anything else besides eating, sleeping, working and exercising during the week. My commute is a pretty massive endeavor, beginning with a bike, proceeding to a train followed by a metro ride and then finally a bus. On the bright side, I have so much time to kill on my commute that I have been managing to read about 100-150 pages a day.

    One of the older trams that runs through Milan

  4. Responsibility. This one is pretty obvious but having to file taxes, cook for yourself, take care of the house– it’s all a pretty big change from the comfortable living environment of a college dorm.

I must say, I really am enjoying my experience with the ‘real world’ but will be incredibly happy to go back to Hopkins this fall. I’m not quite ready for the real world  just yet.

Summer in Italy

Wow, it has been a while since I last blogged. So much has happened since the end of finals, it feels like ages ago when in fact only a few weeks have passed.

Since then, I have flown back home to Milan and started my summer job as a consultant with Micron, a leading company in semiconductor and memory manufacturing. It really has been an amazing opportunity for me– despite my commute being about 2 hours each way, I am really loving my job.

I’m basically working as a programmer/data analyst and have been pleasantly surprised by the fact that I have real responsibilities and a real team of people working alongside me to tackle many of the challenges associated with a computer memory project I am analyzing. Taking my programming class for materials science & engineering last semester really sparked an interest in me towards the computational side of engineering, and it is an interest I am pursuing with this amazing job.


The building I work in

The particular plant I am working at has over 6,000 employees, so it is quite reminiscent of being on a university campus. I was trying to imagine the sheer intellectual power emanating from the building I work in (my coworkers come from all over the globe and are absolutely some of the brightest minds out there), but it really is beyond me. I still plan on maintaining the focus area of biomaterials within materials science & engineering, but this internship has really made me reconsider my post-college plans and what field I want to go into. It has also made me realize how important it is to have a job you truly enjoy and not just one that you have been coerced into due to other reasons (I had a terrible job ad last summer at a pharmaceutical production company).

Whitewater Kayaking

This past weekend, I had the chance to go whitewater kayaking with Johns Hopkins Outdoor Pursuits. The trip cost me only $10 which is really cheap and probably didn’t even cover the amount of gasoline needed to transport me and my kayak. Needless to say, it was a really great experience.

I actually went on the trip not knowing anyone else in my group besides one of the excellent leaders, and the trip proved a great way to meet new people from many different grades. We were actually an excellent sample of all the different Hopkins departments and interests– freshman, sophomores, seniors and graduate students majoring in arts and science as well as engineering.

One of the calmer stretches we kayaked. This is actually Burnside's Bridge, a site of very heavy combat during the civil war.


The trip left relatively early, at about 730 am, and returned to campus about 10 hours later. It truly was a perfect day for me because I had a blast on the trip, and was back on campus in time to attend the JHU_Sirens a-capella concert and get some work done before going out to a party.

Washing off the kayaks post-trip!

We actually went kayaking in Western Maryland, outside Boonsboro in a waterway known as Antietam Creek. Along the creek is actually where the bloodiest battle of all time in America was fought, so we passed numerous historical landmarks of the civil war. Attending two sessions in the pool where we learned how to roll the kayaks (basically how to survive and not drown when you get flipped upsidedown) proved to be quite useful when many of us flipped over in the more turbulent rapids.

That didn’t matter, however, because we were all wearing wetsuits and lots of protective gear to ensure we stay both comfortable and safe. I would definitely recommend going on an OP trip, regardless of whether or not you are a full-time student at Johns Hopkins or not.

Kayaking is great!!!

Why Hopkins: Sounds of Home(wood)

It’s an understatement to say that the Hopkins campus is nice. It really is an oasis in the middle of a city and, although you should  not choose your college based solely upon location, I am going to attempt to convince you to choose Homewood as your home based upon various sounds around the campus.


Gilman Hall

Liquid nitrogen tank being refilled outside a lab

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Research is a pivotal part of education here at JHU. Whether you are a freshman or a senior, an arts and sciences major or an engineer, you will have the opportunity to conduct cutting-edge research here at Hopkins. About 80% of undergraduates participate in research before they graduate,

Hopkins was actually the first research university in the USA and research continues to be an essential part of an education here. Research topics are incredibly diverse, here are just a few examples of great stuff

  • Sociology: Juvenile delinquency and patterns of recidivism, particularly related to factors such as severity of first offense, learning disabilities and socioeconomic status
  • BME and Biology: actors causing stem cell differentiation and how tissue engineering can be used to cause them to specialize
  • Public Health: Epidemiological impacts of glomerular diseases in HIV/AIDS patients
  • Anthropology: Women’s rights movements and the impact they have had on reproductive health in rural India
  • Neuroscience: In-vitro creation of synthetic drugs to treat post-ictal neurons
  • Art History: “Visions of the Virgin”: how the depiction of the Virgin has varied throughout the first decade of the 18th century in the views of various artists
  • Materials Science and Engineering: The effects of engineered nanofiber nerve guides on nerve regeneration

Birds Chirping on the Keyser Quad

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As I mentioned above, the JHU campus really is an oasis in the middle of a city. Most students who go to schools in a city cannot say they have heard birds chirping outside their window at 2am (yes, it actually happens)!

There are also squirrels everywhere here on campus. I was not really used to seeing squirrels back in Italy so I am always quite amused to see them running around campus chasing dropped chips or spilled cups of soda outside the FFC. My friends can testify that sometimes I get so distracted by the crazy squirrels that I forget what I am talking about mid-sentence.

A-capella Concerts (watch it!!!)

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What always amazes me here is how talented the student body is. Everyone was admitted not only because they were intelligent, but also because they had some other talent such as a performing art. A-capella on campus is really popular and a concert can draw crows of well over 600 students. This year the group featured above, the JHU Octopodes, actually won the National Quarterfinals for our region because of their incredible set above.

Distant Indian Music

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The diversity on campus is another factor that makes JHU a great place to be. Above, you can hear Indian music playing in the distance. There was a large dance/color party on the Hopkins Beach to celebrate the Hindu festival Holi.

Professor Talking

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Hopkins is littered with brilliant professors. Professor Adam Reiss was recently awarded the nobel prize for his research in astrophysics and dark matter. A professor for an anthropology class I took conducted a lot of the research we examined in class.


Orange Juice Machine

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That is the sound of oranges being freshly squeezed by a machine in the Fresh Food Cafe’, the primary freshman dining hall. The unlimited meal plan is probably one of the best things that has ever happened to me, I eat 4-5 times a day.


Spring Fair Crowds

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Spring fair is one of the greatest traditions of the Hopkins Homewood campus. Every spring semester, for one weekend, the campus is overrun by food trucks, local vendors and amusement park rides. People from all over Baltimore come to  see campus during spring fair, and it is truly one of the greatest times here on campus.


Construction: The Brody Commons and more

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The Brody Learning Commons and the new biology labs are just 2 examples of the brand new buildings that you will have access to here if you come to JHU. The Brody Learning Commons was actually designed by current students as an “ideal study space” with ample natural light.

To figure out what chairs to put in the Brody commons, they actually put all sorts of different chairs in the library here and asked people to rate which chair was the comfiest. The chair that was rated the comfiest was the one they chose to populate the Brody Commons with.

Students behind the library signing a beam that will be used in the Brody Learning Commons!

Lacrosse Game

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Lacrosse season here is really fun. We actually have homecoming in the spring instead of the fall so that it matches with Lacrosse season. The audio clip above is from the recent JHU-Albany game in which we beat them 17-6. We want more!


For those of you who may not know me personally, I am actually quite far from my hometown of Milan, Italy. Many people ask me why I chose Hopkins, and those are only a few of the reasons. I have never regretted my decision to come here, even for a minute. I was very undecided whilst applying to college and actually applied to 16 schools in 2 different continents. If you gained nothing from reading the above blog, I want to drive home the reasons I chose Hopkins one last time: the wonderful people, the cutting-edge research, the diversity of the student body, the excellent professors and the beautiful campus all combine to make Hopkins a great place to learn.


This is a post for admitted students. For those of you who did not get a chance to see the various posts by Admissions_Daniel, be sure to look at the following links:

Congratulations to all of those of you who were admitted! I will be posting my “Why Hopkins” blog in the next few days, so be sure to keep a look out for it.To those of you who did not hear as good news– keep in mind that college will be what you make of it, and I’m sure you can do well wherever you ultimately go.

SOHOP is the backronym for the open house program during the spring for admitted students here at JHU. For those of you who, like me when I was a pre-freshman, are not going to have the opportunity to be involved in this great program, I will post briefly about what it was like this year.

The initial arrival is much like freshman orientation: students are removed from cars along with their luggage and the parents drive the car to a parking lot. They are then taken to check in, and the events begin from there.

The actual day is jam-packed with campus tours, housing tours and panels of current professors, students and student groups all helping explain to you why JHU is genuinely one of the best places in the world to be a student. There is a student activities fair in which many of the prominent student activities on campus advertise what they do, and students who are definitely going to come to Hopkins can begin thinking about which they want to join from this early on.

Hopefully this great place will be your new home

There are also panels related to study abroad, internships and careers as well as one for pre-professional advising.

The newest and most fun part of SOHOP, however, is actually a night carnival that is organized on the freshman quad. Current students get to mingle with prospective admitted students and bond through a series of carnival games. There are even performances by some of Hopkins’ most prominent a-capella groups including the Vocal Chords, the Sirens and the Octopodes.

Following the carnival is one of the defining parts of SOHOP: the overnight stay with a current student. I had the privilege of hosting two very bright prospective engineers and it was a great experience for all of us. They are fairly certain after SOHOP that they will be attending Hopkins so I am extremely happy to see the success of the program and feel as though they have really gotten an understanding of what it is like to be a student here. Do not turn down the opportunity to come to SOHOP– choose Hopkins!!!


Traveling from Baltimore on a Budget

It has been a pseudo-theme so far in my blog to write about my travels and how they have related to my experience as a freshman undergraduate, so I will keep doing so.

Right now, all of JHU is on spring break and all of my friends have scattered throughout the U.S. and the world to catch up on some much-needed sleep. I have made my way to Boston to visit some of my friends from back home who go to school here, and will later make my way down to Philadelphia to visit another friend from home before returning to Hopkins.


How to Travel the East Coast on a Budget

Step 1: Ride a bus

I, being a college student on a limited budget, decided to save money and take a bus up to Boston from Baltimore. The ride was a little bit long (about 8h or so), but I didn’t mind because I got to sleep and do some work. It also only cost me around $25, which was not bad at all. Most bus lines and Amtrak give discounts for students, so be sure to ask if there are discounts every time you travel.


Step 2: Crash with people you know

Hotels are usually the most expensive part of a trip. By eliminating this cost and staying with friends, you get to have more fun and save money simultaneously. Make sure, however, that you do not overstay your welcome anywhere. My friends have been so generous to me throughout my spring break, I’m really grateful for this traveling opportunity they have given me.

My friend Sara and I on St. Patrick's Day

Step 3: Eat on a Budget

By establishing a set amount of money to spend each day beforehand, you will save on food expenses. I’ve been quite surprised how well I have eaten here in Boston and spent relatively little money.


Step 4: Be Flexible

There is so much to do in any city on the East Coast that there is bound to be a special event every day of the week. The Boston Museum of Fine Art has a 4-hour period once a week where entrance is free. The Boston Children’s Museum charges half price admission after 4pm. Certain restaurants have specials one night a week. By maintaining a flexible schedule, you can have a lot of fun for almost no money.

St. Patrick's day in Boston is wild


Step 5: Enjoy the outdoors

I really like spending time outside when it is sunny. Last night, instead of going out to a dinner at a restaurant, my friends and I brought dinner from home onto The Esplanade on the river. It was a great experience to eat outside as the sun was setting and is something I will definitely do in the Baltimore Inner Harbor when I get back to campus.

Esplanade dinner




Highlights of 2012 at JHU so far

Even though it is only March and we have been in classes for a mere 6 weeks or so (which unfortunately means it’s midterm time), my spring semester has already had some pretty great moments. Here are some random highlights of my semester so far:


Ice Skating 

The residential advisory board of Hopkins organized a trip for students to go ice skating in the Inner Harbor. We rented out the entire ice rink for our school. It was a blast to have all of my friends and fellow students there. As anyone would anticipate, there were plenty of crazy moments throughout the night on the ice.

My friends, immediately after crashing into each other

Ice skating champs


Studying Outside

As spring has begun to peek its head around the corner, the weather has gotten considerably nicer. This means that many more students can study outside and play on the quads. JHU_Erica and I took advantage of this and went to study in one of my favorite places on campus (near Wyman Park).

Best campus ever!


Sunsets over campus

No need to really explain this one.

Last week in front of Mason Hall


Taken 3 weeks ago


Stargazing through a high-power space telescope

Every Friday evening, if weather conditions permit, the observatory on top of the Bloomberg physics building is open to the public. My mom, who came to visit me all the way from Italy, and I got to gaze through a telescope that is probably worth several million dollars at the stars, the moon, various nebulas and galaxies further away than any distance our minds could even begin to fathom.

The Maryland Space Grant Observatory is actually right on top of our very own physics building


Animal Therapy

It is midterm period and thus a time when many students are stressed out. To help relax students during this challenging time (trust me, it has been a very difficult week), one of the on-campus organizations had the animal shelters bring puppies and kittens from an animal shelter.

Puppies at Hopkins!


Becoming a Tour Guide

Unfortunately I do not have any pictures of tours that I have given so far, but I am now a full-time tour guide! Meeting with prospective parents and students has been quite fun. If you have a chance to visit Hopkins, you should come to my tour on Fridays at 2!


Secret Week

JHU_Sydney was my big in our secret underground coed nerd fraternity.  She had been serenading me all week, so it came as no surprise to me that she was my big all along.

Also, we are the only members.

Sydney was not happy when she found out I was her little...