For the Love of SAAB

I had few goals for the summer following my senior year in high school. I wanted to get a decent tan, to take lots of pictures, and to make a conscious effort to enjoy my first (and probably last) truly work-free summer.

I took an instagram every day this summer. Several are of Chem notes; this summer was definitely not work free.

I took an instagram every day this summer. Several are of Chem notes; this summer was definitely not work free.

 

I did just that.

For the three months between my high school graduation and my Hopkins Orientation, I read books for pleasure (instead of AP English), I worked on projects that excited me (instead of college applications), and I looked forward to my future (instead of complaining about my AP workload).

It sounds cliché, I know, but for me, the summer of 2012 was no less than magic. I only thought of school and class and assignments in the context of a Hopkins-future for which I was extremely excited, but that was still relatively far (with time here measured in lazy, sunny summer days) in my future. If someone had asked me to write another essay comparing works or literature or analyzing rhetoric, I would have laughed at them and explained that each minute I spent thinking in MLA format was a minute that I wasn’t driving around with the windows down blasting Call Me Maybe (forever the song of the summer) or saying goodbye to my friends.

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It was in this state of mind – a combination of contented laziness and procrastination – that I found myself, on my last day at home before the big move-in, looking at a SAAB application and a very empty Word document. I had been a loyal follower of Hopkins Interactive for years, but questioned whether or not I really wanted to spend my last afternoon writing sample blog posts; what were the odds that I would even be chosen, anyway? Writing sounded a lot like work, and work was something that, for the summer of 2012, I was vehemently, vehemently against.

Obviously, you’re reading these words here on the Class of 2016 (no longer freshmen) Blog, and you readers know me as JHU_Alexa. I pulled it together, that afternoon almost a year ago, and I put my best effort into completing an application that reflected my enthusiasm both for Hopkins and for Hopkins Interactive. On a Sunday morning during Orientation, I sat at a table while I was interviewed by a panel of current SAABers (and tried not to laugh as they all introduced themselves as if I hadn’t been reading their life stories for years). That Sunday night, sitting at the FFC for dinner, I received an email informing me that I had been chosen. I screamed – my dinner mates looked at me a bit strangely – and thus began my involvement in one of the best experiences I’ve had at Hopkins. If I haven’t made this entirely clear already, I love being JHU_Alexa

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SAAB

For those who don’t know, SAAB stands for the Student Admissions Advisory Board. We answer questions on the Hopkins Forums, on Facebook groups, and in person at campus visit days. We make videos. We tweet. We Instagram. We meet weekly to discuss new recruitment projects. We (sometimes) order Chipotle. Perhaps most notably, we write and maintain blogs in this space, but above all else, we love and represent Hopkins.

My job on SAAB has been both immensely satisfying and immensely fun. On a daily basis, I get to interact with prospective students and help them to understand just why I love my school. I get to talk with members of our incoming Class of 2017 about everything from which dorm is the best (AMR I, obviously) to whether or not the FFC has Hopkins waffle irons (yes, and they’re fantastic). I get to do all of this with my fellow SAABers, an eclectic group of really, really awesome people (if I do say so myself).

I always get to be in the front of photos like these because I'm short

I always get to be in the front of photos like these because I’m short

Being a part of SAAB has opened doors for me. Not only has it made me a better communicator, both verbally and in writing, but the connections that I’ve made with other members have given me the confidence to pursue other activities that are now an integral part of my Hopkins life. I probably wouldn’t have gone through rush if it weren’t for some of the women of SAAB that helped me get past my misconceptions about Greek life, and I definitely wouldn’t have applied for the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship if it weren’t for my exposure to the amazing research that JHU_Tess, JHU_Noah, JHU_Ruthie, and JHU_Caleb were able to complete. I proudly list my blog on my resumé.

I’m only a few months out of my freshman year (only a few days if you count my adventure in summer classes as an extension of it), and already I’m feeling nostalgic and reflective and a little bit sad that it’s over. I’ve thought a lot about my time so far at Hopkins, and the events and activities that have shaped my experience. If I had to choose one decision that had the greatest (here meaning both largest and best) affect on the past year of my life, I would say that it was submitting that SAAB application last August, and I would answer without hesitation.

I suppose this blog post is really for you, Class of 2017. Soon, the application for our new class of SAABers will be released. I urge you to take a few hours of your summer and complete it. We can’t wait to meet you. 

Weird Consequences of Spending A Year in College

I officially moved to Homewood Campus on August 28, 2012. It is now mid-July, 2013, but by the time the second summer session ends in early August, I will have lived in Baltimore for almost an entire year. First of all, that’s crazy. It feels, at the same time, like I’ve been at Hopkins forever and like I just moved into my AMR I double last week . . . possibly because, like a first semester freshman, I still stop in the middle of the quad to Instagram pictures of buildings and because I still get lost sometimes trying to find my way out of the library.

My (almost) year in college has changed me in many ways, subtle and obvious, expected and surprising. I knew that a year at Hopkins would improve and test my academic abilities, force me to better and more efficiently manage my time, and cause me to embrace naps as a healthy and essential part of my schedule, but I’ve also noticed that I’ve developed up some unexpected, college-specific habits, including the fact that . . .

1) . . . My first reaction to any problem is to DIY-it . . . usually with materials purchased from UniMini. As a college student on a budget, I’ve become pretty accustomed to trying to make / fix things myself if possible, meaning that I spent a lot of my freshman year DIYing things with varying levels of success. The Good: that time JHU_Ruthie, my big big Heather, and I painted a banner welcoming the Class of 2017 to SOHOP on behalf of Alpha Phi. The Bad: literally every time I’ve attempted to hem an article of clothing last-minute using duct tape. The Ugly: that time I tripped on the way to class, tore my sandal, and then used band-aids courtesy of the library vending machine to hold my sad, broken shoe together for the rest of the day. Don’t try this one at home.

2) . . . Non-lofted beds seem way too close to the ground. I quarter-lofted my dorm bed last year, leaving about 3 feet of extra storage space. At 5’1” (on a good day), this meant I became accustomed to needing a running start to get into bed each night. I distinctly remember coming home for fall break and being amazed by the (normal) height of my bed at home. Comparatively, I spent 18 years basically sleeping on the floor.

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3) . . . My sense of time has become scrambled. There’s pretty much no distinction anymore between weekend and weekday; daytime and nighttime. You’ll frequently find me spending Sunday evening in the library and Wednesday afternoon napping. Someone could probably base a Twilight Zone episode around the way that time passes in the lower levels of the library; on multiple occasions, I’ve headed to a cubicle for just a few hours in the afternoon only to emerge, a little bit disoriented, in the middle of the night.

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4) . . . I frequently wake up with my laptop two inches away from my face. My sleep schedule isn’t exactly consistent (see above), but it seems like no matter when I fall asleep, my computer is next to me. This is either a sign that I am a particularly dedicated student and that I work until I can no longer keep my eyes open, OR evidence that I need to stop falling asleep while re-watching season two of Parks and Rec on Netflix.

5) . . . I’ve developed a ridiculous amount of affection for my home state. Let’s be honest, Pennsylvania is fine, but nothing to get especially excited about; if it were a movie, you wouldn’t necessarily turn it off if it started playing on TV, but you definitely wouldn’t pay to see it in theaters. Now, after a year of mostly living someplace else, the brief trips I’ve made home seem almost like vacation, and driving through a few hours of farmland between Baltimore and Bethlehem makes me excited and nostalgic.

home

home

6) . . . I’ve discovered what it’s like to have school pride. Okay, okay so this isn’t exactly a surprise – obviously I like the college that I applied to and currently attend – but after four years of rolling my eyes through high school pep rallies, the extent to which I truly care about Hopkins is definitely a change of pace. My attitude towards my school is similar to someone’s attitude about a member of his or her family: I’m allowed to complain about it at times (with love, of course), but when an outsider starts to criticize, all bets are off. After a year at Hopkins, I both flagrantly support and vehemently defend the school that I am proud call home.

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Go Big ORGO Home

I apologize in advance if this blog is a bit less than coherent; my Introductory Organic Chemistry I final was this morning, and I’ve spent the last two weeks of my life thinking of nothing but compound names and mechanism arrows.

For most of the summer, I’ll be here at Hopkins, staying in an efficiency in Homewood Apartments while I take Orgo I & II. I know that I’ll have a lot more to say about the subject once I’m done for real in another month, but for now, at the halfway mark, I can say with certainty that it’s been an experience that is both more challenging and frustrating than I expected, and, if I’m being honest, more challenging and frustrating than I was prepared for.

Photo May 28, 2 01 46 PM

 

My life is 90% orgo, 10% taking pictures of these flowers

My life is 90% orgo, 10% taking pictures of these flowers

 

I make an effort to stay positive in my blogs; this is not the result of any deliberate censorship from Hopkins Interactive, but rather my attempt to keep my blogs upbeat and while maintaining an honest voice. The reality of life at any school in any major is that your schedule will include classes that you love, that excite you, that inspire you to do your best work, and classes that you struggle through – ones that have you obsessively checking the clock as if you could will time to move faster.

I’m receiving a world-class education here at Hopkins, but despite the (excellent) faculty and (abundant) resources, there have been courses that I just wasn’t passionate about. Still, reading blog after blog about how I wasn’t a fan of Chemistry Lab wouldn’t be interesting for you readers nor would it be productive – for every student that dislikes a course, there are at least as many others that count it among their favorites. I’ve found that it’s a good thing to keep this in mind both when blogging and when attending classes – no matter what, I’m lucky to be at Hopkins at all.

Research for a paper on the plaster skulls of Jericho for a class that I loved last spring

Research for a paper on the plaster skulls of Jericho for a class that I loved last spring

During parts (okay, most) of this summer, I allowed myself to push that perspective way, way in the back of my mind. I’ll admit, Orgo is really challenging – not impossible, not unfair, but very, very difficult. It has a reputation for being a demanding course during a normal semester, and it’s made even more so when condensed into a six-week summer session. Two weeks ago, I walked out of our last midterm and felt terrible. I hadn’t gotten through all of the material as well as I needed to fully understand it, and I was a combination of very sad and very angry that I’m sure rendered me extremely unpleasant to be around.

With all due respect to and appreciation for my parents, for generously funding my summer classes and housing, and Professor Klein, one of the most enthusiastic (he literally wrote the book on making Organic Chemistry more accessible to students) and genuinely kind professors that I’ve been fortunate to study with here at Hopkins, I had grown extremely resentful of the way that I was spending my summer. I was angry with myself, of course, for not understanding the subject as well as I was accustomed to, and I projected my frustration outward. In that time, I hated Orgo for existing, and, irrationally, I hated Hopkins for . . . I don’t know, offering Orgo in the summer and allowing me to take it. Like I said, irrational.

Still sulking, I came back to my room after that midterm, having decided to take the rest of the afternoon to feel sorry for myself before I started studying for the final all day every day. I made myself lunch, opened Netflix, and checked my email. The day that I deemed Orgo Alexa Enemy #1 – the same day that I resented Hopkins second only to synthesis reactions – was also the day that I found out that the Woodrow Wilson Undergraduate Research Fellowship Committee liked my research proposal on cemetery zoning and was accepting me into the program. Once again, I was reminded how very, very lucky I am to go to a school that allows me to explore my (weird) interests. Perspective restored.

I wish I could say that in the end, I discovered a latent love of all things Organic Chemistry, and that I’m super excited to take part II starting on Monday, but the truth is, you’re not going to love all of your classes, or even like a few of them, and that’s okay, because there are going to be many more that you love. Going to Hopkins has provided me with so many opportunities both inside of and outside of the classroom that make me so excited for my future, even if I’m not excited for 9AM Orgo. Thank you, JHU. 

Irrelevant picture; I'm just really, really excited that these flowers are still alive

Irrelevant picture; I’m just really, really excited that these flowers are still alive

 

 

Thoughts of a Formerly-Crazy, Former-Valedictorian

Today is June 5th, 2013.

Exactly one year ago today, I put on a yellow-gold sash and some cords and a pair of high heels that I hadn’t practiced walking in, and the school Fife & Drum Corps played, and the band director announced my name, and I walked down the arena aisle as the Valedictorian of Freedom High School.

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My family cheered me on, and my sister bought me flowers, and it was overwhelming and exciting and exhausting. The ceremony went by both too quickly for a girl who wanted to savor the moment and too slowly for a girl who had to stand on the stage in heels for 3 hours. I thought I might cry – I was close at times – but I didn’t.

I hesitate to call that evening the best night of my life, because there have been many at Hopkins that were much more fun in the typical sense – nights that were just as memorable, and nights that involved a lot more dancing and laughing and a lot fewer repetitive speeches – but I will always remember the evening of my high school graduation as one of the happiest of my (admittedly short) 18 years. This is probably because it stands in such contrast to the prior four years of high school, years that were largely plagued by a combination of self-induced stress, anxiety, and exhaustion.

One of my roles as a member of the Student Admissions Advisory Board, along with writing these blogs, is interacting with perspective students, both online and in person at campus visit days. Often, I am asked – by nervous parents or by high school students that remind me very much of myself – questions regarding Hopkins Admissions policies and statistics; do students need to have 4.0s and perfect SAT scores? And what happens if they have a 3.9 instead – are they automatically denied?

SAAB. Sometimes we let JHU_Jordan sit with us.

We Hopkins students – as well as members of the Admissions Staff – are quick to assure prospective applicants that no, Hopkins looks at applications holistically: we look for students who have challenged themselves and excelled academically but that a passionate, well-rounded applicant is much more appealing than a grade-robot. Sometimes, I feel a little disingenuous espousing such advice, not because it’s not true (it is!), but because I spent the majority of my pre-college career caring about grades and numbers and percentiles and nothing else.

I drove myself crazy trying to be perfect. In four years of high school, the lowest grades that I received on my report card were As, and I wasn’t proud of them; rather, I hated them because they weren’t A+s. In most cases, I didn’t care about the material that I was studying, and I didn’t care about gaining knowledge; all I cared about was getting the highest grade possible at all times over 8 semesters and 4 years. It was exhausting.

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Striving to do well in school of course isn’t wrong, and is in fact essential in applying to and succeeding here at Hopkins. Wanting to be Valedictorian, a goal that I set for myself in the third grade, also isn’t wrong; I’d definitely recommend it – sashes are super cool! However, there is a line that exists between (1) trying hard and earning good grades and (2) defining yourself – and your life – based upon the grades that you receive. Getting an A should feel great, and, assuming you worked hard, so should an A-.

During my time here at Hopkins, partially through conscious effort but mostly through the sudden influx of new and exciting things to care about – things like adjusting to college, meeting new people, and enjoying life – I have developed a much more healthy attitude towards my grades. Obviously, doing well in my classes is still a priority – academics are, after all, the number one reason that I chose to attend Hopkins – but I have other priorities too: going out with my friends on the weekends (and some weeknights…). Exploring Baltimore. Enjoying life.

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the Inner Harbor with AMR I Willard / Vincent 3rd floor

Without constant GPA and class rank-related thoughts filling my mind, I have a lot more room for more important things, like actual learning. I’m enjoying my classes for the first time in a long time; it’s much easier to succeed when you like learning, and it’s much easier to like learning when you can focus on the significance of Pompeiian tombs instead of how that AP Stats pop quiz is affecting your quarter grade. I know this blog probably makes it sound like I regret the choices that I made in high school, and I can’t say that I do, completely; it’s complicated. If I had to do it all over again, I would still study hard. I would still aim to get A+s. I would still try to be Valedictorian. But I wouldn’t let it make me so unhappy when I thought it might not work out.

Standing on stage a year ago today, I was happy and tired and honored and proud and so excited for the next chapter of my life: Hopkins. I don’t regret the choices I made that led me here, and I also don’t regret the choices that I’ve made here. Could I have studied non-stop and maybe gotten an A instead of that A- in Chem Lab? Yes, possibly. Would I have traded the time I spent with friends and family, at dinners and parties and movies, late-night trips to UniMini and early morning runs, for a few extra hours in the library?

No.

And I am much happier because of it.

 

And Here’s to You, Freshman Year

I took my last final yesterday. It was weird, walking out of the classroom, textbooks still filling my bag, to think that the semester was officially over. I packed up the rest of my belongings, indiscriminately shoving books and tablets and the errant sock found behind my bed into my backpack. Two weeks of final exam preparation had left me tired and a bit delirious, and I was functioning on autopilot. I turned in my key and closed the door to my AMR I double for the last time, saying goodbye to my Hopkins home and to my freshman year.

Bye AMR I

Bye AMR I.

I have a lot of thoughts about my first year here at Hopkins. The nine months that I’ve spent on Homewood campus are inextricably a part of who I am now, and, as I sit in a hotel room at the beach and type this post, I can still close my eyes and convince myself that I’m seated, not on a couch, but at my former desk. I’m grateful for the loud hum of the hotel air conditioning; after months of slamming doors and feet running down the hall and keys clicking in locks, I’m not ready for complete silence just yet.  I don’t think I’m far enough removed from freshman year yet to be able to process it fully, and I know that as I continue to blog throughout the summer I will be able to articulate my thoughts much more eloquently and completely than I can now, still recovering from my post-finals haze.

This is what Brody Learning Commons looks like at 6AM

This is what Brody Learning Commons looks like at 6AM

I can say a few things with certainty though. First, I’m happy – and relieved – to be free of final exams and papers, and my circadian rhythm thanks me for last night’s sleep, a full nine hours worth. Second, I’m not sure that I’m ready for freshman year to be really, really over.

I think I’ve had this selfish idea in my mind that I would leave for school and time would freeze around me – that I would go home for breaks and find my pre-college life preserved, exactly as I had left it, waiting for me. Life doesn’t work like that though; things change and you change and time keeps moving forward. I went home for spring break to find that my favorite restaurant, one that I’d frequented near-weekly for a decade, one where 8-year-old Alexa felt like a grown-up eating a scone and 18-year-old Alexa felt like a kid eating an ice cream cone, had closed. Even now at the beach, I’m surrounded by signs of change; we were hit particularly hard by Hurricane Sandy, and everywhere I look version 2.0 seems just a bit different than I remembered.

I will miss you, best ice cream place in the world

I will miss you, best ice cream place in the world

I want to be able to freeze time within freshman year too, to be able to wander around the memories that I have of a time when adjusting to a new environment and being a freshman was priority number one: a time when I could picture four years of college stretched out in front of me, full of possibility. I did work that I’m really proud of this year, and I made some decisions that weren’t 100% fantastic this year, and I’ve learned equally from both.

Hopkins is beautiful

Hopkins is beautiful

 

This year, I learned how Hitchcock used symbolism and how to properly use a pipette and how the Pompeian local magistrate was run, but I also learned how to step back and have a good time. I learned how to properly celebrate Halloween with my friends on a Wednesday night, and how to skip Alpha Phi spring formal to finish writing a paper on C-Level of the library. I’ve learned how to be a good student and lab partner, but I’ve also learned how to be a good roommate, sister, and friend. I don’t think I can accept yet that my time at Hopkins is already a quarter past.

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I’m heading back to Homewood in another week and a half to learn Organic Chemistry and the art of tanning on the (Hopkins) beach, and I know that my summer, and my next three years of JHU living will be just as filled with fun and stress and late nights and early mornings. For now though, I’m choosing to freeze time as best I can. I’m choosing to focus on the feeling of icy ocean water nipping at my ankles and the comfortable weight of the perfect beach pebble in my hand and the mixture of hot sun and cool wind at my back while I savor this time, with one year successfully completed behind me and another three years still ahead.

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For now, I say goodbye freshman year; it’s been great. And to sophomore year: get ready. I’ll see you soon. 

 

Favorite Hopkins Memories

You’ve probably noticed that Hopkins-Interactive has been a little different this month; our blogs have all been focused on common topics so that you can hear different perspectives about academic and social life here at Hopkins. When we were signing up for our blog dates, I was excited to find out that I would be posting about my favorite memory, but, as I thought about my almost-complete (!) first year here, I’ve realized more and more that the events that define my time here are far more scattered than can be captured by a single memory. Instead, I present a list of the things that I will forever associate with being a freshman at Hopkins:

(1) Move-In: For the first 18 years and 25 days of my life, I lived in a house on a corner in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The room that I left for Hopkins on August 29, 2012 was the same room that I had called my own since before I could speak, a room with the letters A-L-E-X-A hung on the wall opposite years-worth of certificates and photographs. By the time all of my belongings were packed up and ready to move 3 hours away, it wasn’t scary or exciting, it was just so completely foreign to a girl who had never even been to sleep-away camp.

Pennsylvania back yard

Pennsylvania back yard

I was alone the first time that I stepped into my dorm room. My trunk and bags and boxes were already stacked along the left side courtesy of the Hopkins move-in crew. My roommate was still on her way, and my parents were parking and learning to navigate the campus. My first thought: this room is way bigger than it looked online. My second thought: So I guess I’m like an adult now? Of course, I promptly put my mattress pad cover over the fitted sheet and had my mom re-make my bed, reminding me that no, I’m still definitely not an actual grown-up person, but still, standing alone in my new room that morning was the first time that it really sunk in: my life is changing, like for real. 

(2) The Sandy Bowl: Class was cancelled for 2 days during Hurricane Sandy. During this time, we played card games, stocked up on cereal, and, some people on my floor decided to try to play football on the freshman quad. I feel like this is the kind of decision that could only come to a group of bored 18 year olds, and I gave up about 5 minutes into the game after realizing that (a) rain in October is cold (b) rain makes mud and (c) I don’t really know how to play football anyway, but the memory of painting our faces and charging into the field is one that will forever tied to freshman dorm life.

(3) Invitation Night: After a week of formal Panhellenic recruitment, 60-some new members were invited to join Alpha Phi. Here, Antonella and I are pictured after once again painting our faces, this time in USA-phi red, white, and blue.

AΦ love

AΦ love

(4) Coming back from Spring Break, getting my mid-term back, and seeing this:

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I am no longer studying subjects that come naturally to me. I am no longer a student that can do my homework in class before it’s due and get an A. I can no longer study the night before an exam and succeed. I’ve learned all of these things the “fun” way. I’m pretty sure I’ve studied more hours this semester than I ever did before, but seeing my work pay off is so much more rewarding than any “A” I ever received on a last minute assignment in high school.

This is in no my attempt to brag or show-off; rather, it’s a response to a general fear that surrounds the Johns Hopkins name, one that I’ve noticed in the class of 2017 and one that I felt myself before coming here. Yes, here at Hopkins you will work harder than ever before, but no, it’s not impossible to do well. The mythical “grade-deflating curve” won’t kill your GPA.

(5) Housing Lottery: Sophomore housing is largely determined by a lottery system, where you and your roommates will randomly receive a number from 1 – 400something. When the lottery number emails were sent out to freshman, you could actually hear cheering and screaming throughout AMR I, in both celebration of and resent for number assignments. After seeing that my group of 4 was number 16, giving us the opportunity to choose virtually any suite that we wanted, I ran out into the hallway only to find that two of my future roommates were already running towards me. In my excitement, I slammed the door behind me and locked myself out of my room. Realizing this did not stop the elated jumping (much to the annoyance of some of my less lucky hall mates).

Future roomies

Future roomies

I recently made the decision to stay at Hopkins for June and July and the beginning of August to take Organic Chemistry I & II. It wasn’t an easy decision, and I’ll admit: my original plan for the summer involved less chemistry and more anything but chemistrybut I know that my choice was the right one. By the time Orgo II is over, I will have lived at Hopkins for almost a year, and while I still think of “home” as Bethlehem, and probably always will, I know that Hopkins is home for me too, and I’m both happy and honored to be a part of the Hopkins community.

I have great days here, and I have terrible days here, but at the end of both I know that this is where I belong. Not once have I questioned my college decision, even on days where I questioned everything else.

Last but not least:

(6) This, on Keyser Quad, about an hour ago:

Why Hopkins? Because it has a Rock Climbing Wall

I visited 10 colleges in the summers following my sophomore and junior years of high school . . . and those are just the ones that I remember. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if, sometime after posting this blog, I get a message from my mom asking me how I forgot the weekend we spent visiting X college and Y university, or how the hotel we stayed at in Z city was the one by the Dunkin’ Donuts, NOT the one with the weirdly empty lobby restaurant. It’s true though – my college visits became family events. We spent weekends at a time traveling from one college to the next, road-tripping across the northeastern United States, touring cities big and small, and patiently dealing with me as I rolled my eyes at campuses that were not exactly a good “fit”. Hopkins was the first college I visited: the first of many.

first Hopkins visit, documented in a summer '10 photo book

Post-weekend road trip, friends and family always had questions. Where did we go? Did Alexa like it? Could she see herself there? What exactly was it that she wants to do with her life again?It was during these exchanges that a conversational pattern began to emerge.
“Well, you know it’s very strong in the sciences,” my mom or dad would explain to a well-meaning acquaintance asking about my interest in Johns Hopkins (more often referred to as “John Hopkins”, and once “John Hudgekins”). My parents would cite academic rankings, praise the lack of a core curriculum, and express their happiness over the University’s metropolitan location. “Alexa’s always wanted to live in a city,” they would say, approvingly. “And this is a good place for her to figure out exactly what she wants to do.”

Hopkins in the Fall

Around this time, somewhere around the point in the discussion where Baltimore’s safety was inevitably questioned, or I was asked what school I would be visiting next, I would interrupt the conversation.

“AND,” I would announce, drawing the word out to ensure that I was heard, “they have a rock climbing wall!”

The easy answer to “why Hopkins” is that in one visit, I found a school that allowed me to check off every single one of the elements that I had hoped for in my college experience.  It was strong in the sciences, an area in which I’d always imagined myself working one day. It was, as my parents frequently explained, an ideal place to take classes that interested me for the first time and to find an area about which I was truly passionate. It was in a city, with great access to internships and the potential for future employment. The campus was beautiful, the professors were at the tops of their fields, and the admissions department was both technologically advanced and relatable. But, above all of this, it was the rock climbing wall that stuck with me.

Gilman at sunset

“But do they have a rock climbing wall?” I would ask, each time my parents suggested a new school for us to visit, gently reminding me that it was neither smart nor realistic to focus solely on Johns Hopkins.

“We’ve visited other colleges with rock climbing walls,” they would say.

“Yeah,” I responded, “but they weren’t as nice as the one at Hopkins.”

Really though, my apparent fixation was never about the rock climbing wall itself, or any grand plans to climb it. I am no champion climber; my attempts at athleticism have always garnered me sympathetic smiles from usually gruff gym teachers, the way that I look when I jog has been described as “endearingly ridiculous,” and the smile on my face as I walked out of my high school gymnasium for the last time rivaled my smile at graduation. In fact, I don’t even think we were shown the infamous wall during my tour of the Hopkins campus; merely knowing that it existed was enough for me to be smitten.

Gilman at . . . regular sun-time?

Somewhere along the way, the Hopkins rock climbing wall became, in my mind, a physical manifestation of all that was special about the campus. It was hard to convey to my family, to my teachers, and to my classmates how I just knew, after only a few hours on the campus of the first college that I visited, that it was the one for me, so I let the rock wall stand for the intangible excitement and fulfillment that I felt that day in Baltimore. It wasn’t just the wall though. It was the tour guide who quizzed us with trivia questions. It was the academic presentation that was funny and engaging in a way that other universities just couldn’t match. It was the sense, as I walked on to my first college campus, that I had already found exactly what I was looking for.

After I clicked “submit” on application to Johns Hopkins University, I took what felt like my first real deep breath since I’d announced, on the drive back home from Baltimore to Pennsylvania that day 2 years before, that I wanted to apply early decision. I closed the common application. I ate a celebratory cinnamon pop tart. I wrote an email to a friend that I felt relieved and happy and scared and so excited for the rest of my life that I couldn’t even stand it.

I chose Hopkins because I knew that being there would make me feel like that — the exhilaration, the excitement – all the time.

I chose Hopkins because a part of me knew, as I stepped on campus, that even though it was my first of many, many college visits, my search was over.

Major: Undecided?

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

and sorry I could not travel both. . . 

Robert Frost

. . . except no, it’s not two roads, it’s more like 100, and it’s not the woods at all actually, it’s Hopkins, or it’s a form to fill out, or it’s any conversation about your future plans, and you’re only 18, and you’re overwhelmed, and you just don’t know what you want to be when you grow up yet because you just graduated high school like, yesterday, and you’re still working on mastering the whole “doing your own laundry” thing. Deep breath.

Some people come into college knowing exactly what they want to study, stick with it for four years, and graduate still completely confident in their decision. Some people come into college with one major in mind, and over the course of their studies they fall in love with another subject and make the switch. Some people end up adding an extra major or minor. I wasn’t any of these people. I just didn’t know.

I don’t really like not knowing things. I love planning ahead. I love spreadsheets. In high school, I’m pretty sure my guidance counsellor and I had the next three years of my life planned out by the end of my freshman year. A large part of me wanted college to be the same. Earlier this year, I was talking with one of my friends from home over Facebook, and she reminded me that indecision as to what my adult life would look like was a trait of mine that went way back, saying “I had a feeling you’d be the girl to change majors every week. You were like that in middle school, one day you wanted to be a marine biologist, the next day you wanted to be an engineer haha.”

FOHOP nametag

By high school, I’d narrowed my career prospects down to the intentionally vague something in the natural sciences, and by the fall of my senior year, I was applying to Hopkins as a prospective Biology major. There was really no grand moment of clarity where I realized that I loved and wanted to dedicate my life to bio, but it sounded good. I was going to Hopkins and I was pre-med; of course I would study biology. Major decided: check! . . . until I started to worry. What if I didn’t end up going to medical school? Shouldn’t I at least take the opportunity to study something new – a subject that I hadn’t been exposed to in high school? Enter Public Health.

I had a new life plan: I was going to be a Public Health major and get my Master’s and then go to medical school . . . or maybe not but at least I would have options. Sure I wasn’t thrilled about taking economics and policy classes but I could get through them, right? I liked the idea of the major, but as I went to register for my freshman fall classes, I realized that I hadn’t been particularly sad about not fitting Intro to Public Health into my schedule. I kept it in the back of my mind – I can take it in the spring if I have to! I’ll just get some other requirements out of the way first! – but knew that my lack of enthusiasm meant that it just wasn’t the right choice for me. I entered Hopkins completely undecided.

I decided to embrace my indecision. During my first semester, I took a wide range of classes that I thought might lead me on the right path. Molecular Biology of Aging! Human Origins! Introductory Chemistry! (Okay, okay, the last one was a pre-med requirement – I definitely did not think about majoring in Chemistry). However, though I really enjoyed some of my classes and was very pleased with my final grades, I ended the semester basically where I started, except I knew for sure that I was definitely not a chemist.

NOPE

My goal was to find an area of study about which I was actually excited, and for a long time I wanted this to be Anthropology. I’d always thought the subject was so interesting, and coming from a high school with limited electives, it was a subject I was particularly excited about getting to study at Hopkins. I would probably still be on an anthropology track today if a few things hadn’t happened during my spring semester:

  1. I fell in love with my Pompeii class – one that I signed up for on a whim the morning of registration. I’ve enjoyed classes before, but never have I looked forward to doing the assigned readings this much. This experience really reinforced how much easier it is to succeed when you enjoy what you’re doing.
  2. I found myself doing well in my Foundations of the Brain, Behavior, and Cognition class. I had initially sworn off brain-related sciences as neuroscience had been my least favorite part of high school Biology and Anatomy, but this class made me reexamine the field. Maybe I wouldn’t be a neuroscientist, but the brain definitely interested me. . .
  3. I realized that I wanted to love anthropology much more than I actually did. Especially compared to my enthusiasm for other classes, I found that I was always putting off my readings for Invitation to Anthropology until I had finished all of my other work and had nothing else to do.

Spring semester books

Over Spring Break, I went home to Pennsylvania and lived vicariously through my friends’ beach pictures went through the degree audits for a few different majors. On Monday, I told my advisor that I planned to major in Cognitive Science with a minor in Classics. I’m satisfied, and, more importantly, excited.

To any of you in the Class of ’17 that are still undecided, embrace it. Take advantage of our lack of core curriculum and our covered grades for freshmen fall and take interesting classes. Don’t let a need to plan define you. Don’t stress. I still don’t know exactly what I want to be when I grow up. I might change my mind again. I might not. And really, it’s okay.

What Wednesday Looks Like

True LifeI have one midterm left, and though I’ve been doing my best to stay on top of my work, the past two weeks of testing have definitely taken a toll on my life (and living space).

My dorm is currently covered in the aftermath of my sorority’s secret week (shout out to my awesome new phamily for spoiling me!) during which my roommate and I accumulated on the floor of our room 9 balloons, 2 posters, 4 stuffed animals, 3 baskets, and a sombrero – and that’s just what I can count from my vantage point on my bed.

I need to do laundry.

I had a handful of Oreos for lunch.

I’m basically a slanket away from becoming Liz Lemon.

Pictured: Me, minus some balloons

After evaluating the current state of my life (read: I couldn’t find my phone while I was holding it) earlier this afternoon, I decided that a study break outside my dorm room was definitely in order. Though my “break” extended a bit longer than I had intended, after a trip to Chipotle and walk around campus, I definitely feel refreshed and better about my last night of studying. This is what my Wednesday, March 13, 2013 looked like:

Happy (almost) spring break, everyone!

Staying Organized

I was relatively lucky last semester in that of my 6 classes, only 3 gave written examinations, and they never really seemed to fall at the same time. This semester has been a different story, and, as I sit here writing this blog, I find myself in the midst of my first real “midterms week” madness. More so than ever, I’ve realized the value of staying organized and on top of assignments – the fall-semester Alexa who was able to do well despite some less-than-stellar study habits is no more, and instead I’ve found myself making spreadsheets to track my grades and perpetually attached to my planner.

Fortunately, my new systems seem to be to working, and, despite the fact that I’m spending my last two weeks before spring break preparing for 5 tests and a paper, I’m finding myself much less stressed overall (though I’m definitely earning my vacation!). Here are some habits that I’ve picked up this past semester that have made staying organized and motivated much easier:

(1) Write it down! It’s hard(er) to ignore or forget deadlines when you have to look at them every day. For me, writing down important dates both in  my iCal and in a physical planner helps me keep track of my workload – and lets me know in advance which weeks are going to be busy!

My planner!

Midterms!

(2) Empty desk; empty mind?  For me, this old adage couldn’t be farther from the truth – when room is unorganized, it only adds to my stress, and I get tempted to clean instead of study! Even larger dorm rooms like mine can get cluttered, so I’ve been trying to make use of as much storage space as possible. It’s easy with a little imagination; the foot of my bed has made a great place to hang bags, the inside of my closet door is good for jewelry, and some pushpins have turned my wall into a great scarf display!

Hanging hooks on the inside of my armoire

(3) Stay motivated! Hanging up cards that I’ve received in the mail is a great way to remind myself of home, and is always great for a mood boost. They add a great pop of color to an empty wall too!

(4) Hold yourself accountable! One of the best things I’ve done this semester to make spreadsheets tracking all of the grades that I get in each class. Not only does this tell me where I stand as far as a letter grade at any given time, but it also motivates me to work harder – obviously, I only want to input high scores!

Spreadsheets are kind of my favorite

(5) Take good notes (the first time!) Last semester, I fell into a trap of zoning out during lecture with the intention of going back and taking notes later . . . which rarely actually happened.  This semester, I’m making a concentrated effort to take good notes during class, and I’ve found myself scrambling around much less before my tests!

My "cheat sheet" for chem - a labor of love

(6) Stay calm and have fun. Doing well on my exams and papers is important to me (academics are, of course, the main reason I’m here at Johns Hopkins!), but it’s important too during times of stress to have fun. Today marks the end of Alpha Phi secret week, a week of presents and exciting surprises including a serenade from some of the Beta pledges! When I’m feeling overwhelmed, remembering that spring break is just a few midterms away puts everything back in perspective.