Guest Blog Celebrates Five Years!

Welcome to the Hopkins Interactive Guest Blog. For five years now, each week we feature a different Johns Hopkins student. To showcase the variety of posts featured here, we have built a Guest Blog Map dotted with each author’s hometown. We hope you’ll browse through and enjoy finding entries you may have never otherwise come across.

View Hopkins Interactive Guest Blog in a larger map



Name: Stephan Capriles

Year: Class of 2016

Major: History and International Relations

Hometown: Willemstad, Curaçao Dutch Caribbean


JHUMUNC (pronounced jōōmŭngk) is the Johns Hopkins Model United Nation Conference. Who are we? We are one of biggest groups on campus and we organize an annual conference for high school students, right here in Baltimore. High schoolers, or rather delegates, are tasked with solving some of the world’s most pressing problems with innovative solutions. Most of the time the delegates debate in committees that feel and act very much like the United Nations. There’s a legal council, a security council, and a historic general assembly committee, but we also have had some committees like FIFA and the Game of Thrones joint committees that show that we’re pretty original. With over 30 committees, there’s a lot to choose from.

Figure 1 - A picture of the staff of JHUMUNC 2014

Figure 1 – A picture of the staff of JHUMUNC 2014

Like most people in JHUMUNC I joined because I was a MUNer in high school. My school took us to conferences all over and I met some of my best friends because of it. It is a great bonding experience and also a great way to meet other high schoolers from all over the country and the world. You learn a lot about how international politics works and how the UN functions. And who doesn’t love winning prizes?

Figure 2 As a chair you get a really cool gavel with your name on it

Figure 2 – As a chair you get a really cool gavel with your name on it

JHUMUNC is completely run by Hopkins students. I’ve met some of the coolest people at Hopkins because of it. The entire organization headed by two Secretary-Generals, and a fantastic administrative team known as the Secretariat and Directorate. Chairs and dais members run all the debates and are also Hopkins students. Most delegates forget that the secretariat and directorate even exist because they only ever really interact with their chairs, but trust me without our chief of staff, school relations team, undersecretary generals, and other directors we would all be lost. The staff is always great and diverse. Some of us are engineers; a couple of us study international relations, while others study biology and public health.

The conference begins on a Thursday and spans the length of four days. Thursday is always an exciting time; because it’s the first time chairs meet their delegates. The secretariat and directorate is always busy answering the questions and concerns of high school advisors and making sure that everything is running smoothly. The pomp and circumstance really begins with the opening ceremonies. Day two and three ends up being a bit of a blur as most committees are in session pretty much all day. I’m always surprised by the eloquence and teambuilding skills the delegates demonstrate.

Figure 3 This is what a committee room looks like

Figure 3 – This is what a committee room looks like

One of the favorite staff traditions is the midnight crisis. Some committees experience a crisis that requires the delegates’ immediate attention. It could be anything from a natural disaster to a foreign invasion that messes up peace accords. Since most of the delegates stay in the hotel the conference is hosted at, it is our job to wake them up and bring them to committee. The confused look on their faces is priceless.

The last day of the conference is always bittersweet. You feel exhausted, accomplished, and excited to go to closing ceremonies. As you pack up your committee room and dismiss your delegates, you can’t help feel sorry that all those months of work and planning have come to such a sudden close.

Figure 4 - A Comittee in Crisis! AAAAAhhhhhh

Figure 4 – A Comittee in Crisis! AAAAAhhhhhh

It has been a wild ride, but the staff this year has put tons of work into it to make sure that this conference will be better and bigger than ever. If you end up coming down to Baltimore and competing we look forward to seeing you. If you’re thinking of joining our staff, be sure to look us up at the next Student Activities Fair next fall. The eighteenth session of JHUMUNC will take place from February 5 to February 8th at the Baltimore Hilton Hotel.

Be sure to check out our Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram for updates on the conference and our organization!




Snapchat: jhumunc

Instagram: jhu_munc

What Really Is Engineering?


Name: Anthony Karahalios

Year: Class of 2018

Major: Applied Mathematics & Statistics

Hometown: Wheaton, IL

What Really Is Engineering?

            Like a regular goal-oriented student, I took a career aptitude test in high school. It seemed that this test would provide guidance and insight into what I may want my major to be in college. My results sucked. They were awful. My top ten choices were filled with nine types of engineering and mortician coming out of the grave for tenth. I could only think to myself that, “I was supposed to get physician or teacher, something I actually might enjoy.” For a moment I seriously considered mortician… But then I began to research engineering.Mortician Job defines the word engineering as follows: the art or science of making practical application of the knowledge of pure sciences, as physics or chemistry, as in the construction of engines, bridges, buildings, mines, ships, and chemical plants. What the hell does that mean? At least I know I don’t want to be an etymologist. However, one part of the definition really stuck out to me: “practical application of [the] knowledge.” All of high school, I had felt as if I were learning arbitrary ideas and concepts without ever being able to truly apply them. Applying what I had learned in school would make that seemingly dull time spent in the classroom worthwhile. So, sign me up bro.Check Mark

Not so fast. The final portion of the definition lists various areas of study in which I could apply my knowledge. I had to think about which area would suit me the best, and more importantly, which area would make me the happiest. I pondered each possibility. Two of my favorites: I could use physics to help build bridges to connect people, or I could use chemistry to synthesize chemicals that might be used in bombing bridges. I wasn’t getting anywhere, but I did notice something as I pondered.Bridge Image

It didn’t matter to me what project I was working on, or what I was applying my knowledge to. My primary concern was the methods used in these applications. What equations would I need to solve these problems? How could I optimize the conditions of my application? And then it hit me, as if I was standing underneath a crumbling bridge. I mainly cared about math. My passion was for mathematics.Light Bulb Math

Currently, my major is applied mathematics and statistics here at Hopkins. I am building an arsenal of mathematical tools such that I will be fully equipped to solve any engineering problem. So far I have taken two courses aiding in this goal of a filled arsenal: Calculus III and Discrete Math. I am amazed by how quickly I was able to further my love of applied math. Calculus III taught me various ways of analyzing functions that could be in any dimension, and Discrete Math taught me various ways to explain my reasoning behind these analyses. It feels amazing to me that I am already discovering the true purposes of my work in the classroom.

This is why Hopkins is a perfect fit for me. The institution appreciates this process of self-discovery through passionately following an important question. For me, I had to figure out what engineering was, and Hopkins did the rest. My advisors and professors here could not have been more helpful in guiding me to find what I truly love. As proof, professors from both previously mentioned classes have sat down with me one-on-one to help define my purpose in learning math. Of course, I am still growing and still learning more and more about myself as an engineer at heart. I am so grateful to have such knowledgeable connections at an institution that recognizes and encourages my passions and academic curiosity. Now, don’t take my understanding of the word engineering as the final say. Rather, take a look at the question yourself and see where it takes you.

Hopkins Blue Jay

Super Audio: One Student’s Quest for the Perfect Listening Experience


Name: Chris Coughlan

Year: Class of 2016

Major: Biomedical Engineering

Hometown: Kennett Square, PA

Super Audio: One Student’s Quest for the Perfect Listening Experience

It all started when I got a pair of Bose headphones over six years ago. Growing up without cable television, music had always been one of my favorite hobbies. Up until that point, though, I had always listened to my favorite tunes on stock computer speakers and cheap earbuds. The Bose headphones changed that. They weren’t even the highly touted, over-the-ear, noise-cancelling headphones everyone talks about; they were the cheaper in-ear version, similar to many earbuds. But boy-oh-boy were they different. Right off the bat, the bass response and overall music clarity struck me; it was a whole new way to experience the music I loved. I probably listened to them at least three or four hours a day for the first week I had them, and still use them today whenever I travel or work out. But I’ve since learned that the headphones I once thought were otherworldly are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to high-fidelity (or hi-fi) audio.

Until sophomore year, I had always wanted to explore the hi-fi world more, but never really had the means nor the space to make that dream a reality. But coming into my second year at Hopkins, I had made some money over the summer and finally had a place of my own big enough to put some real speakers in (it was a 2 BR apartment in Homewood). So I started by asking my Dad about the two old speakers he was storing in our basement. He said he thought they still worked and that I could have them if I wanted. I did some research and found out they were Polk Monitor 10s, from the 70s, one of the first speakers made by Polk Audio. Coincidentally, the company’s founders, Matthew Polk, George Klopfer, and Sandy Gross, all earned their degrees from Johns Hopkins, and the company’s headquarters is still located only a couple miles from campus. Proud of my discovery, I lugged the Monitor 10s down to school with me for move-in and bought a starter Yamaha receiver/amplifier to power them.

Quick aside: For any audio system, you need some basic components: the actual audio source, a receiver/processor, an amplifier, and speakers of some sort. Sometimes all of these are combined into one device, and sometimes they’re separate; it all depends. I’m mainly interested in home audio, which usually involves a source, such as an ipod/CD/DVD/blu-ray player, a receiver and an amplifier (often combined), and speakers.

When I first hooked the 10’s up, I was very happy with how they sounded. The sound was smooth, clean, and warm; I couldn’t believe I was getting such great performance out of almost forty year old speakers. But I knew better sound was available, and after consulting with my buddy, who had been working with car audio systems for years, I decided to search for what I would soon discover is the driving force behind the entire audio industry: the upgrade.

Original Polk Monitor 10 speaker (Photo courtesy of

Original Polk Monitor 10 speaker
(Photo courtesy of

I started out with what I knew and perused through Polk’s website, but soon realized that what I wanted to purchase was way out of my budget (surprise surprise). I then turned to Ebay and Amazon to try and find lightly used equipment, but, especially with shipping costs, they weren’t much better. Finally, I decided to try Craigslist – I had always heard from friends that you could find some pretty good deals there – and was pleasantly surprised. I found a complete 7.1 system that was only a few years old at a very reasonable price. Although my living room wasn’t nearly big enough for even a 5.1 system, I knew I would eventually have room for them.

Another quick aside: When classifying an audio system, the number before the decimal point is the number of speakers in the system, whereas the number afterwards is the number of subwoofers. A typical “surround sound” system is a 5.1 system, containing two “fronts,” or front speakers, one center channel speaker, two “rears,” or satellite speakers, and one subwoofer (or “sub”).

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

It was around this time that I was introduced to my favorite audio discovery to date: SACDs, or Super Audio CDs. Back in 1999, Sony introduced them, coupled with the DVD-A (or DVD-audio) format, as the “next big thing” in audio. As we all know, mp3’s were, in fact, the actual “next big thing,” and SACDs are no longer manufactured on a large scale nor readily available in stores. One of the main reasons why SACDs never took off is cost – they require a 5.1 system, a special CD (or DVD) player, and a receiver/amplifier with special processing abilities. However, many collectors and audiophiles love them. Why? Because they are incredibly unique. The vast majority of music sources are recorded and encoded in stereo, or 2-channel, sound. Thus, even if you play music on a surround sound system, you’ll only hear variations of those 2 channels. In contrast, the audio encoding in SACDs sends a unique signal to each individual speaker, allowing the listener to experience multi-channel audio. Depending on the CD, each speaker can act as an individual instrument within the recorded ensemble. The result? High quality, enveloping, de-localized sound. A friend’s father had shown me his system and played a few SACDs on it for me, and the experience was nothing short of fantastic. I immediately told myself: “I have to have this.” So, I set out to build myself an SACD-compatible system.

Ideal SACD speaker setup with “sweet spot” (Photo courtesy of

Ideal SACD speaker setup with “sweet spot”
(Photo courtesy of

Having already purchased the speakers, I initially focused on finding an SACD player. Craigslist again came up clutch, and I wound up purchasing a Sony player designed specifically for SACDs (many later models were actually marketed as DVD players that merely supported the SACD format). Then, I focused on purchasing a receiver/amplifier that could handle the multi-channel processing, and once again found a solid deal via Craigslist. Fortunately for me but unfortunately for my wallet, I decided I wasn’t yet done with my audio purchases, and it wasn’t until this past August that I made my final purchase (at least for quite some time). When the dust cleared, I had set up 4 different systems inside my current home.

Over the past year or so, I’ve researched and purchased a number of speakers, amps, subwoofers, SACD players, and other various audio equipment. I’ve met a couple great people along the way, and gained a lot of new knowledge about hi-fi audio in the process. However, I have taken two pieces of advice in particular to heart. Firstly, great sound is all about the synergy of the audio equipment and the listening environment. In other words, your system is only as good as its weakest link. Top of the line speakers are useless without the proper amp to drive them, a killer SACD player doesn’t mean squat without the proper system to showcase its abilities, and the best sound system in the world will fall flat on its face in the wrong room. If you match the components correctly, a $500 system can blow the doors off one worth ten times as much. Secondly, as an audio enthusiast, great sound is all about what you want. You could be perfectly satisfied with a system that many audiophiles would scoff at, but if it’s enough for you, then that’s all that matters. My bedroom system lacks low-end punch, my living room system has high distortion, my dining room system is underpowered, and my basement system is a piecemeal of speakers from 4 different decades. I don’t have a pre-amp in any of my systems, and none of my setups are situated in an ideal listening environment. However, all of my systems are more than enough for me at this point in my life, and I am extremely satisfied whenever I power one of them up. Do I realize that there’s better equipment out there? Sure. Will I eventually sell off my current components in favor of better ones? Probably. But, for now, I look forward to listening to each and every one of them as often as I can.

An Unusually Full Month of Queer Things


Name: Erica Taicz

Year: Class of 2016

Major: Behavioral Biology

Hometown: Seattle, WA

An Unusually Full Month of Queer Things

Hi there! I was (most likely) you in the not so distant past. The person reading about how many drinking fountains are located where in a school 2,300 miles away you might not have even applied or been accepted to yet instead of starting on a paper due tomorrow, and now I feel like I’m writing to my crazy self. Young crazy self, you need to take a seat. And read future crazy self’s beautiful guest blog. That essay can wait.ThisIsMe.jpg

Since coming to Hopkins about 500 cups of coffee ago I’ve been mostly involved with Health Leads (providing federal and community resources to patients and their families in clinical settings) and PILOT (small group tutoring). I’m from Seattle, so I consider umbrellas a pathetic substitute for waterproof skin. I’m a Nicaraguan Jew who speaks Spanish (fluently) and Hebrew (terribly). I’m an intersectional feminist. I’m a confused ex-pre-med, current maybe-pre-law cinephile who studies biology with a year left to get that mess untangled, and everything about this bothers my parents greatly. Lastly, I’m a lezzzbian, which does not bother my parents nearly as much. I identify as cis, use she/her/hers pronouns, and I prefer the term “queer” over “gay” in reference to myself.

While I could talk for ages about my annoyingly undying love of Chaplin’s Modern Times or the remarkable sun to rain to breeze ratio in Matagalpa, right now I’m going to focus on what it’s like to be LGBTQ at Hopkins. I decided to format this post as a sort of “calendar” with some of the more interesting LGBTQ things I’ve done in or around campus from October 27th to November 27th. Here goes:

October 27th Admissions Dinner

This event was hosted by the Office of LGBTQ Life at Hopkins in its brand new spiffy office! Which at the time, didn’t have any furniture, but I was just there for a holiday party and it’s all set up with as many rainbow decorations as you’re imagining multiplied by four. The purpose of the dinner was to talk about how Hopkins can better address the LGBTQ community in its admissions process and it was a chance to hear what other students thought about related articles. It was both interesting and very weird for me to think back on my relationship with my identity in high school.

The best result of the night was a tie between two free Chipotle burritos (shout out to the girl who signed up to come but didn’t, so I could take her food home for “my roommate”), and being asked to write this blog you’re reading. I decided it was a logical starting point.

October 31st Halloween in Fells Point

This one isn’t really directly related to Hopkins, but there were a few Hopkins students/recent graduates. It was a house party with mostly LGBTQ people and allies. I ended up meeting a ton of students from nearby universities, and the best result of the night was getting invited to the Big Gay Joint Birthday Turn Up Function (I ended up canceling because of my abusive relationship with passing out early with The Mindy Project on Friday nights. I loved the name of the event enough to want to include it here anyways).

The point is that there’s an LGBTQ community of students in the area outside of formally organized events. Speaking of those formally organized events. I’ll talk about a few of them in a bit, but here are two of the flashy ones which involve other schools. The Inter-Hopkins LGBTQ “Ball” happens in the spring and combines all the Hopkins affiliated schools (The School of Medicine, Peabody, Whiting Engineering, etc…). Also in the spring is B’More Proud, which involves any Baltimore area university students and is a day of all the gay activities your heart desires, like watching Paris is Burning and listening to Tegan and Sara. But not quite.

November 6th and November 16th SafeZone TrainingSZsig

This is a program which invites members of the Hopkins community to come and talk about the LGBTQ community for three hours. It covers the basics of sex/gender/sexual orientation distinctions and terminology, as well as ways to be a more effective ally regardless of how you identify yourself. I’m a facilitator for the discussions and there are many rewarding moments, mostly related to hearing personal stories or having Demere (the LGBTQ life director) reliably laugh at my lame, dry jokes when no one else does.

November 7th Town in DC with DSAGATown.jpg

DSAGA stands for Diverse Sexuality and Gender Alliance, the LGBTQ student group on campus which cleverly removes any future need to add on or change letters. They have weekly meetings dealing with everything from coming out to queer representation in the media. Generally the first meeting every year has enough student turn out to make the room a sort of hybrid sauna with a chalkboard.

They host events like this one, which also invited students from Peabody (the JHU music conservatory) to go to Town, a gay club. The first hour or so is a drag show and then people usually go upstairs and do the clubbing thing. It’s a good time with some of the most fabulous people at Hopkins packed together niiiice and tight.

November 15th Coffee, Coffee, Coffee, Coffee

10733956_716149458434610_7526018427006721516_nI’m going to stretch the definition of what to include in this calendar, but on the 15th I got coffee with a graduate student who’s one of my SafeZone co-facilitators. The point here is to mention that Hopkins has a few formal mentoring programs through the LGBTQ office and DSAGA, but I’ve found that most of the older students are game to help just about anyone who asks nicely and/or desperately enough.

More coffee! On the 15th I also went to a DSAGA event, this time involving a showcase of artsy performances. There was poetry, singing, and a one man show involving “Julie” Caesar. I performed some slam poetry myself. You can’t see me, but I’m wearing a turtleneck and a beret right now (jk, I’m wearing fuzzy pajamas and a yamaka).


November 27th Brosgiving 2.0

I spent Thanksgiving at Hopkins with friends and about half of the group identifies as LGBTQ, so I decided to add it in. I wanted a nice round month from one 27th to the next, so yes, it’s a bit of a stretch yet again. I watched 3 hours of RuPaul’s Drag Race on the same day to make it gayer for you guys.

During this month, there were also events I didn’t go to. oSTEM (Out in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) had a conference (November 7th- 9th). Cheryl Clarke came to Hopkins for an event, Living as a Lesbian, hosted by the Department of Women and Gender Studies, the Center for Africana Studies, and the LGBTQ Life office (November 12rd). I’m sure there were others. The point is that there are never enough ways to occupy your time with fun gay things, but Hopkins puts forth an effort.

I’d like to wrap things up by referencing two Hopkins alums:389652_352323081483918_1380510476_n

The first is Bob Weatherford, who recently graduated but not before writing an eloquent letter about homophobia at Hopkins. Fear not, he talks about the many positive experiences he’s had. Regardless, it’s important to be critical, and he writes about improving on a general “culture of acceptance”.

The second is Ben Panico, the only kinda-celebrity I can say I kinda-know. He’s in the Huffington Post, the Advocate, the Washington Blade, and TIME’s 100 Most Influential People. One of those may be just a prediction. Besides being awesome at life, he’s also the only openly Trans staffer on Capitol Hill. Read about it! All your friends already read it. He also came back to speak to DSAGA on November 17th, which fits in my calendar as well (yay).

Feel like you’d like to find out more about BLGTQQP2SIAA things at Hopkins? I gotchu covered:

I can’t find a picture of it, but there was a rainbow flag hanging from the Breezeway (the white arches pictured in the background of the photo above) for either the entirety of last fall semester, or a good portion of it. It didn’t make sense to me for the longest time why Hopkins would just have it hanging there for so long. There didn’t appear to be a reason. Every day I saw it, I thought that it’d be the last day before they took it down. But it just chilled there for months.

And more so than any of the functions or groups I’ve mentioned, that flag left on the Breezeway for what some considered to be an uncomfortably long amount of time is the main reason I think Hopkins is doing a pretty decent job at supporting its entire community.


Rebel Without a Campsite


Name: Ivar Ogden

Year: Class of 2016

Major: Behavioral Biology and Psychology

Hometown: Hamilton, MT

Rebel Without A Campsite

So, I miss the outdoors, and while there is a chance for me to still go outside and enjoy the parks and hiking spots around Hopkins and Baltimore, I must also begin studying for finals (lord know I need to). Since I am a Hopkins student, I must use my resourcefulness and ingenuity to fulfill my desire.

I have a tent just sitting in my room that I asked my parents to send me.  I’m not sure why I asked for it, but I have it. It has been my favorite tent for quite some time. I used to take it to swim meets when I swam for Bitterroot Swim Team in the Montana Swim Federation. Most of the public swimming pools had grassy parks around them and since we only swam in the summer, it was federation standard that people camped in the parks instead of in hotels like some of you “city-swimmers”. And, although the rain fly of my tent was inefficient for the unpredictable Montana weather and I sometimes woke up partially covered in rain, this tent will suit my purpose.

As well as an outdoors enthusiast, I am also an RA, and tonight I am on e-duty. On regular duty, RAs go on rounds (check common spaces to make sure everyone is safe), deal with lockouts, and sit in their rooms for students who need help. When an RA goes on rounds they call the RA on e-duty. The e-duty RA is also a liaison between the RAs and Security. E-duty has a special lounge that doubles as the AMR Office of Residential Life; it is naturally called “the e-duty lounge”. I am here from 8pm to 1 am.

What’s stopping me from bringing my tent and sleeping bag to the e-duty lounge? Other people may judge my actions as odd, but I don’t need validation from strangers and those who know me should understand me by now. So, I brought my tent and sleeping bag to e-duty. It was great.

Me in my tent in my office.

Me in my tent in my office

I wish that this story had more conflict or some kind of rising or falling action. The morale of the story is essentially that I wanted to do something and I did it despite what people may say. But isn’t that what college really is? We find ways to make seemingly mundane tasks interesting. We fulfill our fleeting desires while also accomplishing our duties. It’s definitely the kind of axiom that has dictated my life at Hopkins.

Our view of the wilderness beyond.

Our view of the wilderness beyond

Ballet and Me: A Love Story


Name: Victoria Dawe

Year: Class of 2015

Major: Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Hometown: Rome, Italy

Ballet and Me: A Love Story

When I quit ballet after middle school, I wasn’t particularly sad to say goodbye. I knew it wasn’t going to be my career and I figured there were other things in the world I would manage to fall in love with as well. I was thirteen, and thought I had all the time in the world to grow up and figure it out. Fast forward seven years, and here I am in my senior year at Hopkins, producing (and dancing in) JHU Ballet’s Nutcracker, realizing that my love affair with ballet will never really be over. Ballet and I have been off and on my entire life. High school me thought I was finally done with it: done with long rehearsals, endless pairs of pointe shoes, and constantly being sore. College me was somehow sucked back in, and realized I can’t live without it: the feeling you get from landing a double pirouette, the butterflies as you wait in the wings, or the thrill of being on stage performing.


My ballet career – then and now

The first week of freshman year I attended the Student Activities Fair and walked right by the Ballet Company’s table with no intention of stopping. Ballet and I had broken up a while ago, and I was over it. Or so I told myself. I guess my eyes lingered on their poster for too long, because the upperclassmen stopped me and bombarded me with flyers and class schedules and the next thing I knew I had my hair in a bun and was doing plies at the barre one week later. Ballet and I were back together.

If there’s anything that Hopkins has taught me, it’s to have an open mind. In your four years here, you will be presented with so many opportunities that you’ve never had before and I honestly think the biggest mistake you could make is to not take advantage of them. Whether it’s in regard to your schoolwork or your extracurriculars or your life philosophy in general, it’s always important to be open to change. I’m currently a Chemical and Biomolecular Engineer minoring in Entrepreneurship and Management. I knew I always liked math and science, but if you had told me in high school that I would have a business minor, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. But after taking a couple classes in the department for the fun of it, I realized that this is actually something I’m really interested in.​ And the same can be said for the reason I got involved in ballet again. I almost skipped my first ever Hopkins Ballet class, until my friend reminded me that I should just try it out because “why not?”


My two most recent performances with Hopkins Ballet

My two most recent performances with Hopkins Ballet

I spent this past summer interning at The Washington Ballet, and it was honestly the best way to spend three months. I was located at their community outreach campus in Southeast DC, which focuses on bringing dance to people of all ages who may not otherwise have the opportunity to be exposed to it. It was so inspiring to be surrounded by people who love ballet as much as me and have the same relationship with it that I do: people who understand that it’s not only good for your body but good for your soul, and people who get that there’s no real way to put your love for it into words. Any given day at work was different, and I did everything from organizing costumes to assistant teaching to editing video footage to archiving old photos and press materials to interviewing dancers and even getting to take free adult dance classes.

Interns and staff from my summer at The Washington Ballet

Interns and staff from my summer at The Washington Ballet

Some of TWB’s students

Some of TWB’s students

I learned so much about the ballet world that I didn’t know before, and I learned more about myself and my dreams than I thought possible for a summer. I don’t quite know what I want to do when I graduate in less than a year, but after this summer, I know I want it to be ballet or performing arts related.

They say you never forget your first love, and I definitely won’t. There’s something about ballet that will always keep me coming back for more.

Making A Home Away From Home


Name: Elsheba Abraham

Year: Class of 2016

Major: Behavioral Biology

Hometown: Subang Jaya, Malaysia

Making A Home Away From Home

            It’s true when they say that college is a big step for everyone. It’s usually the first time we have to truly live apart from our family, make friends all over again from scratch, and simply learn to live independently from day to day.  However, the independence part of the college experience is intensified for all us international kids who often have to travel over several time zones to finally get to college. Though the process of getting to the US was complex enough, the real challenge begins when we actually get to the campus we all worked so hard for.

When I came from Malaysia to Hopkins in Fall 2012 as a doe-eyed, impressionable freshman, I had no idea what to expect coming in. A tip for you all foreigners: life in Hopkins is not exactly the same as the college life you see portrayed on TV (which could be a good thing or a bad one, depending on where you stand). First important lesson I learnt in Hopkins? College is what you make out of it. For me, that meant having a good set of friends who understood me and knew the importance of both studying and enjoying ourselves. Fortunately, making friends in the first semester wasn’t as difficult as I expected, since everyone was equally as eager to get settled in. From my Peer Ambassador group to classes, I somehow managed to find friends that I could get along with. However, my closest set of friends came from the people I lived with (Wolman 6 West!) and my dance group, JHU Eclectics.

JHU Eclectics

JHU Eclectics

With everyone having his or her own schedule in college and always running from one place to another, it’s easy to get lost in the chaos. That’s why my floormates and my dance group were (and still are) two very important anchors that kept me grounded especially through the craziness of Freshman year. My friends in 6 West were the people I came back to everyday after a long day on campus, and I saw my friends in Eclectics at least 3 times a week – with that much time spent together it didn’t take a long time for me to consider these people my second family.

Wolman 6 West

Wolman 6 West

As an international student that flew (literally) halfway across the world for college, another inevitable question that usually pops up is this: how did I learn to adapt to a lifestyle that was utterly foreign to me? Here comes the second important lesson that I learnt here: you must learn the right balance between being proud of your culture, and being ready to adjust to the lifestyle here. This was a little more difficult to handle, since it’s easy to get overcome by the (generally) strong and distinctive personalities we find here. However in my experience, people are usually as eager to learn about your culture, as they are to share things about their lives. Through time, I learnt to embrace the person I already was, but at the same time was open to learning other American idiosyncrasies that I usually found both strange yet compelling.

After two years here in Hopkins, I admit everyday is still a learning process. The first few weeks especially are always the hardest, you can’t escape that – but confidence in yourself and an open mind really does make things easier over time. With the right attitude, I really believe that every day in Hopkins can be better than the last.

The Bluejay That Almost Wasn’t


Name: Catherine Orlando

Year: Class of 2018

Hometown: Harrison, NY

Intended Path of Study: Neuroscience

The Bluejay That Almost Wasn’t

“I’m really starting to worry that you won’t fit.”

This one-liner has been playing on repeat on my house since the first college item was purchased. First, the implication is not that all of my worldly possessions won’t fit, it’s that me, my person, won’t fit. Second, the first item was a 3.5″ x 4″ wallet, so I’m not exactly sure why this item in particular had my family so worried about my ‘fit.’

Clearly I can fit into small spaces with adequate food and water for survival.

Clearly I can fit into small spaces with adequate food and water for survival.

These jokes led to seriously real closet clean outs. The first to go? Tee shirts from other college campuses. I mean why keep them? Going to the dream school, there will be plenty of tee shirts there, why keep a shirt from a school I didn’t even like all that much? But I stumble upon a few, from college road trips, that remind me of one thing:

Hopkins is the school that almost wasn’t.

Now, I know what you’re thinking–Catie found a shirt from Yale and well, Yale was her first choice Hopkins was her second, Yale denied her and Hopkins didn’t. Nope. Or, Catie found a shirt from Stanford and thought about what a tough decision it was after they both accepted her. Incorrect (I did not even apply to Stanford, for the record). Or maybe, she found a Duke sweatshirt and well–regardless, none of these things happened. I like to think that my story is much more humorous (in retrospect at least) and slightly less commonplace.

University of Pennsylvania. You go on a tour their and the guides wear microphones  on their jacket lapels because it’s an Ivy and every tour is jam packed, and they babble about that toast story—actually a good one if you haven’t heard it, but not my story, you won’t hear it here. My parents always pushed me towards the front of the crowd, “you’re young! Hustle to the front and tell us all that you hear,” so of course I was doing that on the 12th (12th?) college trip on a 2 week spring break. Fun vacation, right?

I get a call from my father (here, for a time, it gets moderately not so funny, but bear with me) “come back,” he says, “I’m sick.” I’m baffled. Sick? I turn and I walk back 100, 200 yards, I find him on a bench, and my mother at the famed blue light system. I go to her first. She’s frantic. “My husband needs an ambulance, he’s having a heart attack,” of course this is all news to me, but I’m moderately okay at this point, people survive heart attacks all the time, and more importantly the blue light system will pull us through! (Keep in mind, I was going on two weeks of daily preaching of the glory of the blue light system).

I go to him. He’s calm, “I’m really fine.” Well now.

What happens next is funny (not funny then, funny now, only in retrospect).  It’s been five minutes, the blue light has honestly failed us (if I were dying, I’d be dead!) and a security guard saunters out of a building, students are watching, I hate being a spectacle. “You need an ambulance?” The degree to which this guy was probably naturally aloof wasn’t helping him, because my mother, as I mentioned, was frantic, and he was not cutting it. “A truck is coming.”

A truck!

We turn, and there in the middle of UPenn’s quad is a fire truck, my dad’s name on it. Three firemen, again aloof, no sense of urgency, come on out, defibrillator in hand, and walk our way.

Aerial view oriented diagram of exactly what happened to us and where the truck was.

Aerial view oriented diagram of exactly what happened to us and where the truck was.

I’m pacing, I’m nervous, they’re making jokes. “You’re having a heart attack because your daughter’s going to college.” “You’re having a heart attack because you saw the bill!” “You’re having a heart attack because the Rangers can’t beat the Flyers this year!” (We are big New York Rangers fans). I was appalled, horrified, and only moderately amused.

Long story short, a day in the hospital to find there was no heart attack, maybe an arrhythmia, eliminated any chance of getting to Hopkins the next day, our last school to visit on spring break. And so we forgot Hopkins for some time.

August in New York isn’t hot, it’s encasing—it’s like walking through syrup every time you step outside. And it was only in this August heat that Johns Hopkins was remembered for the first time since my father’s heart ‘episode.’

Here I am, walking through syrup (not exactly what I meant earlier).

Here I am, walking through syrup (not exactly what I meant earlier).

Now when you’re applying to school you have parents and a counselor and teachers and friends and tutors all with opinions, so when the subject of Hopkins was breached with my dear college counselor, she sternly objected to it. “You need three SAT2s and you’ve only taken one and you’ve only studied for a second. You can’t apply there, don’t bother visiting.”

And just like that, my entire future could’ve been different. But I thought this was odd, it wasn’t one of he the schools well known for needing three subject tests, so we called admissions. “Oh no, you don’t need three, three is the maximum! Kids used to submit too many.”

So. Now arose a different problem, a crisis of self-esteem if you will. How can I possibly get into a school where kids are submitting ten SAT2s and I can barely take two? Why bother visiting when I won’t get in?

I have now, at this point in the story, my mother to thank for pushing the visit. We went, we loved it–everyone was nice; they all loved science and goofy anecdotes as much as I did and the general college details (urban setting, mid-size, etc.) were all right! And I decided I would ED to Cornell.


Not what any of you were expecting right? I know, I’m a loose canon. Gotta keep y’all on your toes.

So Cornell. I’d only visited a year before, and decided on a whim, really, and then I was set. I was all Cornell all the time. I wrote my supplement in a day, we visited again, I did research upon research. I was ready to be part of the Big Red.

But Hopkins was always there, in the back of my mind (an unscratchable itch, if you will). I still went to info sessions nearby (you have to show interest!) and at one point I found myself praying I would get denied by Cornell in ED, just so I could apply to JHU regular decision. Maybe a week before November 8th (not November 1st—the common app caused delays, remember?) everything changed at an information session in Norwalk, Connecticut.

Midway through I began reworking my Cornell supp, to see if it could answer Hopkins’ question. I started doing necessary research to add to my essay, I had an essay, and then I turned to my parents and said, “I have a better essay, it’s not for Cornell.”

And we were whisked into action and changing things and changing mentalities and being sure and what a midnight decision this was and was I sure I was so gung-ho on Cornell I’ve only see Hopkins once and we have to get an interview even if it’s after the application deadline then you can see it twice and…

On the morning of December 13th, 2013 (Friday the 13th, thanks, admissions for that extra dose of panic) I received an email from a Hopkins alumnus requesting an interview with me. I showed it to my parents and thought that it must’ve meant I wasn’t in (now I don’t really know why this was the logical conclusion but I thought it was a sign for sure).

Now, I don’t need to describe in full detail getting in and flailing and falling over and crying (I’m a spaz, picture a gangly spaz doing spazzy things while crying) because, well, y’all already know I’m in! There’s no plot twist at the end of this blog post, and you know the ending of the story before it begins.

But what you still don’t know is what I found hiding in my closet that reminded me of how close I came to not being a part of the JHU class of 2018. And I find, out of all the college paraphernalia, the UPenn shirt the most difficult to part with, as it is the beginning of my Hopkins story, the beginning of my Hopkins adventure, and very nearly the end. Ironic that a memento of the first place where the universe conspired against my going to Johns Hopkins, is found as I pack for my future in Baltimore.

The beginning and the end (I did eventually pick up some Hopkins gear as well–go Bluejays!).

The beginning and the end (I did eventually pick up some Hopkins gear as well–go Bluejays!).

Hello, my name is…


Name: Huixin Liu

Year: Class of 2018

Hometown: Sugar Land, TX

Intended Path of Study: International Studies

Hello, my name is…

When I got my college letters, I thought it would be the hardest choice of my life. Though I knew near from the outset that I wanted to be at Hopkins, I had to conquer a lot of doubt from my parents, my friends, and myself before I gathered the conviction to commit. When I finally submitted the form, I felt as if an immense weight composed of tense conversations and doubtful queries was ripped clear from my body. For the first time in an entire month, I felt at peace. I thought I had made the hardest decision ever in my life.

You know its official when your mother redecorates the alcove.

I was wrong. Names are so much harder.

I was born in Tianjin, China. My aunt was the one who found my name. She submitted my birth details to a certain agency that used my information to calculate the most appropriate name possible. They came up with two options, 刘博 (Liu Buo), and 刘惠昕 (Liu Huixin).

My parents chose the latter, simply because it sounded more feminine, and I’ve been Huixin ever since.

I was an adorable (and fat) baby.

Well, that’s not quite true. In China, I was 惠昕. It’s a rather pretty name, pronounced “Hwei-shin,” holding meaning about things like “kindness,” and “blessing.” It’s not overwhelmingly common, but it’s not strange, either. Not quite the American “Mary,” or “Jennifer,” but no “Apple,” either. It’s a good name.

When I immigrated to the States, I became Huixin. It’s just the pinyin of my Chinese name, but it didn’t stay just a simple romanization. After years of trying and years of being called multiple incorrect versions of one name I quit trying and began asking everyone to call me by the most popular mispronunciation, “Hickson.” Yes, it rhymes with Nixon. Yes, it’s also a rather amusing way to combine both President Jackson and his nickname, “Old Hickory,” into a convenient homage. Yeah, it’s not just a simple romanization, it’s a complete wrenching of sound and meaning.

Yet, I couldn’t let go of it.

My parents have made intermittent efforts to get me to consider changing my name, but I’ve always refused, to their consternation. I wasn’t making the popular choice. Very few of my Chinese friends have kept their Chinese names. I don’t know why they do it, and I do not have a desire to make any assumptions. I only know why I kept my name. I kept my name out of a sort of desire to keep part of myself, to remain true to my origins after moving to a place that changed my life, my habits, and my beliefs so thoroughly. I kept it as an homage, as proof of my past.

However, I’ve recently realized that my name and I are not doing each other justice.

I don’t deserve a name that runs like a jagged piece of glass through every introduction I experience. I don’t deserve to have to hear former President Nixon brought up constantly in conjunction with my name. And I certainly do not deserve the certain snide remarks of friends and authority figures alike wondering aloud to me about why I didn’t get a “normal, American,” name.

My name doesn’t deserve me, either. My name doesn’t deserve someone who actively masks and defaces it for the sake of convenience. My name doesn’t deserve someone who, at the start of every first roll call, rolls her eyes and responds with the wretched mispronunciation in a curt tone that suggests that her name is nothing more than a burden, an annoyance. My name, the name that means “kindness” and “blessing” underneath it all, certainly deserves kindness towards it too.

And this is why, after over a decade as Huixin, I’ve made the hardest decision of my life. I’m finally going to change the name that has followed me for so long through thick and thin, through all the highs and lows. I’m changing my name to give the both of us a chance to be better to ourselves, and to each other.

Unfortunately, this is an incomplete Extreme Makeover episode, and I have no final satisfying name-reveal complete with sparkles and heartfelt music. This is because I still haven’t figured out my new name.

There’s a lot of things to consider for my new name. It can’t be the name of a friend in my close friend circle, as it would be too jarring. It can’t be a name my parents cannot pronounce, as they’ll be introducing me as that in polite company for the rest of their lives. I really want it to start with an H, just so I have a connection. And really, at the end of the day, I just have to really be able to see myself in it. I now truly understand why there are so many baby name resources out there, as I certainly need all of them and several days of further discussion before I finally fall on the right name. But, you know what, I’m not scared!

I used to think that so much of my identity revolved around my name, around its story, around its difficulties. It doesn’t! Sure, my name is a part of my identity, and it has probably played more of a role in my life than names generally should be playing. However, I’ve realized that my name isn’t the end-all be-all foundation of my personality. I made “Hickson;” “Hickson” did not make me, and no matter what I end up calling myself at the end of the day, I’ll still just be me, only with less X’s.

So, if you see me on campus this fall, feel free to say hi. I’ll be more than ready to say back, “Hello, my name is…”

But don’t ask me right now, I have no clue.

The Secret Waitlist


Name: Joanna Schneider

Year: Class of 2018

Hometown: Little Neck, NY

Intended Path of Study: Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Vocal Performance

The Secret Waitlist

On May 16, 2014, at exactly 11:00AM, my phone buzzed once, but I didn’t hear it or feel it.

So maybe it didn’t actually happen.

I’ve always told people that I like to live in this “place of not knowing.” It reminds me of the phrase “out of sight, out of mind.” It’s like the old cliché, if a tree falls in a forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it really make a sound? It’s even a bit similar to the theory of Schrödinger’s cat (but let’s not debate that one because a cat can’t be alive and dead at the same time). I just like the idea of possibilities, hoping for the best, and living in ignorant bliss for a little while. It can work for the college application process, the SAT, a risky text message awaiting response, you name it.

When I was possessed to check my phone during the change between 5th and 6th periods on May 16th, I didn’t know that I was living in that place of not knowing. I was really just looking for something to pass the time, so I swiped my finger down the e-mail application to update it, and with one glorious buzz that signified an incoming message, my life changed.

That sentence seems a bit melodramatic, but there’s a backstory, and it really did change my life.

Now before you jump to conclusions, I was not put on the wait list at Hopkins. On Friday, March 28, I woke up on the most harrowing day of my life with 20,000 other hopeful applicants, and my voice was 100% gone. Not only was this the day that Hopkins released its decision, but it was also the opening night of my school’s annual opera. I was completely unable to sing and I couldn’t voice my terror to anyone. The stress was so exhausting that I fell asleep on my friend’s couch after a half day at school, but not before setting an alarm for 2:58PM so I could get log on to the Johns Hopkins decision site at 3:00PM. I accidentally logged in a minute early, but instead of the error screen I was expecting, I saw the biggest, happiest, most perfect “Yes!”

Some variation of this face and dance combination was happening for hours.

I was filled to bursting and honestly did not think that life could get any better when I let out the strangest, most blood-curdling victory scream of my life. It signified the end of a horrible period of stress and sadness and loneliness to make way for joy and relief. That was also the moment that I realized my voice was back. I cried tears of joy with my two best friends and called my mother, my voice now hoarse from screaming. We exchanged happy tears and promptly told everybody we knew (which is only natural, as I quite possibly have the loudest family on the planet). Only a handful of teenagers across the country shared my Hopkins-induced happiness that day, and for that I could not have been more grateful.

Before you think that this all sounds like a fairytale ending, here’s where it gets interesting. I was not just waiting for a decision from the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences or the Whiting School of Engineering at Johns Hopkins University — I was also waiting for my decision from Peabody Conservatory. I have been singing classical music — yes, opera — for almost ten years, and I’m one of those crazy kids who refused to decide between a life of music or academia, so I applied for the Double Degree program.

As if applying to college hadn’t already been hard enough.

On April 1st, I received an e-mail notifying me that I was accepted into Peabody Conservatory and another that promptly followed it, rejecting me from the program that would allow me to combine the two.


I had been accepted to Homewood and Peabody, but I couldn’t do both. I hadn’t been expecting to get in to my two dream schools, but I also wasn’t expecting to get so close.

That was when I realized I had to make the choice for the first time in my life. I was lucky enough to attend an arts high school, where it was completely normal to fangirl over both Neil deGrasse Tyson and Neil Young. It’s been a balancing game between music and science for as long as I can remember and here was where it would abruptly end. It was entirely out of my hands, and in the end, I decided to accept my place on the Homewood campus.

Don’t get me wrong, I was ecstatic to be accepted into Hopkins in any capacity, but the thought of not singing in a choir every day and never having to learn how to pronounce the lied of a German art song again made me feel hollow. SOHOP, the beauty of the Homewood campus, and my music teachers were all reminders of the limitless possibilities that the future held. I was finally beginning to come to terms with my decision when May 16th rolled around.

Unassuming, insignificant little May 16th.

The subject line of the e-mail read “Acceptance to JHU Double Degree.” I tapped it with one shaky finger. The message was short and simple.molly1

It was too surreal to believe.

It was too surreal to believe.

I flew out of my math class, my friend Rachel following suit in mid-text with my friend Izzy, who appeared moments later. I ran a lap around the floor and collapsed in a stairwell to catch my breath. I ran back to class where my teacher was still setting up the projector to put on Mel Brooks’s “Young Frankenstein” like it was a normal day. My friend Jared turned to me to ask what happened.

Igor knew how I was feeling.

“I got accepted into the Double Degree Program,” I managed to squeak.

“What? Congrats! I didn’t know you were on a wait list!” he replied.

“I wasn’t.”

And it was the most wonderful reward after a month and a half of living in that place of not knowing (without knowing it).