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Sweet Escape

The signs have been up since…forever. Everyone who I’d talked to said it was the thing I couldn’t miss if I was staying in Baltimore over the summer: Artscape.

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The festival started on UB’s campus and extended into MICA’s campus and around those streets!

So my levels of excitement for Artscape were initially elevated by the fact that the name was a pun (I absolutely want to escape into art with you, Charm City! wait that is the pun, right? Otherwise this is really embarrassing), but were further justified when I heard everyone talk about it.  I’m not in any terms an expert on art, in fact, I don’t even think I can consider myself an actual beginner on art, but I love it. I love looking at artwork, whether it’s famously old or new, or whether it’s my neighbor’s shy and secret hobby turning everyday items into things of beauty.

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View from top of Ferris Wheel ft. Artscape sign

So naturally, I bugged my friends about it starting at the very beginning of the summer. I essentially chanted over and over again about the importance of this art festival, and probably annoyed them with my healthy obsession with it…but whatever, because this weekend, Artscape was finally here! And I wasn’t let down.

The preparations started in the middle of the week, as N. Charles and adjacent streets where the festival would be taking place, were closed off to traffic…which caused a little bit ( a LOT BIT) of a traffic jam in the rest of the city, but it’s all good. Though I don’t think I’m ever going to forget the guy who jumped out of the JHMI shuttle I was riding to run to Penn Station, weaving in and out of cars in the standstill traffic, so he wouldn’t miss his train…I really hope he made it. Tents started going up, the Ferris Wheel was set up at Penn Station, and then it was Friday and the festival had begun.

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Turtle made completely out of plastic shopping bags!

I honestly didn’t expect the festival to be as big as it was. There were rows and rows of tents with unique and different styles of art, whether it was painting, photography, paper prints, art from recycled materials, handmade jewelry, glass art, you name it. I was in awe of all the creativity and desperately wished I had a house so I could buy some of the pieces and display them proudly.  My favorite stalls were hands down the artist that made clocks out of recycled and pressed glass bottles, and the artist that made beautiful pencil sketches on canvas.  However, the stalls weren’t the only art.  There were sculptures on the streets, musicians showing off their talents, and even some Aerial Dancers! To top it off, there was an entire street of just food stands, which was deliciously wonderful.  All in all, I absolutely loved it and highly recommend it if you’re ever in Baltimore for the summer. I know for sure that I will be going again.

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Beautiful pencil sketch

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Sculptures carved into books LOVED THEM WANT THEM ALL

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Yummy food

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Top of ferris wheel view of Baltimore ft. my lovely friend Samantha

p.s. Sorry for the obscene amount of pics at the end…there are more but because of horrible formatting I won’t upload them all

p.p.s. Sorry for the Blog title, the song was stuck in my head

Budapest at night is not too shabby

Hungary For a Vacation!

The second best part of any summer break (after sleeping in of course) is going on vacation. Most summers instead of going to some exotic, tropical, locale, my family spend 2-3 weeks in Hungary, the small, land-locked, country in Eastern Europe. While noticeably lacking in both palm trees and pina coladas, Hungary is special for our family. Hungary is where I was born, and where both my parents lived before deciding to move to the US. All of our extended family, grandparents, uncles, and an absurd amount of cousins still live here, so we try to come back as often as possible. These past two weeks I’ve been splitting my time between my grandparent’s apartment in Budapest, and their summer house at the Lake Balaton.
Trips to Hungary are always chock full of programs, imagine trying to condense seeing all your family members and friends whom you haven’t seen in a year, into the span of two weeks. It can get a little bit overwhelming, but at the same time keeps us on our toes.

Budapest at night is not too shabby

Budapest at night is not too shabby

The biggest program scheduled for our stay was my grandfather’s 80th birthday. A well-known journalist, his garden party was the first time all of his grandchildren had been under the same roof. It was an exciting event for sure, and the catered traditional Hungarian food* certainly didn’t hurt.

Soon after the birthday celebration, we went down to spend a week on the Balaton. Despite being only an hour away from the hustle and bustle of a major city like Budapest, life at the lake is a complete 180. Everything there moves at a much slower pace. If you say you’ll meet someone at the beach in half an hour, in Balaton terms that means you’ll end up starting the walk three hours later, after a large lunch and even larger nap. Definitely not a bad way to live.

Summertime, the living is definitely easy

Summertime, the living is definitely easy

Aside from being together with all the family, my highlight of the summer was the Kek Szalag, a regatta I took part in for the first time on my uncle’s boat. Having limited sailing experience (none), I was a little nervous to be taking part in a race that on average takes about 30 hours to complete. Under extremely stormy conditions, we were able to finish the race in only 15 hours, 7 of which were spent completely soaked. Sailing was like nothing I’d ever done before. My uncle’s boat was small enough that given the strength of the wind, every passengers’ body weight made a difference in how the boat sailed. For 15 hours we had to run back and forth across the boat, looking for the optimal balance point. Being “on” for 15 hours straight was certainly tiring, but it was also a thrill I’d never had before. While sunny weather may have been preferable to being drenched by the rain, the race was worth getting wet.

Pre Race Photoshoot

Pre Race Photoshoot

If anything, one of the hardest parts of being away at Hopkins is being separated from my immediate family. As an immigrant, that’s an everyday reality with my extended family. Getting to finally be together with everyone, a rare occasion, means the world. It’s not the big events that matter the most. It’s not the large family gatherings that stick with me. Rather the smaller everyday interactions that I miss out on. Waking up and eating breakfast with my grandpa, going grocery shopping with my uncle, it’s the little things that I don’t get over the course of most of the year that really make me feel at home.

Nothing like family

Nothing like family

Wild ponies crossing the dunes

Summer in (and around) the City

I’ve never liked summer. It meant hot, humid, sticky days. It meant grueling training and practice miles for the field hockey season. It meant chores and forced summer reading. It meant friends all being away on vacation. It meant Back to School commercials in late June. It meant hot pavement and grass stains. It meant mosquito bites on my ankles and gnats stuck to my arms. Summer is the worst.

Or popcorn with truffle oil...

Or popcorn with truffle oil…

I’m the kind of person who needs structure otherwise I have no idea what to do with myself. During the school year, I’m busy as a bee, running from class to clubs to friends to food before I can even realize how tired I am. Summer gives me way too much freedom, which usually just translates to boredom and/or laziness. The days that I didn’t spend away at field hockey camp were spent eating Bugles with a side of Toddlers & Tiaras. But I hereby declare Summer 2014 for being successful—or a lesson, at least, in how to fill my days with fun. There’s still be plenty of TV bingeing (World Cup, Breaking Bad round two, Orange is the New Black, Jeopardy!, Season 7 of my beloved Toddlers & Tiaras…), but I’ve also managed to be a normal kid (oops—young adult. Scary.) and get myself out there, enjoying myself and my summer.

Reconnecting with Friends

Liz, me, and Greta in Fells Point

Liz, me, and Greta in Fells Point

I will be the first person to say that I didn’t have a real spiritual connection with my high school. I could really care less about say—ehh—90% of the people who went there. But I did have some really awesome, amazing friends who I miss so much during the school year because they decided to go flee Baltimore in favor of colder weather. I forgive them, but I’m still bitter. I adore my Hopkins friends, but it was refreshing to hang out with people who understand my hometown and all of its bizarre idiosyncrasies. We gossiped, we reminisced, we ate sushi, we got really lost downtown. It was so much fun. And I don’t want them to return to their respective tundras.

Me + Panda

Me + Panda

Day Trips

I’m really obsessed with animals. Ever since I could cognitively understand the difference between humans and our wild counterparts, I have heavily favored the latter. Find any of my kindergarten through eighth grade work; I was determined to become a zookeeper. But high school Biology hit and then I realized that my talents were definitely better invested elsewhere. I might not ever be able to tend to animals, but I can certainly still stare at them creepily from behind the glass and make crazy faces in an attempt to gain their attention.

I'm obsessed with lemurs and I cried when I saw this lil guy

I’m obsessed with lemurs and I cried when I saw this lil guy

I love DC, and it’s such an easy little hop away via the $7 MARC train. Sam and I are experts at navigating the city, and we love going to the museums. The Metro ride from Union Station to Woodley Park was a quick trip, and then after a short walk, we made it to the zoo. A little advice: I’ve gone to the Baltimore Zoo ever since I was a wee one, but in the last few years, it’s unfortunately been downsized a lot and it’s no longer quite the zoo it used to be. I really recommend spending your time and your money at the Washington Zoo. (I’m sorry, Baltimore critters. Don’t hate me.)

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Weekend Trips

I’m probably the worst American ever because I had never really been to New York? I went on a small touristy day field trip in high school once, but I’m not counting that because I had no idea what I was doing. We went to a wax museum. It was weird. My dad gave me train tickets for my birthday back in October, and I finally got around to using them! I took the Amtrak Northeast Regional up, and my friend Nicole and her boyfriend Tony treated me to an amazing jam-packed weekend! I got the full treatment: burgers from Shake Shack, a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a walk around Central Park, the view from the top of Rockefeller Plaza, and dinner in Chinatown.

And—of course—a bagel for breakfast the next morning before my train home.

View from the Top of the Rock

View from the Top of the Rock

New York is so infinitely different from Baltimore. When I first stepped out of NY Penn Station, I was really startled by the noise and the crowds. I felt very, very lost. It was hard for me to believe that my second choice school was right in the heart of New York! Nicole and Tony were the perfect guides, though, and definitely helped me to understand the bustling city. There’s no way I saw all that New York has to offer in 24 hours, though, so I plan on going back again soon for round two!

Sam skimboarding

Sam skimboarding

Beach Trips

I was lying a little bit when I said that I totally hate summer. Not total hate—just a little hate. Summer means trips to Assateague Island, one of my favorite places in the whole world. It’s a National Seashore and the most beautiful beach I’ve ever been to. It may not have crystal blue water or beach cabanas with slushy, cold drinks. But Assateague, as a protected shoreline, looks the same way it did one hundred years ago. There are soft dunes and wild ponies that graze along the park. Plus, no buildings to infect the view!

Wild ponies crossing the dunes

Wild ponies crossing the dunes

For the 4th of July, as usual, my family journeyed down to the Eastern Shore of Maryland and visited my grandparents, who live conveniently close to Assateague. Saturday morning, we woke up at 6 to beat the crowds and had our camp set up by 7. We spent the whole day at the beach, throwing lacrosse balls, roasting sausages, throwing Frisbees for the dog, taking naps, and getting way too much sun. Assateauge is the perfect beach escape and I’m always excited to plop myself down in the sand with a bucket of cut-up watermelon and watch the waves.

Sam's photo of Katahdin

Sam’s photo of Katahdin

 

Trying Something New

Next weekend, I leave for a two week trip to northern Maine. No cell phone service. No wifi. No electricity outlets. I’ll be staying at Sam’s camp, which is on a little island only accessible by boat.

I would describe myself as “the opposite of outdoorsy.” As a 21st century gal, I enjoy my materialistic comforts. But I’m going to have to learn to shed all of them in favor of a pair of Tevas and a Camelback.

I’ve never been hiking, but we plan on ascending to the top of Mount Katahdin. I’ve heard so much about it and I’ve seen gorgeous photos of it, so I’m doing my best to be excited rather than concerned for myself. Maine will be a huge change for me. I’ll be forgoing the sofa for a hammock, the back patio for a dock.

Artscape = doing questionable things for free food

Artscape = doing questionable things for free food

I’m actually very excited to immerse myself in this whole different world, but it’s definitely a bit scary, too. We’re travelling up this weekend, which means that I’ll have to miss Artscape this year. Someone go and watch weird performance art for me, okay?

Goodbye city festival, hello moose and pine trees.

I can’t believe that I’ll be moving into Charles Commons 1225 in about a month. I’m excited to adopt my school year routine again and see friends and get into crazy antics with them. I’m doing my best to appreciate the pace of summer and I’m pleased that I’ve been doing fun things for myself instead of laying in bed all day watching Harry Potter marathons.

Wait. I did that this weekend.

Nevermind.

My (Virtual) Summer in Italy

I do not look Italian. I’m blonde, blueish-greenish-eyed, and don’t like lasagna (go ahead and judge; I deserve it). Sure, a major percentage of my talking is done with my hands, but that can easily be attributed to years of musical theatre. So everyone is always a little surprised to meet my dad’s side of the family, the Comotto’s (or the DeLOUDio’s, as we’re lovingly called), because we’re about as stereotypically Italian as they come. I’m serious. We eat spaghetti before Thanksgiving dinner.

I fell in love with Italy through my great-grandmother’s stories, and visiting twice in middle school only made me more determined to become further connected to the country and culture that has shaped my life. (Enjoy the embarrassingly touristy Allison in all of the following photos.) I wanted to go everywhere, see everything, and meet as many people as humanly possible. When registering for my first semester of classes, Elements of Italian I was the first in my cart. The DeLOUDio’s were so proud.

A young tourist in her natural habitat.

But that certainly didn’t stop them from calling me crazy when I told them I was going to take Intermediate Italian I and II online over the summer. Admittedly, they frequently tell me I’m crazy for a slew of other reasons, but this time I got it. I really did. After two semesters of intense schoolwork, shouldn’t I be embracing my summer for all that it’s worth? I’m all too aware that summers are a precious and limited commodity that will soon become things of the past when the **gulp** real world kicks in. So why on earth did I commit myself to 4-5 hours of self-motivated, self-paced Italian a day?

Judgmental Venetian Allison is judging you.

Hence the accusations of insanity. A lot of students stay in Baltimore over the summer to get some major or distribution requirements out of the way, but very few take the interwebz route, simply because many classes don’t have the online alternative. Especially language classes. Yay guinea pigs?

Pursuing a language through the intermediate level is a Writing Seminars major requirement, and I’m minoring in Italian, so taking the class over the summer was a no-brainer. But the online factor gave me serious pause. Learning a foreign language, in a classroom, with a professor, is challenging in itself. The idea of taking a language class all on my own, with no in-person guidance or peers, had me doubting my decision until the start of first term. I couldn’t believe that I’d left the fate of my GPA in the hands of a whole year’s worth of Italian crammed into one summer, with only a dictionary for comfort.

But I can say, with only a few weeks left of Intermediate II, that all of my fears were unfounded. The class is definitely intensive and self-paced, but I could not feel less alone. My class (only five students, so I get a lot of individual attention) meets every week on Adobe Connect, and I have weekly one-on-one review sessions with a partner, so I always have the opportunity to ask questions. It’s hard, really hard, but I feel myself getting better with each daily assignment. My goal of graduating Hopkins with some hardcore Italian fluency under my belt doesn’t seem so impossible anymore. And I feel way more confident in my decision to study abroad.

 

Moral of the story: take a risk, academic or otherwise, over the summer! If I’d played it safe and stuck with taking Intermediate my sophomore year, I wouldn’t have had as much time to devote to just enjoying and learning the language. But, more importantly, I wouldn’t be on my way to fulfilling a dream I’ve had since I was ten. So do something a little “crazy” with your time off, whether it be an exciting course, an out-of-your-comfort-zone internship, or…an impromptu trip to Italy? Sixth-grade Allison is already packed.

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Cin cin!

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Tricks of the Trade

This summer I’ve had the amazing opportunity to work in a Neuroscience Lab at the Johns Hopkins Medical Campus.  Ever since I got the research position during Spring Semester, I couldn’t contain my excitement. I had finally found research that sparked my interest and it was something that I could see myself being involved in for the rest of my time here.  Everyone in the lab was extremely sweet, helpful and seemed genuinely excited to have me work with them. And I can’t even begin to explain how much I’ve learned during this experience and how much I’ve enjoyed it.

I’m not gonna lie, the first week all the words my PI and grad students were telling me sounded like a bunch of mumbo jumbo. My beginner’s excitement quickly faded into slight panic as I couldn’t keep track of which experimental variable was testing which hemisphere of the brain and which key on the computer would help me circle the right cluster of neurons while analyzing data.  Also I wasn’t the most comfortable with the idea of putting a mouse through an experiment buuuut thankfully I was kept on the task of building the drives that are implanted into mouse brains to record neuronal data (WHICH I THINK IS SO COOL). And I started to get the hang of it.

But warning…when you get the hang of things people start trusting you more and start giving you bigger and harder things to do, and I so did not see it coming. Suddenly, I was learning how to set up the experiment to run the animals. I was holding a mouse for the first time (it was so cute, it gripped onto my hands with its little paws and I wanted to keep it) and I was terrified. I was setting up complicated computer programs to make sure the right data was collected.  I was learning, alongside the grad student I’m working under, to slice brains so that we can track exactly where our implants have been placed (!!!!). Just today I started learning how to make a new type of drive, one that the lab recently started using. And it’s all so incredibly interesting but also SO frustrating. I’ve been given responsibility, but with that responsibility comes the expectation to work on my own and figure things out. The expectation to find shortcuts and methods that will not only help myself but also everyone else in the lab. I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count how many mistakes I’ve made. Just today I spent 8 hours working on the same three drives over and over again, because each time I made a new mistake. I felt like I was going crazy hunched over at the lab bench, not even moving to say hello when people walked by me.  But finally at 5PM…I made a somewhat decent drive and I’ve never felt so thankful, relieved, and accomplished at the same time.

So it’s been scary, it’s been fun, it’s been instructive. I’ve learned a lot about neuro but even more about what it takes to learn something new and move forward with it.

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                 Coronal slice of a mouse brain!

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Do I Really Belong?

One of the most frequent questions I have been asked by high school students, and one which I, too, was curious about when I applied here was: how hard is Hopkins really?

Like any top university, yes, Johns Hopkins is rigorous and will force you to work hard if you want to succeed, but A’s are not impossible. This year, though, has made me question if I really belong here.  This is a common issue I know most freshmen must face at least once.  We have all come from four years of being the star. Being the brightest, the most involved, the best.  It certainly was an adjustment coming to Hopkins. My friends here are all fluent in multiple languages, play instruments and play varsity sports.  Published authors, entrepreneurs, and perfect 2400’s surround me.  At first I had so many doubts. Was my acceptance a mistake? Will I succeed here? Am I smart enough?

I was focusing on all the wrong questions. My mom has always told me that you can never compare yourself to others, because someone will always be better than you at something. If I was to compare myself to my peers here, I would certainly go insane. Instead, I focused on finding classes that I did well in because I really enjoyed putting in the work, I found extracurriculars that were new and exciting, and I relied on my friends for support and encouragement when doubts would fill my mind.   By the end of the year, I felt confident in my place on campus.

Coming back for the summer to take Organic Chemistry brought me back to square one.  Everyone had told me that this was the make it or break it class for pre-meds, so coming into this summer I was already terrified. During my two-week break I spent way too long stressing over my future.  Throughout the five weeks of Organic Chemistry I, I continued to freak out that I wasn’t smart enough for this class. Surrounded by some of the brightest people I have met at Hopkins, I felt like I didn’t belong.

Instead, I focused on studying.  Julia, my best friend also taking Organic Chemistry, and I spent at least five hours every day in the library reading over 1000 pages and doing at least 3000 problems in these past five weeks. I filled up four different spiral notebooks and spent at least $20 in flashcards at Barnes and Noble.  This may have been the most challenging course I have taken yet, but I gave it my best.

So the answer to my question is this: Hopkins is hard.  Very very hard. But I’m no genius, and the majority of this school is not a genius.  What Hopkins students have in common is a passion to learn, and a work ethic to support it. I don’t belong because of my GPA or my SAT scores, I belong because of this.

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“Employment”

“So what are you doing for the summer?”

There it is: the dreaded question. I have friends working in labs, taking classes, and interning at very impressive places, so you could imagine that my response of, “Oh, you know, camp counseling,” earns me nothing but pity glances and a quick conversation change, as though I was not good enough to save the world in my time away from Hopkins.

I take these judgments with a smile because I know that there’s more to my summer job than may appear on the surface.

I work at Clara Barton Camp, a camp in North Oxford, Massachusetts for girls with Type 1 Diabetes. This will be my ninth summer at camp and third as staff, earning me the ~very impressive~ job title of Head Counselor of Rainbow Ridge.

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You could say I have a summer home on the water

My job is just like any other camp counselor. I don my badminton pinney to teach badminton to the campers in character as my Estonian alter-ego Herp, as well as my Christmas sweater in the summer heat to transform our camp into an imaginary ski resort to lead campers in virtual skiing, a camp classic and my personal favorite activity. We boat, swim, play sports, and sing and bang on the tables at meals.

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Yeah, I do sports

Really, it’s like a scene out of the Parent Trap.

However, having fun and making camp magic for the kids is only half of the job. All summer, I carry around a backpack filled not just with crayons and sunscreen, but also with blood glucose meters, sharps containers, and emergency sugar. I help kids make friendship bracelets, but I also help them count carbohydrates, take insulin injections, and learn more about diabetes.

At camp, having diabetes is the norm, rather than the exception like in the real world. It is one of the few places where joking about your dead pancreas earns laughs, rather than confused looks, and where for a few weeks, the kids can just worry about being kids, as there is a whole team of nurses living on camp to take care of managing the disease.

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Not such a bad thing to wake up to

For the past two summers, we have also been the site of some interesting biomedical research. A team of researchers has been testing the innovative bionic pancreas on some of the campers and staff, which has been very cool to observe, as both a biomedical engineering student as well as a person living with Type 1 Diabetes.

While I may be learning about the boys of One Direction while my friends are learning reaction mechanisms and substituting tie dye and running shorts for business casual, I can’t imagine my summer any other way.

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Maybe there is some chemistry involved

JHU_Genevieve and I reppin' SAAB, Alpha Phi, and Writing Sems all at the same time.

Saying Goodbye to Poli Sci

I am, by nature, an indecisive person. It’s sort of a trial to be around me really, what with my crippling inability to pick a movie, restaurant, or parking spot. Shoe-shopping becomes a two-hour internal struggle between buying all five pairs or leaving the store empty-handed, seeing as narrowing down my selection is hardly a viable option. Deciding which classes to take is a grueling month-long process (my cart is an abomination), and choosing seats in a movie theater gives me anxiety.

HA, and you all thought I was well-adjusted.

But despite the impact indecisiveness has on my daily life, it never had any effect on my commitment to Hopkins. Hopkins is something I was sure about. I had a “Class of 2017” Facebook status up within minutes of opening my acceptance email (the technological equivalent of signing a contract in your own blood) and was proudly wearing a JHU sweatshirt before I’d even heard back from other schools. My commitment-phobe days were over. I knew that Hopkins and I were destined to live happily ever after.

In another completely out-of-character turn of events, I applied this certainty to my intended majors. I was 110% sure that I’d be double-majoring in Political Science and Writing Seminars (thanks, distribution system!), with a minor in Italian for good cultural measure. It was, as I told every inquisitive relative who would listen, an ideal combination. And, let me tell you, it’s a lot easier to field probing questions about medical school (welp) when you have the promise of law school to back you up, care of that shiny Political Science degree. With my background in theatre and public-speaking, lawyer-dom just seemed like my life’s most logical progression. It was a more practical application of my creative skills, an application that might actually lend itself to some financial stability.

So though I proudly advertised my Writing Seminars plans with passion befitting a girl who was about to spend four years studying her favorite thing in the world, I turned Political Science into my security blanket. Law school just sounded so strong, so professional, so smart. The thought of eight more years of schooling was also extremely comforting. Just like that, I was committed to the dream. I carefully crafted my first semester schedule with equal time devoted to Poli Sci, Writing Sems, and Italian. All was going according to plan.

A stack of filled journals and notebooks large enough to make me question why I tried to ever do anything else.

A stack of filled journals and notebooks large enough to make me question why I tried to ever do anything else.

That is, until I actually started classes. My only Political Science course was a simple introduction to the United States political system, and it was taught by an incredible professor (you know you’re in the right place when your professor’s name matches the one on your textbook). The material was straightforward, and every lecture was more interesting than the next. I could tell that everyone in the auditorium full of Poli Sci majors was totally engaged. Except for me.

It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the subject matter, because it really was an exceptional class. Sure, I preferred all my other courses, but that isn’t what made it my political science deal-breaker. It was the time I spent in section that allowed me to finally see the light: I am not, under any circumstances, cut out for a profession in politics or law. As my fellow classmates readily engaged in the countless impassioned debates encouraged by our TA, I felt myself hiding in the back of a classroom for the first time in my life. I know I’ve never been innately aggressive or combative, but I didn’t realize how very much I hate conflict until I was expected to engage on a weekly basis. My peers reveled in it; they became steadier and more articulate when things got heated. I could tell that some of them truly loved it – arguing for the sake of arguing. But, to me, it was the most draining part of the week. So I’m sure you can all see where this is going.

Moral of the story: I think it’s about time to officially cast off my pre-law security blanket. To finally say goodbye to Political Science. After devoting my spring semester purely to Writing Seminars, it became blatantly obvious where my true passion lies. I don’t want to argue, or lobby, or run for Congress, just like I don’t want to build rockets, or mix chemicals in test-tubes, or do open-heart surgery. Those are dreams for other people. I really just want to write. And while that statement turns my future into one big ball of the unknown, it also frees me. So I’m fully committing myself to Writing Seminars. I think we’re going to be very happy together.

JHU_Genevieve and I reppin' SAAB, Alpha Phi, and Writing Sems all at the same time.

JHU_Genevieve and I reppin’ SAAB, Alpha Phi, and Writing Sems all at the same time.

 

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Four Films and a Funeral

It’s kind of hard to articulate what being a Film major is like. I get assumptions: “What, do you just like, watch movies all the time? Is that it?” and I get praises: “That is so cool! Wow, good for you.” I think that people mistakenly believe that there isn’t much studying in being a Film & Media Studies major. You watch a couple films, you make up some bizarre-o theories about the movie, you write a paper with a cutesy title, and BAM—there’s your degree.

Usually, being a Film major means taking a lot of Buzzfeed quizzes about movies.

Usually, being a Film major means taking a lot of Buzzfeed quizzes about movies.

With science classes, your knowledge is concrete; it’s memorizing the areas of the brain, being able to regurgitate formulae, knowing what procedure to follow when you step into a lab. While this may surprise you, studying film has plenty of its own protocol, plenty of its own textbook material, from the difference between a long shot and a medium-long shot, from the different components of the mise-en-scene (and don’t forget the matching interpretation of all of these filmic decisions!). But I am happy to contest that my film classes have taught me so much more than just the superficial (although I am a master of the catchy paper title). When I first came to Hopkins, I wasn’t even sure what being a Film major meant. With two semesters of study under my belt, now I definitely know what an average day of class is like! I absolutely love my major and it’s so much more than the Department’s page can describe. Rather than abstractly write about the wonders of a Film degree, I’m going to document—film by film—what Film & Media Studies looks like and has taught me so far.

Oy

Oy

1. Broken Blossoms (1919) taught me that it’s okay to not love every film, but there is still something to appreciate deep down there. I really struggled through Broken Blossoms. It was, ironically, the first film I watched for class here at Hopkins. Halfway through the screening, I was struck by a sense of panic. I hate this movie. I can’t be a film major. Oh god… what am I going to do?! After the lights came up, my professor laughed. The whole class laughed. Between the racial slurs, the trite intertitles (the slides that pop up in silent films like captions), and the poor image quality, we all hated Broken Blossoms. That collective laugh of relief reminded me that it’s okay if every film doesn’t make it into your Top 10. It’s okay if you fall asleep for a few minutes (oops). But I appreciate Broken Blossoms—and that’s the key. I can tell you all about D.W. Griffith’s revolutionary editing style, I can confirm that this was an important cultural step, I can interpret the implications of Lillian Gish’s new acting style. Broken Blossoms was my first experience in analyzing a film, and I thank Griffith for that—but I just can’t love Broken Blossoms, and that’s okay.

hint: the hunting scene is a metaphor

hint: the hunting scene is a metaphor

2. The Rules of the Game (1939) taught me how to write a proper film paper. I studied this French film for my final paper first semester, and it was the first time I ever really had to write about a movie. It’s more of a science than an art: finding the proper time stamps for each moment you want to dissect, forcing yourself to ignore components of the story that aren’t purely filmic, creating a cohesive argument that ties a theme between every scene you watch. I concluded that the film showed these French aristocrats to be savage animals, their social dynamics appearing more like a National Geographic documentary than a high-class get-together. I loved this film the first time my professor screened it, and I’ve watched it probably twenty times since then! It was incredibly fun and rewarding to pick a movie apart scene by scene, line by line. I ended up discovering so much about all of the important subtleties in a film. The Rules of the Game taught me the importance of dissection in film, and I’ll always have a soft spot for it (and the rockin’ character named Genevieve).

To be fair, they are eating noodles in this scene, so my thesis wasn't totally off-base

To be fair, they are eating noodles in this scene, so my thesis wasn’t totally off-base

3. In the Mood for Love (2000) is one of those films that totally blew my mind. When I sat in the dark during my class’ screening, my mind wasn’t analyzing, wasn’t memorizing, wasn’t preparing responses for a quiz or a paper. I don’t mind viewing films from an academic, analytical standpoint, but it gets to a point where you’re almost conditioned to quickly memorize names, artistic movements, certain plot points and motifs. With In the Mood for Love, I wasn’t able to do anything except just watch and enjoy. The Chinese film has probably cracked my Top 10, and I’m still kind of reeling from it. Our class ended up getting assigned to write a paper about it, and I tried—I really tried—to interpret it, but I think my total, visceral enjoyment of it wiped out any sort of reading I had of it. My thesis statement was about noodles. It was my worst grade of this class. I didn’t even care.

Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 12.23.14 PM4. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) is a staple for any Wes Anderson fans; I had seen it a bunch of times before my professor announced that she’d be screening it as a treat. While film screenings are normally silent, focused classes, this screening was so different.
My professor first semester lectured on how great the experience of the theater is. You’re sitting there, in pitch black, with many other people, all indulging in this display of color and light and sound as the beam of light from the projector travels above everyone’s heads. The Royal Tenenbaums really made me believe in this description. My whole class laughed on cue and chattered happily throughout the film (usually screenings are dead silent!). It was a fun—not an interesting, not a challenging—screening and taught me, in real-time, how a film actually does unite its viewers. (Also, our quiz for The Royal Tenenbaums was take-home, so I think we were all super happy about that.)

This site tells you how long you've spent watching TV. I've spent over 5 days watching Breaking Bad. I ain't even mad

This site tells you how long you’ve spent watching TV. I’ve spent over 5 days watching Breaking Bad. I ain’t even mad

These are just four of the many, many films I’ve watched for class since I’ve been here. They’ve made an impression on me and have made me thankful to have such an awesome major. I’m taking two film classes next semester and can’t wait to see what kinds of films those classes will bring! So, like, this all sounds good and happy. Why a funeral? Because, remember, I like catchy titles? No, because I’m finishing my rewatch of Breaking Bad and it’s making me sad all over again that the show is over. I have a feeling that I’m just going to keep rewatching and rewatching until I find a worthy show to replace it. Until then, let that timer keep increasing!

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Who Needs Orgo When You Have Tilapia?

This summer I decided to stay in Baltimore and take Organic Chemistry I and II with Professor Klein. It’s only been two weeks, but I already feel more accomplished and productive than I’ve ever felt in my life. Why? Although I am learning massive amounts of class material every single day, my greatest accomplishments have been in the kitchen.

One of my greatest accomplishments

One of my greatest accomplishments

For most people, making toast, frying an egg, and cooking pasta are all very easy, unimpressive activities, but for me any sort of cooking was a struggle. I’ve burned food in the microwave, and even once accidently poured all the pasta I had just made down the garbage disposal.  So for me, having no meal plan was as devastating as it was intimidating. I really thought I was going to starve.

It’s been two weeks and my roommate, Julia, and I have not starved. In fact, we are eating the healthiest we have ever eaten!

All fresh ingredients from the farmer's market!

All fresh ingredients from the farmer’s market!

Instead of bags of chips, our snacks are bags of baby carrots. Instead of plain buttered pasta, we have whole-wheat pasta with kale and sundried tomatoes.

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After a long day in the library, coming back to the beautiful apartment we are subletting in the Blackstone and cooking a delicious meal is exactly what I want to do.  There have been mistakes (we once set off the fire alarm trying to cook steak in a non-stick pan. Julia’s lungs haven’t been the same since) but  we have steadily been improving.

The meat master herself

The meat master herself

At first, sautéing broccoli was a daunting task, and I did burn the garlic.  Last night, though, we easily and quickly cooked up some rosemary pork chops, oven roasted potatoes, and sautéed spinach.

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Coming into this summer, I had no idea that I would be chopping up cloves and cloves of garlic, and I’m sure Julia could never guess that she would be de-membraning skirt steaks, but I’m happier and healthier than I have been in a while. I can’t wait to see what other culinary adventures we will have this summer.