Spring Fair: Funkytown 2017

Perhaps my favorite event at Hopkins is Spring Fair. It’s a time in which students relax and chat on the Beach, eat copious amounts of food truck and stand food, shop around campus from the numerous vendors, and just have an overall fun and good time.



Even though Spring Fair is sandwiched between two regular school weeks, everyone takes the time to come out and relax. While the event is an excuse to put off next week’s assignments and tests, Spring Fair always seems to renew Hopkins’ sense of livelihood and color. Everyone takes a moment to relax before the impending finals week, and academics are put behind us, even if its just for a day or two.

What I love most about Spring Fair is being able to catch up with friends and alumni I haven’t seen in ages. Because the fair is mostly concentrated (food and shop vendors) on the Freshman Quad, I always seem to run into friends old and new. It’s an awesome way to explore and bond, but also a chance to meet and socialize with others. There are always new sights to see and more food to try, and each year is always as exciting as the last.

A lot of my friends rave over the Henna booth. Creds: Ig: jhuspringfair

A lot of my friends rave over the Henna booth.
Creds: Ig: jhuspringfair

One of my favorite stands is Wild Bill’s Olde Fashioned Soda Pop – you buy a collectable metal mug (trust me, it’s deceptively huge), and for the entire weekend, you’re able to continually refill it with any of the 7 soda flavors. Each year they come up with a different specialized mug design for Spring Fair, so it’s a common tradition to collect them throughout your four years here. Another stand I’m partial to is a chips and salsa stand – they lay out 20 different kinds of salsa from most mild to spiciest, and my friends and I always try to build up in order to see who’ll last until the very end.

My friend Vicky trying out all the different types of soda!

My friend Vicky trying out all the different types of soda!

Another fun aspect of Spring Fair is the amount of animals that roam around campus. Aside from being able to pet goats and rabbits at the petting station or ride ponies, there’s always an unusually high concentration of dogs that people bring on campus. This year I counted 43 across 3 days (although I guess I could have mistaken the same dog more than once). There was this huge Mastiff that came up all the way to my waist (I didn’t have to bend down to pet it), but unfortunately I didn’t save my snap :(.

Monkey Man

Monkey Man

Spring Fair is a time of unusual livelihood and concentrated happiness on the Homewood campus. I can’t wait to be able to experience it for the rest of my Hopkins experience, and to be able to come back afterwards to enjoy it again and again.

Iceland 2017

“Wouldn’t it be cool if went to Iceland for Spring break next semester?”


Billy the Blue Jay in Iceland

We (my suitemates and I) looked up airplane tickets back in October and they were ridiculously cheap. We booked them a month later and started a 150-day countdown in preparation.

We’ve been in Iceland for 8 days now and we’re going back to Baltimore tomorrow. The trip has been something else, though; there’s no way we could have expected it to turn out the way it did.

It truly has been a break in the most literal sense. Of all the places we’ve gone to, many of them have no Wifi (ahhhh, I know) and because of that, I think we’ve surprised ourselves with each other’s company. Whether it be learning about a completely new aspect of Austin’s life or Youngjae’s childhood, we’ve just been talking a lot and I feel closer to my suitemates than I ever have before.

It’s a nice feeling to be “off the grid” for a bit, where the stresses of school and everyday life can’t reach where I am. Even though I went into Spring break with the knowledge that I have quite a bit of homework to catch up on, I can’t really do any of it without Internet access. And because I don’t have any Internet access, I’ll just worry about that later.

I don’t know about you, but none of us have ever really planned a trip all by ourselves. Usually, our parents are the ones to figure out all the housing and food, so doing it entirely on our own was a huge learning experience (props to my suitemate, Sebastian, for basically doing all of it). And of course, because we’re college students, we tried to minimize costs as much as we could, buying food at discount stores and living in remote Airbnb’s. Food in Iceland is a lot more expensive than we thought, but we found this Costco-like store called Bonus and stocked up on foods we could cook every night.


View outside of the first Airbnb we stayed at!


Don’t know why, but the logo is some sort of loopy pig…

We’re essentially doing a full road-trip around the coast of the country, starting in Reykjavik and moving every night to a different home by car. Along the way we’ve stopped at numerous man-made and natural attractions like Fridheimar, Grjotagja, and Gufufoss — all of which were unbelievable to see.


Grjotagja – The water in the cave was steaming, also smelled like eggs


Hvitserkur – Black sand beach!


Some random car shot


Coffee sold here was A+


More black sand beaches

But I think my favorite of all the ones we’ve seen so far has to be the Northern Lights. It’s one thing to see a picture of it online, but seeing it in person was just breathtaking. We stood on a tall hill next to Hofn and saw a green dome shift across the entire sky. We were completely surrounded by the lights, and even though they were only visible for a couple of minutes, it was a moment of epic-ness I’ll never forget.


Unfortunately this is the best picture we got — we didn’t have a tripod and it was freezing outside 🙁

Unfortunately, we only saw the lights that one night because visibility shifts from day to day. Maybe that made the experience that much better.

I’m writing this in the car as Austin drives the last bit back to Reykjavik (thus completing our coastal circuit). He’s also singing along to a throwback 2000s pop playlist (right now it’s Umbrella by Rihanna) he found on Spotify as Sebastian and Youngjae sleep. I’m so glad we decided to take this trip even though we were initially skeptical we could pull it off.  It’s been meaningful to me in so many ways, and I wouldn’t trade this break experience for anything else.


Tagged , , ,

Galante: Sealed with a Kiss

Part of being a musician is to push the boundaries of what’s usually done. A lot of times contemporary music aims to do just that and to explore new ideas and sounds.

Someone told me the other day that they can’t stomach contemporary music. They said that it just sounds “weird and bad”, and that there really isn’t any genuine meaning behind it. I mean I feel that way too sometimes — I’m not always sure what to make of the sounds I hear. But I think contemporary music has the ability to explore music in a very non-traditional way. Traditional classical music has rules and boundaries, some of which contemporary music can just break.

My saxophone teacher recently put me and three other students in a quartet. We were given a piece, Galante’s Sealed with a Kiss, to learn in three weeks. On first look, it’s kind of absurd. There are no notes whatsoever and it made me question why I was doing this in the first place. I think I felt similar to how my friend perceived contemporary music.



The piece consists of a series of alternative sounds you make through the saxophone. The instrument serves as an amplifier to the sounds or as a mechanism to make the sounds. Examples would be saying tss tss” through the mouth piece, or fluttering your tongue to make a “khhh” sound. With four different musicians making the sounds at one time, cool rhythms are made.


Here’s one page of the score. There aren’t any notes, and each marker is a different sound you have to make. The four lines in each of the three sections are for one person on each of the four saxophone parts.

Even my friends in the quartet hated the pieces initially. We wanted to make nice and beautiful sounds, not screeches and puffs into the saxophone. It was like learning an entirely new instrument, and one I didn’t really even enjoy.

I think part of that sentiment came from the fact that it was a mess the first few times we rehearsed it. It was only through more rehearsals and coachings from our teacher that we were beginning to find the groove of the piece. My teacher had told us that Galante was his roommate back in undergrad., and that he had written the piece as a sort of satire to the serious conservatory atmosphere. With this background in my mind, I think the piece really grew on all of us.

Keeping an open mind, I think, is one of the most important things when studying music. As humans, we naturally gravitate towards what sounds good and pleasant to our ears, but what is art if we don’t explore the disgusting and uncomfortable? Studying this piece has been a real learning experience for me, and I’m grateful I had the chance to be a part of it.

We performed the piece on 2/19 at the Words In Music concert at the Peabody Conservatory. When we get a recording, I’ll try to upload some snippets here.


Recital program!

Tagged , , , , ,

Self-Care 101

Many call it the “sophomore slump”. I guess it’s named that because classes start to step-up and social life begins to shift around. Of course, that’s just a generalization.

Coming back to campus for my second year, I initially felt much more comfortable and prepared. I think a lot of freshman year was getting settled in and figuring out how to adapt, so it was nice to come back to a place knowing where everything was and how things worked. Still, I felt that last semester was rough. I was distressed, lost at times, and I really didn’t take the time to take care of myself. 

And because I neglected to take care of myself, I got really sick during the latter half of the semester. It first started with pneumonia — at the beginning of Thanksgiving break, I went to NYC with some friends to explore. I felt a little uncomfortable the day before we left, but I shook the feeling off because I was excited to go on this trip we had planned for weeks. While there, I got multiple fevers and migraines, but I still went out to explore the city because we’d only be there for 3 days (stupid, I know). We also spent good money on this trip, and I didn’t want that to go to waste. I think a part of me didn’t want my friends to miss out on all the experiences that could’ve been, but looking back I really shouldn’t have tried in the first place.

After getting back to Baltimore halfway through break, I ended up going to the ER on Thanksgiving (which happened to be my birthday 🙁 ). There, I officially found out I had pneumonia and I spent the next couple weeks recovering. After having “recovered” I had to revisit the ER to get even more antibiotics. I missed even more class because of that. 

I think in a time where I missed 3-4 weeks of school (and forcing myself to go to some classes when I shouldn’t have), a lot of compounded stress made it much harder to recover. I was on the border of trying to get work done, catching up on deadlines, and recovering, and trying to do all those things at once didn’t really resolve anything. I did poorly on tests I could have made-up, but at the same time, the end of semester was filled with make-up tests I still had to take. 

Taking care of yourself.


It’s a super simple, yet oddly foreign concept to me. I like to try and do a lot of things, and because of it, I leave myself behind. Looking back, I realize I completely forgot to take care of myself because I didn’t think it was as important as socializing or studying. Now, I ask myself what could I have done to do more self-care?

First is realizing your own boundaries. I think students at Hopkins are involved in a long list of activities, classes, and clubs; I’m the same way. I know that I can handle doing a lot of different things, but at the same time, I know that I’d be a lot better at one thing if I’d just focus on that. I mean part of college is exploring, but I wish I’d drop some things I didn’t think were worth my time. 

Second is asking for help. I consider myself a pretty independent person, and I don’t mind doing things on my own. With that comes a certain amount of control on some aspects of my life, but I also sometimes overestimate what I can and can’t handle. Last semester I wish I had asked more favors of my friends, things like getting extra toothpaste or shampoo when they had to go to CVS, or picking up an extra sandwich on their way back from class. Although seemingly trivial, I think small favors like these would have gone a long way in times where I was really pressed for time.

I know this is an obvious one, but eating right, exercising, and getting a good amount of sleep. In college, it’s so easy to just escape your dorm at 2 AM and walk across the street to get an order of mozz-sticks. It’s also easy to make plans to exercise by yourself or with friends, and then fall out of routine the next week. It’s ALSO easy to plan on getting work done from 9:00 PM to 11:30 PM, then finding out talking with your friends took 2 hours and it’s now 12:30 AM. I think being harder on myself to follow routine things would have helped tremendously.

College is an exciting place, but it’s also distracting. Like me, a lot of my friends struggled with school last semester. I realize now that taking time for self-care is probably the most important thing I need to do not only here at Hopkins, but throughout the rest of my life. The transition from home and parents to college and self-sufficiency is a lot tougher than you’d expect, and I wish I had recognized that sooner. 

This is more like it.

This is more like it.

Tagged , , , ,

Dynamic Music

Search up Hopkins and you’ll find all things innovative, medicine, and STEM related. It’s unfortunate that our Humanities and Arts departments don’t carry as much weight in the name, because they too are doing incredible and ground-breaking things.

This blog is going to focus on what it means for me to be a music major, and what I’m doing right now in the semester as one.

The idea of music has been a dynamic one for me, and it’s changed dramatically throughout my time here at school. It was something I just merely enjoyed coming into Hopkins and Peabody, but it’s really grown into something else.

Music has become a lot more about others, but a lot more about me too. Allow me to explain.

In my Theory 3 class, we’re currently working on analyzing various Bach Inventions (like this famous one, Bach Invention #1). In class we break down the inventions and analyze the scores, finding musical phrases (named subjects and countersubjects), and see how they permeate through the piece in various forms. We see how simple yet genius these inventions are, and really understand how Bach came up with simple, yet complex-sounding music. We also discuss what makes a piece “Bach”, and what makes it Baroque (an era of Western art music of a particular style).

In this instance, studying music has shown me how meticulous and detailed successful composers from the past were. It’s given me an altered appreciation, and it’s changed the way I listen and receive music, new and old.

Every Thursday, Peabody hosts its Thursday Noon concert series, where the conservatory features an instrumental department with a free concert to the public (like Strings, Winds, Voice, even Computer Music). I went last Thursday with my saxophone professor to see one of my studio mates play. He played a piece by Lori Laitman named I Never Saw Another Butterfly. It’s a heartbreaking piece for saxophone and soprano, where an instrumental melodic line is overlayed onto poetic text. Specifically, the poems are written by Jewish children who lived in concentration camps. It’s so tough to listen to, and the piece really challenges the audience to try and explore their stories.

Here’s the text to one of my favorite movements, III. Birdsong:

He doesn’t know the world at all
Who stays in his nest and doesn’t go out.
He doesn’t know what birds know best
Nor what I want to sing about,
That the world is full of loveliness.

When dewdrops sparkle in the grass
and earth’s aflood with morning light,
A blackbird sings upon a bush
To greet the dawning after night.
Then I know how fine it is to live.

Hey, try to open your heart
To beauty; go to the woods someday
And weave a wreath of memory there.
Then if the tears obscure your way
You’ll know how wonderful it is
To be alive

Being able to explore a work of music with others (my saxophone professor in this instance), means being able to discuss the meaning of a work, why it’s effect is so powerful on an audience, and what the performer did to let us discover and feel particular emotions. After the performance, my professor and I talked about how the composer uses harmony, dissonance, and color to paint music onto text. In this instance, studying music has shown me its raw importance and how it’s a vehicle to explore ideas and experiences. It’s become a lot more about the performer-audience relationship, and why it’s important to think about such things.

These two occurrences are just part of the reason why music is becoming such an integral part of my life. What I love about it is its fluidity and subjectivity – I’m never put into a box of what’s right and wrong. I’m thankful that I’m surrounded by such like-minded people, and shocked even, about what my peers are accomplishing. I love it here, and wouldn’t want to be learning this anywhere else.

Breaking the Fall

I’ve been in Baltimore for the entirety of this semester. Don’t get me wrong, I love it and I call it home, but sometimes you just have to leave and explore a little bit, right?

I think it has to do with constant familiarity of environment and people, and of course midterms too. It’s easy to get bogged down by what you have to do, day in and day out, and it’s hard to take a step back sometimes to realize what you’re after.

I think that’s why it was so nice to change things up for once – this past fall break was an infinitely fun time, and It’s definitely helped to reorient me.


After an awesome, intentional sleep-in until 12 PM, I trekked on over to the Peabody campus to meet with my friend, Nick, to work on an arrangement for my a capella group, the Octopodes. We’re working on an arrangement of Contact High – by Allen Stone. It’s a super groovy song, but we’re still in the middle of trying to get the feel of it down. It’s for a winter concert that’s coming up on December 2nd! (I’ll write a blog soon about my a capella group and what arranging is all about, so stay tuned!)


A snippet of what an arrangement looks like.

After an *intense* buffet session at Akbar, a nearby Indian restaurant in the Mt. Vernon neighborhood, I headed on over to a chamber music rehearsal at Peabody. This semester, my saxophone teacher grouped four of us together and created a saxophone quartet – we’re currently working on a piece called July – by Michael Torke. It plays with so many tonal colors and a really distinct rhythmic groove. We’re planning to go out to nearby coffee shops and local venues to share the piece with others!


If you’re a Hopkins student, you fully take advantage of the fact that D.C. is just a 1 hour, 8 dollar train ride away.


A picture of the mosaic at Baltimore’s Penn Station!

So that’s exactly what a couple of friends and I did – we took the 11:05 AM MARC train to D.C., and got off at the Rosslyn station stop. Once there, we walked out into a wonderfully sunny day and 15 minutes to a cupcake shop named “Baked and Wired”.


A guide to my tummy.

Grabbing lunch on the way, we made our way to Six Flags, which is what we’d planned on coming to the D.C. area for previously.

It was absolutely ridiculous – there was a ride where you go on a rollercoaster laying on your back, and when you’re inverted upside down it feels like you’re flying through the air. Another one made use of VR Headsets and a 20-story drop that was pretty other-worldly. Because it’s close to Halloween, Six Flags is currently in its “Fright Fest” mode, where characters in costumes roam around the park and try to scare you when you’re walking from one place to the next. My friends and I got a good laugh out of it afterwards, but navigating through the park truly was frightening. 


nope nope nope


In Bio lab, we were given an “assignment” to go to the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore and take some notes on species and habitats. To be honest, it seems more of an excuse just to go and have some fun, but I’m not complaining.

I’d never been to the Maryland Zoo before, but I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected. The park was pretty full, and there was a lot to do and see.


Penguin feeding!

Coming back at 4, I went to Octopodes rehearsal, where we were treated to drinks and dessert by one of our member’s family. The rest of rehearsal was pretty typical – we’re currently working on learning a bunch of songs for our concert, like the arrangement I’m working on right now!


An action-packed three days of break, I’d say. Now I’m left cramming for all the homework I haven’t done, but I don’t mind one bit.

On Failing A Test

I failed my first Nervous Systems exam.

There. I said it. I’d say there’s no shame in saying it, but oh there’s so much shame in saying it. I’ve never flat out failed a test before, and it pains me to say that I’m a Neuroscience major. I mean, if it were a class I was taking that wasn’t related at all to my course of study, I’d probably just drop the class. But this is Nervous Systems – this is the class of the major, the one class everyone freaks out about and the one everyone studies so extremely hard for. I have to take this class if I want to be a Neuroscience major, and there’s no way around that.

I studied hard for the test. I kept up with my readings, I went to every class, and I studied a considerable amount for the days leading up to the exam. I never wanted to fail (of course, no one does), but yet I did. Maybe I’m not time managing well, or maybe it’s because I’m living in a totally new environment. Maybe it’s all these excuses I’ve come up with in my head, and maybe the reality of it is just that I could’ve studied a lot smarter instead.

Nervous Systems is an amazing class, and no one will contest that. It’s taught by two wonderful professors, Dr. Haiqing Zhao and Dr. Stewart Hendry who pour their heart out into the material they teach. The class is taught in the traditional lecture-style, but the both of them discuss the course material in a very personable and appealing way. It’s an honor being able to learn from such intelligent and humble people.

Zhao and Hendry try their best to let us succeed. The class is very transparent and organized extremely well, and they provide more than enough resources to help us learn the material.

That’s part of why I’m so ashamed and disappointed in myself. I’m in a neuroscience class at Hopkins, where everyone around me is excited and willing to learn material from two of the best professors I’ve ever had, but I still failed the first exam. After I got my grade back, in the midst of being in disbelief, Dr. Hendry sent out an e-mail that really stuck with me:

“Here is a story, a composite in which 4 former Neuro majors are used as exemplars for many others.  Each of these four is currently a medical student earning both an MD and a PhD at one of the best med schools on the planet.  All of you would recognize the names of the med schools and all of you would be ever so happy to trade places with these four.  What they have in common is this: each of them failed the first exam in Nervous System I and all of them went on to earn A’s for this semester and A+’s for the next.  One student stands out because after failing the first Nervous System exam, she missed a total of 5 points for the rest of the year – both NS1 and NS2 combined.  And here is my point: lots of folks go into the first exam without much feel for how well Dr. Zhao and I expect you to understand the material. Now you do appreciate how well we expect you to understand it and I am sure all of you have a much better sense of what it means to really understand it.  If you have any doubts, look at the annotated key and pay particular attention to the answer to question 4. And then appreciate you would need to rent out Shriver Hall to hold all the people who have done poorly on the first exam in Nervous System I and then have gone on to earn A’s in this course and in the one that follows.  If you are disappointed in your score, let me encourage you to fix whatever let you down for this exam, and be another of those who recovered beautifully, so that I can talk about you next year to the next group.”

I’m not used to failing, and I never want to be. I’m not going to say that I’m okay that I completely screwed up the first test, but I’m going to come to terms with it because it’s already happened.

What’s left for me to do is to reset my study habits from the past couple weeks and to start anew. There’s a need for me to not only prove that I can do this to myself, but also to my peers, parents, and teachers too. I want to be able to succeed in an environment like Hopkins, because doing so really means that I’ve learned the material concretely and well. It means I know how to learn, to problem solve, and most importantly to grow.

Here’s to admitting my faults and learning from them. My next Nervous Systems exam is in a week, and I’m going to do everything I can to ace it.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Research Adventures #2

With the end of the semester in sight, I’m sure everyone feels like everything is crashing down on them all at once – this test, that assignment, figuring out storage, or whatever. I know that for me, these last couple of weeks of school not only mean studying for finals, but also putting on our Spring senior-sendoff show with the Octopodes, finishing our studio album, figuring out last minute Summer plans, and finishing up the music cognition research I’ve been working on all year long.


science n’ music n’ stuff

Referring back to a previous blog, I had said that I’d keep a record of my research journey for you guys to follow and for me to remember what the process was like – here’s where I’m currently at in the process:

The first research blog talked about what it was like applying and finding opportunities to conduct research in a very general sense. I talked a little bit about the experience of writing a grant proposal and described the sort of research project I wanted to conduct.

Well 4-months later, a lot has changed and even more has happened. My research experience has shaped up to be something I never imagined it to be. It’s been a ridiculously exciting yet sometimes hair-pulling ride, and I’m just getting started. In getting the research grant I had previously applied for, this semester has all been attributed to preparing for it!


pls give me money

The Proposal

A two-page proposal for a $5000 grant. Done with reasonable procrastination, I managed to create a project with the help of my faculty advisor. In short, the project aims to analyze how prior mental and auditory preparation affects improvisation outcomes. Looking back, the proposal was just the basis for the idea; a lot has changed since actually formulating it.


The Celebration

Celebration of getting the grant over dinner and dessert! We went to a restaurant in Mt. Vernon called Maisy’s, and ordered a ton of “fancy” pizza. (Let me just tell you now, try their loaded nachos.)



The “crap, now we have to actually do this” Meetings

The meetings started off by being a weekly thing; we’d block out a couple hours on the weekend to discuss how we’d create our experiment. I’ve never really done lab-specific research (so I don’t know how much I can speak for it), but doing research from a more musical standpoint while also keeping it scientific is a HUGE challenge I initially overlooked.

Music is such an abstract and subjective idea, while the scientific-method relies more on logic and reproducible testing. In trying to combine the two, there are a lot of blurred lines where we had to try and fit music into numbers. For example, how does one effectively quantify musical results? We could have scorecards and judges, but how much does that limit our data?

In our devised experiment, we plan to analyze music performance components like phrasing of musical lines (sort of like sentences in a spoken language) and articulation (how a musician starts a note), but the musicians have to recreate musical components in pretty uninviting situations. They’re told when to start and stop playing, and are given the limits of what they’re supposed to do. Giving the participant musicians an atmosphere of familiarity was something we tried to recreate too.

More Meetings

Whenever we weren’t working on the protocol/study design, further meetings were dedicated to figuring out recruitment plans and materials. I never realized how specifically clear recruitment processes for research projects had to be. Things like exclusion criteria, cases in which participants might have this health problem are that logistical issue, or interested participants who might not be English-speaking – in many cases you can’t just exclude participants because they don’t fit the ideal subject you’re looking for (otherwise it wouldn’t be scientific, right?).


who’d ever be this happy reading through tons of applications…

Even More…Meetings

Maybe about a month ago, we ramped up our 1x per meeting to 2x per week to 3x per week. Our goal was to submit our IRB application (Institutional Review Board that determines whether your research project is doable, appropriate, and fits within standards) by the end of the semester (although we had planned to finish maybe 2 months before). The application seemed never-ending, with long open-ended questions going on for 20+ pages – one of the most challenging parts was making sure all our design and logistics were the same across all questions. Working on a response to one question meant having to change small details in many others.

Our application process finally ended just last week which culminated in a final seven-hour meeting. While I understand that the application has to be so detailed and exact, I’m over the moon that that’s over…

The Now

Right now plans are up in the air about when I should come back during the Summer to actually run the experiment (if I do even plan to finish it up this Summer at all). But I guess that’s the nice thing about being able to oversee your own research project; there’s a lot of flexibility in what you want and can do.

With Summer around the corner, there’s still so much to do within these next few weeks. It’s going to be a fun and challenging time, and I can’t wait to do it all.

P1: http://www.austinmusictherapy.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Neuroscience-of-music1.jpg

P2: http://cdn.wegotthiscovered.com/wp-content/uploads/PussInBoots1.gif

P3: https://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/06/4c/60/6d/not-yo-mama-nachos.jpg

P4: http://www.irbco.com/slider/images/banner01.jpg

Light City 2016

Baltimore’s own Inner Harbor is an awesome place to be; with a huge variety of restaurants, fun activities, and a killer view, the experience of going is never disappointing,

But imagine going there in the evening hours of the night and seeing the entire Harbor covered in lights, seeing thousands of innovative lit-up sculptures, attending outdoor music concerts, and walking around a familiar place that was made even more beautiful for a week.

Here’s my experience with Light City Baltimore 2016.

Source: Harboreast

Source: Harboreast

The first thing that caught me was the water – as lights lined the edges of the harbor, you could see each of their reflections. The harbor was like rainbow soup (if you will), and the currents kept shifting with colors and intensity. Across the water were mini light-up paper boats, and the background presented a glowing Ferris wheel, carousel, and myriad of other lights.

Voyage by Aether Hemera | Photo by: metroweekly

Voyage by Aether Hemera | Source: metroweekly

The second thing that struck me was the sheer amount of people that attended. Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is pretty well populated on a day-to-day basis, and going at times that aren’t Friday evening or on the weekend allows you to explore even more. Maybe it was the fact that I went on the last weekend of the event, but the Inner Harbor was packed. My friends and I were unable to take the Charm City Circulator (free Baltimore running bus), and had to walk instead (approx. a 10-minute walk from Peabody). There were so, so many people and the sight of them just really added to the experience – people were curious about Light City, liked what they saw and heard, and stayed because of it.

Source: coolprogeny.com

Source: coolprogeny.com

Maybe it’s a bit of a stretch, but in these moments, I felt that Baltimore really felt like a community. It’s easy to stay within the comforts of Hopkins, finding some balance between staying in to study and going out to relax. It’s not hard to get caught up in the “daily grind”, as people call it (heck, we even have an on-campus coffee shop with the name), but Light City was the first time this sense of the entire Baltimore community really struck me. The sheer amount of people was exciting, and I was excited to be a part of it too.

My friend rippin' it on stage! | Source: Symphony One

My friend rippin’ it on stage! | Source: Symphony One

While I only really experienced the visual aspects of Light City, there were so many other components that I didn’t get to explore. In fact, Light City held multiple conferences spread out across days pertaining to social innovation, health, sustainability, and creativity. Leaders and CEO’s around the world came to talk about their ideas of change and innovation, like Reshma Saujani (Founders of Girls Who Code) or Dr. Leana Wen (Baltimore City Health Commissioner). Even the live music being played featured diverse interests like popular music, funk, jazz, cultural, and classical – my senior friend actually performed live too!

Light City didn’t feel so much like an event, but more like a platform to share human experiences. It felt like an excuse to get out of familiarity, and instead experience amazing, almost uncomfortably-wild feelings.

Until next year!

“I Played Myself”

One of my instructors, Prof. Dungey, from my oral presentations course said something that really struck me today – I’m fortunate enough to be in a place where people would give almost anything to be where I am, and that I got here by mostly doing what I was told.

And I guess that’s just how the system works; in going from middle school to high school to college, we absorb information, regurgitate it, and then are rewarded for how well we can replicate. We prepare tirelessly for the SAT’s and ACT’s, and maybe fit in a couple of activities that interest us, but don’t have much passion for. Advisors tell us to do this and this and that, but also ironically not to work ourselves too hard.

I’m confused right now – as a friend puts it, it seems like this semester “I’ve played myself”. I’ve taken on way too many credits (30, actually) to spend enough time I want to spend on each activity I’m taking part in. I feel like there have been too many long nights staring passively at heaps of text, and too many worries that prevent me from really focusing on one thing. Even when trying to spend time with friends here and back at home, I feel like more often than not, I have to apologize for missing out.

I don’t feel invested; I don’t feel like I’m learning as much as I can be. I took on this much because I feel like I have to and because I should.

But what sort of reason is that?

I dipped my feet into so many classes and activities because they interested me (and sometimes I think about joining even more), but then again, lots of things interest me.

So yes, this semester, I feel like I’ve played myself.

Hopkins prides itself on being an opportunity hub, and rightfully so. But the biggest challenge in coming here (and I’m sure in many college settings) has been maintaining focus. The amount of high-quality opportunities I can partake in are infinite, and I so badly want to try it all – but I can’t.

I think that’s what my professor was so expressively ranting about last lecture; I’m so very lucky to be here because of the opportunities present and the opportunities to come. I’m able to learn about wondrous and complex things through the lens of knowledgeable people with opinions and ideas frighteningly different than mine. I need to stop feeling like I have to do all these things that’ll seemingly place me somewhere ‘safe’ in the real world, because frankly, some of these things aren’t me. Instead, I should be investing my time in classes and activities I really, really, really want to take, and explore them rather than do them.

I’m lucky to be here, and I’m here to learn as much as I can. Thank you, Mr. Dungey, for making me realize that.