Tag Archives: sophomore

Iceland 2017

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

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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.

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View outside of the first Airbnb we stayed at!

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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.

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

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Hvitserkur – Black sand beach!

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Some random car shot

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Coffee sold here was A+

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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[sonic.art]

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.

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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.

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Recital program!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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