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Just a Small Town Girl

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)

Sure, Grinnell College is surrounded by seemingly endless cornfields. The bustling metropolises of Des Moines and Iowa City are each about an hour away. Still, you won’t believe everything you can do on campus each week. Sometimes, though, after running around from one appointment to another during the week and studying in every open nook on campus, I need a brief retreat from the College’s grounds. And that’s when I head to town.

Grinnell, the town, may not be that big, and at first glance, it may look like there’s little to do. Don’t let appearances fool you. As someone who grew up near a sizable university town, I was at first skeptical of how much fun I’d have in small downtown Grinnell. But I love this thriving and friendly community, and have many fond memories of events or activities that have taken place just a few blocks from campus.

From time to time, I like to grab a meal in town. Whether it’s curry at Thai Basil, pizza from Pag’s or Jimbo’s, breakfast at the A&M Cafe, or Chinese food from Chuong Garden, I’ve always had fun bonding with my friends over copious amounts of food. Similarly, my friends and I like to walk over to Saints Rest Coffeehouse, grab a cup of joe, and nurse it slowly while enjoying the cozy atmosphere and chatting with regulars or writing papers. For those times when we get a case of the midnight munchies, my friends and I resort to the traditional 2 a.m. bakery run to the Danish Maid Bakery, where we get fresh donuts just out of the cookers. In the fall, we head to the downtown farmers’ market to grab some produce, drool over mounds of fresh baked goods, and chat with the vendors about their products or life in general. Regardless of what time of day it is, there always seems to be a moment when food can bring you, your friends, and the town closer together.

Another great way to explore the town of Grinnell is by volunteering. A lot of my friends do community service work and have been involved in projects at local schools, churches, the community center, and retirement homes. One of my favorite volunteer experiences was with the Community Meal, which takes place every Tuesday at the elementary school. After helping prepare a meal, there’s nothing better than to sit down with members of the community and talk about non-academic subjects. We all need a break from school every now and then!

While it may seem that all of my intown adventures revolve around food, I assure you, I’ve had many fun nonfood experiences in Grinnell as well. Sometimes, there’s nothing better than to take some time off and run to one of the nearby parks with a group of friends. I’ve received some odd looks from the 5-year-olds when I swing on monkey bars and act even younger than they do, but acting like a kid can be the best of all stress-relievers.

There’s a lot more to Grinnell than cornfields, as I’ve learned over the past few years. Creative minds partnered with a town like this one make the best adventures and stories to share with people at home.

Aki Shibuya '11 is a History major from Orinda, California.

The Beauty of Prairie Butterflies

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)

Before last summer, the only butterfly I could identify was a monarch, and the only prairie plant I knew was a coneflower. Thanks to an internship grant from the Center for Prairie Studies at Grinnell, I not only learned how to identify a multitude of butterflies and their favorite flowers, but I also spent last summer teaching kids in the Grinnell community to do the same.

Grinnell is located right in the middle of what used to be tallgrass prairie from horizon to horizon. What is now a landscape dominated by row crops and the occasional town was once an extremely biodiverse landscape where bugs of many varieties, including beautiful butterflies, used to roam. Today there are massive sycamores in the middle of campus and lots of other trees scattered around, but prior to European-American habitation of the area, it is rumored that there wasn’t a single tree within a three-mile radius of campus.

My journey to learn all about Iowa’s native butterflies and plants began with the Poweshiek Skipper Project and a talk with Larissa Mottl at the Center for Prairie Studies. The Poweshiek skipper is a small brown butterfly first identified by a Grinnell professor in the late 1800s; it is named for the county in which Grinnell resides. Due to loss of habitat, the Poweshiek skipper hasn’t been spotted in Poweshiek County for many years, and Grinnell’s Center for Prairie Studies decided to investigate.

Larissa realized early on that the best way to get people looking for and talking about the Poweshiek skipper was to tell kids about it, putting not only their sharp young eyes and brains to work, but also their parents’. Together Larissa and I created a unique one-time internship with the city of Grinnell Parks and Recreation Board in which I would work on creating and implementing butterfly conservation education projects and opportunities for kids in Grinnell. The goal was to get Grinnell kids excited about butterflies and the prairie and help create and renew the natural habitat of Iowa.

My internship entailed collaborative projects that spanned the realms of the College, the Grinnell elementary schools, and the Grinnell Public Library. I worked with the College’s art gallery to develop and implement community art projects featuring butterflies. I arranged a butterfly day at the public library. By the end of the summer, I had created a plan with the principal and teachers at one of the elementary schools to plant a butterfly garden on the school grounds. I also got to attend the North American Prairie Conference in Winona, Minn., and connect with other people working on increasing prairie habitat awareness.

In addition to my interesting and educational encounters with educators, artists, insect biologists, and prairie specialists, I also got to see the beauty of summer in Iowa. Summer in Grinnell includes such delights as the weekly farmers’ market, Thursday Music in the Park, and endless BBQs with other Grinnellians who also made Grinnell their home for the summer. I ended up with new networking and organizational skills, a wealth of new knowledge about butterflies and prairies, and a mind full of memories of a town I have grown to love.

Paige Greenley '09 is a Anthropology/Environmental Studies major from Eugene, Oregon.

Diversity and Unity

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)


The International Student Organization’s annual Food Bazaar (one of my favorite events of the fall semester) is an obvious celebrations of Grinnell’s diversity. But for me, what stands out most about the event is the unity that emerges from within that diversity.

Take my experience this year: one of my friends called me to ask if I would like to help make momos, a type of Tibetan/ Nepalese dumpling. Two other girls from Nepal would join us to make three different types of momos — chicken, beef, and vegetarian.

The Food Bazaar took place on a Sunday evening, which meant Saturday night found the four of us in a residence hall kitchen, attempting to prepare the fillings. Between washing, chopping, and mixing what seemed like vast quantities of vegetables and meat, there was much talking, laughing, and crying (due to particularly potent onions). There was a (playfully) heated discussion that began over the origin of momos, which led into the similarities and differences of different kinds of dumplings, and then to China-Tibet relations. It was definitely a bonding experience, but the process wasn’t over yet. We still had to wrap and steam what looked to be a few hundred momos — with only one steamer between the four of us. It looked like Sunday would be a long day.

While the Nepalese girls steamed the chicken and vegetable momos, my partner and I brought a table up to the hallway of his floor, set out the beef filling and wonton wrappers, put on some music, and began wrapping. Over the next few hours, half of the occupants of the floor stopped to help, leading to more bonding.

We didn’t get the steamer until midafternoon and didn’t have time to steam all our momos before the event started, so we brought a second batch later. The bazaar featured about 50 dishes (including appetizers, main dishes, and, of course, desserts) from all over the world. Since diners were limited to five dishes per ticket, the hardest part was choosing from the wonderful array.

The diversity in the room was obvious, but so was the unity. In addition to Grinnell students, lots of people from the town came, ranging from young children to senior citizens. They enjoyed food from across the Americas, Asia, Europe, and Africa. The sense of community was evident — a room full of good food, chatter, laughter, and the excitement of trying new things for the first time.

And I have to say, our momos were delicious. They all looked different depending on who had wrapped them — some were round, some were more triangular, some were folded into neat little packets, and some were barely holding together, but they were all gone by the end of the evening, leaving us with empty pans, some dishes to wash, strong memories, and stronger bonds.

Denise Borsuk '11 is a Psychology major and Global Development Studies concentrator from Singapore.

Choosing Grinnell

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)


I remember coming home from school one February afternoon and rushing to the mailbox to check on college admission letters. When I found a big red envelope that read “Congratulations!” my mother and I screamed with joy.

My college search process was a long and hard one. It took awhile for me to know what I really wanted. As the deadline for college applications crept up, panic set in. I hadn’t yet felt a strong attraction to a particular school. In that rush, I applied to a mix of schools, hoping I’d get into at least one where I would be happy.

Then something changed. I found Grinnell College and fell in love.

OK. Maybe “love” is too extreme a word to describe the first time I looked at the College and its offerings, but it’s close. Something clicked with Grinnell. Something made me feel it was the right place to go.

My story of choosing Grinnell was an interesting one. While discussing my college plans with a family friend, she suggested I check out her alma mater, Grinnell College. I was intrigued. After some more research, I was delighted at the prospects: a top-notch liberal arts education, small class sizes, no general education rules besides tutorial and major requirements, and a diverse student body. I was sold.

A few months later, I found myself exploring the Grinnell campus on a warm April day. As my visit progressed, I was further convinced that I belonged at Grinnell. I met students who were passionate about what they studied as well as friendly and open. I sat in on stimulating classes. I was surprised that students had so much to do on campus during the weekend. Of all my college visits, this was, by far, my favorite. I knew I had made the right choice to attend Grinnell College.

Even after being here for almost two years of rigorous academic work, my perceptions of Grinnell College have not changed. While there are day-to-day challenges, I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. Grinnell is a special place, and I won’t ever forget that.

Aki Shibuya ’11 is a History major from Orinda, California.

My First Day

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)


August 22, 2009. I will never, ever forget that date. That was — drum roll please — the day I became an official Grinnellian. At 3:45 a.m., I got out of my cozy, familiar bed in my parents’ home, brushed my teeth, and said goodbye to my sisters and cat. My parents and I loaded up the van, took a deep breath, and headed off to Iowa. After hitting a few different McDonald’s on the four-hour drive from Kansas City to Grinnell, we arrived.

I walked into the first-floor lounge of my dorm, trying not to pass out from nervousness. Never have I felt such a range of emotions. I was excited to be at Grinnell, worried that I knew no one, sad that I would leave my parents, eager to begin my college career, and petrified about everything else. I didn’t have time to dwell on any of these feelings, though. I was immediately greeted by our lovely residence life coordinator Katie and a New Student Orientation (NSO) leader. They gave me my NSO folder, told me where I had to be later that day, and welcomed me to Grinnell.

About then I realized just how much I had to do! Unpack the van, unpack the boxes, fill out forms, organize my room, run to Walmart, get my student card, and, oh yeah, say goodbye to my parents.

But first things first. We went outside to unload the van. Before I knew it, a swarm of women’s soccer players descended to help. They moved my entire carload of stuff in one trip. I beat my roommate to campus, so after a quick phone call to see which side of the room she wanted, we opened the boxes and got down to business.

We were almost done unpacking when my roommate arrived, accompanied by her dad and most of her stuff. All of my nervousness about not getting along with her disappeared as soon as we met.

That was one thing off my list of worries, so we moved on to the next task: eating lunch. I had been in the dining hall when I visited campus as a prospective student, but there’s something very different about eating the first meal as a new member of the Grinnell community. There was so much to take in and so many new faces, but every single person was kind and welcoming. After being on campus for only four hours, I could tell that I was home.

The rest of the day flew by. We played some icebreaker games, went to dinner with the students from my floor, and then all the first-years met in Herrick Chapel for a session on diversity. The fact that Grinnell cares enough about making people feel accepted to address the issue on our very first day was awesome.

I met with my First-Year Tutorial class afterward outside the chapel under a beautiful starry sky, and we had the opportunity to grill an upperclassman on life at Grinnell. It was reassuring to receive answers to my most pressing anxieties about adapting to college. His enthusiasm and love for Grinnell was contagious, and I could already feel my Pioneer pride building.

Before I knew it, it was midnight. As I curled up in my new bed after a long, draining day, I smiled to myself. I was finally a Grinnellian.

Kate Munday '13 is undeclared and from Kansas City, Missouri.

Religion at Grinnell

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)


Religious? Me? Absolutely not. As far as I was concerned, religion was at the center of many of the world’s problems. In general, I held a particular dislike toward religion — too many shoulds and musts and rules and strictures.

As an Indian, such views are frowned upon, since large parts of my culture place a great deal of importance on religion. Coming to Grinnell, I had hoped I’d be able to leave that ridiculousness behind altogether.

When I arrived, though, it was slightly different — very different, actually. To my dismay, I realized that people here were interested in religion and enjoyed talking about it. And it wasn’t a few select people. It seemed that every time I was in a group of more than two people, someone would bring up the topic of religion, and that was that. My way of dealing with it? I’d leave the conversation.

Of course, this is fine at the beginning. But what happens when, in a week or so, you start making friends? When you’re with said friends and they start talking about something you don’t like, is it all right to get up and leave? I tried it, a few times. It resulted in a number of raised eyebrows and sideways glances. People started asking me why I left. Afraid I might say something offensive, I’d mumble a weak excuse about checking my mail.

So the next time someone brought up religion in a conversation, I sat there and listened.

It was then, for the first time in my life, when I learned that religion can be discussed just like anything else. People talk about the weather. People talk about psychology. People talk about politics. And people talk about religion. I suddenly realized you don’t have to be religious to talk about it. One of the members of that first conversation was Muslim. Another was Christian. Despite what I might have expected, they were talking freely without any sort of inhibition.

I kept my ears open and my mouth shut for the initial 15 minutes or so of that first talk. I learned that in both religions there’s more than just going to church or going to the mosque. There’s an entire culture behind each religion. Before it became what it is today, it was a way of life for people. It was how, centuries ago, people stayed connected to one another. After 15 minutes, I found myself talking as well, and that surprised me. I’ve shunned religion for most of my life, and yet I found I knew a great deal about the one I grew up in. But how? I see now, despite all the efforts I made to ignore religion, it’s so prevalent that in spite of my inattention, I was able to subconsciously observe and understand it.

Religion can be made ugly. But anything can be made ugly. It can also be made beautiful. I see now I had made it ugly for myself and ignored its beauty. Religion holds entire histories and cultures within it. So much of Indian architecture, literature, music, and dance forms stem from religion. And I was oblivious to it.

What do I plan to do with this sudden insight? I am planning to take a religious studies course next semester. Religious? Me? Absolutely not. But you don’t need to be religious to appreciate, understand, and learn from religion.

Amar Sarkar '12 is undeclared and from New Delhi, India.

Options at the Dining Hall

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)


The dining hall is one of my favorite places on campus. I remember the first meal on the evening of my arrival at Grinnell. The sheer size of the hall, the large number of dishes on offer, and the bustling atmosphere overwhelmed me so much, I barely managed to get myself a bowl of noodles before rushing to sit with my newly-found first-year friends.

The food is the first thing you see when you enter. There are so many options: pizza, pasta, hamburgers, salad, vegan dishes, sandwiches, stir-fry, or even a waffle. Of course, the initial excitement of the food wears off with time, and now I regularly walk around the dining hall wondering why there’s nothing to eat. But there are also days when I can’t wait to get there because they’re serving my favorite salad or my favorite chicken dish.

Some of my best memories took place in the dining hall. My first campus job was washing dishes. I had never washed dishes on such a scale before, with hundreds and hundreds of dishes coming through on a conveyor belt. My fellow dish line workers and I would scramble to get a stray plate here, a glass there. The job helped me make two great friends with whom I would eat lunch before we all started our shifts. We still regularly eat meals together. The dining hall was also where I met my second-year roommate, when we happened to sit at the same table and got to talking, just by chance. The dining hall can actually be a great place to make new friends.

The dining hall is emblematic of the accepting culture of Grinnell. The ladies at the entrance swiping your P-card always give you a big smile and ask how your day is going. If you’re in a social mood, you can eat in the big front area. If you’re feeling a bit quiet and want to chat privately with a friend, there are the booths at the back. Or if you just want to eat alone, there are tiny tables perfect for a meal with that homework reading you have to catch up on. I often go to the dining hall even if I’m not very hungry, because it offers more than just food — it offers friends and acquaintances and all round, a really Grinnellian atmosphere.

Gayatri Jayal ’11 is an English major from New Delhi, India.

A Letter to Grinnell from a Grinnellian

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)

Dear Grinnell,

Could you explain to me how I became a college senior? I understand that classes were involved and the passage of time and a whole bunch of homework, but what happened? And now it’s my last year and in eight short months, I will be released into the world to unleash my liberal arts education on unsuspecting institutions. At Commencement when I walk across that stage, only one thought will go through my head. Well, two, actually. The first will be, “God, I hope there aren’t any huge boogers hanging out of my nose.” The second, however, will most definitely be, “Please don’t make me leave this place!”

Because, Grinnell, despite homework, I love you.

Who knows, maybe that love’s even with the homework. Maybe.

You’ve changed me, did you know? Changed me in ways I never thought I’d be changed. You got me to dance; you got me to reflect upon my beliefs, find context for the parts I wanted to keep, and a replacement for the parts I needed to replace; you got me to eat Indian food and to use semicolons.

I almost don’t recognize myself from the Molly who entered Grinnell three years ago. I like the new Molly. She’s cool, mature (on occasion), and refuses to be confined. She still loves children’s books, though, and dresses like a pirate or a punk rock star when she needs cheering up.

I found a community here. Not just a friends group, but an entire support system where so many people care and so many people want to help, be it my floor’s student adviser with comfort after a break-up or the director of the Center for International Studies with help and finances to create my dream project. And yes, I’ve had my heart broken once or twice. Even you and I, Grinnell, have had a few fights, but we came out better for it in the end.

You don’t understand how much I’ll miss you. Even I don’t think I fully comprehend it. I’ll miss the dorm’s smell of clean showers in the morning, the smell of fresh paint in the Rosenfield Center, and the smell of granola in my own room. I’ll miss walking only five minutes to get to my morning classes — especially in the winter.

Today, I spoke on the phone with a Grinnell alumna who graduated perhaps six years ago. I was looking forward to insightful advice on entering the publishing world. She was looking forward to hearing about how good old Grinnell had changed since she’d left. We talked for nearly an hour, and she laughed when she discovered I worked at Burling Library. Why, she’d worked there too! Was Brian still there? He was, he was. “I miss them all so much,” she said.

Even after graduation, you never leave us do you, Grinnell? That’s comforting to know. It really is. Because as terrified as it had been to apply for colleges and find a place to spend my next four years, I’m even more terrified to leave it.

Yours forever,


Molly Rideout '10 is a English major and Gender and Women's Studies concentrator from Madison, Wisconsin.

A Summer of Peace and Adventure

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)

As a third-year student, I sincerely believe that Grinnell College is a place where the spirit of the liberal arts goes deep. During school days, as well as the summer breaks, Grinnell provides fascinating opportunities for adventures and explorations. From serious academic interactions to career exploration, we never run out of fun and meaningful stuff to do.

The past summer, I was nominated by Grinnell to receive $10,000 from the Davis Foundation to organize a peace project in Shanghai, China, with a student from Georgetown University. Called “100 Projects for Peace,” this annual program is funded by Kathryn W. Davis. Upon her 100th birthday, she decided to support 100 student-led grassroots projects around the globe on issues of conflict resolution, woman’s rights, social justice, poverty reduction, and so on. Among the 90 campuses that nominated one or two candidates, Grinnell nominated two students (one of whom was me) who each received $10,000 for a summer 2009 project.

I first came to know about 100 Projects for Peace when past winners presented on their experience during my second year. The room was packed with students, faculty, and staff members. Many people were forced to stand through the two-hour presentation, which they did without complaint, amazed by the ideas and experiences of the speakers. One student had set up an Arabic language and culture program in Israel. Another group of students managed a local food program in Iowa. I realized that I had the same opportunity to craft and organize a grassroots project that would make small but real changes for the society.

The peace project I designed closely related to my academic interests as a sociology major. With advice from professors and staff in Grinnell, my partner and I designed a project that invites law school students to help migrant workers in Shanghai, the biggest metropolitan area in mainland China. Because of China’s unique residency system, migrant workers from the countryside often face discrimination and exploitation in urban areas. Project LAMPS — Legal Aid Program for Migrant-workers in Shanghai — thus aimed to help the inner migrant workers protect their basic human rights from legal abuses.

Although we started planning before receiving the money, we still faced unexpected difficulties due to local policy and our limited knowledge. Despite the district government’s full support, we often found ourselves lost in a muddle of logistics and bureaucracy. For instance, the law schools, where we recruited 90 percent of our volunteers, banned our posters from their campus buildings in fear of political controversy; we had to secretly spread pamphlets in dormitories and classrooms.

Nevertheless, many civil servants, lawyers, law professors, and media personnel genuinely supported our project. Certainly, one summer is far from enough to change the lives of millions of rural migrants. But with our project’s help, about 35 law school students and lawyers provided free presentations and legal consultation to more than 1,000 migrant workers from all parts of China.

Through 100 Project for Peace, I learned my shortcomings and limited capacity as a student. And I also learned that there were always people out there who believe in social justice and are willing to help — it is just a matter of finding them. My summer adventure was just one example out of many priceless opportunities that Grinnell is able to provide. As long as we seek, there is always something Grinnell can offer in our interests.

Liting Cong '11 is a Sociology major and Policy Studies concentrator from Shanghai, China.

Finally Feeling Fit

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)


In my last day of Phys Ed in high school — I can recall the crisp December afternoon quite vividly — I gave a whoop of joy and did a cartwheel across the soccer field (and by “did a cartwheel” I mean I tumbled onto the ground without a care in the world). In short, I was never a fan of sports or physical exertion of any kind.

Now, as a rising second-year at Grinnell College, I’d like to tell you that I play two varsity sports, wake up every morning at the crack of dawn to go for a morning run, and am a health nut, but that would be too good to be true — and completely false. Although coming to Grinnell hasn’t made me an athletics freak, gung-ho about all things sports-related, it has opened my mind to a world more active than curling up on the couch on a sunny Friday afternoon. A variety of athletic possibilities within my range of abilities, and the wide range of options at my disposal, have most definitely helped me find a happy medium.

I should probably preface this with a note that the dreaded “freshman 15” (or perhaps I should say “first-year 15” here at Grinnell) did have a little something to do with my interest in figuring out how to become physically active on campus. After the initial few weeks of grumbling about aches and pains, the first-year 15 was last on my list of motivations. This past semester, I found a variety of ways to get myself (relatively) into shape. I took Beginning Weight Lifting as a onecredit course, discovered the wonders of the elliptical machine, and learned to love having easy access to the Grinnell gym. I joined the Grinnell Swing Society (a popular pastime among Ins&Outs writers, it turns out) and danced every Monday night this semester.

It was an almost Herculean feat in the dead of winter to get myself out of bed at 8 a.m. on Tuesday and Thursday mornings to go to my weight training class. But I found as the semester progressed and I started to get into it (and as the weather improved), I was actually enjoying myself. In contrast, I never had to drag myself to attend swing-dancing lessons. In addition to learning how to gracefully triple-step my way around my room when my roommate wasn’t around, I found a whole new community of Grinnellians.

As for the more random athletic endeavors I partook in? As spring set in, my friends insisted on tree-climbing at every opportunity, though the first tree I’d ever set foot in was on East Campus only six months ago. I found myself scaling (relatively) high heights before long and to my pleasure, I had the tree-climbing scratches and scars to prove it. Grinnell is also a great place to walk around, and in my year here, I’ve probably been on more scenic walks than my last 18 years in a busy city.

Though it might not seem like much, this combination of formalized, social, and random athletic activities has made me a more energetic and, believe it or are on varsity sports teams, but we all manage to find our ways of releasing stress, getting our heart rates up, and building social circles through athletics. Whether it’s learning Javanese dance, a one-credit water aerobics class, DAG practice every week on Mac Field (running around jabbing foam swords at people truly is a workout!), intramural Frisbee tournaments, Nerf wars in Noyce Science Center, or bike-riding down country roads past the cornfields, Grinnell offers plenty of opportunities to stay healthy, fit, and have fun — even if you’re a couch potato at heart, like me.

Sunanda Vaidheesh '12 is undeclared and from Mumbai, India.