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Tilting with Windmills in Tutorial

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

 

Issue: 

 Fall 2007

I remember sitting at my computer, scrolling through the list of choices for my tutorial class. My eyes jumped across the screen, and my mind nearly exploded with excitement. There were so many different topics to choose from, I could barely contain my geeky self. There were courses ranging from environmental science to Icelandic sagas to weird music to basically anything that could be possibly studied at a liberal arts college. There was even a class entirely dedicated to studying Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. I mean, how many college students get to do that for an entire semester?

After about two hours of shuffling through my choices, I settled on “Don Quixote and the Modern World.” Since I am interested in Spanish language and culture, I figured this class would be a perfect opportunity to read one of the classic novels of the modern world. Never mind the literary analysis aspect; I just wanted to read about a crazy old man who tilts with windmills. Stepping into class on the first day, there was that familiar first-day awkward silence. Not only did most of us not know anyone else in the class, it was also eight o’clock in the morning, an hour at which most of us could barely function. Just as we were about to fall asleep, the door swung open and our professor, Esther Fernández, greeted us with a warm smile. “Good morning, clase!”

After briefly discussing the purpose and goals of the class, we dove straight into the book. That’s what I found great about tutorial. Although its focus is teaching first-years how to adjust to college- level writing and research, the bulk of class time goes into discussing your topic. I quickly became engrossed in dissecting every bit of Don Quixote’s literary adventures. I fell in love with the text and was surprised with the amount of vulgarity and satire Cervantes was able to get away with without censure by the post-Inquisition Spanish government.

New discoveries such as these make class discussions fun and exciting. Not only is our professor always challenging us to dig deeper than generic answers and move beyond the literal words on the page, she is also very animated and engaging. The day we discussed the windmills story, Profesora Fernández reenacted the dialogue between Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in her tiny, but fierce, Spanish manner, and the class couldn’t stop laughing. Another time the class got a kick out of trying to explain the concept of “emo” toProfesora by using the character of Grisóstomo, an astronomy-student-turned-shepherd who writes bad poetry, as an example. With experiences such as these, I’ve found that I enjoy the content and dynamics of the class so much that I no longer mind getting up early to attend.

After this semester, the class will be over, but the relationships we have forged will not be. Yes, that sounds like a big ball of cheese dipped in more cheese, but it’s true. Our class chemistry is pretty tight, and I can easily see my classmates spending time together in the future. Our professor, meanwhile, will serve as academic adviser for each of us until we declare a major. Essentially, the tutorial is our social and academic core. And to keep myself from sounding like a college brochure — because I’m sure you get enough of those — I’ll stop there.

For now, I’m excited for what the rest of the semester has in store for my tutorial class. Maybe some more role-playing? Or using more 21st-century slang to explain a 17th-century text? Who knows? But what I do know is that I’m actually having fun while working my tail off to adjust to college life. While there is a good-sized leap from high school to college-level writing, I assure you that it isn’t anything to fear. Tutorial is a challenge to look forward to when you get to Grinnell. Think of it as an adventure, like Don Quixote. Just don’t go off and fight windmills. Knowing the end results, I wouldn’t recommend that anyone try it.

Aki Shibuya '11 is undeclared and from Orinda, California.

 

A Place of My Own

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

Being from a foreign country and knowing little about Iowa or the Midwest, I thought of Grinnell as a little campus in the middle of the tall prairie grass. Indeed, I chose to come here not only because I wanted the isolation and oneness with nature that Grinnell seemed to offer, but also because I desired a retreat where I could nurse my tired body while nourishing my hungry mind. I had a fantasy image of Grinnell as the perfect retreat center, where all was quiet and serene.

Stepping off the plane, I was shocked to see that I was at a proper, if somewhat small, airport. Even so, Des Moines — the capital and one of the biggest cities in Iowa — paled in comparison to my hometown, Kuala Lumpur. I lived in the heart of KL, seven minutes from what were at the time the world’s tallest towers. I was also seven minutes from Malaysia’s very own Times Square, which houses thousands of shops including Asia’s largest indoor theme park, as well as the biggest Borders bookstore in the world. Des Moines simply could not compare.

While driving to the College, I spotted fields of corn and soybeans all around me. I could not recall ever having seen cornfields before. I tried to brace myself for what I expected would be an introduction to a remote, uninhabited prairie, but it never came. I spotted a Subway and a KFC. I saw Wells Fargo and Radio Shack, and even a Pizza Hut. This turned out to be the town of Grinnell. The phrase “in the middle of nowhere,” I discovered, was actually something of an overstatement.

I remember my first time gallivanting about town. I liked it immediately. I liked how personable it felt, how quiet and restful. I shall not deny that the absence of a Starbucks, or a 7 Eleven, or a restaurant that stayed open past 10 p.m., or a building taller than three stories, was not lost on me. Yet, these were not obvious disadvantages. In place of Starbucks, Grinnell offered me Saints Rest, which, while it did not serve my favorite green tea frappuccino, offered better music and wonderfully affable company. In place of late-night restaurants, there were cozy pubs. In place of chain stores, quirky, agreeable little shops tried to cater to my needs and wants.

I did not immediately like certain things about small-town Grinnell. I found the lack of streetlights rather disturbing at first, coming as I do from a metropolis where snatch-thieves and other dodgy characters abound in dimly lit areas. Now, I feel comfortable going for nightly jaunts by myself without feeling the need to look behind me every 10 seconds. I enjoy a clear vision of the sky and the stars. The town of Grinnell is not exactly diverse: many of the townies are white, Christian, and somewhat conservative. Having said that, these same townies are friendly — they will open doors for you, smile when passing you, exchange greetings on the street, and offer to help you with those heavy bags. Again, not something a city-dweller is used to.

The weather here is also very different. I come from a tropical country where the temperature never dips below 77 degrees and never rises above 95 degrees. The sun rises at 6:30 a.m. and sets at 6:30 p.m. every single day of the year. This is my third Midwestern winter, and I have yet to get used to it. Here, winters can be brutal; they can also be wildly unpredictable. I love how one can wake up in the middle of January to a warm and snowless day. Similarly, we can and do get a week of crazy cold weather in the middle of April or May.

As a child, I lived in several countries before moving to Malaysia. That early nomadic existence meant that while I felt comfortable moving around and could settle in easily enough, I never felt like any place was my place. I was always a traveler — every “home” was merely a temporary dwelling. From the moment I came here, I liked the College and the town. Obviously then, I was still in my honeymoon phase. Yet, two and a half years later, I am still in love with this place. A longer honeymoon phase, perhaps? It does not feel like it. It feels like I have finally found a place of my own.

Smita Elena Sharma '08 is a Philosophy major from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Roommates

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

 

It was late July, and I sat at my computer, feverishly checking the Grinnell PioneerWeb networking site for my first-year housing information. It was probably the third or fourth time that night I had checked, and yet I still had hope that another click on the refresh button would yield the answer to my question. Certainly knowing which dorm I got into was one thing — I could have seen myself in any of the rooms at Grinnell, from the cozy residence halls of South Campus to the high-ceilinged modernity of East Campus — but it was not the room I was concerned with, but rather the roommate.

Who would he be? I had always envisioned my roommate in the vein ofThe Catcher in the Rye: an outgoing, big-shot roommate to contrast with my own reserved self. I pored over the roommate questionnaire I had hastily answered earlier that summer. What had I checked again?

Then I saw it. An e-mail in my new Grinnell mailbox from my prospective roommate. My existing conceptions of him were shattered. I knew nothing. His name was Chinese, this much I knew. Later I would enlist the help of my Chinese-speaking friends to ensure that I would not make the fatal error of mispronouncing my future roommate’s name.

I eagerly read through the e-mail, starting with his humorous assumption that I was “from Deutschland,” to his introduction of himself, his city, and his hobbies. He told me we would share “tears and happiness” together at Grinnell. As excited as I was to meet him, I was worried my ignorance of his culture would make it difficult for us to connect as friends.

One month later, after occasional but regular e-mail communication, I was ready to meet my roommate, Wenyang Qian ’12. I arrived at Grinnell and unpacked my stuff in the already half-filled room. I found a note explaining Wenyang’s momentary absence and his excitement to finally meet me.

The door burst open, and in bounded the raw energy that I came to know as Wenyang. While I was exhausted by my day of traveling, he had spent the last few days getting to know Grinnell during International Student Orientation. He was all ready to show me around and introduce me to people. We went to dinner together, talked about how we had chosen Grinnell, and the strange hands of fate and coincidence that had brought him, from Nanjing, China, and me, from Redmond, Wash. (not Germany), to the same dorm room at a small college in the middle of Iowa.

We both marveled at the stars in the night sky and the openness of the Midwest, and shared our photos and stories from our lives at home. As it turned out, we were not so strange to each other as we had each imagined. We both possessed the intellectual curiosity and courage that had brought us to Grinnell. We both had experience with long-distance relationships and similar views of romance. We even found out that we enjoyed some of the same movies, including the French film Amélie.

As the academic year commenced, we still found time to enjoy our talks together, even when we busied ourselves with activities outside the room. We shared our tears and happiness.

Lindy Hopping Around the World

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

“So what kind of dancing do you do?” my grandmother asked me when I visited her for lunch one day this past summer. “Swing,” I tell her again and then try to explain a little better. “Like Lindy Hop, or the Charleston.”

“Oh,” she said. “I used to do those.” She’s surprised, of course, because a year ago if she’d talked to me about swing dancing, I would have said, “No way doll, you’re not getting me to flash my feet on the dance floor.” You know those kids in high school who just stand against the wall at prom, arms crossed, glaring at all their friends making fools of themselves with their crazy rave moves? Yeah, I was one of those kids. Wouldn’t even sway to music for a free iPod.

I tried to break out of that once I got to Grinnell. They had this club called the Grinnell Swing Society. Okay, cool. Went to one meeting, tried it out, felt like an idiot, and never went back.

Until the next year, when I promised myself I wouldn’t quit. I needed to challenge myself, and getting over my fear of public embarrassment seemed as big a mountain as any to start on. I went to every single class and still felt like a fool, but I had a whole lot of fun feeling like one.

Then it happened. I got addicted.

And gosh darn, it’s all Grinnell’s fault.

But let’s shim-sham this story back a bit. The leaders of the Swing Society were always urging members to attend swing exchanges. It’s a chance to visit someplace fun and dance with new people, they said. Each place has its own sense of dancing. Yeah right, I thought. Swing is swing is swing, and there’s only so many moves you can learn.

But then, with this new addiction running through my veins, I went to my first exchange. And boy, was I a million times wrong. It wasn’t completely different, of course, but the boys threw in quite a few moves I didn’t know. “Dude, show me that again,” I’d say, and they would, and I’d show my Grinnell friends, and we’d come back to campus with a sweet new move.

And that’s how you learn to swing dance. You visit places. You pick up their new moves.

The best part: you make a bazillion new friends.

I went home to Madison over the summer desperate to keep dancing. Now Madison’s not very far from Grinnell, but I still encountered some new moves I’d never seen before. By the end of the summer, my style had melded into a mixture of Grinnell and Madison. Grinadison Swing. And then, come August, I moved to London for the semester.

Woah.

When you visit various countries, the differences invariably stick in your head, be it foods, clothing styles, or even television commercials (British commercials make no sense!). When I flew into the old Swing Capital of the World, what I noticed, it seems, was their difference of dance. Behind the back? I’ve never done that before. And what’s with all these aerials? But hey, these are kinda fun. I guess I can figure them out.

Grinnell Swing Girl Becomes Grinnell-Madison-London Swing Girl … Grinadon Swing Girl.

While swing dancing started in the United States, over the century it has spread to the entire world. In each place I visit, I learn a new move and meet new friends. What I learned in a small town in Iowa opened up a whole new Aladdin-and-his-magic-carpet world for me, a whole new bit of culture I can search out and find wherever I go. Sweet.

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

ABBA Fans Unite

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

It’s a strange feeling, accomplishing a goal you didn’t know you had. It’s happened to me a few times at Grinnell, most markedly, when my former professor, Tim Arner, turned to me in the campus pub and said, “People who don’t like ABBA are bad people.” It happened again a few days later, when he wrote on his [plan], our Grinnell blog community, “If I could have a genie grant me just one wish, I would wish that everyone I know would sit down and watch Teen Wolf. Then I would wish that I had more wishes, but it would be too late because I already used up my one wish on the Teen Wolf thing.”

Who was this man? I wondered. He was my professor; he has a Ph.D. in the most painful period of British literature; and he had practically cried over the last lines of Beowulf, for God’s sake. Could he actually be cool?

I embarked on this road of professor-student friendship with my comrade-in-arms Jess Issacharoff ’09. Throughout my Grinnell career, I’ve often taken for granted the fact that I know my professors — until now. Because there’s no other way to say it: being friends with a professor is so cool. As undergraduates, I feel we’re often flailing for understanding. Knowing someone who knows so much more than I do — and plays video games — is both inspiring and comforting.

As you read this, I will have graduated from Grinnell, and it’s easy to wonder whether there’s a place for Grinnellians in the real world, a world of people who don’t think of “social construct” as a phrase to throw around at a dinner party. Professor Arner has shown me that life goes on after college; that I will have a house, a job, and a life, and I won’t constantly yearn to be back in college.

It’s a strange and sobering lesson, I suppose. But at this point, knowing intelligent, interesting, socially capable (for the most part) 30-somethings is exactly what I need. Plus, let’s be honest, there are too few ABBA-lovers in the world. We have to stick together.

Rachel Fields '09 is an English major from Lemont, Illinois.

 

The Sea Urchins and Me

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

 

The purple spines bristled as I lifted the sea urchin from its container. Water dripped down the curve of its body as I turned it over to examine the whitish underside. Nestled in the center was a tiny mouth that also functioned as an anus (sea urchins are much less complex than mammals). Remembering that the rest of the class was watching, I raised the syringe and pierced the sea urchin in the region surrounding its mouth, pumping it with hydrochloride. I turned it over. As Professor Sullivan had predicted, sea urchin eggs were bubbling up around the spines and dripping down its sides. I placed it upside down over a beaker of seawater, and thus we began collecting sea urchin eggs.

The exact same process is used to collect sea urchin sperm.

I haven’t explained very much, have I? My apologies. This is the Biology 150 lab: Introduction to Biological Inquiry. For those of you are considering biology as a major, you will begin with this course. There are four or five sections of the class offered every semester, each with a distinct theme, and not all of them involve sea urchins. Our section focused on cell differentiation, while other sections studied climate change or bacteria or neurons. Though each section has a distinct theme, all of them aim to prepare us for more advanced work in biology by letting us prepare our own research projects in an area within our theme.

I am not a biology major, but when reading the course descriptions for that semester, the opportunity seemed too good to miss. Nor was I disappointed. It was less than three weeks before we were introduced to our sea urchin friends, which we used to study how cells differentiate. It’s a fascinating question: how does a cell in an embryo know it’s to become a neuron or a cardiac muscle cell? How do the eyes form in the head, and how do some cells know they have to become eyes while others know they will become the head itself? These were the questions we tried to answer as we progressed through the semester.

The second half of the course was devoted largely to a research project. We were free to decide the topic, find the relevant research articles, and combine the methods and results from those articles to create and carry out our own experiments.

If there was one thing Biology 150 was, it was a hands-on. The entire class ran on students’ curiosity and the questions we asked. In fact, Professor Sullivan structured his lectures specifically around questions we wrote down and handed in before class.

I must admit there were times when I felt frustrated. Focusing a microscope, using a micropipette, and making a footed coverslip were things I had trouble learning. But those difficulties seem petty when you see in front of you with your own two eyes the sperm and egg of two sea urchins meet and an embryo emerge, an embryo that will, in its own time, become a sea urchin. When you see life unfolding in front of you, it becomes difficult to complain about technicalities.

As I said, I am not a biology major. I am a mathematics major. But now I am a math major who can type out a laboratory report and conduct my own research. Most important, I am a math major who has seen, with his own eyes, the point at which life begins.

Amar Sarkar '12 is a Mathematics and Statistics major and Neuroscience concentrator from Gurgaon, India.

Humanities Majors Can Like Science Too

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

 

I arrived at Grinnell my first year as a wannabe physicist and a wannabe writer, and I had no idea which of these subjects I wanted to follow. If I had been stuck with such diverse interests at any other college, I might have been in trouble, but at Grinnell this dilemma was not as serious as it might have originally seemed. By pure luck, I got the perfect first-year adviser to help me work through my science-humanities schizophrenia: Professor Paula Smith, an English professor who teaches creative writing. Her husband, Professor Paul Tjossem, teaches physics.

Professor Smith did her best to cultivate both of my interests in my academic plan. I ended my first year in a good position to double major in English and physics, with at least two very excited professors to help guide me through any conflicts.

But then I had an epiphany, an epiphany that had absolutely nothing to do with challenges of double majoring or balancing schedules. The epiphany was very simple and concrete: for me, math sucked. Like really really boring sucked, and any career path that included me spending the rest of my life with equations was not a career path I wanted.

So heigh-ho, heigh-ho, off to English I go, never to set foot in a physics room again.

Not that my adviser didn’t try. She pushed and she pushed to get me to continue my studies in physics, but my interests had changed to gender and women’s studies. Plus, I had found an even better way to satisfy that inner geek in me. I made friends.

Science friends are awesome. Physics, biology, computer science — they all understood and appreciated the necklace I made out of circuit resistors. They get the dweeby jokes I make. Well, maybe not when they’re about Charlotte Brontë, but they do when they’re about indefinite integrals. By observing as my friends learned and synthesized knowledge and repeated it back to me, I in a way got exactly what I had been looking for in physics: the science community. And I didn’t have to do a single problem set to get there! I got to write my postcolonial, my poststructural, my postfeminist papers for all the lit classes I wanted — something I actually could see myself spending the rest of my life doing — without having to give up that attachment to science.

And yes, I was a bit of a phony, a science groupie, if you will. I made T-shirts and traveled everywhere with the science band during their semester tour without ever actually picking up an instrument myself. But that’s what I wanted, and had I wanted to double major I could have done that as well. By virtue of its close community, Grinnell allows students with such diverse majors to interact all the time. It doesn’t trap you within your area of study. I like being around science people even if I don’t want to be a science person myself.

When I officially declared English as my major and asked Professor Smith to stay on as my adviser, I received an e-mail consisting only of one line: “Do you promise to take Modern Physics your senior year?” I balked. I could promise I would hear from my friends all about the awesome experiments they were doing, so by osmosis, yes …

A few minutes later, I got a second e-mail:

“Just kidding. Of course I will.”

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

Serving the Community via Dorm Life

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

 

One of the first people I met when I came to Grinnell College as a student was my future friend Alyssa. As I hauled my huge bags out of the car, Alyssa approached me and my family with a big smile. “Hi! Welcome to Grinnell!” At first, I thought she was just volunteering to help first-year students move in, but later I found out she was my floor’s student adviser (SA). As my first year progressed, not only did I become close friends with Alyssa, but I also learned about the unique structure of residential life at Grinnell.

With such positive first-year memories of living on the third floor of Rawson, I decided to apply to be a student adviser myself my second year. Now I am the SA on the second floor of Smith and I’ve completely enjoyed my experience of being on student staff. As an SA, I work as a voluntary student leader and am in charge of fostering community and overseeing activities on my hall’s floor. While these tasks might seem rather vague, I basically serve my peers as a campus resource. So if anyone wants to rant, chat, jump around, or ask a question, I’m there to help.

Because of our system of self-governance — which encourages students to take responsibility for their actions and to be respectful to their community members — I have a fairly easy job of keeping my floor in check. I don’t patrol the floor during the weekends, reporting bad behavior to my superiors. Instead, I mediate conflicts through dialogue.

One of my favorite parts of being an SA is throwing study breaks. Each semester I get to spend some of the student government’s money to throw mini parties on my floor. How cool is that?! I’ve thrown all kinds of study breaks, from a kindergarten theme study break — where we made goop and had juice boxes and goldfish crackers — to a candy sushi study break. During midsem exams week, I bought four large pies to share with my floor.

Aside from giving my residents an excuse to avoid a paper for a few extra minutes while still trying my hardest not to make them diabetic, I’ve enjoyed talking to them, getting to know them better, and building a community on my floor. And bonding doesn’t just occur during study breaks. There have been many times throughout the year when I’ve sat in the hallway and chatted with my peers about old school Nickelodeon cartoons while sharing a big bowl of popcorn (ah, more food), or stood in the doorway and talked to students while holding a big bowl of candy (even more sugar).

Even though it has not always been particularly easy, at the end of the day, with all the laughs, tears, jokes, and smiles, being an SA is very rewarding. It’s satisfying to know I can help contribute to the community and make self-governance function, and thus make our unique Grinnell College student life work. I’m looking forward to returning to staff next year and getting to know a whole new batch of people on my new floor.

And judging by how much sugar I’ve given out on my current floor throughout the year, I just hope my new residents like their sweets as well.

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

Flaking Out

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

 

On Friday afternoons I flake out with my archaeology professor, some of his friends, and any students interested in giving up two hours of their weekend. We hang out, relax, talk, and get down to the serious business of what’s known to everyone who’s anyone as flintknapping. Flintknapping is the process of creating flaked or chipped stone tools — projectile points, knives, scrapers, and awls. Those arrowheads in museum display cases — those are what I aspire to make. You start with a smooth, uniform rock, the glassier the better. Chert and obsidian work well. When you hit them with another rock at the right angle, you force the smooth rock to shatter in a conchoidal fracture (a phrase that I think is only used when talking about flintknapping — think of how a chunk of glass would break if you hit it). This process creates long flakeshaped rocks that you refine and sharpen until they’re ready for use.

As one of my friends put it, “You’re hitting rocks with other rocks to make sharp rocks.”

Talk about a hobby with a history: the earliest flaked stone tools date to 2.5 million years ago. For most of human history, stone tools have been the main technology of humankind. Only recently (archaeologically speaking) did metal tools become the norm in the Old World. Even then, stone tools were still a mainstay in the New World, and some parts of the Old World as well.

Flintknapping’s modern incarnation as a specialized hobby can be traced to a Californian American Indian, Ishi, who taught academics interviewing him how to use stone tools for survival. In recent years, archaeologists have increasingly used experiments with flintknapped tools to recreate prehistoric technology.

The basics of flintknapping are pretty easy to learn, but six months after starting, I’m still trying to get the hang of it. Hitting rocks with other rocks is harder than it sounds, especially for people such as me, who have problems with something called “accuracy.” And there are tricks to it that I haven’t mastered — the ones that don’t involve accuracy mostly require upper body strength, which is also something I lack. At one point last semester, after I’d managed to create a rather crude-but functional point, my professor turned to me and said, “Congratulations, you’re now the technological equivalent of a Neanderthal.” As I said, I’m still getting the hang of it.

One of the fun things about flintknapping is you have an automatic product. Two hours of sitting outside of the anthropology building, flaking chert, and I’ve made two arrowheads. I now have a toolbox under my bed filled with points in various stages of completion. Some are nothing more than mangled bits of dull rock, but they have sentimental value. I’ve never been very crafty, so being able to actually make something is a treat for me. And my distorted, inelegant tools illustrate my point: you don’t have to be strong or creative or talented to flintknap — you just have to be interested in history. That’s not to say I have no aspirations for my lithic experiments; eventually, I’m hoping to progress to Neolithic technology. But while I work my way up the evolutionary ladder, I get to spend my Friday afternoons playing with rocks and flaking out.

Beth Miller '10 is an Anthropology and English major from Iowa City, Iowa.

Alternative Break and Our Dream Man

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

Issue:  Spring 2009

When my fellow Alt Breakers and I started to give each other nicknames, I knew all barriers between us had vanished. It surprised me — after less than a week together on our spring break service trip, our group skipped the polite acquaintance period that exists after introduction and went straight to familiarity. After all, you don’t call someone “Creepy Voice” or “Lost in Boys” until you feel they won’t take it the wrong way. The nicknames signaled we had become family.

I applied to the Mt. Madonna County Park, Calif., Alternative Break trip in spring 2008 for a chance to reconnect with the outdoors and experience an intentional community of service. I definitely didn’t expect the loving camaraderie that resulted. Weed-pulling doesn’t sound like your usual bonding activity, but done in the context of an Alternative Break service trip, almost any project can turn a group of 10 strangers into fast friends. It usually takes me a good while to loosen up around unfamiliar people, but something about the two weeks of intensive outdoor work, chilling temperatures, and spirited campfire conversations quickly brought us together.

As in other bona fide communities, iconic symbols began to spring up around day four. The imaginary “Dream Man” was a group favorite — a Scottish accent, casual good looks, a happy trail persona, and a habit of closing his eyes while singing and playing guitar rounded out this much discussed ideal character. He was born out of group musings and quickly became a presence in daily conversation. Needless to say, Dream Man’s existence summed up the idiosyncrasies of our group dynamics.

Even within a small community like Grinnell, meeting people outside one’s normal social circles (no matter how large they are) can be difficult, and I treasured the opportunity to connect with a different set of Grinnellians whom I might not have known otherwise. Some of my closest friendships and warmest memories resulted from this Alt Break trip.

As I write this, I can’t wait for this spring break to come around. My roommate and I are leading another trip out west, this time to the Redwood National and State Parks in northwestern California. With three weeks until spring break 2009, I can already tell my group is going to be as awesomely eclectic as the last. New nicknames and defining moments will crop up, sing-a-longs will fill our lengthy car rides, and maybe we’ll come up with our own “Dream Man” to keep us smiling long after spring break has ended.

Alisha Saville '09 is a Sociology major from Carbondale, Illinois.