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Bare Feet and Name Brands

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

 

Many Grinnellians pride themselves on adopting countercultural attitudes, breaking social constructs, and going against mainstream fads. More important, we also pride ourselves on being liberal and open-minded. These characteristics have served as the basis for many innovative activities and unique endeavors — from realizing the hypothetical (as in the founding of a fake campus newspaper) to the outlandish (as in participating shamelessly in cross-dressing parties).

So I was surprised when there was such a significant opposition to the creation of Grinnell College’s very first fashion magazine, Sensuelle. Apparently, some people think an interest in fashion equals social deviance. Truthfully, the fashion magazine grew out of my personal worry that in our efforts to set ourselves apart from the mainstream and traditional ideas of what is appropriate, we had become what we had worked so hard to counter: narrow-minded.

Some people make the mistake of thinking that the term “fashion” means haute couture or Paris runway. They complained that combining the words “Grinnell” and “fashion” is incongruous and paradoxical — in other words, extremely un-Grinnellian. For example, a fellow student told me, “There are much more important priorities than worrying about how we look.” However, whether students wear the same T-shirt five days in a row, sport pajamas and hoodies, don sports jerseys and jackets, walk around barefoot, flash name brands, or wear vintage and grunge garb, they all do so with intent — either to reveal or to hide a part of their identity, and to disclose other aspects of themselves. I believe people wear what they do for a blatant or latent reason, despite clothing’s apparent functional purposes.

My interest in the semiotics of fashion began after several experiences on campus made me realize that appearances do matter, especially in terms of how people treat and view each other and themselves. I wantedSensuelle to celebrate the diverse and unique fashion and stylistic attitudes of Grinnellians, as well as to provide a safe space for all to share personal advice and stories and exchange ideas about what they think of Grinnell fashion. Furthermore, I wanted to analyze shifts in attitudes about dress, its correlation or lack thereof to social status, and the relationship between preconceived notions about people based on their superficial appearance, and their true selves.

Now, it would be unfair to say that Grinnell College’s coursework had no influence on the start-up of Sensuelle. Sociology, for example, taught me to understand that subcultures exist at Grinnell, many of which are differentiated by certain stylistic differences. Anthropology taught me there is danger in thinking our lifestyles and choices are superior to those we do not understand (which made me more sensitive to style-centrism). My political science courses taught me there are various faces or influences affecting us daily — every choice, even those regarding clothing, is a result of past and present societal dictates.

Creating Sensuelle has deeply enriched my college experience and made me realize not only how much Grinnell College has changed my perspective, but also the power of the human will. If you really want to do something, you can, no matter how silly it may appear to others. I achieved what I set out to accomplish: Grinnellians’ stories are out there! Furthermore, working on the fashion magazine has been extremely fun and has allowed me to talk to interesting people I never knew before. This experience has shown me that if we just take some time to get to know people outside our usual social circles — sporting clothing that may be quirky or unconventional — we may find out how much we actually have in common.

Tiffany Au '09 is a Political Science major from Honolulu, Hawaii.

I Take Fake Newspapers Seriously

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

When I first visited Grinnell, I was looking for ways to differentiate the College from other schools I had already been to. What was it about Grinnell that everyone said was so different and progressive?

For me, the answer was the school has a fake newspaper.

I visited Grinnell in the fall, and the issue for September had just come out. I was speechless. I couldn’t believe that a) a college as small as Grinnell had a newspaper devoted to things like the College president having a pretty cool Facebook profile, and b) once I got to campus, it was within the realm of possibility that I could write for this paper, this“B&S” (not to be confused with the somewhat more traditional and fact-based real campus newspaper, the S&B).

Now, three years later, I’m editor-in-chief and really starting to enjoy watching the effect the B&S has on unsuspecting readers. Recently, it was Family Weekend here on campus, and I couldn’t help but smile as I watched parents eagerly grab a copy of the campus newspaper before realizing there were two, and one of them was reporting on Grinnell becoming a “conservative arts college.” While we actually didn’t plan for our first issue to coincide with Family Weekend, it seemed to be a good move, if for no other reason than to let the maximum amount of people know such a paper exists and doesn’t care too much about journalistic integrity.

Except … not quite. Even for a newspaper where jokes, not leads or sources, are the primary indicators of promising articles, one can definitely learn a thing or two about what it takes to write effectively. My writing skills have undoubtedly improved since then, and that’s one of the great things about the B&S: anyone can say or write something that is funny to them, but to contribute something the majority of the staff finds acceptable is a much greater achievement. Each month, we run a finished product containing what many different people have helped determine to be the most important, groundbreaking, and hilarious bits of news you can hold in your hand.

Whether we do that every month is debatable, since coming up with consistent articles month after month about the same subjects — Grinnell, college, and Grinnell College — without repeating ourselves is certainly not easy. But it is extremely fun, and that’s no B&S.

Ross Preston '10 is an Economics majof from Ponta Vedra Beach, Florida.

Studio Rats

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

When I was a little boy, I used to love to play and imagine what I was going to be when I grew up. I would take my plastic dinosaurs outside, bury them in my backyard, and then dig them up, dreaming of the day I would be excavating real dinosaur bones in the scorching hot Sahara desert. I also wanted to grow up to be a veterinarian, or an elementary school teacher, or maybe even an architect, but reality turned out totally different.

When I was in high school, I became very interested in theatre and thought I would major in it in college. Once again, this was not the case. During the second semester of my second year, I enrolled in a sculpture class in hopes I would gain a better sense of how to construct props and sets for theatre productions. The class soon had me completely captivated. Suddenly I realized that art was what actually “spoke” to me. It was hard to part from theatre, but over time I realized that art was my heart’s true desire.

Soon after, the Bucksbaum Center for the Arts became my new home. Sometimes I would get there at 8 a.m. and not end up leaving until 1 or 2 a.m. the following morning. On one occasion after I was done with a psychology lab, I felt such a strong desire to do art that I ran from the science building to Bucksbaum and submerged myself in art-making for the rest of the day and night. When I finally looked at my watch, I noticed it was already seven o’clock in the morning. I was supposed to be at my sculpture class at eight, so I cleaned up my work area, went to the Forum to get a cup of coffee, and then went to class, exhausted but filled with a sense of total accomplishment. Some might call that experience “hard core,” but I don’t think it was as extreme as the time I slept on a table in the sculpture studio, or the time I brought a pillow to take a nap in the drawing room, or the time I stayed on campus over fall break to spend every waking hour doing what I loved.

And though art-making may seem like a lonesome activity, my time as an art major has never been lonely. I am not the only “studio rat” — as some like to call us — at Grinnell. During the many days and nights I spend in the BCA, there are always others around in the sculpture, drawing, painting, and ceramics studios. Other students often swing by to check out my work and provide me with a little boost of inspiration and good vibes, and I try to do the same for them. This community within the studio walls has helped me a lot during my time in Grinnell, and I am proud to be one of the many studio rats willingly accepting the time and effort that goes into art-making.

Now, as a senior close to graduating, I think it doesn’t really matter that I will not become a famous architect, or an inspirational elementary school teacher, or the veterinarian who saves your hamster’s life. What matters is that I have discovered the passion that lights my fire. And who knows, maybe someday I will think about doing a piece that allows me to bury my toy dinosaurs in the yard, only to dig them up again later.

Dani Zamora '08 is an Art major from Los Angeles, California.

Rediscovering Your Inner 12-Year-Old

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

 

"These kids are truly barbaric!” my mind screamed as I walked into the child-infested art room of the local middle school. Fifteen paper planes were flying, a rental clarinet was honking, and scissors-wielding 10–13-year-olds were zooming across the room, reminding me more of Brownian motion than of an academic institution. I was a first-year and eager to rocket into the upper ranks of the learned and distinguished. This was my hell.

Earlier that Friday, my floormates had asked me to join Kids Art, a volunteer organization that goes to the middle school each Friday to work on art projects with the kids. I decided to give it a try and rode over to the school in a car along with a handful of college students. As we rolled up to the entrance, yellow buses, filled to the brim with the little monsters, streamed out. We parked, went up to the school, and entered the art room.

After an hour in the room, I made a resolution to never have kids or at least to only have kids who would skip directly from 10 to 14 — what a breakthrough that would be! After an hour and a half, I questioned the ethics of giving a 12-year-old a pair of scissors or a piece of paper — think of the vital areas the little rascals could get at with a poster board! Needless to say, my first experience with Kids Art left me feeling harassed, tired, and distraught.

Three years later, I’m now the co-leader of Kids Art and regularly visit the middle school. In fact, I now feel more comfortable around the little “barbarians” than I do around most people my age. But how and why did this change occur?

One of the main reasons behind my current comfort level is the fact that I’ve finally rocketed to the upper ranks of the learned and distinguished, and I’ve discovered just as many paper–plane-flying, scissors-wielding 20-somethings. And not only that, I realized that I am actually one of the most rambunctious!

Of course, I’m not running around the College at night with a giant poster board giving paper cuts to unfortunate passersby, but as my college career progressed, I learned that it was socially acceptable to say weird things, make jokes about someone’s mother, and imitate airhorns with my voice — in fact, it’s even welcomed. But why?

For all those people who need graphs, logical propositions, and numbers to crunch, I’ll offer this explanation: if we take laughter as the shortest distance between people — and my voyages through the adult world have shown me that this distance can be quite great — then the shortest distance between any two people is between two children. Of course, one must also consider how fast laughter spreads, and I’d estimate this as inversely proportional to the difference between the ages of the two speakers. So, laughter between a 21-year-old acting like a child and an actual child is at the minimum laughter distance and spreads slower than child-to-child laughter. Therefore, two 21-year-olds will connect much easier if they step out of their adult world and into the wild world of the middle-schooler.

For people who are swayed by less numerical arguments, let me offer this explanation: in the world of careers, job-paths, majors, and expectations, the chance that any two students will be able to find common ground about some specific class, issue, or topic is slim. However, if we flip back the clock 10 or so years, we were all learning grammar, fathoming the phenomena of weighted averages, and puzzling over the best one-liner about a bodily function.

It’s this common ground, shortest laughter distance, etc. that I found in Kids Art. Each week, a handful of college students still make the journey over to the middle school, but for every paper plane flown by one of the rascals, there’s a corresponding dive-bomber launched by a college student. Where destructive behavior might ensue, an intellectual challenge arises: let’s make the plane that will fly the farthest. Let’s draw the scariest monster. Let’s make the most complicated hopscotch pattern. Let’s find out what it is to be a chair. But ultimately, we’re there to laugh and to find out a little bit more about ourselves.

Victor Colussi '09 is a Physics and Mathematics major from Madison, Indiana.

Lacy Bonnet and All

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

Boy, did I feel stupid that chilly October day during my senior year of high school, sitting in the Career Development Office with two fellow classmates. Across the table, a very professional-looking Grinnell admission rep (completely at ease, unlike my heart-pounding self) chatted to us all about that small college in the cornfield state I’d never before visited.

And that feeling of stupidity wasn’t really put to ease by the fact that I was costumed for the day in an 18th-century frilly flannel nightgown purchased straight from the Felicity collection at American Girl.

Yes, complete with the lacy bonnet. I don’t even remember why I was wearing the nightgown anymore. It probably was pajama day for spirit week, and being me I couldn’t just wear sheep jammie-pants like everyone else. I had to be the one girl who looked like she’d just walked straight out of a Charles Dickens’ asylum.

Asylum material. That was the first impression Grinnell had of me.

College, I always thought, was the place where you finally had to grow up. High school was fun and dandy, but college was not the type of place where you could throw scavenger hunts or Star Wars parties or eat as many donuts as fit in your pastry-bloated stomach. Honestly, I don’t know where I got these assumptions, because every single one of those things has happened at Grinnell.

I guess I always associated college with the academic, and the academic with “serious” and “dull.” Even with my college application essay, I struggled and struggled to find a topic that was boring enough for colleges to think I was intellectual, yet showed the “originality” every college-prep book and guidance counselor pounds into your head from day one.

But let me share with you a little secret. Here’s what I learned about essay writing in college that I wish I’d known back in high school: academia gives you permission to write papers about some of the coolest things in existence, some things you’d never even been able to mention to a teacher in 11th or 12th grade. It’s in high school where they give you all those boring five-paragraph essays (oh, how I loathe five-paragraph essays!) about the motif of blood in Macbeth or about the causes of the American Revolution. In higher education, professors will accept with equal seriousness an analysis of wearing red on Star Trek or of the Midwest’s obsession with Brett Favre’s final break-up with the Green Bay Packers.

I know. I was as flabbergasted as you when I finally figured this out. Say what? I can have fun writing essays? Dear lord, if only I’d known that in high school. I might have actually cared about some of those papers I wrote. I might have actually chilled out a little bit when figuring out my college admission essay. I might not have threatened to abandon the college search entirely to go pull a Henry Thoreau and live by myself in the woods (I might have followed through, too, if trees had a place to plug in laptops).

Frankly, the whole college application process would have been a whole lot easier if I’d known that entering college did not mean throwing away my Felicity nightgown. It might mean putting it in the closet for certain occasions (such as when a college representative comes to talk to you), but there’s certainly no need to build a funeral pyre. In fact, after writing multiple college papers on Harry Potter, I’d say my childhood’s pretty happy right now.

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

Editor’s View: Finding Diversity in Surprising Places

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

 

When I applied to Grinnell, my admission essay opened with the line, “I am a 17-year-old, Caucasian, upper-middle-class suburbanite from a public school.” I knew that colleges were looking for a “diverse” student body, and I was well aware that my diversity credentials weren’t very impressive. In order to combat my statistical shortcomings, I tried to poke fun at my seemingly non-diverse self by mentioning some of the “Erin-esque” qualities characterizing me — qualities such as rarely leaving the house without saturating all exposed areas of my body with sunscreen (even in the winter) and my goal to one day pet a cow. The theme of my essay was that although I sound like everyone else on paper, in reality I have enough idiosyncrasies to make me (hopefully) stand out from the huge pile of applicants vying for admission at Grinnell.

Looking back at my essay three and a half years later, I am a tad embarrassed by the clichéd nature of my claims. Yet, when I arrived at Grinnell, I realized that at least my cliché was apt. The Grinnell website provides the following information about the class of 2010: 51 percent are female, 19 percent are students of color, 8 percent are international, 74 percent are from public schools, and 11 percent are first-generation college students. But Grinnellians are also peculiar, eccentric, quirky, and diverse in ways that do not fit into neat and tidy categories.

For example, one of the first times I ever took a shower at the Physical Education Complex (or the PEC, as it is fondly known), I felt nervous about being naked in front of strangers. This nervousness subsided when the student showering next to me suddenly turned to me and said, “Whoa … You have the smallest wrists I’ve ever seen! Can I touch one?”

Well, it certainly wasn’t the question I was expecting from a stranger in the shower, but she seemed friendly enough, so I obliged. I guess you can say my wrists added “diversity” to the shower that day. It was something small, both figuratively and literally, but it felt good to have something characteristically me.

Another time a friend teased me about the nasalized vowels of my “Chicago accent.” I have an accent? I thought. I never knew! Everyone from my suburb called their mothers “Mahhhm.” But here, that wasn’t the case.

Similar stories exist for many Grinnell students. Not until we were all thrown together in small-town Iowa, originating in countless different places, did we notice our own eccentricities that seem so peculiar to others. Aspects of our personalities, our speech patterns, and our interests that fit the norm at home were “different” at Grinnell. Thus Grinnell is filled with lots of strange and “diverse” people. We’ve got small wrists. We’ve got large wrists. We’ve got accents. We’ve got people who claim they have no accent (but they probably do). We’ve got people who say pop. People who say soda. People who say Coke. We’ve got drinkers. Non-drinkers. We’ve got whistlers. Tree climbers. Streakers. People who prefer to remain clothed in public. I’ve met people who enjoy the Beach Boys as much as I do (and many who do not). There are those who shower twice a day, those who shower twice a week, those who shower when they get the chance (which isn’t that often). We’ve got chefs, photographers, athletes, cat lovers, and pumpkin carvers. We’ve got those who have intense crushes on the collective childhood cast of the Harry Potter movies, and those who defiantly refuse to even pick up a Harry Potter book. We’ve got a little bit of a lot of things.

It’s true that in any community there are ways to pick out differences that make each person unique. But never have I been part of a community with quite the large array of characteristics that not only make each member unique, but also that make the entire community better. I am surrounded by 1,500 other students whose joint-diversity transcends easy categories — whose idiosyncrasies cannot be reduced to a pie chart and sent out in an admission brochure. I agree that socioeconomic/racial/etc. diversity is important to any environment, especially in the intellectual haven of academe. But it’s also important to know that Grinnell is a fab place for the discovery and appreciation of all types of difference. Even if it’s only the size of your wrists or the way you say “sahh-sage.”

Erin Sindewald '08 is an English major from Orland Park, Illinois.

A Pants-Optional Affair

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

I consider myself a pretty conservative dresser. My shorts are always mid-thigh or longer, my T-shirts cover my naughty parts in their entirety, and my swimsuit comes in only one piece. All in all, I tend to keep myself pretty well covered.

Unless it’s a Wednesday night in Burling. Because every Wednesday night after dinner, I participate in a magical event known as No Pants Wednesday.

It’s a pretty simple concept, actually. On Wednesday nights, a group of students opt not to wear pants in the library. We wear pants to the library, but upon finding a study table, the pants come off, the books come open, and the stares from some of the library patrons who aren’t used to this fast-growing tradition come often.

Legend has it that No Pants Wednesday began when a young man, whilst taking a study break on a Wednesday evening, accidentally saturated his pants with a cold beverage. As the liquid soaked into the fabric, he grew uncomfortable, and a friend suggested he simply remove the source of his discomfort. Wet Pants Man was hesitant. Pants are part of our culture, he argued. With the exception of swimming, bathing, and various personal activities, some sort of complete covering of the bottom is required. Many restaurants declare “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service,” but it’s likely that if a person came in without pants, he or she would be denied service as well.

“Look,” the friend says to Wet Pants. “If you take off your pants, I’ll take off mine.”

An agreement was reached. Pants were removed. A legend was born.

Now most people unsurprisingly want to know, seriously, what’s with the lack of pants? One time, a librarian sent a student worker over to the No Pants table looking for that very answer.

“Excuse me,” she said timidly. “Why aren’t you guys wearing any pants?”

“Because it’s No Pants Wednesday!” we replied.

The student did not seem very thrilled with our vague response, but it was the only one to give. Phrased another way, while some people ask why not wear pants?, we ask why not NOT wear pants?

Guys usually wear boxers, and one evening I cited the fact that this didn’t seem very fair, as boys in boxers are not nearly as attention-grabbing as girls in panties. Several days later in response to my complaint, two male participants stood up in the middle of studying and ceremoniously lowered their boxers, only to reveal matching tighty-whities.

Our table got more sideways glances than usual that evening.

We are No Pants Wednesday. We risk discomfort, exposure, and the cold for the sake of upholding the tradition week after week after week. We risk bemused gazes, lots of questioning, a lack of productivity, and rashes on our bums due to our raw skin rubbing directly on the fabric of our chairs, all because otherwise, the only thing to do in the library would be to study.

One night at the end of last semester, I found myself the last of the No-Pantsers still in the library. Just before 1 a.m., a student library employee approached me to suggest I start packing up my stuff because the library was closing. Then she asked the usual question: “Um … why aren’t you wearing pants?”

Before I could answer her, a librarian poked his head out from around the corner of a bookshelf and explained to her, quite seriously, “Because it’s No Pants Wednesday!”

Obviously.

Erin Sindewald '08 is an English major from Orland Park, Illinois.

Grinnell’s Green Thumbs

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

The transition from small farms and backyard gardens to centralized agriculture has distanced us from our food. We no longer know who grows our food or how they grow it. This, in turn, distances us from our environment and community. Large-scale monocultures leave our soils vulnerable to erosion and let chemicals leach into our groundwater. Our reliance on prepared foods from grocery stores instead of whole foods from local farms weakens our local economy and our community’s health. This food system is unsustainable and harmful.

Fortunately, the status quo is gradually changing as local, small-scale producers receive more recognition and support. Grinnell College has started to be a part of that change. Students have encouraged the dining hall to incorporate more local foods into the menu. With the growing interest in agriculture on campus, small groups of students are also working to revitalize the Community Garden on campus.

This fall, Grinnellians rolled out of bed early on Saturday morning to get their hands dirty in the garden, clearing out weeds, laying down compost, and planting seeds. They transformed plots of canary grass and past-their-prime tomatoes into a four-season harvest garden with hardy greens and root vegetables. This transformation was made possible with the construction of cold frames and hoop houses, small structures that act as miniature greenhouses and protect plants from the frost. We enjoyed carrots and beets, fresh from the garden, in late November. The mistakes we made along the way created opportunities for innovation and laughter. For instance, we experimented with three different hoop houses before settling on a version that survived the Iowa winds.

Because each person contributes a unique skill set to the garden projects, we teach each other and learn from each other. With his enthusiasm for building and tinkering, Sam Calisch ’10 designed and built an 80-gallon rain catchment system that supplied the garden with fresh, clean water all semester. Elyssa Mopper ’11 led a vermiculture workshop and has helped the garden develop an effective composting system. Students living off-campus and cooks for the Vegan Co-op trudge down to the garden — even in snowy weather — to return their kitchen scraps to the land instead of to the landfill. Over fall break, a group of students, staff, and local people replastered the walls of the straw-bale tool shed.

With such a diverse group, we have been able to accomplish much more than just grow a few vegetables. We have laid the foundation for sustainable, interconnected system that captures rainwater, returns waste to natural cycles, and models natural building practices. By connecting students to the land and the food they eat, the garden has also inspired other initiatives on campus.

The Local Foods Co-op, supported by Dean Porter ’10, Ami Freeberg ’10, and Erica Hougland ’10, has connected students to Paul’s Grains, an organic producer in Laurel, Iowa. Nathan Pavloic ’10, Alex Reich ’11, and Caitlin Vaughan ’10 are spearheading a movement to establish EcoHouse, a College-owned house that would model sustainable living practices and nurture a community of environmentally sensitive activists. This summer, I will be staying in Grinnell, along with Alex Reich ’11, Eric Nost ’09, and Meredith Groves ’08 to coordinate a local foods initiative funded through the Davis Foundation.

The garden focuses and unifies diverse forms of activism, all seeking to nurture the land and our communities. It creates space for us to gather as a community to work, eat, laugh, and learn together.

Hart Ford-Hodges '10 is a Biology major from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.

ISO "Awes"

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

 

It was midnight when I arrived in the Des Moines airport from Honduras. As I walked through the empty corridors of the airport, nothing could be heard but the hum of the air conditioning and the sound of my footsteps. As other late travelers strolled past, I repeated the instructions I had received in a packet from the International Student Organization (ISO), just to make sure I was doing the right thing: “Go to the baggage claim area, and students in gray T-shirts will meet you and take you to Grinnell.” It was hard to imagine that someone was actually waiting for me in the middle of the night, especially when the airport seemed so dead.

When I finally got to the baggage claim area, all I felt was relief. Right in front was a table covered by a scarlet and black banner that read “Grinnell College” beneath the distinctive Grinnell insignia. Scarlet and black balloons floating above made it seem even more cheerful.

All of my worries abandoned me the instant I saw a person in a gray T-shirt approach me. He must have assumed I was the person he was waiting for, as I was the only nervous-looking girl amidst the older travelers. He introduced himself with a welcoming smile and said his name was MQ. He was from Korea. I noticed his shirt said, “Come to Grinnell, Experience the World.” My first thought was, how is this possible? By the end of that week, I already had the answer.

As I later found out, 59 other students from 33 countries around the world had also arrived in Grinnell on the same day. Within the next four days, the College staff would guide us through International Student Orientation (ISO), a program to prepare us for college life in the United States. There were sessions like “Immigration ABCs,” “Academic Life in the U.S.A.,” and “Academic Honesty.” We also visited downtown Grinnell in an exciting scavenger hunt. ISO concluded with an old-fashioned barn dance at the Lang Farm. This was our introduction to the United States, and in this way we rightfully claimed our titles as new “Grinnellians.”

Only during our last session was I able to see how diverse our group was. Karen Edwards, the coordinator of ISO, said, “Go to a place in the room where your country would be located geographically.” As I walked to the middle of the west side of the room, I glanced around. Everyone seemed to be thinking critically about where they would be. After a few seconds, we were all in our places. North of me there was a smiling Mexican and South of me there was a cheerful Costa Rican. Even farther south, I saw two girls, one from Ecuador and the other from Brazil. Across the “Atlantic,” the Europeans were chatting. To the east, the Asians were finding their seats, and to the south, the Africans were already settled down. As I looked around the room, everyone was speaking cheerfully to their neighbors, and I realized that this was how vast our world was. Despite this, we were still united here, in one place under our new title: “Grinnellians.”

When you come to Grinnell, make sure to travel the world. You can do this by simply speaking to an international student and asking him or her to speak to you in his or her native language. Ask about culture, and the many different things he or she has seen. When I think about it, the message on MQ’s shirt had a lot of truth: “Come to Grinnell, Experience the World.”

Glenda Lopez '12 is undeclared and from S.P.S., Honduras.

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.