30 October 2009

Vermont in the Autumn and other Sweet Stuffs

One of the best things about spending time in other places is that you get to meet and befriend people from all over the world.  I now have good friends in places like the Czech Republic, Mexico, Argentina, and Egypt.  I also have many American friends scattered across the US in places like LA, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, New York, and Miami.  The sad thing is being a student with limited resources-- it's difficult to see your friends when they're spread apart like that.  I mean, let's be honest, it's difficult enough to keep in touch with friends from La Porte, my hometown. 

So you can imagine how delightful it was to fly to Vermont this past weekend for Fall Break to see a friend I met last summer in Egypt.  We became good friends as we lived in Egypt.  Both of us were learning Arabic in the same program, though he is at a more advanced level than me.  He would frequently help me understand my Arabic homework, which was pretty amazing considering he had his own to do.  He would also encourage me to use Arabic in public, which was helpful since I am shy about speaking Arabic to native speakers.  Overall, he's good company.

He's a student at Dartmouth, which is in New Hampshire, but his family lives just across the river in Vermont.  Now, I'd never been to New England before, so I wasn't really sure what to expect.  I was extremely fortunate to be going there in the fall; as my plane descended over New Hampshire my heart fluttered-- there were rolling hills completely covered in every autumn color imaginable.  Great swathes of gold, crimson, and burgundy were painted over the landscape.  I don't think I've ever seen a more beautiful fall.  As we drove away from the airport I got to see the foliage more intimately.  The forests were set atop craggy mountains and hills with bare stone protruding where it had been cut to make way for the road.  It took my breath away. 

We arrived at Dartmouth in the evening, which also happened to be the beginning of Homecoming ceremonies for the university.  We watched the giant bonfire crackle and fall, I met many of my friend's friends, and we walked around campus.  My friend also insisted on taking me to Vermont, and I'm so glad he did. Vermont is a beautiful state.  He took me to a waterfall in his hometown, to the general store, and we even went to a birthday party for one of his parent's friends (I got to meet a lot of Vermonters there, plus a couple who had graduated from Ball State-- what are the odds?). 

The next day he took me to a local diner for absolutely ginormous pancakes, which completely knocked me out, so we took the rest of the day easy.  I ended up getting some locally-made syrup for my dad and some maple candy for my mom; otherwise we just lounged around and enjoyed the day, which was rainy but still beautiful.  It was a truly lovely Fall Break.

16 October 2009

Why I Chirp (Part II)

So yeah, after a ton of struggle, Ball State ended up being a perfect decision for me. I have perfect class sizes of less than 20 people; sometimes less than 10, which is really nice.  I was able to take a special honors course sequence my freshman year that really challenged me to examine my opinions and develop my thoughts.

One of the bigger reasons I'm glad I came to Ball State is the College of Architecture and Planning.  As a first-year student, CAP freshmen aren't allowed to declare a major-- they spend the first year learning design principles and getting a basic knowledge of architecture, landscape architecture, and urban planning.  Only after they have a foundation in all three disciplines can they then select a major.  As it turns out, I didn't want to be an architect!  What I really wanted was to be a landscape architect, which is a profession I had literally NEVER heard of before coming to college.  Had I gone to another school, I wouldn't have been exposed to my chosen profession (neither of the two other schools I looked at have landscape architecture). So that worked out quite well.

BUT, probably the biggest reason I'm glad I came to Ball State has been the MANY opportunities I've had to study abroad.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I've been to Italy, England, Tunisia, Germany, Mexico, and Egypt since coming to college.  All of these trips were academic.  And I'm not finished traveling yet.  This spring, I'm going to Brazil.  Next spring, I'm going on CAPAsia.  I went to Italy, England, Mexico, and (in the future) Brazil and Asia through programs offered through Ball State.  But Ball State helped me get to Tunisia and Egypt without directly offering the program that sent me. 

For all of my travels, I've relied heavily on scholarships and grants to help me finance my trips.  To get this funding, an applicant needs to "shine" in some way over his/her peers.  Ball State has helped me do that.  I'm frequently involved in "immersive learning" situations that give me unique experiences (quick note, "immersive learning" is a buzz-word around campus right now, but the programs are valuable to students, scholarship committees, and employers, not to mention more interesting than traditional classwork.  No matter where you decided to get educated, be sure to work on something "real" before you graduate).  I've had the opportunity in my small classes to really get to know my professors, who then can write me stellar letters of recommendation.  I get personalized, one-on-one attention from a scholarships adviser, who not only helps me find scholarships to apply for, but also proofreads and edits all of my applications.  I have fun leadership opportunities through the Honors College as a peer-mentor, and the MITS and SVS connect me to all kinds of volunteer opportunities around Muncie.  Then, I have highly involved faculty who are constantly creating programs for me to explore and grants to help me do it.  Really, Ball State has given me the resources to set out on any adventure I can come up with.  And my record proves I'm not exaggerating. 


 My 21st Birthday Party in Monterrey, MX

Bungee Jumping in Mexico! Sahara Desert in Tunisia

Climbing Mt. Sinai in Egypt

(Photo: Spencer James)

After watching "A Midsummer Night's Dream in the Globe Theatre; London

Frankfurt, Germany

Playing Frisbee in the Med. Sea; Sperlongia, Italy

Eating grasshoppers in Oaxaca, MX

Horseback Riding in the Med. Sea; Tunisia

Italian Burger King; Rome

Me with my Egyptian conversation partner, Leila; Alexandria, Egypt

Crocodile on your shoulder?; Egypt

(Photo: Spencer James)

Oxford, England

You're a wizzard, Jessi; King's Cross Station, London, England Semana Santa; Mexico City, Mexico

St. Peter's Cathedral; Vatican City

Tecnologico de Monterrey- My university in Monterrey, MX

Had to do it; Salsbury, England    Tunisian Bride at one of her wedding parties; Bizerte, Tunisia

The group in a Tunisian tourist's market; Kairowan, Tunisia

Watching the sun set on Mt. Sinai; Egypt 

(Photo: Spencer James)


See?  Best decision of my life. 

Why I Chirp (Part I)

Deciding which college to choose was one of the most difficult decisions of my life.  I had decided I wanted to study architecture, but I really didn't have much perspective beyond that.  Luckily, I suppose, Indiana has only two schools that offer an architecture major: Ball State and Notre Dame.  Since Notre Dame is known for being highly competitive, I decided to look beyond Indiana for architecture schools, which lead me to applying to the University of Cincinnati also. 

Looking back on the three schools I looked at and applied for when I was a senior in high school, I wish I would have looked further abroad, both in the United States and around the world.  To be honest, I would have likely still come to Ball State (for reasons I'll explain), but I still wonder what might have happened had I realized sooner that I could have gone anywhere in the world. 

I was accepted into Ball State and U.C., but not Notre Dame.  I'll admit I was disappointed.  But, even if I had been accepted into ND, there's absolutely no conceivable way I could have afforded a private education. 

So I had to decide between Ball State and UC.  UC is located in an exciting, urban environment, has a great design school, I could live in comfortable dorms, and had offered me (initially) more scholarship money than Ball State had.  Ball State was a smaller school, which meant I would have a more personalized education, had offered me some scholarship money, had a great design school, and it seemed Ball State had more friendly faculty and students than at UC (something I observed while visiting the two schools. . . Sorry UC!).  The decision was difficult-- the two schools were comparable to each other in many ways with the big differences being cost.  While UC offered me more money, Ball State was less-expensive overall.  At that time, I didn't really have the university preferences regarding class size and school size that I have now. 

I decided to go to UC.  I sent my acceptance letter to Cincinnati and mailed off my refusal to Ball State.  That was that, though I was still very uneasy about paying for out-of-state tuition.  I would need a campus job, and I wouldn't be able to afford many of the things I wanted to do in college (like studying abroad).  Such was life.

Then the unthinkable happened.  The Honors College at Ball State offered me a full ride.  The way Honors scholarships work at Ball State is that if a scholarship is turned down, it goes to the runner-up.  Someone had turned down a scholarship, and I ended up being the runner-up.  So I was in a predicament.  Suddenly Ball State was no longer just about equal with UC to me.  I had the opportunity to go to college for free, which is something very special.

I know many young people think that money should be secondary when choosing a college, but for me it was a primary consideration, especially since the two schools I compared were pretty similar.  With a full-ride, I could work only in the summer, spending the school year focused on my academics.  I could then spend the money I had earned in the summer on things I enjoyed, rather than on tuition.  That meant I could study abroad, which was and is very important to me (if you hadn't already figured that out). 

The more I thought about it, the more Ball State made sense.  After some serious thinking and some frantic conversations with my parents, I decided to change my university to Ball State. 

And it was the best decision of my life.  

11 October 2009

Feast. . . Boy did I ever!

This weekend has been spectacular!  But I'll get to that soon.  First, let me tell you about my week.  It was most definitely not spectacular.  It began with a project deadline.  Now, you may think that with three years of architecture school under my belt, I would be able to manage my time. . . well, you'd be wrong.  I thought my project would take less time that it did, so I started it a bit later than I should have.  Then, much to my dismay, as I was trying to compile my work the morning it was due, something went horribly wrong and I lost a ton of data.  I still have no idea what I did wrong.  I ended up turning it in a day late, which is something I'm definitely not used to doing, and something I prefer not to make a habit of.  The good news is I'm still alive and breathing, alhumdulillah

It was a good reminder that being an Honors Student doesn't necessarily mean you're a perfect student.  I think that sometimes us honors kids get a slightly inflated head about our academic vigor-- pft.  I've shot that one down!  It took a friend to remind me that nearly all of Ball State's most recognized alumni were average students.  So, no shame in turning something in a little late. 

After that, my week gradually improved.  I finally finished the new scholarships database I've been working a few weeks on (Huzzah!).  I'll finally be super efficient at adding new scholarships to the website.  "Yippee!" and other excited sounds!

Anyway, I was very excited for the weekend.  I watched a movie Friday night and generally took it easy.  Saturday was the ASLA's Apple Fest, which one of my housemates went to.  That left the house pretty much empty (I live with four other people, all of whom had something to do on Saturday).  I used the relative peace and tranquility to clean my room and do some homework. It may not sound like much, but it felt good to get some things accomplished.  I also put a delicious pork roast in the crock-pot for dinner.  It didn't take long for its heavenly aroma to fill the house. 

After my housemate returned home, we went to a Haunted Corn Maze in Farmland, IN.  It took us a while to find it, but the trip was well worth it!  The maze was exciting, people were screaming, and the weather had finally cleared up to be less rainy and cold.  Josh and I made our way through the maze, jumping at chainsaws behind us, searching for scary shadows, and suspiciously eying costumed people who would tacitly follow us, making us uneasy.  We eventually made it out of the maze-- alive, no less-- and made our way to the pumpkin patch. 

Josh and I each picked out our pumpkins (mine is bigger!); then at the last second, Josh decided to find one for his cat, Lord Watson Bartholomew.  After some time, we found an appropriately-sized pumpkin for the kitten.  I think he plans to carve it into a cat's face. We'll see.

THEN, to top off the weekend, we went to the Feast of the Hunter's Moon in West Lafayette, IN.  This is a reenactment-type of  festival that occurs every fall.  My parents used to take my younger sister and me nearly every year, but it had been a while since the last time we went.  I was SO EXCITED TO EAT the delicious food!  I ate "veggetables" (noodles with veggies and some spices), sauerkraut stew, pumpkin pie, homemade root beer, dried peas, gingerbread, and a buffalo burger.  Oh man, it was SO GOOD.  I also bought a new hat, and I'm super-stoked my friends here at school have said they like it-- the style dates back to the early 1700s.  I guess some things just don't go out of fashion.  Josh ended up buying some neat things as well, including a pewter mug, "fireglass," and flint.  He's excited to try to light fires without matches.  I'm excited to watch.  ;-)

03 October 2009

Oh, Gee, When did THAT get There?. . . Zombies, too?

Ball State has been full of surprises recently. For example, I was riding my bike the other day, and stumbled across this:


Suprise Fountain!


Perhaps not a big deal, BUT it is a brand-spanking-new waterfall on campus after all.  Seriously, was anyone going to tell me?

And it doesn't stop there-- oh, no!  As I was making my way to the College of Architecture and Planning, I spotted Intervarsity Christian Fellowship having a FLOUR WAR in the north quad (the green space between CAP and Bracken Library).  They had packed flour into pantyhose and tied it shut.  As it turns out, this makes a FABULOUS projectile that leaves lovely white spots all over your victims, as can be seen below.  

Yeah, throwing flour at each other is fun

Check out the soaring flour-bomb in the background!   

He's gonna get me!


So, yeah.  That was kind of a big deal. 

Now Humans Versus Zombies has erupted on campus yet again.   Ball State's Urban Gaming League (which I just learned about) has organized a campus-wide game of Humans Versus Zombies, or HvZ for short ;-).  Here is what the UGL has to say about HvZ:


Humans vs. Zombies is a game of
tag. All players begin as Humans, and a small number are randomly
chosen to be the "Original Zombies." The Original Zombies tag human
players and turn them into Zombies. A Zombie must tag and "feed" on a
human every 48 hours or he starves to death and is out of the game.


If you’re a Human, survive the zombie infestation! This may require you
to make friends and complete "missions" that will be e-mailed to you.
If you’re a Zombie, strengthen the Horde, tag humans, and eat brains!


But how does one tell the difference between a human and a zombie, you ask?  EASY!  Just look for the neon-green bandanas!



Bandanas signify which team you’re on.

    • All players wear BRIGHT NEON GREEN bandanas.
    • All NPCs wear BRIGHT NEON ORANGE bandanas.
    • All Moderators wear WHITE bandanas

  • Human:
    • Wear bandanas tied around their upper arms

    • Must wear their bandana whenever they are outside safe zones, for the duration of the game

    • May remove their bandanas when inside buildings, but must put them back
      on before leaving safe zones

  • Zombies:
    • Wear bandanas on their heads, headband-style

    • May decide not to wear their bandanas outside, but are out of play while the bandana is off

    • If a Zombie is outdoors without their bandana on, they must either:
      • Wait 30 minutes after putting it back on to play again, OR
      • Enter a building, put the bandana back on, and resume play.
      • Wearing or not wearing a bandana does not affect a Zombie's stun status.

Fantastically elaborate, no?  There's a lot more on the website.  Seriously, I love college.  The best part is, TONS of people participate in these things! 

(The game just started late last week, so give me a few days to get some photos or video of some Ball State Zombies in action!)


01 October 2009

Row, Row, Row Your Boat. . .

Many students—and probably residents and parents also—think Muncie
is a boring little town with few things to do. 
I even have a professor who claims Muncie is the “best place to study in
the world because there are no distractions.” 
Muncie is seen as a quiet little town in east-central Indiana, and some
would translate that to mean “BOR-RING.”

While this is true on a certain level since Muncie is by no
means a large city like Chicago or Indianapolis, I’ve found plenty of things to
distract me from my school work, and I discover even more fun things when I’m
feeling creative. 

I started attending Natural Resources Club when I was a
sophomore simply because there seemed to be a handful of people I knew at the
meetings and I rarely wanted to do homework on a Thursday night.  I’m glad I did.  NRC has possibly the most interesting club
activities at Ball State (unless you’re in Fencing Club or whatever group
organizes this--see below--every week). 

Epic Battle in the Quad


Battle Stance


Waiting for some action. . . 


Last year NRC went spelunking in Bloomington, IN, which is
another one of those really cool things everyone should do before they
die.  We had a ton of fun exploring the
caves, spent some time cleaning graffiti, and camped that night next to a
lake.  The whole experience was super fun
and a great change-of-pace from college life.  I think we're planning on taking another spelunking trip this year, possibly in the spring.  The nice thing about spelunking is that it's an all-season sport.  The temperature is always constant, so once you're underground you don't have to worry about weather limitations.  The best part is crawling through the earth and getting SUPER dirty.  :-)




Tight Fit




 We had to crawl like this for about 100 feet


Last weekend I went canoeing and camping with the NRC.  I was surprised at how close the boat launch place was to Ball State; we drove about 10 minutes to get to the canoes.  My friend and I decided to canoe ten miles down the
White River, which was low and lazy.  It
gently carried us and the rest of the club past Mounds State Park and some
beautiful scenery.  We passed one or two
fishermen, and one brilliant guy who was basking in the sun with a book in his
arms.  We had to get out of the boat only once to walk it over some really shallow water, and we got stuck on some rocks for a while, but overall we did a great job (my friend did all of the work, to be honest).  The whole trip took about four hours.  We passed the time by talking and sharing riddles.  It kind of made me think of the scene in The Hobbit

where Bilbo and Gollum are having a riddle-duel. . . except my life was by no means on the line.  


 Row, Row, Row Your Boat




After canoeing, we set up camp on
the river, built a fire, and played Frisbee. 
We had fun making the fire ridiculously huge and warm, although we forgot to bring lawn chairs to sit around the fire.  We ended up sitting on logs, which limited our fuel ever so slightly.  The whole trip was pretty chill, and I felt refreshed (though smokey)
when I returned home.


Check out our HUGE fire! 


Roasting the perfect marshmallow 


Point being, Muncie does have some fun activities to offer its residents.  If you're having trouble finding something exciting to do with your time (be it spare time or homework time), I suggest joining a club that does something you're interested in.  Then just go to their activities and meetings.  You'll be surprised at what you can get yourself into.  Not to mention, you'll likely meet people who are interested in the same things you are who could become some of your best friends.