Polar Bears suit up to become officers in the Marine Corps after graduation
Mind the Gap A Taiwanese gap year for Jaramillo ’17
Mind the Gap First-years in fashion, farming and France
Mind the Gap Meyers ’17 reflects on travels, service
International teaching fellows find balance between classroom and campus life
Mind the Gap: A Taiwanese gap year for Jaramillo ’17
After graduating from high school, Eduardo Jaramillo ’17 chose to spend a year in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. While there he studied at a traditional Taiwanese high school as a foreign exchange student through Rotary International Youth Exchange.
Sitting in homeroom with his new Taiwanese peers, Jaramillo struggled to participate in class with his limited grasp of Mandarin. A reprieve from this language barrier came through extracurricular classes in traditional Chinese arts that the school organized for Jaramillo and two other foreign students from France and Brazil. In these classes, Jaramillo encountered traditional Chinese art and calligraphy, learned to play the Chinese harp and even practiced kung fu and tai chi.
“Those were really nice breaks throughout the day from sitting in the class with the Taiwanese kids and just hearing Chinese and not being able to understand it,” said Jaramillo.
After school, Jaramillo would sample the local cuisine and culture with his host mother.
“We would visit temples and other interesting parts of the city, and she would try to teach me Chinese,” he said.
Jaramillo progressively began spending more time with the two other foreign students from school.
“Those were my two best friends throughout the year and they’re still some of my best friends,” he said.
When the three got off from school they would go the beach, bowl and sightsee.
“We learned that we could rent these little mopeds, which was against the rules of our program, but we did it anyway,” said Jaramillo.Transgressing at low to moderate speeds, Jaramillo and his friends would take their mopeds on the ferry to an island off the coast, which became one of their favorite hangouts.
“It was sort of its own little community and had its own beach and a street that was famous for its seafood,” said Jaramillo.
Another favorite jaunt was a trip to one of the many night markets in the city. A Taiwanese staple, these markets were full of clothing vendors, carnival-like games and booths selling all foods imaginable.
“There’s one night market that’s really touristy. They have this shop there that sells snake stew, so that was probably the weirdest thing that I ate,” said Jaramillo. “The snake meat was kind of like a tough fish meat. It didn’t taste bad though. It wasn’t the worst thing that I ate.”
Jaramillo said he mostly just ate fried shrimp in the night markets, but tried tripe soup once, quickly discovering that he did not like it.
Jaramillo also developed a taste for oyster omelets, a popular Taiwanese snack.The experience Jaramillo considers most memorable, however, took place far from the bustle of the night markets.
“Towards the end of the year, my host grandmother, whom I never actually met, died and I was able to go to a very traditional Taiwanese funeral in the countryside. It was a different world. It was really wild, especially after spending most of the time in the city,” he said.
Jaramillo looks forward to experiencing rural life again next fall when he will study abroad in the city of Kunming, China.
“I chose Kunming in part because it’s a less modern, less western-oriented city compared to Shanghai or Hong Kong,” he said. “I want to see how the rural part of China lives.”
This time, language should not be as much of a barrier, as Jaramillo has been pursuing a minor in Chinese. However, he does not believe his language education at Bowdoin lives up to his experience abroad.
“I think that immersion experience is so much more valuable than this classroom experience I’ve been getting at Bowdoin,” he said. “Nothing against the Chinese department, but it’s really hard to improve a language when you can’t speak it organically.”
Neal Gabler dispells Hollywood’s anti-Semitism
Neal Gabler, a distinguished author, cultural historian and TV commentator, gave a lecture entitled “How the Jews Invented Hollywood and Why,” about the Eastern European Jews who created the modern silver screen.
Gabler, who has written for publications such as the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, also served as the “liberal” panelist on Fox News Watch and replaced Robert Ebert as a movie reviewer on the PBS show “Sneak Previews.”
A professor at Stony Brook Southampton with interests in American culture, Gabler has written leviathan-like biographies on both Walter Winchell and Walt Disney, and has received multiple awards for his book “An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood,” from which Tuesday’s lecture drew its name.
Gabler was chosen to give this lecture by Bowdoin’s Harry Spindel Memorial Lectureship committee. This lectureship, founded in 1977 by Rosalyne Spindel Bernstein in memory of her father, selects one lecturer per year to speak on various aspects of Jewish culture. Past topics have included art, poetry and activism with lecturers like Art Spiegelman.
This year, according to Associate Professor of Classics and chair of the lectureship Jennifer Kosak, the committee agreed to select someone who could speak to Jewish involvement in the film industry.
“Neal Gabler’s name came right up,” said Kosak. “There was no question that he would be a superb speaker for that topic.”
Kosak said that this annual lecture, which serves as a headline event on Jewish Studies at Bowdoin, brings together not just members of the Bowdoin community, but the greater Brunswick community as well.
Gabler attended lunch with students Tuesday afternoon and later visited a film class.“I thought he was fantastic. I think it’s a really uniquely Bowdoin thing that he would come to lunch with us and then walk with us to class,” said Nick Magalhaes ’15, who attended the lecture and joined Gabler for lunch. “It’s great that we can incorporate an intellectual into student life.”
That evening, Gabler addressed a packed auditorium. He opened with a story about his childhood relationship with film and then launched into his account of how Eastern European Jews transformed Hollywood into the glamorous institution of the 1920s that we recognize today.
Although anti-Semitic stereotypes portray Jewish film studio presidents—people who headed production giants such as Warner Brothers Entertainment and Universal Studios—as greedy men who sacrificed art for profit, Gabler disagrees.
“They were not the impediments to art. In many ways they were the engines of it,” Gabler said.In fact, according to Gabler, Jewish studio moguls had a direct hand in the creation of most cinematic masterpieces from the era as well as in the elevation of the movie-going experience and the accompanying lavishness that has so influenced American culture.
“There’s this wonderful irony that America is created in the image of Hollywood, to a great extent, and Hollywood is created by Eastern European Jews,” said Gabler. “So if you take the syllogism, America is created by Eastern European Jews.”
These Eastern European Jews, Gabler argues, idealized an alien country and people in their films as a means of assimilation. This assimilation, says Gabler, was both ruthless and relentless.
“When you create a whole country by abandoning who you are, which is essentially what they did, you do pay a price,” he said.
Ryan Szantyr ’16, who attended the lecture, said, “I think that movies have always been about establishing an identity, and for these people to give up their identity in order to assimilate themselves into American culture was, in a sense, sad.”
“I love to entertain people, I want people to be engaged, and what I want [the audience] to take away is to understand the dynamics of the creation of the American film industry. Who created it and why they created it,” said Gabler. “If they take that away, that they’ll have an understanding that will help them appreciate two things: American film industry and American culture.”
‘Growing Local’ film sprouts discussion
On Tuesday, the Environmental Studies Program, Sustainable Bowdoin, and Bowdoin Dining joined forces for the screening of a documentary called “Growing Local.” The film, a 2014 Camden International Film Festival Official Selection, depicts Maine’s local food movement and the difficulties faced by its farmers during a time of change. Recent graduate and Bowdoin Organic Garden alumna Shannon Grimes ’14 hosted the event.
The three segments of “Growing Local” tell a different story of the challenges faced by local farmers. In “Changing Hands,” a father struggles to pass the family’s organic dairy farm on to his son without plunging either of them into debt. “Pig Not Pork” looks at the efforts of an entrepreneurial butcher to connect local farmers more directly with consumers. The final segment, “Seeding a Dream,” tells the story of a young couple who revitalize an aging farm and open a general store that becomes a gathering place in their community.
Following the film, a panel of three local farmers led an open discussion. The panelists, Tristan Noyes ’05 of GroMaine LLC, Kristin Pierson, an apprentice at Crystal Spring Community Farm, and Sarah Wiederkehr of Winterhill Farm answered the audience’s questions regarding the film and the panelists’ farming experiences.
Pierson emphasized the impact institutions like Bowdoin can have on the local food economy.
“[Bowdoin] seems like a small enough school in a really perfect location to be able to source a lot of food,” she said.
According to Bowdoin Dining, the college currently acquires 34 percent of its food from local vendors.
Eliza Huber-Weiss ’17, who attended the event, said she is glad Bowdoin encourages conversations about local food, but she was also disappointed by the low attendance at the discussion.
“I think at Bowdoin it’s easy to say I support this cause and I’m fighting for this, but then it’s also easy to say I have lots of work to do so I’m not going to go [to the event],” Huber-Weiss said. “It’s so easy to not think about where your food comes from, especially when it’s so nicely presented to us.”
So what can Bowdoin students do? The panelists ask that students educate themselves about agriculture and think about where their food comes from.
Several of the farms featured in the film also offer apprenticeships to students who want to get more involved in the local food sourcing movement.
Noyes posed a challenge:
“There could be a lot of really interesting work done around creating a map of all the farms in the state of Maine. That doesn’t exist right now,” Noyes said. “That’s something a student could take on and it would be a very valuable project for the whole state.”
More than anything else, the film and panelists emphasized the importance of consumers in keeping local farms afloat. It’s our responsibility to care about where our food comes from and to build a community around local eating.
“I think what this film really emphasized for me was the importance of the community around farming. It’s one thing to grow a vegetable and market it, and it’s another thing to grow a community and market that,” said Huber-Weiss. “There’s nothing quite like seeing someone pull a beet out of the ground and being like ‘I’m going to eat this later!’”
Museum integrates African American art with English course
Unassumingly tucked away in the Becker Gallery of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art (BCMA) is a new exhibition, “Letters and Shadows: African American Art and Literature Since the Harlem Renaissance.”
The show engages both students and the community, continuing the BCMA’s tradition of exploring issues of race and discrimination through art.
On the back wall of this intimate space hangs a large, black silhouette of a woman falling endlessly into a white void. The focal point of the show, “African/American” by Kara Walker, is just one expression of the African-American cultural experience on display in the exhibition that will run from January 22 to March 15. Striking and powerful, the image draws you into the gallery, bringing you closer to the mystery and suffering.
Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellow Sarah Montross and Associate Professor of English Elizabeth Muther began developing the show in June 2013 during a workshop for college faculty at the museum.
“[Montross] said, ‘Why don’t we go down into the collection and just see what’s there?’ And she kept pulling things out, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh,’” said Muther.
Montross added, “The show looks at intersections of literature and visual arts either created by African Americans or representing African American culture, and their experience in the United States starting more or less from the Harlem Renaissance into the present day.”
These intersections and connections between the written and the visual also inspired Muther and Montross to create the “Letters and Shadows” exhibition in conjunction with Muther’s African American Literature and Visual Culture course. Muther has taught the course before, but this is the first time that she has worked with the BCMA on a collaborative exhibition.
“I took the core of that class and let what was in the museum, in certain ways, dictate how I revised the syllabus,” said Muther. “So in a sense, every stage in the course is about these conjunctions, cross-currents, and connections between visual and literary works.”
Montross also explained that these connections reach across history and medium into different lives and social movements that create a compelling temporal complexity between the pieces.
“Artists and writers are often going back in time and mining references from past writers,” said Montross. “There’s often this reweaving and reappropriating of language and art back on itself.”
Identifying and exploring these relationships and their contexts will be key for the students in Muther’s class.“There’s an act of discovery in the course in terms of new connections that students might find,” she said.
The show’s pieces vary widely in medium. For example, photographs hang across from pop-up books and letters inspire lithographs.
As a collection, these pieces inform each other and bring together artists and writers across the boundary of time. Many works belong to the BCMA permanent collection, and others are on loan from the George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections and Archives.
Between Kara Walker’s charged prints, enigmatic Harlem Renaissance-era photographs, and even a book of illustrations based on Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Muther’s students have plenty to work with.
At an event for her students next month, Muther hopes that they will have the opportunity to share some of their discoveries with the public.
Looking toward the future, Muther said that it would be unrealistic to recreate this exhibition every time she offers her course. However, she hopes to continue collaborating with the BCMA on projects honoring the work of African American artists.
According to Montross, the BCMA already has a long history of showcasing art produced by or depicting African Americans.
“This [exhibition] is one more level to that,” she said.
This exhibition is also tangentially related to the BCMA’s recent launch of a website commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of a 1964 exhibition called “The Portrayal of the Negro in American Painting.” Martin Luther King Jr. himself visited the original exhibition and gave a speech at Brunswick’s First Parish Church.
In “Letters and Shadows,” Bowdoin’s legacy of using art to explore, address and engage society, history and culture lives on. The exhibition will be on display until March 15.
Mind the Gap: Meyers ’17 reflects on travels, service
Sophie Meyers ’17 has had plenty of time to reflect on how her decision to take a gap year affected her Bowdoin experience.
When Meyers graduated from high school, she said she felt burnt out academically. In order to take a break from the books and try a different kind of learning, she left home to explore other options in Pittsburgh, Pa., Lexington, Mass., Washington, D.C., and even farther away in Costa Rica.
“I’m very into the idea of learning by doing,” she said. “There’s a lot you can learn from the classroom, but there’s so much to learn about the world and yourself by putting yourself in situations where you’re not necessarily comfortable.”
Meyers’ first stop was in Pittsburgh where she joined the Obama campaign. There she worked as an organizing fellow, canvassing, phone banking, and training new volunteers. She even had the opportunity to work at events which featured Bill Clinton and Bruce Springsteen. Next, Meyers moved back to her hometown, Lexington, Mass., where she volunteered in Boston at an independent school for students from low-income families. There she helped students prepare to apply to private high schools.“I was working with eighth graders on applications and trying to get them to dig deeper with essay questions,” she said.
In the spring, Meyers traveled to Costa Rica, where she lived in a rural village with a host family—a highlight of her gap year. She spent most of her time teaching English and math at an elementary school, but outside of work, she learned how to make empanadas with her host family and immersed herself in its culture. “That was an unbelievable experience,” Meyers said. “I love the country and I want to go back and visit my host family.”
With her gap year coming to a close, Meyers continued to try new things and moved to Washington, D.C., for ten weeks as an intern for the global trade watch team at Public Citizen, a non-profit organization and think tank that advocates for consumer rights.
For Meyers, every experience was an opportunity to think about different options and possible careers.
Meyers felt like she came to some conclusions about her future that she would not have reached if she had gone straight to school. “It’s nice to have those experiences when I’m thinking about going forward,” she said. “At the end of the Obama campaign, you could have asked me, ‘Do you want to be in politics?’ And I would have said, ‘Yes. Totally.’ But by the time I got back from Costa Rica I had reflected a lot more on that experience, and I think that might not be where I’m headed.”
Brunswick is Meyers’ most recent stop. Many students who take gap years worry about the transition to college life and the possibility of feeling disconnected from their peer but Meyers feels that her transition was fairly smooth.
“I would not have been as comfortable here my freshman year if I hadn’t gone and done my gap year,” she said. “I think I needed that time to regroup, reflect, and think about what I wanted to be like moving forward.”
Meyers’ transition was also aided by the fact that she kept in touch with some friends from high school who also took gap years.
“Some of them had easy transitions to college, some of them had harder transitions to college. But that was the same with my friends who didn’t take gap years,” she said. “So I think that sort of just depends on the person.”
This year, Meyers plans to declare a major in math and a minor in education. She discovered her love of teaching in Costa Rica and Boston, and it was only when she was reunited with math at Bowdoin she reached her decision to major.Although Meyers has decided what to study, her gap year experiences have shown her that our futures rarely turn out exactly as we plan.
“What you’re doing right now doesn’t necessarily dictate what you’re doing five years from now as much as we’re conditioned to think,” said Meyers.
Next for Meyers, she may study abroad in Edinburgh and see what else she can learn there.
Filmmaker Jocelyn Ford sparks conversation on gender equality, ethnic discrimination
Drawing attention to both gender inequality faced by women in Tibet and ethnic discrimination faced by Tibetans in China, award-winning radio correspondent and filmmaker, Jocelyn Ford, visited Bowdoin on Tuesday to discuss her documentary, “Nowhere to Call Home.”
The film follows a true story about Zanta, a widowed Tibetan woman who struggles to reconcile her desires to be a good daughter-in-law, following the traditions of her village and to seek an education and better future for her son in Beijing.
“Gender in Tibetan communities has only been looked at by a very small handful of people and I think popular culture has totally ignored it,” said Ford.
Ford hopes her film will reinforce the burgeoning conversation about gender discrimination in Tibet and urge audiences worldwide to think about issues of discrimination on a global level.“A lot of the issues in the film are really universal issues,” she said. “They happen to be happening in China with a Tibetan minority, but around the world we experience discrimination based on gender and different issues.”
When Ford created her film, she chose not to include information on recent, highly charged political issues in Tibet. This is not because she was concerned with alienating Chinese audiences, but rather because she did not expect to be allowed to show the film in China.
However, Ford has since had the opportunity to screen it in China and hopes to spark a conversation on issues of ethnic discrimination there. Ford feels that her film is one of very few to show discrimination faced by ethnic minorities in their daily lives in China. For example, in several scenes, Zanta endures explicit discrimination directly because of her ethnicity.
“This is quite shocking to a lot of people in the People’s Republic of China, because media there is not allowed to cover this sort of dynamic,” said Ford.
Ford hopes that audiences across the globe will relate to the issues presented in her film. For American audiences, who live in a country where ethnic groups have endured and continue to endure discrimination, Zanta’s plight may bring up familiar themes.
“I’m hoping that people will reflect on their own lives, people they know, situations they’ve been in, and that in some way my film will shrink the world, because we really are all the same,” she added.
Ford also recognized that many Bowdoin students strive, in various ways, to take action in helping people who are less advantaged.
“I would like them to take away that it’s not easy. You don’t just throw money at a problem and solve it—you really need to try to understand the mindset of the people you are working with,” she said.
By the start of filming, Ford had already been an active presence in Zanta’s life—helping her pay for her son’s education and, consequently, challenging common perceptions of journalism and documentary making.
This is the kind of action Ford hopes to encourage—not just giving someone $100 and hoping it will all work out, but actively engaging with people and helping them to better their lives on their own terms.
For now, she urges that what students can do is watch this film and bring awareness to the issues faced by Zanta and people like her across the globe.
Mind the Gap: Year abroad brings sweet satisfaction
During his gap year, Jesse Newton ’18 learned to work with his hands.“I wanted some time off from school, I wanted some time to reflect,” he said.Newton skipped the New England winter, flying to the southern hemisphere in February. He spent three months in New Zealand working on several different family farms across the south island.
“I was traveling alone. I didn’t really have a strict itinerary of what I was doing, but it was a good feeling,” Newton said.
He enjoyed the freedom and independence of his experience, learning about sheep farming and beekeeping. For Newton, his time spent with a family of beekeepers was most memorable. For three weeks, he and the family roamed through the New Zealand bush, collecting 100-pound boxes of honey.
“It’s the most beautiful countryside I’ve ever seen, and I come from Vermont,” he said.Newton said the labor was hard and repetitive, especially in the 100-degree weather with the constant threat of bee stings. He also had to wear protective gear resembling a hazmat suit.
“My suit was very, very old and it actually ripped a few times and suddenly quite a few bees were stinging me,” he said.
Even with the intense heat, the beekeepers rehydrated with hot afternoon tea. “I could not understand the rationale, but apparently it hydrates you better than a cooler substance,” Newton said.
Although the work was hard, the rewards were very sweet. Newton recounted an afternoon spent in the bee house putting frames of honey into the extractor machine. He said the air was filled with the warm and intoxicating scent of honey.
“I don’t have a wicked sweet tooth, but it’s fantastic. It’s the most delicious thing you’ve ever tasted,” Newton said.
The particular kind of honey he helped to produce is called Manuka honey. Produced exclusively in Australia and New Zealand, it is valued for its antibacterial properties. Because of the benefits, Newton said he could guiltlessly dip his fingers in the vats of honey.
“I hate to use this expression, but I have never been that high on sugar,” Newton said.Once he returned home to Vermont, Newton worked full-time as a carpenter with his father. They built an entire barn from start to finish while also repairing and building cabinets and tables.
Newton said of his dad, “He likes to restore historic buildings from the 18th and 19th century using techniques that these people would have used and the materials that would have been available to them.”
Since coming to Bowdoin, Newton has worked to get his academic muscles back in shape. After taking two years off from math, multivariable calculus has been a particular struggle.
Finding his place in Bowdoin’s social scene has also been somewhat difficult, as his gap year has caused him to feel somewhat disconnected from his peers. However, Newton has found a home on Bowdoin’s crew team.
“It was probably one of the better decisions I’ve made since being here,” he said.Although he barely has time to sleep with his busy schedule, Newton has found sweet satisfaction back at Bowdoin.
Mind the Gap: Acting out: first year spends gap year abroad in London
Before she came to Bowdoin, Sarah Guilbault ’18 took a gap semester to study abroad at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) and to work in Los Angeles to decide if she wanted to pursue a career in acting.
“I don’t think I’ve really made that decision yet,” she said.
Having lived in London for a year and a half when she was in elementary school, Guilbault’s transition was relatively comfortably.
“It was actually kind of an easier step than going to college because it was kind of like going back home,” she said.
LAMDA, however, might not be everyone’s cup of tea. For 12 hours a day, Guilbault and her peers practiced different acting techniques and dances, sometimes pretending to be animals for an entire day, all in preparation for performing Shakespearean plays every three weeks.
After getting off at her Tube stop every night after 9 p.m., Guilbault would quickly make herself dinner and then memorize all of her lines.
“All you want to do is sleep, and eating is not even really an option,” she said.Her schedule was intense, and Guilbault’s peers would not tolerate horsing around.
Guilbault recalled LAMDA’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” during which the director asked a friend of hers to change his appearance in order to help the cast express fear in seeing his character transformed into a donkey.
Guilbault’s friend entered the stage naked in order to shock the cast—but he didn’t stop there.“Not only is he naked, he has a plastic bag on his head, [is] playing a lute and he has slices of cured meat on his junk, and he starts throwing the cured meat at people, singing to them. It was the most terrifying experience of my entire life,” Guilbault said.
When she could no longer bear all the hamming, Guilbault would explore London, sampling Indian food and what she calls “the best strudel outside of Austria” at a local market.
Guilbault said she loved London’s industrialized glory and close proximity to nature.
“My favorite place in London is called Hampstead Heath” she said. “It’s so beautiful—it’s like you step out of the city and into a forest.”
Guilbault said she has enjoyed the nature surrounding Bowdoin and the friendly people she meets in town. However, she also said the transition to academic life has been difficult.
While she gets back into the groove of essay writing, Guilbault has found a theater crowd at Bowdoin. She is participating in Masque and Gown’s production of “Almost, Maine,” and has been taking Comedy in Performance, taught by Professor of Theater Davis Robinson.
“I get my goofy side out,” said Guilbault of her experience in theater class, “It’s made the transition from pretending to be a tree all day, every day to writing essays a lot easier.”Grades are not Guilbault’s central focus at Bowdoin.
“If I’m going to be an actor, grades don’t matter for anything, but life experience matters for so much and being a better human being and a more intelligent, empathetic person matters a lot. That’s what I’m trying to focus on,” she said. “I’m here to learn as much as I can.”
Although she has made lots of friends at Bowdoin, Guilbault does miss her British friends and intends to visit London over Winter Break. She also said she has dreams of moving to London after she graduates.
“London is the place I always want to be, so I try to go back as much as possible,” she said.
Mind the Gap: First-years in fashion, farming and France
Not all students come to Bowdoin immediately after being admitted. Some take time between high school and college—often referred to as a gap year—to advance their education or gain experiences outside of traditional schooling. This is the first in a series of columns that will profile these students and their experiences between high school and arriving at Bowdoin.
Half French and half Chinese-American, Alessandra Laurent moved to Taiwan after living in Los Angeles during middle school. Having lived and studied in both the United States and Taiwan, Laurent decided to spend her gap year experiencing life in France and connecting to that part of her family’s heritage.
“The idea was to live in that context for a year and understand that part of my identity,” Laurent said.
Laurent chose to study in a pre-college prep program with other secondary school graduates studying to pass exams allowing them entrance into France’s top universities. While she was fluent in French prior to studying in Paris, Laurent found the tasks of writing analytical papers and reading literature in French difficult.
“The whole educational philosophy was really different and foreign to me” said Laurent. “In writing essays, the whole format of the way you construct an argument is different—the way they think about arguing anything is different.”
After assimilating to the French educational system, Laurent has found the transition back to American academics challenging.
“I just had to write my first paper [at Bowdoin] recently and I was like, ‘wait, how do I go about this?’” said Laurent. “I’ve gotten used to defining every single term and analyzing every single notion and organizing it more in the French way.”
Elena Mersereau ’18 also took a gap year, but unlike Laurent, she was not entirely sure of where she would go or what she would do. Originally from Brunswick, Maine, Mersereau decided she needed to see more of the world before starting college.
“I probably wouldn’t have ended up at Bowdoin if I hadn’t taken a gap year. I think it was really necessary for me to get out of Brunswick before I came back for four years,” she said.Mersereau began her gap year in New York City, working as a fashion design intern in the Garment District and later on the Upper East Side.
“I’ve always been interested in art and fashion and that whole world,” said Mersereau, “It sounds very glamorous to be a fashion design intern.”
After a few months, however, Mersereau realized her work in the industry wasn’t as fulfilling as she had hoped.
“At the end of the day, I realized I didn’t feel very good about what I was doing,” she said. “I need to [have] a career that I feel good about and that I can see is reaching people in positive ways.”
So Mersereau changed her course. Leaving the bright lights of the New York fashion world, she spent four months traveling through New Zealand working as an organic farmer.
Mersereau first learned about World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) at the Bowdoin 2017 Admitted Students Weekend. She met a current student who told her about WWOOF. Although she can’t remember his name, she does remember that he wore Vibram FiveFingers Shoes.
Mersereau has never spoken to this student since, but she would like him to know that he changed her life.
After backpacking through New Zealand working on dairy farms and picking hazelnuts, Mersereau has become interested in organic living. She hopes to continue this pursuit in the Bowdoin Organic Garden.
While Mersereau was nervous starting her first year at Bowdoin—worried she wouldn't remember how to do school work—she thinks that her experiences have aided her transition into college life.
“I feel like I have things to offer to people and I have a story to tell, more so than I would have if I had come right out of high school,” she said.
Laurent also believes her gap year helped to prepare her for living at Bowdoin, a small residential community.
“It gave me a year to learn how to be independent before I came to college,” she said.However, Laurent says that her gap year experience has given her a different perspective from those of her peers in the Class of 2018.
Mersereau has noticed that her experience during her gap year has set her apart from her fellow classmates.
“It’s been harder to find people who I connect with because people straight out of high school have a different perspective and a different expectation for college than I do,” she said.Overall though, both students were happy with their experiences, and glad that they made the decision to take a gap year.
“I feel a lot more confident now,” said Mersereau, “More ready for the college experience.”
Behind the Name tag: In good health: Catching up with doctor Birgit Pols
She has traveled around the world, she has gone scuba diving with whale sharks in the Maldives and she has even played competetive croquet, but what really excites Dr. Birgit Pols is providing health care to students.
Bowdoin’s new director of health services has been working in college health for over eight years—most recently at New York University (NYU) and NYU Abu Dhabi, located in the United Arab Emirates.
“NYU Abu Dhabi was sort of this magical, mystical place that none of us really knew much about,” said Pols. “The opportunity presented itself to go there for the short term, and I took advantage of it.”
Although Pols only expected to work at NYU Abu Dhabi for a few weeks, she ended up staying for four years. While there, she lived and collaborated with Emirati students, getting to know each of them by name.
Working with the small community of NYU students was a factor in Pols’ decision to come to Bowdoin.
“I learned how much I really love providing health care at a liberal arts college,” she said.Pols also has a strong connection to the area.
“I grew up in Maine, so I’ve always known about Bowdoin and always found it a very exciting place,” she said. “Having the opportunity to get to know students here, to get to know my colleagues here—those are the things that energize me.”
Pols has years of experience in the medical field, both on land and at sea. An avid scuba diver, she has achieved the distinction of being a dive master, a master scuba diver and a dive medical technician.
Besides diving in the Maldives with whale sharks, some of Pols’ favorite dives have been in Thailand and the Great Barrier Reef.
Pols is already diving right into her work at Health Services and taking every opportunity to engage with students. She is working with peer health educators and the Department of Athletics and is serving as staff advisor to Reed House.
“Birgit has been incredibly friendly and communicative with Reed House. I know I speak for all of us when I say that we are glad to have her,” said Jacob Russell ’17, the programming director of Reed.
Pols will be hosting a question and answer session about campus health at Reed next Thursday.
Pols said she does not anticipate making any large-scale changes to the current campus health care system.
“Hopefully any changes I would make would seem seamless to the students because what I would be looking to do would be to improve access to care,” she said.
Pols said she hopes any changes that come will benefit both students and staff. “The most important [task] is either directly providing patient care or supporting my staff who are providing patient care,” Pols said.
At the same time, she hopes to focus on establishing connections with the Bowdoin community.
If you see Pols working out in the gym early in the morning or practicing her croquet swing on the snowy Reed lawn, stop and introduce yourself. After all, your health and is in her hands.
Behind the Name tag: Mountain man Richard Hart helms Smith Union Dining
When Richard Hart is working as the cash operations night manager at Smith Union, he keeps his mind on the money. However, his favorite pastime does not cost a penny—he lives for Maine’s wilderness.
The Topsham native and his fiancé, Matt, who works at Thorne Dining Hall, have hiked the entire 100-Mile Wilderness, the Maine portion of the Appalachian Trail that is widely considered the wildest portion of the trail.
“The wilderness was brutal, but it was a lot of fun at the same time,” said Hart.
He and his husband-to-be have summited all of the 4,000-foot peaks in Maine and New Hampshire and are starting on the mountains in Vermont.
It is fitting, then, that the couple will be married on Maine’s Tumbledown Mountain this June.
Although a Mainer through and through, Hart spent some time living in Florida and working at Walt Disney World, after graduating from Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham.
“I worked at Bongo’s Cuban Café, which is in Downtown Disney and owned by Gloria Estefan,” said Hart.
Although he enjoyed the experience, Hart found himself back in Maine after 10 years in Florida, working as a bartender at Sea Dog Brewing Company. It was there that he heard about the opening at Bowdoin.
As the cash operations night coordinator, Hart handles the revenue from the three operations in Smith Union—the Café, Jack Magee’s Pub and Grill and the Bowdoin Express—and supervises all the students who work for cash operations in Smith Union during his shift from 4 p.m. to midnight.
Hart is aided by 12 student managers who help him ensure that cash operations run smoothly throughout the night.
While his job can be hectic, Hart said he enjoys the constant bustle in Smith Union.
“I probably wouldn’t have it any other way working for Bowdoin,” Hart said.
He also said he enjoys experiencing the many events held in the Pub. Senior Pub Nights and a cappella performances make the top of his list, along with those rare Racer X concerts.
As much entertainment as there is to be had in Smith Union, however, Hart always finds himself back at the trailhead. Having summited Katahdin several times, Hart has experience on all of the trails leading to its peak—even the infamous Knife Edge. Hart said that under normal conditions the Knife Edge is manageable, but that it all depends on the weather.
This year, after summiting Pamola Peak—the lower of the two Katahdin peaks—and beginning the trek across the Knife Edge to Baxter Peak, Hart met a frightening sight.
“On the other side, we saw this huge black cloud come rolling in,” Hart said.
The wind picked up and it began to rain, but Hart couldn’t be deterred.
“I stuck with it and made it through even though I couldn’t see two feet in front of me,” he said.Poor weather conditions and hikes in Baxter State Park may sound familiar to the ears of Bowdoin students, especially those who went on Orientation trips. He participated in one of the Outing Club’s trips a few years ago, day-hiking to Mount Blue, Tumbledown Mountain and Little Jackson Mountain.Hart said the students were glad to have him on their trip because of his expertise in the food business.“I got pretty creative with the food that we had,” said Hart, who made tuna quesadillas and other inventive dishes to energize the staples of Orientation trips—cheese blocks and pepperoni from a plastic bag. Of course, that doesn’t mean that Hart disdains classic trail fare.
“When you get the top you’re like, ‘Oh god, I can’t wait to have that hunk of cheese and pepperoni,’” Hart said.
After 12 years at Bowdoin, Hart has had time to develop his Dining favorites. He said he is a big fan of the Grill’s salads, pizza and fries.
Hart said his favorite drink at the Café is “the butternut squash smoothie.” He recommends adding protein powder for those who are stopping by after the gym, or yogurt for anyone looking for some extra flavor.
As if he were not busy enough scaling Maine’s peaks in his off-time from his job at the Union, Hart has recently worked with his fiancé to restore an old home they bought last year. They have been doing it all by hand—with a little help from the Internet, of course.
“Thank God for Google and YouTube. I tell you, without those two, it wouldn’t be pretty,” said Hart.
Seven Polar Bears working abroad with the Peace Corps
Seven Bowdoin alumni are currently serving in the Peace Corps in Cambodia, Cameroon, Ethiopia, the Philippines, Ukraine and Zambia. This is half the number it was in 2008 when Bowdoin ranked 24th on the Peace Corps’s list of the top 25 small schools with the largest number of volunteers.
“I don’t think it’s something that is endemic to Bowdoin right now,” said Peace Corps Recruiter Robert Orton in a phone interview with the Orient. Orton has been recruiting at Bowdoin for just over a year and says that Bowdoin’s failure to make the list is probably due to the college’s small sample size.
“I would be thrilled if we could get Bowdoin back onto the list of top colleges by 2015,” Orton said.
Orton works with Meg Springer, assistant director at the Career Planning Center, to address the questions of students interested in applying to the Peace Corps. Both Orton and Springer draw on their own experiences as volunteers in the Corps.
Springer—who has been working at Bowdoin for five years—often reflects on her time serving in Thailand as an English teacher and community development leader.
“Not a day goes by in my life that somehow my Peace Corps experience doesn’t impact me—whether it’s the way I see the world, the way I treat someone, the way I see something, the way I respond,” she said. “It’s just amazing how, 20 years later, the impact is still there.”
One of the seven Bowdoin alumni currently serving abroad is Shanthi Purushotham ’12 who has been living in Ethiopia for about a year. After graduating, Purushotham moved to Singapore to work for the PR agency Ogilvy in their medical communications division.
After spending a few months there, Purushotham wanted a change.
“I didn’t want to be in an office—I really wanted to be connecting with people,” she said in a phone interview with the Orient.
Purushotham had originally applied to the Peace Corps fall of her senior year, and when her application was finally accepted, she left Singapore for Ethiopia. There, she works as a community health volunteer with a focus on HIV/AIDS and economic empowerment.
“If you don’t know much about the Peace Corps, when you see a volunteer you think that person is saving the world,” she said. “But I think people don’t realize how difficult it is to be a volunteer.”
Purushotham has faced many challenges from the members of the rural community she is trying to help. Even still, her work has many rewarding moments. Using $5,000 from the Peace Corps, Purushotham has helped people with HIV/AIDS to start new businesses in their community.
“I was astounded by how motivated they were and how they grabbed the opportunity,” she said.
Other Bowdoin alumni and past Peace Corps volunteers have had similarly rewarding experiences during their years abroad. Helen Pu ’10 worked in health education while serving in Cambodia. She remembers the young women she taught at a girl’s empowerment summer camp who worked so hard to improve their own lives. Pu describes one girl who, on top of attending high school, fitting in extra classes and helping on her family’s rice farm, struggled with domestic violence.
“She was brave enough to share it in one of our sessions to all of the girls in the group,” said Pu in a phone interview with the Orient. “I’m so proud of her.”
Pu chose to apply to the Peace Corps as an opportunity to travel abroad, but she was also influenced by the College’s commitment to service.
“Bowdoin emphasizes service as not just a thing you put on your resume, but something you do your whole life,” she said.
Rachel Munzig ’10, who served in Paraguay in environmental conservation said she thinks that Bowdoin students are often drawn to the Peace Corps for the same reasons they are drawn to the College.
“I think it’s sort of a self-selecting process,” she said. “Bowdoin is really small so you have that feeling of community, and the Peace Corps is a similar community.”
Munzig is still actively involved with the National Peace Corps Association. This week, she traveled to Washington D.C. for National Peace Corps Advocacy Day to speak with congressmen and senators and request their support of the Peace Corps.
Behind the Name tag: OneCard coordinator Christopher Bird '07 crafts tales of horror through film
One of the only things more heart-stopping than losing your OneCard on a fateful weekend night is watching one of Christopher Bird’s ’07 horror films.
You may have crossed paths with Bird in his usual perch in the Coles Tower lobby. If you approach his window, chances are you need a new OneCard.
Mondays in particular are busy for Bird, Bowdoin’s OneCard coordinator, who spends a typical day replacing cards that have gotten lost or broken over the weekend.
Polar Bears suit up to become officers in the Marine Corps after graduation
Brendan Lawler ’16 has applied to attend Officer Candidate School (OCS) this summer in the hopes of serving as an officer in the United States Marine Corps after he graduates from Bowdoin.
“I just wanted to do something different,” he said. “I don’t really want to sit at a desk my whole life.”
This alternative career path also appeals to seniors Ben Kekeisen and Wen Barker, who have already completed their two six-week OCS training programs in Quantico, Va.
International teaching fellows find balance between classroom and campus life
Five international teaching fellows have the opportunity to work in Bowdoin’s language departments while also exploring American culture this year.
Teaching fellows are typically selected from competitive application processes at international universities with which Bowdoin has longstanding partnerships. This year, the teaching fellows come to Bowdoin from Colombia, France, Germany and Italy.
Xiomara Albornoz, originally from Bogotá, Colombia, is happy to have been chosen to work in the Spanish department. As a teaching fellow, Albornoz helps students to improve their speaking and writing abilities in weekly labs. She said she particularly enjoys assisting students in making their poetry more expressive.