During my first year on Bowdoin’s campus, thousands of questions would swim through my head on any given day. Some of them would be necessary (Thorne or Moulton today?), others slightly less so (What would my psychology professor look like without his famed beard?).
I still remember the call the day after I received the acceptance letter from Bowdoin. It was from my best friend. Well, “best friend” before she simply disappeared during our junior year of high school and nobody knew where she went.
I was taught to appreciate distance on a small playground during a rainy day. Having attended a boarding school in suburban China since I was 12, I remember the compulsory military training that first confounded my idea of an inseparable family life, forever based in unconditional love, connectedness and rationality.
It’s a Sunday afternoon in October. I’m sitting on my couch underneath my new plush blanket covered in cartoons of ghosts and of the word “boo.” There’s a candle burning on my desk. Outside, the leaves are swirling down from the trees, like a typical Maine autumn day.
Today, I’m writing with a cup of jasmine tea by my side. I just finished preparing a marinade for the lamb steaks I will cook for my roommates later, and I finally started the first chapter of “Normal People” at the recommendation of too many friends.
Immunocompromised is a word that has been tossed around quite often this year. In the terms of the pandemic, it is labeled as a pre-existing medical condition describing these mythical people who somehow can’t handle the coronavirus like the rest of the American population would.
During the first month at Bowdoin, the most common question everybody asked me was “Where are you from?” I think I just gave up at a certain point (maybe starting this semester) and gave them what they wanted to hear—“I’m Chinese American.” To be honest, I don’t even think I answered their question, but it was enough.
Face masks were mostly associated with East and Southeast Asia during the pre-COVID-19 era (which I now dub PCE). They helped filter out air pollution or, for motorcycle riders, vehicular exhaust. Cloth masks kept faces warm in the winter.
From early January to mid-March of this year, I spent much of my free time swimming, surfing, sunbathing and hiking around the beautiful island of Oahu. Studying at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, I spent most of my time in the classroom learning about Hawaiian history and culture, the U.S.-militarized Pacific and American imperialism.
I sing and play my music loudly to mask the ominous rattling coming from the engine of my 2003 Jeep Liberty. On my drive, I pass all of the major landmarks of my hometown. The pizza shop I used to work at, the only grocery store in town, the donut shop, the ice cream place, my high school, the bank, the car repair place and the tobacco fields.
It’s mid-afternoon on a Monday, and my ability to focus is at an all-time low. I’m in my bedroom at home, sitting at my desk. On my laptop screen, an instructor from my abroad program is starting a remote class session from her home in southwest England.
Among the many life-altering disruptions caused by COVID-19 was the cancelation of spring semester sports. As someone who bawled his eyes out onto the shoulders of 30 scantily-clad men at the end of my final Bowdoin hockey season—an end that I was completely prepared for—I cannot imagine how difficult it has been for spring athletes who have had their opportunity to write their final sports chapter unexpectedly and abruptly taken from them.
We’ll admit, it’s a bit of a strange moment to memorialize. Our Zipcar, a black Subaru Crosstrek, is parked at the Potash Boat Launch on the Colorado River, a gear explosion surrounding the vehicle and PC, Ellie and Chelsea digging through bags, boats and splash jackets.
I can’t look at the pictures yet. I know exactly which ones I love most: PC and Ellie resting on the grass on our first day home, a blurry Andrew pointing at the camera on his birthday, Allyson grinning widely with orange-painted cheeks at House Olympics.
I had such great plans. I was going to serve my country and do something good in the world. I was going to adventure around obscure corners of the globe. I was going to defer the enormous student loans waiting for me after graduation.
As a sports fan, I am not someone who is offended easily. I believe in boo-ing a bad ref and have no problem with a rowdy crowd. I was at Fenway Park for Alex Rodriguez’s final game in Boston, and I made it on to the big screen holding a giant asterisk, in an attempt to remind Rodriguez of his impending legacy as a cheater.
Have you ever experienced a really, really bad jet lag? Not the type where you crave dinner at 4 p.m. or feel the need to pop a melatonin before bed. This is something much more daunting and debilitating, an out-of-body experience where all is at once foreign yet familiar.
When I see the word “mental illness,” my mind goes straight to the word “illness.” Then a host of other words start to flow through my mind: disease, disability, impaired, bad, inferior, unworthy. The list continues, but the negative connotation of the words remain the same.
I recall my Bowdoin experience through excessive cultural consumption. It sounds like Nick Hornby “High Fidelity”—like mumbo jumbo, but it’s a great cataloging method. Fall 2016: I over-played Frank Ocean’s “Blonde.” Fall 2017: I discovered Pavement, and logically started to think I grew up in the 90s.
Once daily, I swallow a tiny pill that contains 100 mg of the drug Sertraline, more commonly known by its brand name, Zoloft. Sertraline has many side effects, including, but not limited to, worsening depression, dizziness, drowsiness, vomiting, diarrhea, decreased sex drive, impotence or difficulty having an orgasm.
These self-portraits were made by William Utermohlen, a 20th century contemporary artist. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 1995. At the onset of his Alzheimer’s, he decided to sketch a portrait of himself once a year until 2000—he died in 2007.
When I was 16, I started starving myself. Troubled with weight issues—real and imagined—my whole life, I took advantage of a stomach bug I caught while traveling. I began a trend of underfeeding myself, going hungry for hours every day, then working out for upwards of 60 minutes, six to seven days a week.
I am a profoundly uncomfortable person. I don’t make people feel uncomfortable, and I often feel emotionally comfortable, but I struggle to be physically comfortable—especially when seated. I squirm, tap my foot, adjust and re-adjust my seat.
On March 28, 2019 there was a significant passing in my world. The series “Broad City” aired its final episode after a wildly successful five season run. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Broad City is a raunchy buddy comedy starring two millennial women living and working in New York City.
There should be a Schoolhouse Rock episode about how the Orient’s production night works. Without the help of a nifty jingle, I will not attempt to describe the full process, but rather set down here that it involves six rounds of edits, various photo and design checks and a weekly $50 snack budget.
“Game of Thrones” (GoT) is back, baby! Thank the Old Gods and the New. Heck, I’ll even thank R’hllor (sorry Shireen). There is a hole in my heart that can only be filled by the NFL or by dragons, and for now that hole is filled.
It’s 8:34 a.m. and I awaken to the pitter patter of rain on my window. “Guess it’s time to put those rain pants to good use,” I think. They’re nothing special—just a kid’s large from Amazon that provide the same fit and utility I’d get from an adult small, but for $10 less.
When women were first admitted to the College in 1971, they enthusiastically pushed their way into all aspects of campus life, especially the athletic arena. As former Athletic Director Ed Coombs said in an Orient article from 1979, “I don’t think we or any of these schools [that went co-ed] anticipated the type of sports these women would want to play.
“Yes, I was there for the earthquake … Yes, I felt it … crazy, humbling.” These words always seem to shake my listeners more than the earthquake shook me. Words have that effect. I was in the mountains of Mardi Himal on April 25, 2015 when a 7.8-magniude earthquake shook Nepal.
“I want to briefly share a few thoughts on my mind lately. Though I’m far from religious, I have an indelible tie to my Jewish heritage. My grandfather, Michael Schafir, was a Holocaust survivor. He spent five and half years in various forced labor and concentration camps throughout Poland and Germany.
Would you choose to be immortal? I think it’s fair to generalize that everyone has pondered immortality at some point in their lives. Maybe you watched “Twilight” for the first time and wondered what it would be like to stay a teenager forever.
I thought that I wouldn’t think about suicide anymore if I got into Bowdoin. All this high school stuff was to be left in the past, and I would be a better, less jaded, more upbeat person.
Enduring the contempt of strangers can be emotionally draining. And contempt is, unsurprisingly, the primary impulse of those whose doors are knocked on when they’re eating dinner with their family, or when their newborn child has just fallen asleep, or they’re just about to dash off to the airport to catch a plane or when they’re already running late and a bright-faced, sweaty, idealistic kid shows up at their door telling them about the plight of sea turtles or the midterm elections.
Flashing lights, flocks of ill-tempered travelers, the symphony of yelling intermixed with cars honking—I was instantly shrouded in the familiar temperament of the city as I stepped outside the arrival hall. Within a matter of minutes, thanks to being a seasoned veteran of John.
Wish yourself into the eye of a hurricane. Search for your home in the sea of red pixels at the center of the storm. See the national news anchor stand where you and your friends took prom pictures; hear him say the coming night will smash it to pieces.
Between Sills and Searles, there exists an exceedingly large population of squirrels. They hang on tree branches and scurry in bushes, but largely, they romp around freely in the open grass. While the squirrels most frequently travel alone, they occasionally appear en masse and sometimes are seen in hot pursuit of other fellow squirrels.
This place holds secrets. I remember going outside in the early morning fog to be greeted with deafening silence from the cicadas who had stayed up all night buzzing. I remember staring out the car window for hours at sizzling gravel roads, wondering what horrors the rocks had seen.
My toes balance on the slotted, concrete boat launch, and the water around my ankles is cold. I walk forward, and the water makes itself known higher and higher on my body. Goosebumps coat my skin: I know I must dive in and that it will be warmer once I’m submerged.
Growing up, my anxiety was like a cloud. Always there, mostly invisible to others, making everything a little bit more grey. For many years, I thought that everyone had one. I had always been taught that my brain was my most valuable possession.
We are basically in a relationship. It’s been eight years. We’ve lived together for two and a half, traveled around the world, hung out with each other’s families and are currently listed as each other’s “emergency contact.” You can find us eating most meals together in Thorne, popping up most often in each other’s tagged photos and wearing full-set matching pajamas when we go to bed together each night.
The summer before to my freshman year, a burglar ransacked my house while I was home alone. It was a lazy morning. I was reading in bed when I heard the first knock. I continued reading without pause, noting that my mother—the only other resident of our home—was not due home until lunchtime.
Two years ago during my sophomore fall, I stumbled across an opinion article by Professor of Philosophy Sarah Conly in the Boston Globe. Professor Conly was writing on the heels of China’s decision to end its decades-old one-child policy and allow two children per family.
“Perché gli americani vogliono imparare l’italiano?” (“Why do Americans want to learn Italian?”) This was the question my friends asked when I told them that I was going to go from working on my Master’s in Italy to teaching Italian conversation at Bowdoin.
When I was looking at colleges, I placed a very particular (almost unreasonable) emphasis on the weather. I wasn’t looking for anything perfect; rather I wanted something different. The weather in Los Angeles always seemed too sunny and perfect—in fact the weather in California is so perfect that we have a perpetual problem with droughts.
Two figures stand under a tree near the Bowdoin Chapel. It is a birch tree or maybe an oak—I am not sure, and it doesn’t even matter. The tree is just beginning to bloom. Its silvery green leaves shudder in the cool May breeze, and its rosy buds are filled to burst with flowers that reach to meet the morning sun and cast stippled shadows across the grass.
In high school, I spent countless hours babysitting younger kids. It was my primary source of spending-money and more importantly an experience that helped me grow immensely as a person. Kids are full of contagious enthusiasm that makes it hard to be anything but happy when you’re around them.
“So, you’re a vivid dreamer. You really need to get those dreams analyzed,” my doctor told me with the authority of her white coat and the distance of a wide desk. I discussed the recurring themes and characters in my dreams: my middle school volleyball coach, my first boyfriend, my second boyfriend, my family friends, my parents.
During my time away from Bowdoin, my life changed dramatically when somebody close to me was diagnosed with a severe case of bipolar disorder. Part of their diagnosis also included “psychotic tendencies,” or sensory experiences of things that do not exist and/or beliefs with no basis in reality.
I was walking around Boston, having a joyous time. It was nice to be in a new city where I could forget my problems for a day. I wouldn’t say I was in epic emotional turmoil, but a month earlier I was officially diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, put on some pretty hefty medication, told that my Nordic ski career was toast and that I would potentially never be able to exercise again.
I am quite fond of my life in Brunswick, but the weeks between fall break and Thanksgiving break are enough to drive anybody bananas and, coupled with the overloaded semester I had created for myself, I was ready to leave—or so I thought.
There are three fish that live in a tank in the waiting room of the Counseling Center on College Street and every week I get to spend a few minutes just staring at them. One is fat and large, it swims slowly and only turns just as it reaches the glass wall.
Relationships between the administration and student body are an integral part of a high functioning college or university. Humanizing our institutional superiors provides us a sense of companionship and support rather than discomfort and condescension as we persist in our academic, extracurricular and social endeavors.
Recently, many of my friends and peers have posted the hashtag “MeToo” on their Facebook pages. This hashtag makes a pretty compelling statement: sexual harassment and assault are still a long, long way from being preventable on Bowdoin’s campus or any place in general.
In May of 1945, Joseph H. Johnson Jr. ’44 found himself shimmying down a rope into Adolf Hitler’s library. Once ornate with handmade bookshelves of wood and glass, the library had been moved from the second floor to underground, thereby protected by the body of the mountain when British troops bombed Hitler’s Berghof home five days before his death.
When Arthur McArthur Jr. graduated from Bowdoin in 1850, there was no Office of Career Planning to point him to jobs at Deloitte and L.L. Bean. His first decade after college was a whirlwind comedy of errors: he sailed off to the Gold Rush in California but almost starved in Panama, he joined a filibustering expedition to conquer Central America but washed up on a coral reef in the Caribbean, and he served as a major in the Civil War but was shot dead by a sniper in an orchard outside of Richmond, VA.
It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that the photos captioned #bowdoinabroad on Instagram don’t tell the full story. Instagram never does; there’s no way that a filtered square can capture an entire semester. And yet I spent this past spring posting photo after photo, scrolling through cleverly captioned snapshots and trying to define and tell my own story without the context of everything I knew.
New Yorkers like to brag about how good our drinking water is, straight from the tap. And, okay, New Yorkers like to brag about a lot of things—but the drinking water really is excellent. When I left the city for Maine, though, I went straight to the salt water.
“The Fuckboy, in his current form, aims for the night, aims for the break, goals to ghost. The Softboy strings you along under loftier auspices. He is Nice yet Complicated; this isn’t just a hookup. It’s a series of such,” wrote Alan Hanson in his article “Have You Encountered the Softboy?” Lillian Eckstein ’18 read this piece aloud to me a couple of months ago with the premise, “HOW HAVE YOU NOT READ THIS?” I cannot help but assume she was implicitly commenting on my softboy past.
I have a cheap Richard Prince print on my dorm-room wall from his Untitled (Fashion) series. I downloaded the image from the internet and turned it into a poster. (I figured this would be within bounds based on Prince’s own relationship with appropriating others’ work.) I like the image because it’s simple and suggests our own complicity in consumer culture by appropriating what was originally a magazine ad.
Living at school with a disability is tough. As someone who survived a brain infection three years ago and had to relearn to read, speak and walk without falling, I know my fair share of what tough is.
Recently, my friends have stopped asking me if I’m going to drink this weekend. I can’t tell if I like it. On the one hand, I now no longer have to explain, “no, I still can’t drink—yeah I’m still feeling the symptoms of my concussion—yeah it has been about 10 months now.” On the other hand, the fact that they have stopped asking also suggests that they, like me, see no time in the near future when I might be fully recovered.