Exposés on My Home Away From Home

Onward and Upward

Two more weeks until graduation. Tomorrow is the last day of classes, then finals, then Camp Whitman–the five days leading up to graduation where everyone hangs out on campus, enjoying the sunshine and each others company before parting ways–then the long-awaited graduation day.

It’s hard to internalize the fact that this stage in my life is coming to a close. The past four years at Whitman have been the best in my life and, while I hope that I have not peaked, I know that I will forever remember my time here with much fondness and nostalgia. As I look back, several memories are especially poignant, a few of which I will share here:

My scramble freshman year was my first Whitman experience and is still one of the most special. I spent 7 days sea kayaking with 6 other incoming first-year students and 3 upperclassmen leaders. The students I bonded with while paddling, baking on a camp stove, and sleeping under the stars have remained close friends throughout my Whitman career. And the trip introduced me to not only my first Whitman friends but also my love of kayaking. While at Whitman, I have explored that passion through leadership classes and trips. I even went on to lead the same scramble trip two of the interceding years.

My sophomore year over our four day break in the fall, some friends and I went to Vancouver, British Columbia. We returned both junior and senior year. Those breaks were always chances to revel in the company of the amazing people I had met and befriended. We intend to schedule a similar trip every few years throughout our adult lives, so that we can remain close as we grow older. The people are what makes Whitman so special and I am grateful for my friends, who teach and inspire me, and whom I love dearly.

The fall of my junior year I studied abroad in Ecuador. I spent the semester braving Quito public transit, living with a host family, exploring the Amazon and Galapagos Islands, and searching for a rare bird through an Ecology and Conservation program. There is nothing quite like studying abroad, as travel rarely affords the opportunity to linger and fully immerse yourself in one place. Now that it is so easy, especially at Whitman, where you get all kinds of support including information on how credits transfer as well as the same financial aid you get while on campus, everyone really should go. Study abroad is a unique opportunity to get away and students return reinvigorated about Whitman.

Much of my senior year was spent working on my thesis. Accompanied by friends, I passed week after week in the library piecing together an exploration of how federal fire management subsidizes home development in fire-prone areas, at a high cost to both the taxpayer and the forest itself. I have never worked so hard in my life, but I am incredibly proud of what I produced. The experience proved to me the true value of my Whitman education–when I put all my skills together in order to write the thesis, I got a true sense for just how much I had learned.

So now its time for the next chapter. It is going to be very hard to leave this place behind, but I know that I am graduating with all the necessary academic skills, as well as a group of incredible friends and a strong sense of self-confidence. I am so excited to see what the class of 2013 can achieve. My peers never cease to amaze me.


Lessons from the WUC

Yesterday was the Whitman Undergraduate Conference, a day where we get out of regular classes to attend any number of the hundreds of student presentations scheduled. More than a break from schoolwork and an excuse to get outside in the sunshine, the Conference provides an opportunity to revel in the work of our peers.

You can spend the entire day hopscotching between formal presentations, performances, and more casual poster viewings, and still not see it all. In that way, the WUC is an amazing testament to all the learning that is going on across campus year-round. It’s a chance to hear seniors discuss the theses they have spent months slaving over and to hear from juniors about the research they did while abroad.

This year two of my housemates presented. It was so cool to honor them for the research they did as part of thesis projects for their Sociology and Religious Studies majors. Sitting in on presentations at the WUC always serves as a reminder of the brilliance of my peers and exemplifies a critical piece of the Whitman philosophy: that we have much to learn from our fellow students.

Hole-in-the-wall Excellence

Walla Walla has 4 Thai restaurants. Which is awesome. As a curry, peanut sauce, and Phad Thai enthusiast, I frequent any and all establishments serving Thai that I can find. Because there are several options–which is pretty remarkable considering the size of Walla Walla–everyone has their favorite. I have had more debates than may be reasonable over the relative merits of Thai Ploy’s service and Phuomy’s ambiance. But my favorite Thai place and, indeed, one of my favorite spots in Walla Walla (okay, technically College Place) overall, is a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant called Bangkok 103.

Bangkok 103 is run by a husband and wife. She’s Thai, he is American. It’s a decidedly no-frills place with plastic plates, stars-and-stripes tablecloths, and florescent lighting. But I like that aspect of it; the couple devotes nothing to the setting and everything to the food. Which is to die for. Portions come out massive and rolling with steam–everything is made from scratch the moment you order it. The couple chats amicably with you throughout the meal, advising you what to order, ensuring you have enough rice, and offering tips on how to transport the inevitable leftovers.

In many ways, Bangkok 103 exemplifies much of what I so appreciate about Walla Walla itself. It’s a microcosm for the unique meld of old and new, excellence and down-to-earth rusticity, as well as a great place to see the Walla Walla brand of friendliness and hospitality on display. I recommend the restaurant to everyone–for the yellow curry and a reminder of what makes Walla Walla so special.

My Overlook

The Whitman campus is full of special little spots. Between the landscapers and architects, the individuals who designed campus clearly worked to create lots of unique and varied spaces. There are benches along streams, clusters of comfortable chairs for discussion, and every type of study environment imaginable. I have done my best to explore campus, to find all these little places, and I have developed a long list of favorites. Here, we all seem to be creatures of habit, or at least we each have favorite places on campus. I always see the same people in the same places. It’s a comfort that lends a specific familiarity to campus–I always know where to find certain peers.

If you were to come to the Whitman campus and look for me, you would do well to start on the second floor of the science building. The science building has always been my favorite on campus. The building embodies the best aspects of science as a discipline: the potential for constant exploration and the sense of wonder that comes from that exploration. There are displays everywhere of everything from multi-colored minerals to delicate glass lab instruments. The walls are covered with geologic maps and a seismograph runs in a case on the first floor. Up on the second floor by the stairs there is a small space with wall to wall glass. There, a couch nestled among overgrown ferns looks out over Ankeny field. I love everything about sitting on that couch; I like to watch the activity on campus below from my vantage point, I love to bask in the sun coming in the windows, and I like to sit by the stairs, where I can say hello to all my friends coming in and out of the building. It’s a great place for a conversation, some homework, or even a short nap.

The Ones That Got Away

There are so many classes to take at Whitman that registration often takes the form of a game of tetris, as you try to jigsaw especially exciting courses into your schedule. As a freshman the options were endless, but one of the sad facts of reaching the end of your time at Whitman is that there is just less room in your schedule for random topics of interest. No longer can you concede a course with the promise of making room for it next year. Like most other Whitman students, I have an insatiable intellectual curiosity and, as such, I had to practice extreme restraint when I registered for this last semester on campus. I have taken excellent courses, but there are a few that got away from me–a hard fact to admit.

Like Book Arts. If I had more time I would jump at the opportunity to take this art course, where students construct and bind books with all kinds of textiles, including the truly unconventional. A friend of mine in the course created a book bound with un-stuffed plush animals. I would revel in the chance for this kind of tactile creativity.

And a Politics seminar on Che Guevara. I have had the opportunity to travel around Latin America, noticing the idolization of dear Che and I have also read his travel log “The Motorcycle Diaries,” but I would have loved to examine the public figure from a critical political perspective.

Marine Biology. Students who take marine bio at Whitman get to learn from revered Prof. Paul Yancey, who spends his summers doing deep sea research with National Geographic. The course involves a one-week field trip, often to the San Juan Islands to get some hands-on experience. I take any and every chance to get to the San Juans, a place I have fallen hopelessly in love with since first visiting with my pre-orientation Scrambles group freshman year.

So those are a few of the courses that got away from me. If I only had another year at Whitman…

Tree Cutting Traditions

Last week was Thanksgiving break, a much needed release from coursework to relax, eat great food, and catch up on some sleep. It was my second of four college Thanksgivings, but only the second time I headed home to Colorado. Freshman year I went to Portland with a new Whitman friend, and last year I was deep in the Ecuadorian forest on the hunt for a rare bird. To celebrate the day, the one other girl I was living with and I made mashed potatoes and lentils and watched an anime film. Pretty nontraditional, but still fun.

It was an absolute treat to spend a little time back at home this year. For one, my parents had moved since I was last home in June (I spent the summer in Walla Walla interning for an NGO focused on water quality). And, of course, Thanksgiving is a holiday meant to be spent in the company of those you are most thankful for and, for me, those people are certainly my family. But I was also really happy to be home in order to take part in my favorite family tradition: heading up to mountains the day after Thanksgiving to cut the Christmas tree. This year the weather was glorious—65 and sunny, an amazing break from the wet chill of Walla Walla—and I got the chance to do a little groundwork for the thesis I will be writing this spring on forest management by stopping my dad so that I could snap photos of singular homes isolated in a sea of densely packed trees. We found our tree in record time and spent some time lounging on the rocks with a feast of leftovers. I couldn’t have asked for a better last day of break.

It’s always hard to come back to Whitman after Thanksgiving, as I can’t help but anticipate the mountain of work I have ahead of me to finish up the semester. But I know that I am lucky that I have a home that I am reluctant to leave. And I am always glad that I am headed back to my home away from home, here in Walla Walla with my second family.

Halloween by Boat

Every year the whitewater club goes for a Halloween paddle. This year they will be heading to Portland to paddle the Clackamas and Lower White Salmon Rivers, donning their spray skirts and PFDs over full costume. It’s such a Whitman thing: totally silly, but also pretty awesome.

Whitman exposed me to kayaking. Coming from Colorado, I had never been in a sea kayak before arriving at college, but it was the very first thing I was involved with on campus. Prior to orientation week, I went on a week-long sea kayaking scramble in the San Juan Islands as part of one of the 20 or so trips we run for incoming first years. It was exhilarating; I loved being so close to the water, observing the complexities of the currents by how they affected my little boat, and feeling the power of propelling myself through the ocean from island to island. I found a new passion in sea kayaking.

Whitewater kayaking was always a lot more intimidating. The stakes are so much higher and the skills are totally different. Sea kayaking is about planning, reading the tide charts and knowing how to navigate, while whitewater is all about reacting—it’s much more physical. I was terrified for my first trip, even though I had yet to miss one of the Open Kayak skill sessions in the Whitman pool—and there are two a week. The trip was designed for total beginners and I already knew how to roll, but I can still remember how scared I was. I never wanted the car ride to end. I didn’t want us to actually arrive at the put in.

I never took to whitewater boating the way I did to sea kayaking—I could never get my stomach unknotted long enough to enjoy it. But I was so appreciative of everyone’s encouragement, my friends who paddled alongside me and the few who were able to convince me to ever give it a try in the first place. College should be like that sometimes. If you take advantage of all the incredible new opportunities, you are going to stumble on a few things you don’t really love. I will keep to the flat water, but I do love hearing the crazy stories from the Halloween whitewater trip. There are always some good ones.