Hi there! My name is Jasmine Hao, and I am a first-year undergraduate student at Princeton University! I am from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and as of now, I am interested in majoring in Molecular Biology or Neuroscience on the pre-med track. I am looking very much forward to sharing my adventures here with you.
I arrived at Princeton on August 18th for international orientation, which lasted until August 20th and gave international freshmen a chance to get over jetlag, ask questions about living in the US, and settle in a little before the rest of the freshmen arrived. We were put into groups of about 10 students with 2 international orientation leaders (older students) per group, and some of the things we did included fun icebreakers, going shopping for dorm essentials, and participating in a scavenger hunt. We also learned about health resources, academic integrity, and the incredible McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning at Princeton – I am looking forward to the Life & Learning Consultation I booked through McGraw to get advice from an upperclass student in my prospective major on study habits and how to balance schoolwork, extracurriculars, and fun!
On August 21st, the rest of the freshmen moved in! It was a very exciting (and very exhausting) day. It was wonderful to meet the rest of my suitemates and their parents, and we met our “zee group” (short for “advisee group” since we all have the same Residential College Advisor (RCA), an upperclass student who lives on our floor).
The next evening, we checked into our orientation groups. All students who are not athletes in Fall sports participate in Outdoor Action (OA), Community Action (CA), or Difference and Dialogue in Action (DDA, which is a very small orientation group) for four days after arriving at Princeton. A common question when meeting someone new was, “Are you in OA or CA?”.
My CA group was under the topic public health, with a focus on health inequities. At first, it was a little bit awkward – we were tired from move-in and didn’t know each other or our leaders, but over the next four days, we did a variety of “Bravespace” activities, where we shared about ourselves and our fears and hopes for our Princeton experience, and I certainly got to know my group on a deeper level. We also participated in team-building activities such as rope courses at the Pocono Environmental Education Center, and we did some canvassing for the Princeton Health Department, where we went to neighbourhoods in the town of Princeton to share about drop-in COVID-19 and flu vaccine clinics and free blood testing for lead poisoning in young children. By the end of CA, I really felt like we were one big family. The next few days took a bit of adjustment to not be meeting everyone early in the morning and eating all our meals together. Indeed, many of my friends and I made connections during OA/CA that we will likely maintain for the rest of our time at Princeton!
After our exciting orientation programming, we had a few days to get ready for choosing classes and to learn about some of the other resources (ex. Public Safety) and opportunities on campus. On August 27th, we registered for classes, and today marks our second day of college! For many, it is the first time taking an in-person class in over a year, so in addition to starting our first days of post-secondary education, it is an especially surreal experience.
So far, I am taking Intensive Chinese, Multivariable Calculus, and Integrated Science, an exciting program which seeks to bridge the gap between the biological and physical sciences. I have heard stellar reviews from former students, so I am excited to see how the course (which actually counts as two courses in the fall and spring semesters) unfolds.
Thank you for reading! If you have questions or would like to chat at any time, please feel free to contact me at (jasmine dot hao at princeton dot edu). Until next time!
Hello! I promise I’m working on the summaries of notable events from Nov of last year to the end of the school year in June, but for some reason I’m facing a bit of resistance…
So I thought I would give an update on life right now. All in all, there’s not much to complain about, but I guess I’m not as happy about finally not being so busy I desperately await each weekend only for it to quickly and quietly slip away as I thought I would be… (and I wish I was happier because I know I’ll be hoping for this kind of a life all too soon once school begins)
I think I feel a bit like I did on those long, winding weekday afternoons in the summers of elementary school when my parents still hadn’t come home from work and there was nothing to do, but I’m definitely more concerned about it than I was then. There are many things I could be doing (learning so much knowledge for IB and for fun! practicing old skills or developing new ones – I really need to learn a bit of coding!) , and many things I should be doing (my Extended Essay, my Biology Internal Assessment draft, writing drafts of my Common App personal essay, exercising regularly), but they all seem a bit distant. I know I can muster the activation energy to begin something, but sometimes I’m just not interested… or I’m tired of looking at my laptop for hours and hours. It’s nice not to have to bring textbooks across the ocean, but I think having my education, assignments, extracurricular activities, personal learning, and a lot of leisure activities like finding recipes, chatting with friends or reading online books all on a screen has really blurred the lines between trying to motivate myself to begin getting something done, getting something done, and intentionally relaxing.
(I cannot wait to be able to borrow books from the public library again – I read so much during quarantine at school and basically not at all after coming home!)
Sometimes it seems like everyone else in this neighbourhood, this city, and maybe all my friends in my hometown and around the world, is occupied with something interesting and productive, or at least taking some time off and actually feeling relaxed. I wouldn’t say I’m stressed right now (although I was stressed on the day of my Chemistry Internal Assessment draft deadline), but I definitely don’t feel washed over by a wave of rejuvenation and energy for the gruelling months of college applications, numerous school and official IB assessments, and general hustle and bustle of the school year ahead. Maybe I never really learned how to let go of my obligations and do nothing for a few hours or maybe a few days, so I’m always in this weird limbo between “it’s summer and I definitely don’t need to work from 8 am – 10 pm everyday” and “I should be making the most of my time because I won’t get an uninterrupted, self-directed stretch like this in a long time”.
But, the sun keeps coming up every day (and out of the clouds most days :)). There have been some highlights to the past few weeks that I’m very grateful to have experienced!
Baking vegan banana bread
Helping my grandpa and mom make various delicious Chinese dishes
Cleaning my room and donating clothes and books
Learning a tiny bit of guitar
Biking up both sides of a ravine on a ~18 km loop with my dad every few days
Joining my former dance class on Zoom
Having a picnic with my best friend
I guess at the end of the day I’ll finish my assignments one way or another, and many of the people out there are probably occasionally experiencing some version of this…
I’ll leave you with a piano piece I’m learning, Jeux d’eau by Ravel (played by Martha Argerich).
Bis nächstes Mal! Until next time (which hopefully isn’t too far away!)
(My Duolingo game – unlike my motivation to write my personal essay – is strong but I still had to search that up haha)
Hello again! In my last post I mentioned I intended to write 8 more blog posts to fill in the gap after mid-November, but seeing as I haven’t written since then, I think I’ll revise my goal into 2 more posts: one on Nov to March and one on March to June.
In the end, my trip home actually went almost as planned when we bought the tickets in December. I left school as intended on Tuesday, June 9 and arrived at home in the night on the same day. I’m really grateful I was able to make it home, and I hope the students remaining on campus are also able to go home for some part of the summer if possible.
UWC Robert Bosch College was the only UWC of 18 colleges that was open for the last few months, and the only UWC that returned to classes. We reopened on May 4, welcoming back staff who live off campus and implementing new rules to maintain social distancing during the school day. We proceeded with end of year exams for first years a week later as well as IA data gathering and TOK presentations in the last two weeks of classes.
We finished classes on Tues, June 2 and TOK presentations on Thurs, June 4, then had our “disorientation” from Friday to Sunday and a thorough house and room cleaning on Monday.
I was a bit nervous to travel, but everything went quite smoothly and the airports and planes were definitely less busy than usual. For the summer, I plan to finish as much schoolwork as I reasonably can, including a draft of my Extended Essay and my Chemistry and Biology internal assessments. I can see myself losing motivation if I don’t also do other things, so I hope I’ll be able to vary my days with hobbies like baking, playing piano, and biking and playing badminton outdoors as well as spending time with my family. Another two of my major interests this summer are studying neuroscience and volunteering with research on the treatment of aphasia (difficulty with language caused by brain damage (e.g., stroke, head trauma, Alzheimer’s)). I am currently taking Medical Neuroscience on Coursera from Duke University, and I am enjoying it, but the workload is quite intense. I am not sure I will be able to finish on time because I want to make sure my notes are thorough…
Hopefully those two posts come through and I’ll provide an update on my summer plans!
Hello! Writing another post (I have a list of 8 I need to write…) is always on the back of my mind, but I always manage to find something else I need to do first. In light of moving to online classes until Apr. 20, I’ve got a bit more time on my hands and a desire to share everything that has happened over the past few weeks.
(I actually set this aside for a few more days after writing those two sentences and this encouraged me to get this done)
Evidently, the world is in the grip of Covid-19, and countries around the world are closing schools, asking people to work from home, and going into some form of lockdown. Recently, Europe has been called the epicentre of the pandemic, and Germany and Italy have been especially hard-hit so it has been a stressful and uncertain time for many.
I believe almost all of the 18 UWCs around the world have stopped classes and many have closed their boarding section, asking first years or all of their students to leave. In many cases, it was not the decision of the school as authorities asked them to close. Robert Bosch College stopped classes last Tues., Mar. 17, and thus far our boarding section is still open. Students are allowed to return home with no consequences on their standing in the school, and approximately 30 have done so.
I need to deeply thank our administration – especially our Rektor, Laurence – for their transparency and tireless efforts to update us on the decisions of authorities and new responses and changes in the school. All of the staff on campus have stepped up to take on new roles and more responsibility while simultaneously comforting us as our friends leave months earlier than expected, travel becomes more and more difficult, and our movement becomes more restricted. Two Fridays ago, on Mar. 13, we were informed that we would only be allowed to walk or run along a section of the Dreisam, the river beside our school, or in the Black Forest behind our school, provided that we acted rationally and kept a safe distance away from others. On Friday, Mar. 20, when Freiburg went into “lockdown”, our administration also thought it was prudent to ask us to remain on campus for the next two weeks.
I have to admit I am a bit sad about the prospect of not being able to walk or run in nature, but I understand why the decision to keep us on campus was taken, and there have been many laudable efforts to bring us what we need, including off-campus staff buying supplies to sell in a “Campus Kiosk” run by students.
One positive thing to come out of this experience is being able to connect with each other more and enjoy the outdoors together. The past week, we had incredible warm and sunny weather and students organized activities such as an orchestra concert and candlelight ceremony for the students leaving as well as spontaneous volleyball, badminton, basketball and cricket games. Since we didn’t have school from Tuesday until Friday and CAS activities were not running, we had more freedom to chat with each other. One afternoon, I passed by a first year that I haven’t talked to much, and she asked me to run with her. I was a bit unsure but thought why not join her, and we had a wonderful conversation, enjoyed the sun and scenery and got some really good exercise!
This post was originally supposed to go up on Nov. 10… (and then December at least) but I guess what caused many of the other UWC blogs I read to become less frequent has also caught up to me 🙂 here’s how the past few weeks have been, and I’ll try to write a few posts to fill in the months between!
Sunday, Nov. 3
It was a bit strange to see the Mensa full of people again and for there to be a line (gasp!) at dinner… but it is nice to have the campus a bit more lively again!
Tuesday, Nov. 5
The Canadian application for UWC closes on Nov. 15 and some students planning to apply have asked me for advice. It’s hard to believe that a year ago I was sitting in my room writing my application essays, and now I live in Germany with the students and teachers I was dreaming of…
I finished a blue path at bouldering that I was struggling with last time twice in a row!
Wednesday, Nov. 6
A few pictures from opening and analyzing nests at the University of Freiburg as part of my Wild Bee Scientists service activity. I am also in charge of updating the project’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/schulinsektenhaus/
Saturday, Nov. 9
Another Mountain Hamsters hike! Unfortunately I didn’t write about this one specifically so I can’t remember much about how I was feeling, but there hasn’t been a hike I haven’t enjoyed 🙂
Thursday, Nov. 14
In the evening, I attended a concert at the Musikhochschule (Music College) near our school with members of our orchestra. I really enjoyed it! The solo pianist was incredible and they played Petruschka by Stravinsky which I remember studying in a musical history course I did as part of my piano education. Petruschka was quite chaotic but I liked listening to the different strands and melodies.
Sunday, Nov. 17
As part of my college job, I checked and filled the first aid boxes of the student houses with another first responder. In the afternoon, I did some Christmas baking with other students that turned out very nicely!
Block Week! During this week, very class gets a “block” of 3 hours that may be an exam, lab, or longer activity. Some days we have no scheduled activities (reading break).
This week marks halfway through term 1 and our first break!
Many students are travelling, going home, or visiting friends/family, so the campus feels very empty. It’s a bit strange having our house so quiet and no line in the Mensa, but this week was a wonderful opportunity to catch up on sleep (and not wake up to an alarm for the first time in months!), read, relax, and do a bit of schoolwork.
Mon. Oct. 28
A group of us went skating in the afternoon which I really enjoyed! I haven’t been on the ice in figure skates in years, and it was so rejuvenating to glide across the ice and feel the cold air of a rink against my face again.
My roommate and I finished our puzzle, but unfortunately it’s missing two pieces… a few days later, my other roommate found one in her book! It must have gotten caught in it before she left, and she carried it all the way home 🙂
Tues. Oct. 29
Before I left, a family friend told me her niece was living near Freiburg, and since it was fall break, I asked if she wanted to meet up. She invited me to her home in Eichstetten for lunch, and I had my first experience with the regional transit system and spent a wonderful afternoon with her and her very energetic three sons.
Usually, you can take one train from the Freiburg Hauptbahnhof (central station) to Eichstetten, but since they are doing some work on the train, you need to take the replacement bus to Bötzingen and the train one more stop to Eichstetten. The train only runs every half-hour and I got to Bötzingen early in case something went wrong. The train half an hour earlier than the one I was expecting to take was there, but I was a bit confused about directions, so I didn’t get on it. I waited for the next one, and then I realized bahn.de (the German train system website) had told me to walk to the next station. At this point, I had 10 minutes to walk what Google maps told me would take 15 minutes, and I had to orient myself, so I got to the next station just as the train arrived… but it had a different final destination on it than the one I was expecting… so I didn’t get on. A minute later, I looked at the map and realized it was just a town a little bit beyond the one I had written down, and so I waited another half-hour for the next train. (It turns out I didn’t need to walk to the next station anyway…) Essentially, I waited in Bötzingen for an hour to take the train 1 stop (less than 5 minutes!), but at least now I know!
Sat. Nov. 2
I finally finished reading Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, which my mom recommended to me, and I quite liked it! It’s about how we deal with mortality in medicine and what is important to people at the end of their lives.
Students will be returning on Sunday, ready to head into the second half of the term!
If you remember, I was absolutely blown away when we reached one month here… and now somehow that number has changed to two. I was so busy I didn’t even recognize that Oct. 23 marked two months until a few days after… but I think I’m beginning to adapt to how time compresses, stretches, and flies all at once here.
This week was a bit hectic as we had a lot of schoolwork and I (purposefully) didn’t do much over Host Family weekend, so I needed a bit more time to stay on top of everything. As a result, this week’s blog post is a bit short!
Tues. Oct. 22
Today after school, I went to fix the front brakes on the bike that I am a steward of (meaning I have the key to the lock and students can ask me for it to use the bike). The mountain biking CAS was getting ready and since the Waschhaus (which we use as a bike workshop and for maintenance equipment) was open for them to get their bikes, I went in to work on my bike. I finished in 5-10 minutes, and noticed it was quiet, so I assumed the group had left, and when I wheeled my bike to the door, I realized it was closed. Not a big deal, I would just open it and return my bike to the rack… so I went to open the door, but the handle was locked. There was a small knob under the handle, so I moved it to the right, and the handle was still locked. To the left, and nothing changed.
Long story short, I got locked in the Waschhaus (I was a bit concerned I was just too dumb to figure out how to open the door, but I learned it can’t actually be opened from the inside if it is locked) but thankfully, I had my phone and emailed one of the teachers who is in charge of the bike program. He saw the email and sent a student with a key within 10 minutes. I actually called my dad during this time and he laughed with me about it and suggested I go to the windows and knock and yell for help… but I’m glad I didn’t have to do that.
(The next day, the teacher in charge of the mountain biking CAS left chocolate in my pigeon hole – our individual mailbox in the Mensa – with a sticky note saying that if I ever want more chocolate, he can lock me in the Waschhaus again :)) When I told some of my friends what happened, they were a bit shocked, but at least now I have a funny story to tell.
At today’s bouldering session, I tried a blue path approximately 10 times and I was pretty convinced I would have to try again the next session, but on my last try before we had to leave, I finally did it! I was really proud of myself for not giving up despite failing so many times, and also for being willing to take the risk to do a new move on the wall. It initially made me kind of uncomfortable and a bit scared as I didn’t want to fall, but once I did it, I realized it’s not as difficult as I thought it would be. In two weeks (we won’t boulder next week because it’s fall break), I hope to try it again!
Sat. Oct. 26
Fall break begins!
Today I had an eight-hour-long first aid course for my college job as a First Responder which I quite enjoyed! The six first-year and one second-year First Responder took the course together with about 15 staff members because they have to take it every two years to stay up to date. We learned / reviewed procedures for various different situations including recovery position, CPR with and without an AED, choking, strains and sprains, and shock. It was a relatively laid-back day with beautiful weather.
My Nicaraguan roommate and I (along with my friend from another house, a German co-year) started working on a 1000-piece puzzle yesterday and here is the progress we’ve made so far. We listened to music and chatted, and it was a really nice way to take our minds off of all the things we’ve had to do the past week and a mental exercise in (literally) trying to see the bigger picture (they both did much more than me :))
I’ve noticed it can be a bit of a challenge to compile a whole week’s activities and events at the end of the week, so this week I tried writing a bit each day.
Sun. Oct. 13:
This morning we had our first house event (outside of the two house dinners we had earlier in the year), a house brunch. We made pancakes together and decorated the common spaces and the kitchen cupboards assigned to our rooms. For the first time in my life, I learned how incredible ice cream is with warm pancakes.
In the afternoon, the first year students met their host families! I met my incredible host family and we had cake together before going for a short walk. My host mom is Taiwanese and my host dad is German. They have two daughters aged 12 and 15, and their older daughter is planning to apply to UWC this year which is very exciting! The family speaks German, English and Chinese (Mandarin), and the daughters learn French in school, so I can speak to them in several languages. They are such interesting and kind people and I really look forward to spending more time with them!
Before dinner, my two first-year roommates and I decided to try and rearrange some of the furniture in our room. We put our beds together in a U-shape and the desks on the other side of the wall unit so we have a sleeping area and a studying area, and I’m really liking so far!
Mon. Oct. 14:
Today I played piano in the auditorium before the college assembly, and I was actually really nervous despite having performed piano many times over the course of my life. I think it was partially because I stopped lessons in January after 12 years of lessons and I haven’t practiced nearly as much as I should have since then. I was planning to play Jardins sous la pluie by Debussy, but there was some extra time so I played the first two movements of Italian Concerto by J.S. Bach on a whim which was even more nerve-wracking. I did the one thing my piano teacher has always told me not to do, and I forgot the ending to the last piece I played so everyone had arrived in the auditorium and our Rektor had quieted everyone down so everyone was listening to me. I ended up having to make up some chords to finally finish the piece…
In any case, I enjoyed playing for the college community and I hope most of my pieces were enjoyable to listen to as background music!
This week’s college assembly also included many project week presentations, most of which were either a video featuring different highlights of different project weeks (eg. one group’s flixbuses got cancelled and they had to stay one night with the sick students remaining on campus; one group didn’t catch their bus to their campsite so they slept at the bus station on the first night…) or a presentation with slides showing pictures of their adventures.
Today is also Canadian Thanksgiving! The four other Canadian students at the college and I had a wonderful dinner together of Kraft Dinner, hashbrowns, and Tim Horton’s hot chocolate. It was so nice to bond over something we all ate at home and to talk a bit about Canada (eg. apparently we say bagel, house and bag weirdly…)
My Swiss roommate was so kind and she bought roses for me, our Nicaraguan roommate, and herself. I’ve never had fresh flowers on my desk before, but I really love them.
In the evening I had my second official bike repair session (bike repair is one of my college jobs) and I helped work on some brakes and detached fenders.
Tues. Oct. 15:
Today at bouldering I worked on the second blue path that I’ve been trying to complete… but unfortunately I wasn’t able to make much progress, and the climbing hall is rearranging that path soon so it may not be there next week. I think I realized that it’s natural to not reach your goals sometimes and so it’s important to be open to readjusting them if needed.
Thurs. Oct. 17:
After half a class of math, our math teacher said “You know what? Let’s just drop everything and go to the garden,” and we headed to the garden to enjoy the sun, flowers, and fruit. I think I really needed that half hour in the garden thinking about nothing other than the gorgeous weather and incredible location of the school…
After school, my Swiss roommate made pizza dough and went to the mall for some ingredients. I helped (in the loosest sense of the word) her make the pizzas and we had a delicious dinner together!
(Today I finally caught up on the past three weeks’ worth of blog posts… at some points, I wondered if it was worth finishing them or if I should just pick up from this week, but I think I actually got a lot out of reflecting on my experiences and putting them together in this format :))
Fri. Oct. 18:
Around dinnertime, Linda prepared snacks for her host family, and I helped her roll (and eat) some of them 🙂
This evening we had our second UWC Cafe of the year, and I am absolutely blown away by the innumerable talents of my fellow students. There was belly dancing, African dance, Latino dance, individual dance numbers (salsa by two first-years to the song Senorita which was really, really good; popping / hip hop by two second-years including backflips !! ), beautiful singing in various languages with combinations of piano, guitar, and ukulele, rapping, and much more. I wanted to take it all in through my own eyes so I chose to not take a lot of pictures or videos, and I think it was a richer experience because of it.
In the evening, my two first-year roommates (Esther and Linda) and I looked at some old pictures and videos of us and tried to dance to make ourselves feel better about our lack of dancing talent. It was so much fun to talk together in our common bed area (previously, Esther was on the other side of the wall-unit which made it harder to chat altogether) as we got ready for bed.
Sat. Oct. 19:
I was very excited for host family weekend, and today surpassed my expectations by a long shot. My host dad picked me up at 10 in the morning and since it was raining all day, we spent most of the day in their home. First, we made dumplings (which were beyond amazing to eat after 2 months without Chinese food), then I helped my youngest host sister, Lillian, with her French homework and we played Chinese checkers.
Afterwards, the two of us baked, decorated and ate a delicious chocolate cake with raspberries, and we looked at pictures of her family’s travels and an album from her daycare. I played some piano for her and she played some cello for me (I absolutely love string instruments and would really like to learn how to play one).
In the evening, we shopped for dinner ingredients with her dad, made sushi, and then ate a dinner of sushi, bao zi (larger dumplings), salad and Japanese soup.
After dinner, Lilli and I studied together in her room. We ate walnuts (our favourite nut) and gingerbread cookies, and I brought her my favourite childhood snack of beef jerky from home.
It was a very enjoyable and laid-back day and I am so happy I got to spend time getting to know my youngest host sister and my host parents! (my older younger host sister (older than the one I spent today with, but younger than me) is currently on an exchange to Jerusalem)
Sun. Oct. 20:
Today I woke up from an incredible (9 and a half hours!) sleep and had a breakfast of toast, homemade raspberry jam and organic peanut butter, and a scone. My host mom and I went into their backyard to pick their grapes – there were so many, but unfortunately we were a bit late, and many of them were too far gone to use. We then got ready to go to Colmar, France! On our way there, we passed Breisach and the same bridge over the Rhine that we biked on our first day of project week which brought back a lot of good memories.
We ate delicious flammkuchen / tarte flambee / very thin pizzas for lunch in an area called “La Petite Venise” and then we walked around Colmar enjoying the splendid weather and quaint buildings. Lillian and I got some ice cream, and we slowly made our way back to the car. For some reason, I was very sleepy and dozed most of the way home.
When we got home, Lillian tried to teach me some strange / hard to pronounce German words like Quietscheentchen (squeaky rubber duck), Streichholzschächtelchen (small matchbox) and Rechtsschutzversicherungsgesellschaften (safety insurance society) (Germans really love their compound words). My host mom made herself and me some matcha with milk (using matcha that her coworker brought her from Kyoto!) and together we prepared a German dinner of potato salad and schnitzel. Unfortunately, my host dad had to bring me back to RBC afterward, but I’m grateful we got to spend this weekend together and I can’t wait until we next meet 🙂
The euphoria of project week has begun to die down, and it has honestly left me a little bit sadder than before we left.
This was supposed to be published on Oct. 12.
Hello! We’re now back into the swing of things.
It’s a bit strange and busy getting back into the school routine and not seeing the people in my project week group everyday. At first, I was still riding the PW high, but now it’s a bit… muted. I’m not unhappy, but I was really happy right after PW and now normal life has started again.
TUESDAY: I completed my first blue path at bouldering! (I’ve been working mostly on yellows and greens, the two easiest levels so far) I was one rock away from the top, but I was very tempted to just come down and try again some other time. I didn’t want to fall and hurt my ankle, and I sincerely felt that I couldn’t do it… but I thought to myself, I’ve already made it this far, so I might as well take the risk and give it my best try to reach a little farther. It took some time, but I was able to make it, and I’m so happy that I did! Next week, I think I’ll try the same path a few more times and see how I can do it using my muscles more effectively. For the latter part of the session, I worked on a blue traverse that started a relatively steep angle and so required some upper body strength. I wasn’t able to make much progress, but I’m happy I didn’t lose the resolve to keep trying. I’ll also work on it more next week!
THURSDAY: Each school year, we have four Special Focus Days: one on interfaith topics, the second on inequality, the third our Model United Nations conference and the fourth on sustainability. On Thursday, we had our first Special Focus Day which revolved around interfaith topics. The keynote speech was titled Faith in Art and Architecture and it was quite a fascinating presentation on the role and influence of Christianity on art and religious architecture.
The bulk of the day was made up of two sessions of student and external speaker-led seminars on different faiths, religions, and cultural philosophies. I attended student-led seminars on Confucianism and Sunni Islam, both of which were interesting and very different from the customs and beliefs that I am familiar with.
After lunch, we got the chance to see some of the pieces of a global art project on spirituality and mysticism led by two German women who are travelling and collecting opinions and artwork from people of very different backgrounds, cultures and religions.
This was followed by a documentary and presentation from the non-profit organization HAWAR.help on the plight of the Yazidi people in Iraq and their part in the Special Quota Project to bring 1 100 of the most vulnerable women and girls who were in IS captivity to Germany (to the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg) to heal. It was a very powerful presentation that evoked a lot of emotions in the audience.
In the afternoon, students participated in hands-on workshops on religious / spiritual practices such as Buddhist meditation and calligraphy. I attended a workshop on Cyrillic Calligraphy and the Russian Orthodox Church which I enjoyed.
FRIDAY: I practiced piano after school in preparation for a short performance before Monday’s college assembly, and I realized that I definitely need to practice piano more for a number of reasons. First of all, I’ve been playing piano for so many years that it would be a huge loss to “become rusty” or lose my abilities and musical fluency, but more importantly, playing piano is such an enjoyable activity that is mentally engaging, takes my mind off of everything else, and provides specific challenges that I can focus on and continue to work at. I’m so lucky to be able to play and I shouldn’t forget the benefits that practicing brings me!
In the evening, I attended the play Eurydice performed by a project week group and their supervisor, my English teacher. It was a wonderful play that was funny, endearing, and sad, and I’m really glad I went. I was very impressed by the talents and efforts of the students and my teacher!
SATURDAY: Today I went for my first Mountain Hamsters hike (a school group of students and staff who go for monthly hikes in the Black Forest) to the top of Feldberg, the highest mountain in Baden-Wuerttemberg. We hiked for about four and a half hours in beautiful weather and among gorgeous autumn colours. We reached the top very quickly, and I was a bit confused because when my family goes for hikes, it takes us half a day or more to reach the summit. When I came back, I searched it up and realized that the mountains of the Black Forest are about 1300 – 1500 m high, and the Rockies at home are over 3000 m high. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the hike and conversations we had!
I was calling my parents in the evening and when I walked into our house’s common room, where some students were cooking Indian food, I mentioned to them that it smelled good. I went back upstairs, and a few minutes later, one of them came up and invited me to eat with them, which I was quite surprised about. I joined them for a delicious dinner of fried rice, sweet potatoes, and an egg dish with onions. It was really nice to be a part of a group I haven’t talked to very much, to share food with others, and to not eat in the Mensa for once… I love the Mensa and I’m so grateful I don’t have to cook for myself, but I’m always open to some new flavours.
Later in the evening, I was finally able to call my friend who is a first-year at Adriatic. We are from the same city, and we used to go to the same high school, but among the busyness of UWC, we haven’t had a chance to catch up since last seeing each other at the beginning of August. It was wonderful to talk to her about how she’s doing, the similarities and differences between Robert Bosch College and Adriatic, and to reflect on all that we’ve done so far.
It was a wonderful week, and I look forward to all that the next one has in store 🙂
It’s hard to summarize or write about project week because all of it was experiential and all of it was important. I had no idea what it would be like going in and no idea how I would feel coming out but I am so grateful for the experiences that I had and things that I learned over the past seven intense days.
As I’ve mentioned before, myself, seven other students and a teacher went on a week-long biking and camping trip from our school along the Rhine river into France and then up the Black Forest back to our school. In total, we biked over 400 km, and were amazed, tested, and exhausted almost every day.
The first four days, we were blessed with beautiful weather and wonderful scenery.
Day 1: Freiburg to Neuf-Breisach: We crossed the Rhine into France and I was so excited to be able to read the signs and billboards we passed. The route was flat and short and a wonderful start to our project week.
Day 2: Neuf-Breisach to Gerstheim: Another beautiful day biking past corn fields and green landscapes. My Swiss roommate and I cooked rice and chili for dinner this evening.
Day 3: Gerstheim to Strasbourg to Steinach: The longest day of our trip kilometers-wise. Strasbourg was very beautiful and I’m happy we were able to go! My roommate and I navigated this day and I learned some of the challenges of leading a big group and trying to quickly interpret signs.
Day 4: Steinach to Alpirsbach: This evening was the windiest of the trip, and two of our tent’s pegs broke, so in the middle of the night, it was flapping around very noisily in the wind. One of the girls was brave enough to go looking for the rest of the pegs (her efforts to wake up the boys failed despite her opening their tent door and calling their names) and re-secure them. Later in the night one of the pegs came out of the ground again so my roommate went out to put it back into the ground. When she came back, she told us very seriously that she didn’t know where her underwear was. She had washed it and put it on her pannier in the tent’s vestibule, but with the wind, we thought it was probably long gone and flapping on a tree branch somewhere. It was a hilarious moment and probably one of the highlights of our whole trip.
The last three days were much more challenging as we faced most of the trip’s climb, worse surfaces, difficult navigation, and bad weather.
Day 5: Alpirsbach to Villingen-Schwenningen (known as “the day”)
This was by far the hardest and longest day of our trip. We were on the road for 10 hours and biked through strong wind and torrential downpour. I think we were all pushed quite hard both physically and mentally, and the sight of (what always seemed like) yet another hill to climb made me want to give up several times. In the afternoon, we stopped in a cafe to warm up and drink some hot chocolate, and we decided to book a hotel for that evening because 1. we wouldn’t make it in time to get a spot at the campsite we booked and 2. we were completely exhausted and soaked, and none of us would have been able to rest in the cold weather in wet sleeping bags and tents. The last 20 minutes of our ride were in complete darkness which was a bit scary and kind of surreal because all you could see in every direction was a sheet of blackness except the few meters of the path in front of us lit up by our bike lights. It was beyond incredible to sleep on a comfortable bed inside a warm building after a warm shower…
Something very memorable happened on this day. One of our members was becoming quite sick, and we stopped in a residential area because she was having trouble breathing while biking up a hill. A German man came out of his house and asked us where we were going, and our group leader mentioned one person in our group was sick. He wished us well and we proceeded on our way. 5-10 minutes later, we noticed a car parked on the side of the road, and a man came out to us. We realized it was the same man as earlier. He had driven to an intersection with the bike route and brought a bottle of warm tea, a package of tissues, and lozenges for the sick member. We were all taken aback by the kindness of a complete stranger; he hadn’t even personally seen the sick member as she had been around the corner from his house. I think his random act of kindness was something that helped encourage me to keep going the rest of the way.
Day 6: Villingen-Schwenningen to Titisee-Neustadt: This was another long day, but we had quite a nice downhill stretch to Titisee toward the end.
Day 7: Titisee-Neustadt to Freiburg! We biked downhill on a wet gravel road for a significant portion of our route which was kind of scary, but we emerged largely unscathed. When we reached Freiburg and the college came into sight, I was so overjoyed… we all screamed in happiness and I didn’t expect to be flooded with so many emotions, but it was really a unique moment.
I had high hopes that biking up the college hill would seem like nothing compared to the full days of climbing that we did… and unfortunately I was disappointed that the hill hadn’t gotten any easier than it was the first time I biked up it.
Thinking back on the past week, the images imprinted on my mind of the corn fields, the trees lining the canal, racing each other to the next sign, and biking through the Black Forest all have a sort of dream-like quality to them… but I’m so grateful for the project week experience that I had and the things that it taught me about planning and executing an outdoor trip, the power of a group (and the power of a break, a warm croissant and some hot chocolate), and mustering up the will to go on when I really didn’t have any left. My heart is so full, and this was an experience I’ll be able to look back on for a very long time.
I wanted to mention that I don’t have a sim card and I didn’t use wifi for the entire week, and I didn’t miss it at all. I had no urge to call or text anyone or to check or write any emails (a huge thing at RBC), and I think the subtraction of social media and constant connectedness actually really added to my trip. I’m quite glad I didn’t connect to or really care about wifi even when it was available at some campsites and at the hotel. I hope I can carry this knowledge with me and know that it’s okay not to check social media or my email more than a couple times a day.