The New Team: Work-Study & Blogging Off-Campus

Last week, the Life on the Hill bloggers had our first on-campus meeting for the Fall 2014 semester. Usually I attend these meetings in-person. However, I wasn’t on campus last week because of my participation in ILR’s NYC Fall credit internship program.  As result, I could only attend the meeting via Skype. Still, the whole crew was very friendly, and I met all the new students who joined our team this year. We even got together for a group picture before running off to our classes (or, in my case, to another meeting):

There I am on the left-hand side of the computer screen

There I am on the right-hand side of the computer screen

I greatly appreciate the Life on the Hill blogging team for allowing me to continue as a blogger off-campus. As some of my older readers know from previous posts, I rely heavily on my work-study allocation and on-campus jobs to make financial ends meet. While scholarships and federal financial aid pay the bulk of my tuition, other costs like housing, textbooks, meals, and the like come out of my family’s pocket. Having jobs on campus allows me to pitch in and pay for some of those expenses myself.

In past posts, I’ve talked about how difficult it can be for students to find jobs or work-study employment in Ithaca. The Life on the Hill student blogger position isn’t a work-study job, but it pays monthly and the work is flexible enough to  maintain easily alongside other work-study employment on campus. It isn’t the highest paying job I’ve had, but it is the only job which isn’t site-specific. That means I can do the work at any time and at any place, so long as I finish before the end-of-the-week deadline.

As a Freshman, Sophomore, and Junior undergraduate student, I never considered flexibility to be a quality more valuable than pay in an on-campus job. Sure, it was a factor to consider; flexibility was extremely important in balancing my academics and work. Ultimately, however, a higher pay meant that I could cover my bills in a shorter time frame, making it a necessity rather than just a convenience.  I didn’t mind walking in the snow for several miles each weekend to a job site if it meant I could cover my expenses within a week, instead of within a month.

Being able to eat tomorrow always trumped being able to sleep in today. 

Nevertheless, I kept the student blogger job anyway because it was easy to maintain and I enjoyed writing. As a Senior, it is now the only job (aside from my internship) which I still have. I never would have predicted as a younger student that, of all the jobs I would come to have, blogging would be the only job I would retain by Senior year. What I never considered back then was how on-campus employment changes when you participate in an off-campus alternative program. Suddenly, that job which is just a few miles away in the snow is now an impossible 200+ miles away. The jobs which aren’t site-specific are now the only jobs you can have because you no longer live on campus.

Participating in an off-campus program isn’t without its costs, either. You still have to pay tuition and, although you maintain most of your financial aid package, it can be modified in ways you weren’t expecting. For example, my work-study allocation was severely reduced and a federal loan was added to make up the difference. Other students experienced similar changes, as well. It’s difficult to predict what your tuition costs will be for an alternative semester because of these variances. As result, it can also be difficult to prepare for, making student employment even more critical in covering tuition.

Furthermore, while you might not have a housing contract with Cornell, you still have to pay for housing and meals. In my case, my internship is located near my family’s home and I can live there. However, other students needed to rent out apartments in the city–a huge cost. In both cases, there is the added worry of transportation. Train and bus tickets, accumulated every day for 14-16 weeks, can easily add up to a sum equal to or greater than what you would spend traditionally on textbooks.

Cornell doesn’t surprise you with these costs; when you apply, Cornell representatives will tell you time and again that you need to have a financial plan for surviving the semester before accepting any internship. However, those representatives can’t warn you of these costs in your Freshman year, when you are looking for work-study employment and haven’t even considered alternative semesters. You have to anticipate that need for yourself and consider more flexible employment which can accommodate for that special semester.

I was lucky to have this job when I was suddenly acquired my current credit internship. I didn’t scramble at the last minute to find employment I could retain alongside my internship off-campus. There were no hurdles or obstacles; I simply continued working with Life on the Hill as if nothing had changed. Now it helps me pay off my train tickets each month, bringing me to and from my internship every day of the week. It doesn’t pay nearly as much as my prior on-campus jobs, but it covers the one expense I can’t reduce by moving back home, making subtle lifestyle changes, or applying for a new financial aid package. For that financial security, I am especially grateful.

So I have some advice to give to younger students currently looking for on-campus jobs. I still maintain the belief that jobs with better pay and some flexibility are the best positions you can acquire on-campus. It pays the bills the fastest and, while it may not be convenient, it won’t interfere with your academics. However, if you are at all thinking about participating in an off-campus program at any time during your undergraduate career, put a heavier weight on job flexibility in your job search. Look for non-site-specific jobs in Cornell’s job postings and around campus. Try them out while you’re still on-campus to make sure you like the work and that the work is manageable. Ask if the position can be held by students participating in credit internships, study-abroad programs, and the like. Taking the time to research these opportunities in advance will save you a lot of trouble when you want to transition into an alternative program later on. Don’t get caught  without a job at a time when you really need it. The alternative is to save up your money so you can go without working for a semester or, even harder, forfeiting the alternative semester opportunity altogether.

Instead, be prepared. Take the well-paying job now but keep an eye out on those other, more flexible positions. Doing so will keep your academic opportunities open. For students with similar financial needs to myself, this diligence is a necessity.

Not a convenience.

Something is Missing…A Welcome Message for the Fall 2014 Semester!

Welcome back, everyone! It’s September of 2014, and the new semester has begun! Classes are under way. The streets of campus are packed with students. Facebook statuses flood in by the hour with updates on everyone’s new schedules and surprising homework loads. Yet, I feel something is missing. Something in all that new school year smell; something underneath the overtones of school pride and sunny days.

Oh, wait…now, I remember.

That’s right! I’m not on campus anymore. I’m in New York City.

Well, technically I’m in Valhalla, New York. Regardless, something’s off here.

Allow me to explain.  I’m currently participating in a special program my college offers each semester to students in their Junior and Senior undergraduate years. It’s an academic credit internship program where I can work for an organization in New York City in exchange for 12 credits. Starting September 15th, I will be interning at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Manhattan office until December 18th. Along the way, I will be getting some hands-on work experience by shadowing one of their investigators. I will be conducting interviews, doing paperwork, and participating in meetings which reflect what investigators typically do day-to-day in that office. It’s a very exciting opportunity for me as it blends together my interest in labor, government, law, and employment discrimination. Plus, did I mention I get 12 credits?

In a future post, I will talk more about how students can get involved in this credit internship program or in similar programs hosted within other colleges. I will also talk more about some of the requirements I have to fulfill in order to get my 12 credits; it’s not just about punching in hours. For now, though, I want to talk more about what changes you–my readers–can expect on this blog as a result of my participation in this program.

Luckily, I’m still able to continue posting alongside the rest of the Life on the Hill team. Instead of my usual fare of campus shenanigans and survival tips, I will be transitioning more into covering topics about transition out of college and about participating in Cornell’s alternative semester programs. In addition, I’ll keep you posted on all the great experiences (and not-so-great experiences) I will have as a student living off-campus…far, far off-campus.

Unfortunately, I won’t have much to comment on regarding classes this semester since I won’t be taking any. Of course, you can always check out the other bloggers on the Life on the Hill team or old posts on this blog to learn more about that subject. Similarly, housing conversations are going to look a lot different now. If you thought having roommates was tough before, then just wait until I tell you all about how living at home effects student life.

All in all, it should be a fun transition to witness on this blog. Between checking out the familiar sites and testing out a new career interest, I suspect I will have plenty of stories to share with you throughout the upcoming months. In the meantime, let me know what you are all up to in the comments below. For those of you just settling in on campus, how is life looking up there? For everyone, what are your plans for the rest of this year?

Meanwhile, I’ll be twiddling my thumbs and waiting for the semester–my semester–to begin. Wish me luck!

 

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Spring Fest ’14

Today I went to Spring Fest, a celebration of sustainability month on campus. Various student groups set up booths with information about their sustainability efforts on campus and activities for students to learn about current sustainability issues. There were also animals to pet, windmills to spin, and punch cards you could complete for prizes. All in all, it was a really great event for such a sunny day like today.

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I was also fortunate enough to have both Mikey the Panda and Bugsy the Ladybug with me today, so I took some video footage of them hanging out at Spring Fest to share with my younger sister. For those of you who want to know what you missed, I’ve included that video in this post for you to see what the fuss was all about. Check out the video by clicking here or viewing the embedded video below:

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Catching The Base

A lot was going on today on campus. Between Spring Fest, Truss Days, a 161 Block Party, and students protests, I’ve got enough footage to bring you guys at least three more posts (aside from this one, of course) for this week alone!

I thought the best way to start would be with video I made highlighting a performance by four members of Base Productions, a co-ed student dance group at Cornell. They did a good job and were even nice enough to pose with Mikey and Bugsy after their performance. So if you want to see what a little bit of sunshine can bring out of Ithaca, take a look by clicking here or clicking the Youtube link below!

Easter at Cornell

Last Sunday was Easter and, unlike most holidays during the academic year, my roommate and I found the holiday spirit on campus lacking. The only evidence we could find of celebrations on campus were the small congregations of students at Sage Chapel and other religious institutions early Sunday morning. Granted, Easter is a religious holiday and so I can chalk a lot of this phenomenon up to that facet alone; many students may not want to celebrate Easter if they’re not particularly religious, and many others may see going to church as enough of a celebration for this particular holiday.

However, my roommate and I both agreed that the mood on campus still felt off. Back home, the both of us used to enjoy day-long festivities for Easter with our families and friends, including Easter egg hunts, warm meals, and dancing. None of those activities are traditional to the religious celebration of Easter; it was just something our families did because we saw Easter as a celebratory holiday in addition to a religious one. It’s sort of like Christmas. On the one hand, Christmas is a religious holiday and many families go to mass in order to respect that religious tradition. On the other, however, many families also buy presents for children, eat food, and party on that day. That same duality was once attributed to Easter, but my roommate and I just weren’t feeling it this year. What happened?

Feeling the absence of that familiar Easter buzz, I decided that I would stage a surprise Easter egg hunt for roommate. Since Easter egg hunts were a part of both of our childhoods, I thought it would be a fun activity for the both of us and that it would help us get over some of our mutual home-sickness. It turned out to be really fun, and it was also a really easy event to plan. I’m glad we did it, and my only regret was that I didn’t convince more of my friends to get involved and cover more than just the 5th floor of Sheldon Court.

So, if you’re interested in seeing how our Easter egg hunt panned out (or if you just want to grab sneak peeks at what Sheldon Court looks like on the inside), click here to watch a video of our wacky adventure. Originally, I made the video above to share with my sister back home, but I think it could be enjoyable to others as well. Let me know what you think, and tell me what you did for Easter this year!

All Work, No Play

This week, I volunteered to be the light board and sound board operator for The Schwartz Center’s Mini-Locally Grown Dance Festival. It has been an very interesting experience so far. I’ve learned a lot about the mechanics behind lighting and sound design, as well as their execution. I also get some extra credit in my PMA 2600 in exchange for my work, so it’s most certainly a win-win! :D

It is odd, however, to watch the show from off the stage. Just a few semester ago, I was routinely dancing in this show as part of my dance composition classes. As the board operator, I am now seeing a whole new side of the show and, while the experience is definitely enlightening and rewarding, it is reminding me how much I enjoyed performing. Or, at the very least, creating…

If there is one aspect of my life at Cornell right now which I wish I could change, then it would be the amount of time I could devote to creative exploits. From dancing to drawing to writing–I’ve put a lot on the sidelines in order to focus on academics, internship applications, and other seemingly practical endeavors. I used to be able to balance all these activities relatively well in the past, but the consequence was being very burnt out by the end of the semester. Now I feel restless and a lack of work-life balance is rearing its head again.

So what can I do?

*shrug*

A lot of times on this blog, I highlight the clubs and events which regularly convene on campus and encourage others to seek them out as a form of relaxation from academics. However, what can one do here that doesn’t require the same time commitment a club demands but is more routine than a single event?

Well, I can always go back to devoting a few hours each day to those hobbies I love–dancing, writing, filming, etc.. It’s never not going to be a struggle to balance work and play as a Cornell student, but I can tweak the proportion of time I spend on each segment. I’ll have to compromise between the benefits of work and the benefits of play. So, I’ll let you all know what happens. Hopefully I can get the proportion right this time. :)

Choosing Meal Plans

On my Kitchen Disasters post, I got an interesting question from one of my readers and a prospective student:

What’s the best dining plan to get? I’d rather only pay for the cheapest one, but if you do that you don’t get a lot of meals in dining halls per week and so how are you supposed to be able to eat three meals a day? Is it worth it to do your own cooking in addition to whatever meal plan you get? How does everyone manage this? “

I started to answer in a comment…and then it blew up into the post you see below. The short answer, of course, is:

The best meal plan for you will depend on your financial budget, academic schedule, and desire for convenience.”

But that is so incredibly vague and unhelpful that even I knew I couldn’t leave at just that. So, here is a little more about my experience with meal plans, and hopefully that will help you figure out what decisions to make regarding yours. Here we go!

 

As a Freshman, I purchased the cheapest meal plan and still ate three meals a day. I used BRBs and cash to purchase lunches and dinners, while eating breakfasts at dining halls. I found that this plan was most convenient for my schedule; the dining halls’ hours and locations made it hard for me to get to the dining halls in between classes in time for lunch or dinner. However, since most dining halls are located on North campus (where all the Freshman dorms are situated), it was incredibly convenient to grab breakfast there before heading out to central campus for classes. If I had bought the more expensive plan, then I would have wasted money on meals I could not redeem given my schedule. Plus, it was much easier to add BRBs to my meal account or to acquire extra cash when needed than to quickly use up meal swipes before they expired (no rollover benefits here). I was also more than willing to trade up the buffets for quick to-go meals or home-cooked goodness since I already ate small portions.

Given its flexibility, I always recommend taking the cheapest meal plan and purchasing the rest of your weekly meals with cash. You can buy from more places and change up where you eat more easily than otherwise. The downsides would include having to pay more out-of-pocket each time you want to enter a dining hall beyond the number of times included in your plan, since prices for non-meal plan customers are slightly higher. However, I find that students who live on West Campus or who spend a lot of time back in their dorm rooms on North are far more likely to encounter this problem than people living in Collegetown (like me), people who live off-campus, or Freshman who live on North Campus but spend most of their times at classes, work, or the like. For your first semester, you may find that going with a more expensive plan will be helpful and then choose to down-grade to a lower plan once you have a better idea of what you prefer. Talk with your family about what you can afford and be realistic about what lifestyle you expect to maintain on campus. It will help you make a better decision.

If you chose the cheapest meal plan, you can then decide to eat on-campus, eat off-campus, or cook to make up the missing meals. I think cooking is an excellent way to fill that need. It is much cheaper than the other alternatives. It allows for greater customization and it’s a great life skill to acquire early in life. However, it can be time-consuming as well. Again, depending on how heavy your coursework is, it might not be the best idea for you. If you are unsure about how difficult your first semester might be, then you might want to reconsider the alternatives or a bigger meal plan.

A quick tip: find other students who are interested in cooking with you. A group of people can share cooking equipment and help each other cook meals in much quicker time frames. You can also make deals with students on expenses; for example, a friend of yours can be in charge of buying and getting the groceries while you plan and make the meals. This tactic is used a lot by students who live off-campus. The downside is you become dependent on your friends and on kitchen space; so make sure they are all reliable and consistently available!

Eating on-campus or off-campus is really easy and convenient because they are just so many different places to eat. It’s more expensive than cooking for yourself, but I think it is actually less expensive than committing to bloated meal plans you don’t fully use. Mixing it together–eating out for lunch, but cooking 2-5 dinners a week–can balance out the cons of both activities. With websites that let you have food and groceries delivered to your dorm, it really is all too easy to get food outside the dining halls on campus.

Keep in mind these few other tips when looking into meal plans:

  1. Pay attention to how long meal plans last and what rolls over. As I mentioned earlier, you can always choose one meal plan for your Freshman year and then switch to a different plan in the future when you have a better sense of what you need. However, you can only change meal plans at the end of the year and only certain items roll over across semester. For example, if you do not eat all the meals you have available in your plan for the week, then they do not roll over to the next week. You lose them, for good, and you don’t get your money back at the end of the semester for whatever you did not eat. BRBs, however, do roll over from the Fall semester into the Spring semester. So if you have $30 at the end of December in BRBs, then that $30 gets added to the new BRBs you acquire through your plan for the Spring. Take that aspect into consideration; it can be stressful feeling as if you need to get meals in in order to make use of your own money.
  2. Where you live can dictate what and where you eat. As a Freshman, you have to get some meal plan. However, if you live in Risley Hall, where there is a dining hall withing your building, you’re probably going to eat there more often than not. If you live in the Townhouses, you may want to cook more (those houses are pretty far away from campus, comparatively…). Check out a map of North Campus and see how convenient dining halls are for where you will be located. Also, go to dining.cornell.edu and get a sense of the dining halls’ offerings; if you don’t like what they typically serve, then you probably won’t want to eat there a lot. After your Freshman year, your housing can once again play a huge role on what plan you get. If you live in dorms on West Campus, then the dorms themselves will require you to purchase a hefty meal plan. However, living in Collegetown dorms like Sheldon give you the option to completely opt-out of a meal plan and live completely on cash or on BRBs. Don’t forget those requirements later on when this question about meal plan strikes again.
  3. Once you get your class schedule, go to dining.cornell.edu and see when the dining halls are open. Great! You secured some free time between 3PM and 3:30PM for lunch every day! One problem: you can’t get to any dining halls in time to get food, sit down, eat, and get back to classes on time. Plus, the ones you love are closed for cleaning during those times! This scenario happens so many times. Make sure you don’t fall prey to it.

I hope that answered some of your questions! If you have any more, leave them in the comments below and I will be sure to answer them. Food is an important subject for me, so I enjoy talking about it on this blog. If you are another reader who wants to add anything about the use of meal plans or the food scene at Cornell, head down to the comment section and add your two cents to the conversation. I really enjoyed writing up a post as an answer to someone’s question. If anyone else has anything to ask about a different, I might consider making another one of these sort of posts. What do you guys think?

Writing on the Hill

Today’s post is just a quick plug for the Life on the Hill blogging program here at Cornell University. We’re currently looking for new student writers, and I think any student who regularly reads this blog should certainly look into it:

For those of you who don’t know, the Life on the Hill blogging program is what supports blogs like this one by giving Cornell students the resources and opportunity to write about their campus experiences online. Students must apply and be accepted into the program, but the rewards are high if you are selected. You’ll have a excellent campus job that is both well-paid and flexible. You’ll meet other student writers on campus who share your interest in writing and can help you come up with new ideas for blog posts. You’ll even talk to interesting people online, as more and more individuals read your blogs and comment on your posts.

To be honest, I recommend that you apply to the program even if you have a slight inkling that you might be interested in it. You can always ask for more information along the way and ask questions to current bloggers about the program’s perks and pitfalls, even as you wait for a response on your application. It’s better to have the option of whether to be in the program or not than to wait too long and not have the option whatsoever. So don’t talk yourself out of it; give it a chance!

I’m looking forward to seeing which students get accepted and to meeting them next semester!

Good-bye Pepsi

Today, I woke up with no motivation to attend classes, do work, or even leave my room. Every students experiences these moments. You work tirelessly on a string on difficult projects, reading assignments, and exams for several days–sometimes even weeks–and then suddenly, once you have completed them all, you crash. Your body wakes up, but your mind does not. You need 24 hours to relax and reset your brain before endeavoring to move forward on any new work.

Of course, it is better not to burn out too often as a student; otherwise, you can kiss your GPA good-bye. However, I had already committed to my mistake and could not avoid its consequences. I resolved myself to a lazy day indoors and scavenged my refrigerator for easy-to-prepare food. I lucked out for the most part, finding leftovers from last night’s meal laid out before me like a gift from the heavens. However, I soon realized that I didn’t have anything to drink. Not wanting to put on respectable pants (pajama bottoms are my essentially my uniform during sloth-like days), I ventured into Sheldon Court’s basement to purchase a drink from the vending machine.

There it was: a rusty machine with broken lights and a handful of soft drinks. I put in my seven quarters and listened for the glorious sound of Pepsi hitting the bottom receptacle. I picked up, opened the cap, and took a swig.

And I immediately hated it.

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I regretted every quarter I had put into that machine. The soda tasted awful. No, it wasn’t flat or expired. It was just a terrible drink. I realized, to a ominous soundtrack playing only in my head, that I no longer liked soda.

Sometime in these last three years, I lost my taste for soft drinks. I used to drink soda all the time before college. I drank it with meals, with snacks, and even by itself when I got the midnight munchies. I thought water tasted gross and that tea was not for me. Juice was delicious, but soda was even better. When did that all change?

Since I had nothing else to do at the time, I spent a few minutes back in my room thinking about why I didn’t like the taste of soda anymore. I realized that it must have always been just a bad habit–one I picked up from my days back home, where everyone shared the same vice. Soda isn’t healthy for the body but, like candy and other sweets, it can become addicting over time. Since I grew up drinking soda, I never had the luxury of not having a taste for it. That logic would explain why I craved soda so much more than any other drink, particularly ones without sugar (such as water and tea).

Like any bad habit, to overcome it requires that you don’t do the habit for a long time. At Cornell, I never drank soda. Soda was not nearly as readily available as other drinks, and tap water was free. Also, I mimicked what my friends drank and they (being significantly for health-conscious than I am) always drank tea. So when I went to their dorm rooms or houses, tea was what I drank. Over time, I came to prefer it over most other drinks. That must have been the turning point.

Now my taste preferences have changed. I don’t like how soda upsets my stomach, and I despise the sticky film it produces over my teeth after every sip. Its fizzle burns my throat and the flavor is oddly bitter and sweet at the same time. I never lodged those complaints at soda before, but now I couldn’t get over them. At this moment, that Pepsi I bought from the vending machine still stands in my refrigerator untouched. There it will probably stay for several days, and I will never once consider topping it off.

What this experience taught me was that Cornell has an even subtler effect on my behavior than I realize. Subconsciously, I’m absorbing the habits of the people surrounding me and changing my lifestyle preference to reflect my needs in this new environment. It sounds like a basic concept that I should have learned in some sociology or biology course beforehand, but I still feel strange about having recognized it in my own life. Sometimes, this tendency can encourage people to take on bad habits. The positive twist to this story is that Cornell’s environment is actually encouraging me to lose bad habits.  If anything else, I think this experience is a subtle testament to the value I receive through my education at Cornell. It’s easy to enumerate the various resources, career opportunities, and academic experiences I have received by being a student of this university, but it is more difficult to point out the more covert benefits of interacting with Cornell’s community. Subtle changes, like losing a taste for unhealthy activities, are benefits I should be grateful for when looking back at my academic career here.

So, good-bye, Pepsi. You will not be missed.

Kitchen Disasters

I have lived in Sheldon Court for two years and during neither year did I make sufficient use of our floor kitchen (and for good reason). Floor kitchens are usually an all-or-nothing deal; you’re either the person who uses it all the time or the rest of the people who never use it under any circumstance. The dichotomy exists because (1) some students prefer and are able to eat out instead of needing to cook and (2) sometimes the students who do cook make the kitchen unusable for everyone else. The latter is why I don’t use my floor kitchen at all, and I am not happy about it.

Please do not leave your floor kitchen a mess. The people who live on your floor know that you cook there regularly and will suspect that the mess is your doing. In addition, you completely destroy the value of the commodity for the rest of us. Can you tolerate dirty dishes in the sink, a refrigerator filled with rotten or smelly food, an overflowing trash can, and dead flies all over the kitchen sink? Well, the rest of us can‘t. So stop it! Have some dignity and clean up after yourselves, you nasties…

It’s a guaranteed way to make a poor impression on the other people living on your floor. I surely don’t think highly of the few students on my floor who make a mess out of our kitchen. As a result, I have no motivation to be friendly with them and I just walk pass them in silence.

If you’re someone like me who gets grossed out cooking in an unclean kitchen, then I have bad news for you: you’re going to need to look elsewhere for food. Luckily, Cornell has lots of eateries right at your fingertips. Invest in a mini-fridge, toaster, and other appliances for your room so you can avoid the kitchen’s sketchy appliances, and consider off-campus housing if you can’t swing the costs of eating out all the time. Or, overcome your fear and conquer the floor kitchen. Scrub it down, cook quickly, and get out of there before the next wave of chaotic floor-mate cooking kicks in. It’s the only way.