Skipping in the Rain and Other Unrequited Attempts at Happiness

In some cultures and religions, people believe that there are spiritual guardians who watch over them, protect them from dark thoughts and times, and fulfill their desires for peace and happiness. I’m not particularly spiritual or religious, but I understand the value of such a romantic notion. Sometimes, other human beings don’t make for the best company. Sometimes, you know exactly what you need and how unlikely it is that someone else will give that to you unsolicited. It’s comforting to think that every event in your life happens for a reason and that a being more perfect than yourself or anyone else you have ever met loves you unconditionally. It’s comforting to think something or someone can always aid you during such hopeless times.

I’ve never been able to take on such a mindset. Images of angels or spiritual brothers don’t click with me. Perhaps it’s because, after so much time on this Earth, I’ve grown to associate those images and ideas with other institutions or groups of people who exist in the physical world, and those connections prevent me from seeing those images as something that can actually exist in the “beyond.” Maybe it’s something else. Regardless, it’s not an avenue I can pursue when I need guidance. I can’t comfort myself by pretending that something is watching over me in a loving way. It doesn’t give me joy.

One of the benefits of being at Cornell University has been the stress it’s added to my life. Usually I portray that stress as a con, but it has added some value to my education. Other students see the stress we endure here as something they need to overcome; I see it as something which has forced me to overcome other, more greater issues in my life.

The problem isn’t the stress. Feeling out of control, sad, or frustrated isn’t inherently bad. It helps you realize that something is wrong with the current situation. It makes you aware of how you truly feel about things by forcing you to stop what you’re doing and to manage your emotions. Particularly when you are very stressed, it can force you to consider more radical changes in your life. So long as you are not consumed entirely by it, stress can be a helpful red flag when you’re letting yourself get carried into a life you don’t really want.

What is difficult is figuring out how to get back on the path to the life you do want after you’ve identified what is giving you stress and that that stress is no longer healthy for you. How do you combat stress productively when you’re not sure what avenues exist for you to pursue or what you even really want from life? I think that is what challenges a lot of students–and a lot of people in general–when stress eats away at their happiness.

For me, being stressed at Cornell forced me to confront the fact that, even though I have an idea of what currently makes me happy in life, I don’t know what will make me happy in the future or what to do now in order to get closer to the sort of future life that will make me happier. I’m too aware of the fact that I’ve been blessed with a pleasant life thus far, and I fear that there are too many ways that I can become less happy about myself and with life from here on out. I don’t know what to do next to preserve the sense of happiness I already have or to gain the happiness I still seek.

It’s these times when I wish I believed in Gods or angels. It’s these times when I wished I believed more in the spiritual realm or in mystical beings.

Instead, I skip in the rain.
I listen to music.
I pretend I’m the hero in a story I hear only in my head.
I play with imaginary friends that I create in my mind, and they do silly things and whisper pleasant words in my ears.

It makes me look crazy when I do these things, so I tend to do them by myself. The stories I create, the people I pretend to see–they don’t get anything out of our adventures. The people around me in the real world don’t revel in my joy; they see it as odd. I’m the only one who derives happiness from it.

And I guess, in that way, I have found my own romantic notion of being loved by something that isn’t there. Because, when I am sad, I pretend that there is a part of my mind that loves me unconditionally and will endeavor to make me happy however it can. It creates stories for me and hides the compliments I always wanted to hear from others until the very moments I need to hear them. The thing I need most to make me happy is myself–for me to love myself–and so being alone with myself for a few minutes so I can remind myself that I was born loving me makes me happy.

So maybe my angel is hidden in the rain. Or maybe my spiritual brother glides by me when I skip. Or maybe it’s just me. Maybe it’s just me–in that whole picture of me being happy just skipping in the rain–that is beautiful. Maybe I’m the one who make me happy, because it is I who is so special as to have that ability to bring happiness to any small moment of my life. I’m who I need.

And I think that idea is more romantic than any image of angels I have ever seen.

Expresso Book Machine

The next time you’re walking through The Cornell Store, be sure to check out the Expresso Book Machine. You can’t miss it; it’s a large printing machine on the store’s top floor, next to Cafe Jenny.

It’s a special machine students can use to print books from the public domain or to publish their own writings. It costs quite a pretty penny, but you can print several copies of your own books at a price significantly lower than any other local publisher could offer. It’s a great opportunity, particularly for student writers. Plus, it’s a really cool initiative by the store to offer more activities inside the store. If you take a look around the machine, you can see the several books that have already been printed by students using the machine, as the Cornell Store offers students the opportunity to showcase their works there. It’s cool to see what projects fellow Cornell students have created and to support such initiatives on campus. I highly recommend checking it out for a few minutes on your next trip through the store.

To learn more about the machine and how you can use it, click here.

Working During Vacation

This year, Cornell University added a new vacation period to its academic calendar: “February Break.” This additional break was intended to help students better manage their stress and work-life balance at Cornell University. By dividing the notoriously long Spring semester into thirds, the calendar’s new structure offers both teachers and students more opportunities to relax from their heavy workloads at consistent time intervals. The break was received with much appreciation; many students and teachers left during the break to visit their families and relax at home during this extended weekend.

However, not everyone was completely happy with the change. Some students expressed concern over how the new break would alter other aspects of the academic calendar. Specifically, they were concerned by the newly-delayed Spring Break–which would no longer overlap with the Spring Break periods of some other large colleges from the area–and by the shortening of the final study period at the end of the Spring semester. Teachers have likewise expressed concern over how the break would interfere with the class schedules and syllabuses. The number of classes they will have before major exam periods and the order in which the present their material in lecture must be changed in order to accommodate the new break. All these accommodations makes Fall Break less appealing to some teachers and students, particularly to those who did not need the additional break beforehand to manage their workloads. However, despite these complaints, most teachers and students have found the break incredibly useful and appreciate the new chance to relax.

The key word there being “chance.

Pictured: everyone Credit to earthtodave.com

Pictured: everyone
Credit to earthtodave.com

A lot of the most publicized complaints regarding the new break have focused on its implementation–namely, its effects on later events in the academic calendar. However, I’ve found that the larger problem regarding this break is its inefficiency to do what it was intended to accomplish: to help students and teachers relax. I loved the idea of an additional vacation period during Spring semester, and I viewed the new division of the Spring semester into thirds as a good strategic change. However, now that I am in the middle of February Break, I’m less enamored with the idea. I don’t feel more relaxed. I do appreciate spending an extra weekend with my little sister, but I’m still just as anxious about work and as incredibly busy at home as I was back in Ithaca. So, with all the talk about how February Break would help students relax, why does this vacation not feel like a vacation?

In my case, I can’t enjoy February Break in the way Cornell’s administrators intended because I was assigned homework and exams over the break. February Break ends on Wednesday, February 19th. On that day, I have an assignment due for one of my PMA courses that is the equivalent to a preliminary exam (if you consider the percentage of my grade it constitutes). Given how the course’s syllabus was structured, I couldn’t have completed the project in advance; I need to wait until the last lecture before the break to receive feedback from the teacher on my project draft before I could move forward with its final reiteration. Add onto that deadline reading and project assignments from other classes that are due Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of that week, and you have an incredibly stressful amount of work. I can’t complete it all on the morning I return from February Break, and I can’t afford to not complete the work if I want to receive good grades in my classes. As result, instead of relaxing at home or spending time with my sister, I’m rushing around trying to glue together pieces of foam core in a small model and to read chapters in several dense textbooks before I need to catch my bus back to Ithaca. In my head are a flurry of questions:

Did I bring everything home that I need to finish all my homework?
Is this model sturdy enough to survive the bus trip back to Ithaca?
What homework can I do today or tomorrow, instead of on the day I get back to Cornell?
What did my teacher want me to do for this assignment?
Did I cover everything that could possibly be on the quiz?
Maybe I can ask my friend what they did for this question…will they answer the phone if I call them?

Notice how none of those things are relaxing thoughts, nor thoughts centered around things I enjoy doing or on my family. It doesn’t even cover the various concerns I have around upcoming internship deadlines, extracurricular responsibilities, or financial aid deadlines. Yet, Cornell administrators still believe that February Break is somehow helping me to relax from my classes.

It doesn’t matter how much time away from lectures you give me. The stress I experience at Cornell doesn’t come from attending classes; it comes from the various assignments, quizzes, and other measurements of performance that I need to complete outside of classes. Additional breaks help me escape lectures, but it doesn’t help me escape the assignments. For this reason, although I appreciate the idea of February Break, it will never solve the long-term problems I and many other students face regarding work-life imbalance at Cornell. To tackle those problems, Cornell administrators need to couple these new vacation periods with effective restrictions on the assignment of work and exams by teachers during and immediately after vacations.

I’ve heard that Cornell University does, in fact, discourage professors from assigning work during the breaks or making work due on the day immediately following breaks. However, Cornell University does not effectively discourage professors from these behaviors. Cornell administrators need to publicly announce their commitment to limiting these behaviors if they ever want to change the stress culture we have developed here on campus. Administrators need to set consequences for professors who design their syllabuses in such a way that forces students to work over breaks (regardless of their time management abilities or aptitude in the field of study in question). Furthermore, students need to be informed of the various actions they could take against teachers when they find themselves in such situations. Many students I know do not understand the function of the university’s ombudsman nor can identify an administrator or professor they could talk to about such problems. With more knowledge about campus policies and support for students, students would have greater power to protect the opportunities for work-life balance academic breaks offer them against unfair demands to work.

To be clear, I don’t advocate that we “dumb down” our curriculum or compromise on the quality of our university’s courses as a solution to these problems. I only suggest that if we really want academic breaks to serve as vacations for students from the academic stresses they regularly face, then we need to make sure that they aren’t forced to do academic work over those breaks. With some simple changes in how professors structure our course syllabuses, in how administrators promote academic breaks, and how students are educated about the resources they have here on campus to protect their vacation time, we could make these breaks much more effective at reducing stress on campus.

For incoming students, I recommend that either you help bring to the community’s attention your desire to have the changes occur or schedule your lives according to the true atmosphere that currently exists here regarding breaks. As of now, students cannot expect academic breaks to truly be “relaxing.” They can–and most likely will–be comparatively less stressful than a week filled with lectures. However, if you are someone like me who wants to visit your family and leave your work behind you during the breaks, then you will need to work hard from the beginning of the semester onwards to get ahead of the syllabus. Do your work in advance as much as you can and cram on your assignment well before you leave for the bus home. Even then, you may still find yourself bending over backwards to study for exams or finish projects during the break, at the expense of quality time for yourself or with loved ones.

Because, even when you try to get ahead of the syllabus, sometimes you can’t complete the assignment until your professors gives you a key piece of information…and you won’t get that information until right before the break begins. Or, your professor will add a new assignment at the last minute and schedule it for (that’s right, you guessed it) right after the break ends. That lack of agency over when you can complete your work is what sabotages the good intentions of academic breaks. So keep it in mind, and find a way to manage it without going insane.

Or, find a way to get your professors or administrators to take notice of your plight. Either way, you have nothing left to lose but your stress.

Letter to Middle School Me

Dear Middle School Me,

Do you remember how we used to dress up in boy’s clothing because we thought skirts and feminine colors were the worst things to have in one’s closet?
Do you remember how we would rather walk the 2 and a half miles from school to home rather than accept a ride from our classmates’ parents out of pride?
Or how we had no interest in men or relationships because, secretly, we didn’t think we could get a good boy to be interested in us even if we tried?

Part of that belief may have stemmed from our closet full of men’s cargo pants.

Well, the good news is that that all changes. You grow to embrace skirts, the color pink, and frilly perfume within a few years. No, you don’t sell out and conform to the rules of pretty girls’ clique. You simply realize that you like dressing up every once in a while and looking pretty. You do it because you like it.  You also take rides from your friends and their families all the time, because your friendship with them grows to a point where you no longer get uncomfortable asking them for favors. Plus, you get an awesome boyfriend in college. Yeah. Didn’t see that coming, did you?

A lot of things change for the better…

…but a lot of things don’t.

Remember how physically aggressive we used to be? Do you remember why we were that way? It was because we were extremely sensitive to criticism and couldn’t connect easily with other people. We had a tendency to distance ourselves emotionally from others, and we sometimes bullied our own friends.

Do you remember crying one birthday because it was the first birthday you didn’t spend with your extended family? Do you remember why we did that? It’s because we feared how distant we were becoming from our family and how the family we were still close to appeared to be falling apart.

Do you remember feeling like you had no motivation to do anything about your future education or career, because you had no idea what you liked to do or what you didn’t like? As if you were too busy just getting by with what you needed to get done now to analyze what about it brought your happiness or made you disgruntled

Do you remember wondering about a lot of things and never having the answers? Do you remember being insecure about different aspects of our personality and physical appearence? Do you remember being anxious, or depressed, or even bored with life for long stretches of time?

None of that has gone away.
It’s been about 8 years now, and we still feel that way. We still think those things. We’re still tormented by those feelings. 

But it’s okay, because in that time a lot of other things have changed. We’ve made great progress in feeling better about ourselves and our lives, and we have gone on to do more incredible things than we had ever imagined.

So have hope. With even more time, maybe the things we haven’t yet overcome will change too. Because the best thing we got from growing up was the realization that things do change, but at different speeds for unpredictable reasons.

Growing up has given us the ability to hope for a little more out of life, and that has been an incredible gift so far. Look forward to it.

Sincerely,
Junior Year at College Self 

15 Minutes for 15 Problems

Here is a challenge I took on this week that I would like to share with my readers. Set aside 15 minutes for it. Turn off all the electronics in your room, remove any sources of distractions, and get ready to think in silence. Now, for the next 15 minutes, identify 15 problems in your life.

How quickly did you get to 15? Take a note of the time. Then, try to come up with 15 things you have accomplished in your life of which you are proud. Did it come as easily?

I know it sounds like a cheesy reflection activity. I also know that I spend way too much time advocating for reflection instead of actually accomplishing things in my own life worth reflection. However, it is an interesting activity. From this one, I learned that I have a more keen sense of what is wrong with my life than the various ways I have endeavored to improve my life. It’s something that gives me a lot of anxiety, particularly now at college. Do you ever feel like you’re not doing enough? Do you ever feel like you spend too much time complaining and being unhappy, but can’t seem to translate that self-awareness into a change of behavior?

I do.
And I was wondering if there was anyone else out there who is currently in the same place as I.

Let me know.

5 Things Cornell Students Should Stop Getting Mad About

Fellow students! I have a proposition for you. How would you like to be a little bit happier every day?

Wait, really? Because we could just stop right here then. Seriously, I’ve got places to be right now. If you already know this…

Well, tough luck. I don’t know you personally, and I can’t even assume you have the same basic needs, ethics, or priorities as I do. However, if that answer was a little disappointing for you, then I have one that might be a little better (and a little less cynical).

An easy way to be a little happier when you’re walking around campus is to identify some of the smaller peeves you have and to try to overcome your desire to flip a table whenever you come across those things.  I can think of a few times right off the top of my head, when I’ve seen my fellow students flip out over the smallest of inconveniences. If you’re one of these people, then I encourage you to take a chill pill and enjoy the happiness that comes with caring a little less about the small annoyances in life.

  1. Stop fretting about the food in dining halls. We know that Oakenshields is always a mess and that dining hall on West Campus never has food as good as that other dining hall on West Campus right next to it. We all know that it is impossible to get a good bite to eat early on Saturday mornings, and of course the lunch trucks will spell you diet’s doom. Just eat and be happy. You have more food options in Ithaca than most small towns in America have in combination. Can we not take joy in that variety and simply wait on line for five minutes to get that Sesame Chicken we both know you’re going to get anyway?
  2. Exams are not the end of the world.  You have been taking academic tests all your life and you have done just fine. If you’re any older than a first-semester Freshman, you have even survived Cornell’s rigorous exams multiple times before. You have even taken exams just to get into a college so you can take more exams! If you’re interested in law, you are quite literally in college preparing for an exam. Let’s not pretend that you didn’t see this coming. You knew there would be exams, and you know exactly how prepared you are for them. You also know that the only way to better prepare yourself for these exams is to stop complaining and start studying. So, unless your whining is a thinly veiled attempt to procrastinate because you are happier not studying for your exam than actually preparing for it, you have no reason to be tormenting yourself over this any more.
  3. The cold is your friend. I suffer from this issue, too. Ithaca can be extremely cold sometimes and it is very inconvenient for everyone. However, with a few layers of clothing, that cold isn’t going to get to you. Most likely, you’re uncomfortable and cold because you didn’t layer up properly. Don’t blame the weather; blame your closet. Then, go treat yourself to a nice new coat and scarf. Woo, consumerism!
  4. There are plenty of things to do in Ithaca. Ithaca might not be a bustling metropolis, but it is far from being the smallest town in America. There are plenty of things to do on campus and off campus. You just need to branch out, explore new means of transportation, and get a good group of friends with pleasant attitudes and open minds who wouldn’t mind going to new places or trying new activities. The sooner you stop insisting that there is “nothing to do in Ithaca,” the more quickly you will discover that you are just being too lazy to go out and find what Ithaca does have to offer.
  5. Online systems at Cornell. Orgsync for student organizations, the online platform for the housing lottery, the Oracle system for pre-enrollment–Cornell is riddled with third-party platform solutions for its most basic administrative functions and hardly any of them are as efficient as they could be. You’re going to be frustrated by poor server management, confusing website designs, and non-intuitive processes on all of these systems. However, the more time you spend on these systems, the more proficient you will become at navigating through them. Your complaints are falling on deaf ears; Cornell University cannot and will not get rid of all these systems any time soon. However, take solace in the fact that many generations of students have already discovered ways to take advantage of these systems and posted their knowledge on the internet. Google search it, my friends. You’ll be amazed.
Alright, so maybe I was being a bit condescending to my fellow classmates in a few of those categories. It’s a result of hearing my friends (and even myself) complain about these things one too many times. It would be nice if we could all overcome our tendencies to complain about the five things. The complaints are so common that they aren’t very necessary to make anymore.
So let’s endeavor to find new things to complain about; or, even better, let’s find peace with them and become a little bit happier for it. Either way, it’s a necessary change.

Friends on the Hill

Yesterday, Mikey and I both went to a meeting with the other C.U. student bloggers. Among many things, the event was a great opportunity for all of us to catch up and to discuss some new ideas for the Friends on the Hill blog platform and future posts.

Credit for this picture goes to the owner of those three fingers…whoever they are…

Many of our friends are graduating at the end of this semester (aw, so sad!), and it was nice to hear that many of them will be using their blogs this Spring to reflect on their experiences as students here at Cornell. Maybe their reflections will give us underclassman a better idea of what we can expect in our futures? Our other friends had similarly interesting ideas for their blogs, as well. It got me thinking about all the different ways I can try to make this blog more interesting this semester. Any ideas, readers?

We finished the meeting with a quirky video featuring none other than Mikey the Panda, himself! Mikey and I have been filming a lot of videos lately for my little sister back home (more on that later), but it was especially nice to make something impromptu with our friends from the hill. Maybe it’s not the best quality shot, but it’s definitely a keeper memory-wise!

And, of course, Mikey would like to give a special shout-out to a few student workers at Day Hall who helped Mikey and I find the room where the C.U. bloggers’ meeting was taking place. Day Hall is a maze–one of many on campus–and we are especially thankful for their help. They were even nice enough to pose for a short video clip!

Well, that’s all for today. Signing off from on top of the hill!

If you haven’t already, I greatly recommend checking out the other C.U. student bloggers’ blogs, too, whenever you have the chance. It will benefit you to get different perspectives on what life is like at Cornell, I promise. Check out their blogs at the link below:

http://www.cornell.edu/studentlife/blogs/

Feel the love! 😀

The Wizards of ADP

At the beginning of each semester, Cornell University has an “add-drop period” (ADP) during which students can swap out the classes they previously enrolled in to take up new openings in other classes. It’s a great opportunity for students to try out multiple classes before committing to any given schedule, and students who really want to take a particular class can snag open seats as less-interested students drop out. However, ADP can also be risky. If you’re not clever about, you can end up accidentally taking on classes you’re not particularly interested in or falling short on credits because the openings you were waiting for never show up.

I personally never risk my schedule with ADP. I try my best to settle my schedule during pre-enrollment, even if I can’t get the exact classes I desire. However, for some people, ADP is the only way to grab a seat in classes required for their major, minors, or concentrations. I also know plenty of students who are wizards at ADP and the system always seems to work out for them.

Pictured Above: Not Me.

Unfortunately, because I don’t typically add or drop classes during ADP, I don’t really have any valuable advice about how other students can take advantage of ADP. I can, however, point out some of the most common pitfalls:

  1. Even if you plan on swapping out your classes during ADP, make sure to grab at least 12 credits-worth of classes during pre-enrollment. You need those credits to be registered as a full-time student–a requirement for many scholarship and financial aid programs whose applications and deadlines might come well before the ADP.
  2. When swapping out classes during ADP, use the direct swap option. If you don’t, you run the risk of dropping out of one class just to find out that that spot you wanted in your preferred class has already been taken by another student during the time you took to remove the other course. Then, you’ll be short on classes in addition to losing out on your desired class. The direct swap option drops one class while simultaneously enrolling you in another class. This way is much less risky.
  3. Double-check which course you are dropping or adding before finalizing the switch. Many classes at Cornell University can have similar or confusing titles. For example, if you’re an ILR major and you need to fulfill your statistics requirement, make sure you’re signing up for ILR STATS and not PAM STATS, AEM STATS, MATH STATS, etc.. It will only take a second to double-check, but I’ve seen many students accidentally enroll for the wrong courses and correcting their mistakes gave them great grief.
  4. If you’re going to switch your classes, do so as early as possible during the semester. The longer you take to decide which classes you want to keep, the farther behind you will fall in work for whatever new classes you enroll in. In addition, you’ll run the risk of being unable to purchase the necessary textbooks and materials for your classes at affordable rates because other students will snag the best options online and at the Cornell Store. The alternative is to do all the work and purchase all the materials for every single class you are considering enrolling in just to be safe, and all of that work can be incredibly stressful to manage. 
  5. Keep track of when the ADP begins and ends. Once it is over, you cannot drop your courses without having a mark on your academic record saying you withdrew from the course. Although such marks are not the end of the world, it surely isn’t flattering to reviewers should you apply for scholarship or graduate study programs. An occasional withdrawal is no crime, but a string of such marks can be a red flag charging you with irresponsibility and flakiness. Those qualities are not ones you want to acquire accidentally. Furthermore, adding classes after the ADP is extremely difficult and almost impossible without the consent of professors and academic advisers, alike. Missing the beginning of the ADP can be equally damaging since you will miss the period when the most drops occur during the whole session and the opportunity to take up the newly opened seats in your favorite classes. Avoid all these dilemmas and keep the ADP clearly marked in your calender and/or agenda book. It will save you a lot of trouble.
  6. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can get into any class if you simple wait long enough during the ADP. Some of the most popular classes at Cornell University will have incredibly long wait lists from which the professors will draw on first when students drop their classes during the ADP.  That means that that if you did not add those classes during pre-enroll, then it will be highly unlikely that enough students will drop from the course for you to grab a seat. Some other popular courses require consent from the professor or a visit to the department’s academic office in order to enroll, such as several courses in the Performing and Media Arts department. Depending on the ADP will get you no where with these classes; you’re best chance is to contact the office or professor a.s.a.p. to grab a seat or a spot on the wait list. Even then, there is no guarantee that any students will drop out of any of these classes, so make sure you have a back-up plan just in case and prepare yourself better to enroll in the class next semester.
  7. If you’re trying out several classes during the ADP before committing to a schedule, make sure you attend all of the course’s class session during the first week of the semester. I know a lot of students will have their eye on multiple classes which occur at the same time during the week and will alternate in their attendance of each class to get a feel for both before adding either class. Well, I’m sorry to tell you that a lot of departments and popular courses keep track of students’ attendance during the first few weeks looking for these floating students. If you don’t the first or second class, they remove you from the course to give students on the wait list a chance to enroll. 
Try to avoid these most common pitfalls if you choose to mess around with the ADP. In addition, ask your fellow classmates and see if they have any additional advice about the ADP or about how to nab a seat in specific classes.
Or, better yet, do what I do: wish for luck during pre-enrollment.