New Books, Y’all!

Big news: I got some new books. (I’ll pause for a moment to give everybody time to process their flurry of emotions upon this revelation.) But, for real, I’m pretty psyched. Every semester, I look over the book list for my classes and immediately become filled with promise for the months ahead. With so many interesting things to read and learn, how could the semester be anything other than amazing? Sometimes the trials of university life bring me down a little bit from my book high as the classes progress, but right now, I’m feelin’ good.

Just so you guys don’t think I’m a total crazy nerd, I get excited about cool things too. Like buying new notebooks. And pens. Whoop whoop!

I think it’s a testament to how exciting my Drake education is that I am genuinely pumped to get new books. So as the second semester of my junior year kicks off today, it’s reassuring to know that I’m still not sick of learning. I’m still excited for the opportunities presented in every class I take. And I still love Drake. Maybe this will all change as I enter into next year. Yet, I have a sneaky felling I’ll still love it just as much as ever.

Field Trips: Learning Outside the Classroom

They were the most exciting days in all of elementary school: field trips. You’d bring the sack lunch and permission slip, hop aboard the bus, and journey to some exotic destination such as the local history museum. It was great times. But for many years, I had lost the joy of the field trip. Until college, that is.

 This j-term, my British literature class focused on Jane Austen and issues of property and landscape. So, we went out and saw some properties and landscapes. Our first destination was The Salisbury House, located just a couple minutes from campus. It’s an incredible historical property built in the 1920s but made to look like a castle from the 1320s. The owners of the home even imported authentic medieval materials from all over Europe for use in their house. We toured the place as a class, focusing on issues of style, taste, and estate and landscape design. And you better believe we talked about some Edmund Burke.

Now for something completely different. The next place we travelled was The Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge. It was a longer trip this time, about 40 minutes outside Des Moines, but equally as cool. The whole idea of the refuge is to restore and protect the prairie that once dominated Iowa’s land. We got to learn about the restoration efforts, drive round the prairie, and even see some herds of bison and elk. It was a surreal experience of being so close to the city, and yet surrounded by thousands of acres of wildlife and prairie wilderness. But being at the refuge was also a pretty unique opportunity to discuss some of our class material with a real life setting. We talked about ownership, aesthetics, and the value of land, all within view of the land itself.

Looking back on my j-term experience, I was lucky to have an incredible professor who realized that learning takes place both in and out of the classroom. Because she recognized that what we were studying was not merely esoteric knowledge, we went out into the community to put our class in a greater societal and historical context. And although I had a lot of really great days learning over j-term, I think the ones learning outside the classroom were some of my favorites. 

The Goldilocks Effect

Once you hit 17 or 18, the questions start flooding in. “Where do you want to go to college?” “Which schools are you looking at?” “What kind of college do you want?” And while all the friends and family have good intentions with their questions, it can also be a bit tiresome. So to save time, I developed a bit of a catchphrase. Whenever anyone would ask me about schools, I’d say I was looking for a mid-size, Midwestern school with good journalism and English programs. It sounds a little rehearsed and oversimplified, but it didn’t make it any less true. It’s kind of like being a contestant on The Bachelor where the ladies will say they just want someone to laugh with or want a man who’s good with kids. You just have to find some repeatable phrase to latch onto while you search for your “soul mate”/university.

While each component of my university checklist was important, I really latched onto the mid-size qualifier. I toured some amazing Midwestern schools with good programs, but many of them had more students than a Beyoncé arena concert. And when I toured those big schools I realized that’s never how I wanted my college experience to be. I didn’t want to spend hours trekking across campus or not know any of the students in my class. I didn’t want to get lost on a campus the size of a small town. In short, I didn’t want a big school.

But I also experienced the other side of the spectrum, and turns out, a small school wasn’t for me either. I couldn’t even fathom attending a university with fewer students than my high school. And I knew I wanted the experience of learning from multiple professors and students, not just a few. Plus, if I did something embarrassing and fell down on the first day, how would I redeem myself if everybody on campus saw me?

With these and many other thoughts in mind, I finally settled on my epitome of mid-size: Drake University. There are about five or six thousand students total at Drake, including grad students. (I mean, don’t quote me on that. I’m very bad with numbers). But the point is, it’s just the right size. There’s enough variety of people and situations to keep things interesting and fun while also still being comfortable and homey. My professors know me, but everyone doesn’t know everyone around here. I get to walk a few minutes across campus, but not miles. I always see friends and classmates around campus, but there are also constantly new people to meet. In all, for me, Drake is just right.

Top 5 Varsity Theatre Moments

As your everyday American human, I like movies. In fact I like ‘em a lot. When I came to Drake I was worried that I wouldn’t get to see as many movies as I did in St. Louis. Moving away from my regular theaters and Blockbuster store (no, I’m not gonna get over it) was in fact kind of traumatic. Luckily, Des Moines has proved a good place to keep up my theatrical hobby. From trips to the ever-cool Fleur, to our own Free Movie Friday nights on campus, the cinema abounds.

But there’s one place that has the greatest claim on my heart: The Varsity Theatre. Literally right across the street from campus, The Varsity is an old-fashioned movie house in the best way possible. Tickets are affordable and concessions are downright criminally cheap compared to the megaplexes. You can get a popcorn, drink, and candy all for $5. It’s ridiculous. Ridiculously great. They show one movie at a time and it’s always a good one. Ranging from critical darlings to foreign favorites to the best of the indie world, the movies at the Varsity run for a couple weeks, and you should catch them all if you can.

The best part is just how it feels to watch a movie at the Varsity. With a family run atmosphere and the comfort of living in small town America, trips to the Varsity are like entering into some sort of Disney community of charm, friendliness, and camaraderie. I’ve had a lot of good memories there so far, and hope for many more. In celebration of this great place and Drake neighborhood hallmark, I countdown some of my favorite moments at the Varsity Theatre.

1. A Separation

I saw this incredible Iranian film with a group of friends, one of whom I’m pretty sure didn’t know it was Iranian. I mean, he figured it out about halfway in. Anyway it’s a beautiful and complicated film and just one example of the opportunities the Varsity provides. When A Separation won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film later that year, we could all casually mention to our other friends that we saw it months ago and really loved it.

2. Liberal Arts

In a very different vein, this indie comedy was the creation of Josh “Ted Mosby” Radnor and it was pretty great. I went to see it with my good friend and first year roommate and we laughed obnoxiously together the entire way through. But since I knew the other people in the theatre, it was okay. With a focus on jackets with elbow pads, pseudo-intellectual musings on the humanities, and the force of impeding adulthood beyond education, Liberal Arts had a lot going for it. I just wish it was a little more relatable…

3. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

It was raining. I was feeling a little down and in desperate need of a study break.  Luckily, the impeccable Jimmy Stewart was there for me. On a whim, I decided to head to the Varsity and see one of my favorite classics on the big screen. And Jimmy’s naïve moral strength in the face of the political machine was just what I needed to rally my spirits.

4. Inside Llewyn Davis

I actually just saw this one last night with my friend…and all of Des Moines. As a testament to how many people wanted to experience the Cohen Bro’s latest at the Varsity, the theatre was packed for its opening night, even during an ice storm. If you like great music, producers named T-Bone, and appearances by His Highness Justin Timberlake, this is the movie for you. But it was also really sad and nerve-wracking with typical trademarks of Cohen-level suspense.

5. Amour

I don’t want to say that this French drama about an aging couple is the saddest movie I’ve ever seen, but I cried all the way through it and for roughly 2 days afterwards. I later talked to a friend who also happened to be in the theatre that day and he compared the experience to the heartache of 20 Adele albums. So, yeah, it was heavy stuff. My friends and I went through some serious tissues. But when we all emerged into the Varsity lobby, red-eyed and sniffling, there was this sense that everyone in the room had this shared cultural and emotional experience. And isn’t that exactly what going to the movies is supposed to be about?

For more on the Varsity, check out their website.

Back to School: J-term Edition

So, I’m back. Although second semester has not yet started, here I am in the old DSM awaiting class tomorrow. How, you ask? Do I have magical powers? Did I make a serious calendar mistake? None of the above! It’s J-term!

J-term, or January Term on formal occasions, is a three-week period before the start of the second semester in which you can take one class. It’s completely free and allows you to get a 3-credit class taken care of that you may not have time for during the semester. Most of the classes are pretty specialized, often on really fun topics, and allow you to focus in on an area of study without having to worry about other classes. This year, my class is about pre-1900 British Literature with a focus on Jane Austen and landscapes. It’s my favorite area of study with one of my favorite professors about one of my favorite authors. So, yeah, I’m pretty excited.

While I’m mentally traveling to the landscapes of Austen’s England, so many Drake students will be actually traveling. J-term provides an awesome opportunity for students who want to study abroad but maybe can’t find the time or don’t want to leave for a whole semester. You can pretty much travel the world over J-term at Drake. I have one friend who’s taking a PR class in Chile. Another is studying poverty in New York. And yet another is going to Ghana to work with children. Regardless of the location, j-term is a very cool experience (literally, it’s cold outside) to learn and travel and grow. I cannot wait to see what the next few weeks bring for me and my friends.

3 New Year’s Resolutions for 2014

Ah, the New Year. It’s the season in which we all get a chance to start fresh, to make changes in our lives and bring on a better future. So, in the promising spirit of 2014, I present my 3 resolutions for the year ahead. And no, this is not actually cheesy cause I’m doing it somewhat ironically. So there.

1) Work Hard…But Not Too Hard

There are a lot of people out there who will tell you college was 4 pure years of fun times. Those people did not go to Drake University. Not that we don’t have fun, but if you wanna do well here, in the wise words of Miss Britney Spears, “you gotta work.” The problem is finding a balance between all the schoolwork and fun. So headed into next semester, I aim to focus in and work really hard. Hopefully, if I do all this working in a timely manner, I can then use my normal procrastination time to relax a little. I mean, I’ll still do a lot of homework and a lot of TV watching, maybe just in a different order.

2) Do Something Dramatic

I love my life at Drake. Seriously, it’s great. I have my classes, activities, and friends. But I have to admit that despite all the greatness, there is sometimes a certain lack of drama in my life. I don’t mean like a Real Housewives kind of drama cause I do not have the budget for that, but a fun kind of drama. In 2014, I want to really engage in the Des Moines community, get out there and do things. By breaking the habits and the routines that normally dictate my life, I hope to become a spontaneous creature of amazing adventures.

3) Run a Marathon

Just kidding. Actually, I just aim to eat more meals that aren’t chocolate. We all gotta start somewhere, right?