CollegeCulture & TravelExploreStudy Abroad

Yes, there’s nightlife and accents and atmosphere in London. There’s food and fair weather and incredible tourism in Rome. There’s beer and history and astounding diversity in Berlin. But there’s no fantastic games of charades that must be played in order to communicate with those around you, and there’s no air pollution to make city sunsets burst with auburn red. In Western Europe, the biggest challenge you’ll likely face as a foreigner is adding up your pocket change to buy a pretzel from that street vendor.

There’s a whole world of places where obtaining enough or adequate food is a challenge. Not only for the global poor because they can’t afford it, but also for tourists and foreign students who do not lack the financial means to acquire a wholesome meal but do lack the requisite Malagasy, Khmer, Lao, or Hindi words in their vocabulary.

To put things in perspective, this is by no means an accurate representation of all regions where the global poor live and certainly no reason to avoid studying abroad in these places. While studying abroad in Europe could result in some of the most cathartic and formative experiences in your life, studying abroad somewhere else offers greater challenges and potentially greater payoffs. In fact, there are plenty of reasons to just avoid Western Europe altogether and seek the unorthodox elsewhere. Here are just five of them.

You’re exposed to ways of life (significantly) different from your own.

Studying, living, or simply being abroad somewhere in post-industrial Europe is, frankly, quite similar to studying, living, or simply being anywhere else in the post-industrial Western world. So you switch the language on signs from English to another and convert to the metric system. Good one. That must’ve been challenging with your smartphone’s built-in translation and conversion features.

Traveling to someplace other than this select group of nations is a crash course in dealing with discomfort. You won’t always be uncomfortable physically, but you will certainly be an outsider – this is a good thing. Being the outsider is a lesson in understanding the life ways of “the other.” Not everyone looks, acts, talks, eats, drinks, loves, and lives the way you do, and that’s alright.

You’re humbled.

When you study abroad anywhere other than Western Europe, you’re humbled because the people you never encountered until now are the most incredible humans you’ve ever met. You’re humbled not because you’re self-centered and pretentious, but because the hard work that others do on a daily basis is inspiring.

You’re humbled by the truth that life can be hard, and, while your problems are difficult (don’t doubt that #firstworldproblems are real problems), others’ problems are difficult too. Your cab driver from ashen, polluted, industrial Hubei Province crossed half of China to build a life for herself and her family. She is proof that, collectively, humans struggle, and, in our struggle, we empathetically understand one another.

You recognize your own privilege.

In comparison, life back home is relatively easy. There are fewer immediate concerns about your physical well being, potable water comes out the tap, and supermarket shelves are stocked. For at least some things in your life, you’ve got choices. That might not mean you’re rich, but in some respects you’ve been given a lot more than others.

These things are privilege. Though you might not share in the material wealth of your country, the fact that you come from a country with choices is privilege. The ability to study abroad or study at all is privilege. You might feel guilty or ashamed to benefit so arbitrarily, but with these feelings comes a blurry but powerful recognition of injustice and inequality.

You have the potential to become more passionate, interesting, and any other adjective you’d like to be described as.

When you’ve exposed yourself to new ways of life, let yourself be vulnerable, humbled, and privileged, you will start to develop the traits you wish you had. Living outside of the hyper-commercialized post-industrial world will, in a broad sense, expose your weaknesses, which you can subsequently address and repair, and your strengths, which you can enjoy and fortify. In many ways, you will find what you seek.

You begin to understand beauty.

Mountain scenes and rainforests are just part of what is beautiful in this world. Unexpected things like a bamboo steamer full of pork dumplings wrapped in paper-thin rice flour dough is beautiful. Rusted old structures in the middle of grassy fields and getting slightly lost (anywhere, in general) are both beautiful in their own ways. Making friends is beautiful. Traveling alone is beautiful. Many things are beautiful for many different reasons.

When you seek the unorthodox, you will start to perceive and understand the beautiful value in the world around you.

Image by Joshua Earle

CollegeEducationHigh School

Boarding school is a foreign concept for a lot of people. Some people might mistakenly think that boarding schools are just for wealthy, privileged, white kids, who are troubled and whose parents want to get rid of them. In reality, a boarding school is almost like a college for younger students. The application process is similar to colleges’ too – you need to submit PSAT test scores, TOEFL for international students, letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and often have an interview. Some students say that they’ve worked harder in boarding school than college.

Boarding school prepares you for college. While other freshmen in college might be experiencing home sickness and having difficulties adjusting to living in a dormitory, boarding school alums have already gone through these experiences, and moving to college is as stress-free as moving into a new dorm. Boarding school’s rigorous schedule prepares you for the future. Students are typically in class until 4PM, and then they usually have mandatory sports, dinner, “study hall” (usually an 8-10PM time period for students to do homework; social media websites, like Facebook, might be shut off during that time), and at 11PM, lights are turned off and the Internet shuts down. This schedule helps students develop their time management skills and leaves no room for procrastination. Students must also give back to their community and fulfill a certain amount of community service hours. Classes at some schools are based on the Harkness table principle (oval table with enough room to seat 12 students and a teacher) and revolve around discussion, rather than lectures. Once you graduate, you’re more than prepared for college and have a powerful alumni network and lifelong friends, who are like brothers and sisters.

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Myth #1: Boarding school is like Hogwarts!

Books, movies, and TV shows have created a “classic” image boarding school life. People compare it with shows and movies, like Zoey 101 and the Harry Potter series. While boarding school students do have fun on and off campus on the weekends, surviving boarding school takes a lot of work, dedication, motivation, and self-discipline. The shows are right, however, about eccentric personalities and the formation of long-lasting friendships.

Myth #2: Diversity is rare at boarding school.

Boarding schools draw students from a variety of backgrounds and different geographic areas domestically and internationally. They actively seek diversity in order to create meaningful opportunities for students to interact with each other – not only do they study, play sports, participate in various extracurricular organizations, and volunteer together, but also live together. The conversations in the classrooms and beyond force you to be open-minded because people from various backgrounds share their diverse opinions. Students challenge each other’s views, but also respect each other tremendously. Boarding schools do everything to be safe and inclusive spaces for students, at the same time requires them to step out of their comfort zones. Most importantly, a boarding school is a home for students, faculty members and their families, and pets.

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Myth 3: Kids don’t have fun at boarding school.

It doesn’t come as a surprise that there are a lot of rules and curfews at any boarding school. If you want to go off campus, you have to sign out and back in, and if you’re leaving overnight your parents or guardians have to approve your visit and your host has to confirm you’re coming.

Even though strong academics are a key focus of boarding schools, that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. Throughout this journey, you make incredible friends. You bond easily in various situations; if you’re an honor-roll student, some schools make “study hall” optional as a reward, so you and other honor-roll students can go to a café and play ping pong or watch TV. Maybe you bond while traveling to other schools and playing a sport competitively; maybe you connect through the conversations you have in the dining hall or activities on the weekends.

Some boarding schools don’t allow you to drive a car if you live on campus, but the school provides buses during the weekends to take you to various events or trips, you just have to sign up. Want to go to a mall, or a movie theatre? They’ll take you!

Myth 4: Boarding school is for kids who are having trouble at home or school.

There are two types of boarding schools – college-preparatory boarding schools and therapeutic boarding schools. Sometimes the two are confused, which causes misperceptions that boarding schools are only for “troubled” children.

College-preparatory boarding schools are for motivated students who are already doing well academically and are looking for new challenges. All the schools profiled in Boarding School Review are exclusively college-preparatory boarding schools. While preparing students for college is also a goal at therapeutic boarding schools, they are equipped to work with students who face various challenges, such as behavioral or emotional problems, learning differences, or substance abuse.  Boarding School Review does not list therapeutic boarding schools.

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Myth #5: Everyone wears uniforms.

While this might be true at some schools, others have dress code requirements, not uniforms. For example, Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday might be required professional business attire, Wednesday is a casual “Polo shirt” day, and Friday might be formal where you have to wear your school’s blazer and colors.

A lot of thought should go into your decision whether a boarding schools is right for you. You should be able to answer the following questions: Do you feel ready to move out from your house and step out from your comfort zone? What sort of goals do you hope to achieve with the help of the school? Do you have good grades? Can your family afford your education or would you rather save money for college? Boarding schools are costly, with board and tuition ranging from $40 to even $70 thousand dollars. Of course, you can apply for financial aid and scholarships. Finally, is it worth going to a boarding school if you have great public or private schools in your area? Another option is attending a boarding school as a day student, if you live near by. It is also a good decision to enroll as a post-graduate (PG) student to raise your GPA if you don’t have the grades that would get you in to your dream college.

Images courtesy of Demi Vitkute

Skills

By the end of a tough year of school, it’s easy to get burned out. Even if you’re not in school, doing the same routine everyday can bore you. That doesn’t necessarily mean you should avoid learning all together though. The more you use your mind, the better it will be. Here are a few ways to have fun while improving your mind:

1. Read

We all have those books we want to read if only we had the time. If you have the free hour, take the time. You may not be able to finish your book for awhile, but reading will transport you to somewhere else. More importantly, your brain will still be working on a new task while you’re relaxing.

2. Do Puzzles

Puzzles are an easy way to challenge yourself. This can include classic puzzles, Sudoku, crosswords, or any other puzzles you can think of. You’ll get a fun sense of accomplishment when you’re done.

3. Learn A New Skill

If you’re bored or burned out in your every day life, introducing something new can be just the change you need. Learning a new skill will challenge you in a new way. Plus, maybe you’ll learn something useful like how to cook.

4. Free Write

Writing is a good way to free your mind of distractions. Have you ever had a problem focusing because something was weighing on your mind too much? You can write a story, a letter or anything else you want to get out. You can unburden yourself and improve your writing at the same time. You could even create a new masterpiece.

5. Get New Experiences

You never know how many new things you will learn just by getting out there and doing something that you’ve never tried before. Even trying a dish you never had before will give you a new experience. When traveling, you have to train yourself to know your way around which will give you a sense of direction. Meeting new people will strengthen your memory when you have to learn faces, names, and details. It will all expand your mind while being perfectly painless.

Get out there and try to re-energize yourself. Don’t stop learning. Taking a little time out of your day to improve yourself will be helpful in the long run, even if it is something as simple as taking an hour to read. Be your best self and have fun doing it!

How do you keep your brain active?

Image: opensource.com

CollegeCultureCulture & TravelEducationHigh SchoolInspiration

Leaving your cultural comfort zone is a topic that seems to have been left out from the endless self-help articles I come across. The United States is a country of immigrants, and learning to plunge yourself into other cultures is not only an unspoken requirement to succeed in almost all professional fields, but it is also a surprisingly fun thing to do. I want to touch on the importance of diversifying. Be it college, your workplace, or even in your community, one often tends to gravitate toward people of their culture. It’s a fascinating thing to note that although you can be friends with a variety of people, you’re probably wont to relate most with those who come from a similar background. However, waving that white flag will do great things. Here are a few reasons why leaving your cultural comfort zone is important:

  1. “Expanding your horizons” doesn’t mean ordering Chinese takeout

Expanding your horizons, or emerging yourself in things you would not normally do, brings many outcomes. It means more than ordering Americanized Chinese, Mexican, or Italian foods. It means making friends with people of different cultures, it means attending a cultural festival and trying all of the foods, it means attending an LGBTQ poetry event, and it means doing these things with an open and inviting attitude. It allows you to experience the different parts of life and place yourself in the shoes of others. You may have assumptions about many groups of people, but spending time with them may shatter these pre-existing judgments, which is essentially the goal. It is always refreshing to see that there are reasons for ways of expression, that there is history behind art, and that there is love behind musical forms. It can be uncomfortable at first to put yourself in new shoes, but it will open your mind. Also, participating in cultural endeavors will definitely bring some zest in your day.

  1. Discover new favorites

Surrounding yourself with people from a totally contrasting environment does great things for your brain. For example, being surrounded by people who speak another language is great for making brain connections and stimulating your thought process. Hanging out with them and maybe accepting an invite to dine at an authentic Japanese, Portuguese, or Arab restaurant is a great way to try out non-Americanized foods that really hold the heart of the traditional foods. You never know, you may discover a favorite dish! Or maybe even a new favorite song or genre by listening to French dance, Japanese pop, Spanish rap, or Italian classical music. Discover the variety of flavors each culture holds. In addition, these new introductions to a new world may also spark an interest to travel to an unfamiliar country. Meeting people from unacquainted areas ignite captivating and bizarre conversations which bring interest to what you have yet to experience!

  1. Learn about yourself

You can learn a lot from just being around others of different backgrounds. You understand more about where you came from and how different that can be from what others are accustomed to. You also note how open you are to try new things. This may call for a new goal: maybe room for improvement in this area? In this day and age, diversity is a major component in many areas of business and organizations. Trying to improve your adaptation skills is definitely a great thing for you to improve. My goal for this school year was to meet people from other cultures. I wanted to meet other people on my college campus and befriend students who are not solely Hispanic. I realized that all of my friends were, in fact, Hispanic when I was asked this summer how the culture shock was since moving to college. I realized the culture shock was not as drastic as I had thought it to be. I was a bit bothered and disappointed by this epiphany and made the decision to expand my horizons. Two of my suitemates are Chinese and as a marvelous result, I have met Taiwanese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Indonesian, and even Arab and Indian individuals.

Here are a few tips on how to achieve doing this:

  • Attend and/or join a diversity-specific club

There are many organizations that are misjudged to strictly pertain to a particular ethnicity, identification, background, or race but that’s not the case as people of all kinds are invited. For example, check out one of the following clubs that may pertain to a Latin, GSA, Caribbean, Democratic, Christian, Muslim, Republican, Eco-friendly, Vietnamese, or Chinese Student Association club. People of all beliefs and backgrounds are always welcome to these clubs and organizations. Not only do they lead to meeting different types of wonderful people, but it also allows you to be surrounded by something different, which might be a big step away from your comfort zone and a great start to where you want to be.

  • Media switch

Believe it or not, media is a huge influencer. Begin with maybe switching up your music. You can surf the web for songs in different languages and maybe even another genre of music. Music says a lot about a culture. Listen to something different than your usual EDM or Country. Another shift you can make is to rent a foreign movie. Two of my favorite movies are actually foreign, and they are dramatic, original, and exciting. Subtitles may seem like a dreadful effort at first, but after a couple of minutes into the movie, you will hardly notice. Or maybe watch a T.V. series or show in another language. The last big step you can do to remove yourself from your cultural comfort zone is to attend a concert of a foreign band or a music group you would not usually attend. Check out different bands and musicians! Observe how they become in sync with the tunes and maybe open up your eyes to something that may catch your attention!

  • In class, sit next to somebody that seems totally opposite from you

You may be in high school or you may be in college. And of course, we all have those teachers and professors who give assigned seats, but there is always that one class that lets you roam free. Sit next to a person you would usually never sit next to, someone who seems opposite of your interests and even race or background. Talk to them and listen to what they have to say. It is a wonderful feeling to just listen to others.

Leaving your cultural comfort zone is a fascinating thing. It can be a learning experience and even a normal part of life if you let it. Approach these steps with an open, positive mind, and purge your mind from pre-existing judgments. You may be in for a wonderful life-changing surprise!

Image: Catalina Casas

EducationSkills

Many of us can’t wait to be out the doors and in our dorm room, but when the time actually comes, it can be difficult to finally say goodbye. Whether it’s to your friends, family, or even your co-workers who you never thought you’d miss, goodbyes aren’t easy. Here are some tips to make giving that final hug a little easier:

1. Make Plans

As summer comes to an end, your days will start to get numbered. Make time for the people you care about. Have a group of you and your co-workers go out to eat after work or have a beach day with all of your closest friends from high school. Do the things you love with the people you love. Don’t put off spending time with people you care about because saying goodbye is just around the corner.

2. Pictures

Don’t forget to take lots of pictures while you’re out spending your final moments with your favorite people! Putting pictures in your dorm will make coping with goodbye so much easier. They’ll make your dorm feel homier and help remind you that your friends and family will be waiting for you when you go home during breaks.

3. Social Media

Social media helps so much with saying your final goodbyes. Whether it’s just a #throwbackthursday post of Instagram with your besties or a Skype call with your brother, social media will remind you that even though you may not be able to physically be with your friends and family, they’re still there to talk and listen.

An important thing to remember is to not spend all of your time trying to keep in touch with your friends and family. While you’re at school, make sure you focus on your studies and have time to add new people to your life. Don’t worry, your friends and family will always be there for you, and they’re always just a phone call or text message away. The time you spend apart will make the time you spend together so much more special, and you and your friends will have a lifetime’s worth of stories to share come winter break!

Image: Civilon, Flickr

CultureTravel

Wanderlust coursed through my 15-year-old veins when I was given the option to travel and either explore the depths of a few European countries or the few hotspots of many countries. Of course, I chose the second alternative. Perhaps it was the naive desperation to check off more countries on my map of travelled places or the craving to be impressed by Europe’s must-see cities. But I then realized that I just wanted to witness Rome’s grandiosity as one of the birthplaces of classicism and breathe the glamorous Parisian air. London lingered in my thoughts with an image of wild print on fabric, charming accents, and tea breaks in-between exciting landmark sight-seeing tours. But London was not my favorite destination. Neither was Rome or Paris or Madrid. Maybe I was lucky, but having three free days Spain gave me the opportunity impulsively decide to take a stranger’s advice and visit multiple towns in Asturias, a northern region of the country. It turns out life has more treasures than the ones sitting in the chest.

Bruges may have had me at whimsical Spanish moss floating over unaligned, rustic, and ancient brick roads; but Cudillero had me at that dead-end parking spot, making walking our last resort into the vehicle-prohibited town. In order to reach the boardwalk that led to the town, walking through an unusually located car show between two cliffs was obligatory. Miles away from Cudillero’s entrance, “Stereolove” by Edward Maya & Vika Jigulina almost pulverized my eardrum. There were about 200 teens, young adults, and middle-aged men and women who were all undoubtedly there to display their unique Lamborghinis and Ferraris, mingling, and somehow chattering through the music. An amalgamation of two stark different atmospheres is what I had yet to notice. “Completely historic, not quite; absolutely modern, neither; wannabe Barcelona in the middle of nowhere, definitely,” I thought as we managed to squirm around the car enthusiasts.

A long narrow path sandwiched between cliff and sea awaited us. Concrete sidewalk corrupted the untouched serene water that held homage to the picturesque sailboats. The sun was fogged away by the opaque clouds. White sailboats sat beside wooden canoes latched onto the wooden docks by a ratty beige rope. Step after step, I snapped picture after picture and stood facing the silent water as I ingested the novelty that was somehow before me. From a totally bizarre car show to an impossibly picture-perfect scenery, I still couldn’t believe there was a sea of 3-D printed Van Gough sailboats to my left, psychedelic beats behind me, obscure fog 100 feet in front of me, and towering cliffs to my right. I wondered how this combination was even conceivable.

A few feet away was a scruffy fisherman who lightly tossed his turquoise cloth bag behind his shoulders. Behind him was a tall man impeccably dressed in a white suit who held his lover’s hand, garbed in eye-snatching Gaultier couture.  And I, in my emerald suede flats, truly effortless jeans, and plain H&M sweater marveled at what kind of place this was. Surely, this boardwalk led us all to the same panorama – a ginormous fungus-infested concrete ramp that brought the colorful building squares with matchless windows into the sea. It was the oddest place I had ever been to with only one primary entrance. Anyone who entered the town came out the same way – over the now-modernized narrow bridge. Vibrant neon moss stuck itself to the bottom of my flats and outlined the edges like a piece of abstract art. Cold, humid air reached the depths of my lungs like two strangers meeting in symbiosis. I could say that this was the beginning of an experience to an indescribable dream, but one thing was for sure: there was no place like it.

I never would have expected my journey to an unheard of village to be more enjoyable than a trip across Europe. The next time you plan a trip, don’t forget to leave a few days open for hidden gems. Their anonymous nature may seem like quite the dare, but here are a few tips to make them happen and to make the best of them:

  1. Never be afraid of unplanned detours.

Say you have your trip planned down to the minute. Incorporate free time into your itinerary. Take a minute or two to ask a few locals about their favorite places to visit in that country (or area). Chances are that it is not a tourist hotspot. Grab a map, do some internet research, and begin filling in that free time.

  1. Reservations have their cons.

Restaurants, activities, and lodging bookings may sound comforting when travelling to an unfamiliar place, but the fine print? They may tie you down. Always expect the unexpected because travel delays and mood shifts will always happen. Embrace a bit of spontaneity and don’t be afraid to show up in a town or city with an open agenda. Unless you’re in Russia during the next World Cup, book your night stay on the day-of and take the freedom of paving your own journey day-by-day.

  1. Expect unconventional means of transportation, breath-taking scenery, and authentic everything.

Prepare for anything when it comes to methods of transit as they are endless and still very much alive. Ferries, canoes, trains, mini-planes, and even walking may replace driving. This journey will certainly teach you a little something about photography, so always keep a camera on-hand. If you’re abroad and leaving the tourist centers, it should go unsaid that not everyone will speak your native tongue and that’s always a fun challenge. Once again, don’t worry – it’s amazing to see where other forms of communication can take you.

Food, of course, is important to many. You may find ease in that safety dish that happened to be Americanized such as the margarita pizza, but take a chance and leave your comfort zone. Taste the culture! You may remember that Italy has great pasta, but you will never forget that tiny, almost unnoticeable, trattoria that served that one-of-a-kind basil-sautéed penne with herbs that grew in that restaurant’s own garden!

Off-the-map doesn’t mean off-your-trip. If you really want to get to know a country, visit the outskirts.  They definitely make for the most memorable, exquisite, and unexpected adventures!

Professional SpotlightSpotlight

As huge jazz fans, we are so impressed with Jazz musician and trumpet player Alex Owen. After graduating from Connecticut College, Alex moved to New Orleans to work with a non-profit geared toward ending housing discrimination in Louisiana. He eventually started a band called the Messy Cookers – aptly named after his own sloppy cooking technique – and they’ve been playing together ever since. Although he now loves music and plays jazz for a living, Alex shares his advice on why never closing doors on opportunities, even at a young age, can lead you to your passion down the line. We are excited to introduce Alex Owen!

Name: Alex Owen
Age: 24
Education: BA in International Relations and Hispanic Studies from Connecticut College, High School Columbia Prep.
Follow: Facebook

How do you define ‘seizing your youth’?

I would define it as going out and doing what you love. I don’t think there is an age limit, or minimum, to trying to make your dream happen. When I hear the term “seizing your youth,” I think of having the opportunity to try things out and see what happens. Sometimes it’s a risk, but if you don’t take those risks now, then when will you?

What did you major in at Connecticut College and how did you determine what to study?

At Connecticut College I majored in International Relations and Hispanic Studies, and I minored in Music. I also was part of the CISLA program. I picked my majors just based on what classes I wanted to take. I had studied Spanish in high school and I wanted to continue to learn the language and become proficient, and I really liked the interdisciplinary focus of the IR major. It just seemed that the majors seemed to fit what I wanted to study. Of course, I wanted to play music as well, so the minor just seemed to fit what I was interested in.

What or who inspired you to become a jazz musician?

I think what inspired me was really just to follow my passion. I don’t think I ever sat down and thought, “I want to be a jazz musician.” I loved playing traditional jazz music at Connecticut College where I first discovered this music, and I also loved being in the jazz ensemble. I wanted to move to New Orleans because I knew they had a great scene for traditional jazz, but I wasn’t sure in what capacity I was going to play.

When I moved to New Orleans, I actually was part of a fellowship program called AVODAH, where I spent a year working full-time at the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, a non-profit working to end housing discrimination in Louisiana. It wasn’t until about mid-way through my first year that I started the Messy Cookers Jazz band and started to find gigs and get a little bit of work. I realized that I really loved the music, and while I also loved the work I was doing at the Fair Housing center, I really wanted to focus on getting better. It became apparent that if I wanted to gig more and get more work, it wouldn’t be feasible to work full time and try to focus on both things. After I started to get work, I decided that I could really be a jazz musician, and that’s when I decided to focus on it and teach music part time.

Tell me about your college bands The Endpiece and Funk the Police. How have those experiences shaped your current music?

Those were some really great bands to be a part of. When I look back at my college experience, some of the fondest memories I had were from those two bands. I think those experiences were incredibly helpful because they taught me so much about being in a band and what the dynamics are like. One thing I learned from being a musician is that it takes so much work to make the music great. You have to practice, you have to find different roles, and you have to learn how to create chemistry with your other band mates in order to make great music. I’ve found that in any style or genre of music, this is true.

You also have to be able to find common ground among different personalities. While I don’t play the style of music that those two bands played anymore, I still take what I learned from those bands about working together with other musicians to make great music, and it’s something I use every time I play with people today.

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How do you stay motivated on-stage night after night of performing?

It’s definitely tough to do this. It’s certainly easier when you are playing a crowded venue. The hard thing to do is really be on your game when it’s the third or fourth set and it’s a slow night. I think what makes some musicians truly great is that they play the same way whether there are 100 people in the place, or two people. I really try to focus on just making great music at all times and I try not to worry about the crowd. Obviously, I’m always paying attention to the crowd, especially when I’m the bandleader. But once we pick a song and we get into it, I try to block it out and just try to make great music. Ultimately, that’s the most gratifying thing, and it’s something that I could do every day for the rest of my life.

Where does your band name, Messy Cookers Jazz Band, come from?

Ha-ha, this is a pretty funny question. I was making a comment to myself the first year down here that when I was cooking, I made a pretty big mess. I lived on campus all four years of college, so I never really learned how to cook before I moved down to New Orleans. All of a sudden, I realized that I had to cook for myself, so I learned the basics and was able to get by. I guess my technique was still a little sloppy. I was cooking for my housemates one night and I made the comment about how I was a messy cooker. My roommate Jeremy was walking by, and he went “I think I just found your band name.” The name was just too good to pass up.

How does living in New Orleans inspire your music?

I think living here is great because to play the music I want to play, which is traditional New Orleans jazz, I’m able to learn from the best. There are great musicians still working all the time today, who themselves came up playing with and learning from some of the all-time greats. It’s really a privilege to be able to hear them play on almost any given day or night, and to occasionally have opportunities to play with them. I think hearing what they have to say, and listening to the way they approach the music, is key for me to also try and play this music. I try to utilize their advice in every gig I play.

What is one of the greatest lessons you have learned from being a musician?

There are a lot of good lessons I’ve learned. One is definitely how to take criticism and how to take rejection. Every musician is going to have self-doubt, get yelled at on a bandstand for making a mistake or not knowing a song, get fired from a gig, or get turned down for a gig. It’s very discouraging, but the best thing to do is trust in yourself and trust in your ability. I’ve found that during the tough times, trusting myself has allowed me to stay positive, remain focused, and continue to make great music.

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What is the biggest challenge with being a musician? The best part?

There are a few challenges with being a musician. I’d say one challenge being unsure know when your next paycheck will be coming in. Especially as someone that is new to town, I’ve gotten a lot of gigs last minute. Since I’m still trying to establish myself, I’m in a position where if I can make a gig, I take it. It’s definitely hard to adjust your schedule last minute. The schedule can also be grueling. Working nights can be really hard, especially since I teach during the day. You really have to alter your life schedule to fit your work. Sometimes this means trying to eat a big meal to last you the 4-5 hours you will be out since you don’t have access to food. Other times, this means trying to hang out with friends during the day because when they are free night, this is when I’m working.

On the flip side, the best part of being a musician is that it’s greatest job in the world! I get to make awesome music, something I would do anyway in my free time, and then I get paid for it. I’ve been fortunate to get work with some world-class musicians, which is an awesome experience. There are many nights when I can’t believe I’m sharing a bandstand with some of these people. It’s also gratifying when you can tell that you’ve touched people with your music.  When I’ve just spent a night making music that you know was great music, and people come up to me and tell me how much they enjoyed it, that really makes it gratifying.

Any tips for learning how to play an instrument?

The biggest tip I can give is to be patient. Something I tell my beginning band students all the time is that Louis Armstrong didn’t sound like Louis Armstrong when he first started playing. Music is like a totally new language; nobody just wakes up a genius. Everyone works at it and tries to make new strides. When you are learning a new instrument, take pride in whatever progress you make, however small, and focus on achieving each milestone. Eventually, before you even realize it, you will start sounding better and playing an instrument will become more fun.

How do you overcome self-doubt (or stage fright?)

Like learning an instrument, this comes with practice. The more gigs I play, the more confident I become in myself, and the easier it is to overcome stage fright. Stage fright, and self-doubt, is a part of being a performer, and is something that becomes easier with practice. Whenever I get nervous, I also try to remember that there is a reason I’m on the bandstand. If I’m a sideman, I try to focus on the fact that someone called me to play the gig with him or her, so I must be doing something right. As a bandleader, I try to remember that the venue likes us enough to hire us, and the people I’ve hired like playing with me enough to want to play with me, otherwise they would’ve said no.

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What advice do you have for youth who want to be professional musicians?

My advice is to go for it. If you feel it’s what you want to do, and it’s what you are most passionate about, then absolutely go for it and don’t hold back. People are definitely going to tell you that you can’t do it, or that it’s not stable, etc. These are things that almost all professional artists face at one point. If you are driven enough and determined enough, you can sustain the bumps in the road and make it happen. It’s also ok to take a part-time job or do something on the side to make ends meet, even if it’s not exactly the work you want to be doing. I’ve been lucky enough to find work teaching music, which is something I love and plan to pursue, but I know other musicians and other artists who’ve had all types of weird jobs not related to their art. As long as it doesn’t directly interfere with your art, I say there’s nothing wrong with getting a job to pay the bills.

What do you do when you’re not making music?

I really enjoy spending time outdoors. I’m fortunate that New Orleans has a temperate climate (other than the summer), which allows me to go running, spend time in parks, and generally do activities outside. I also spend time with my girlfriend, watch TV shows, and spend time with friends.

What does a day in your life look like?

Ha-ha, depends on the day! Usually my weekdays consist of teaching during the day. I have a little break in the afternoon, where I usually exercise and get other work done (the work never stops for musicians). If I have a gig that night I’ll eat an early dinner, warm up a little, prep for the gig, and head down early to set up. If not, I’ll either go to hear other bands and sit in, or just hang out and rest. The weekends are mostly about gigs. If I don’t have a daytime gig, I can run errands, hang out with friends, and then go to my gig later. However, some weekends I just spend it running from gig to gig. The great thing about being a musician is that no two days are the same!

What motivates you in your everyday life?

I always just try to be the best person I can be. Whether I’m playing music or not, I always try to be nice to others, to spend quality time with other people, and to be true to my craft.

What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?

I would definitely tell myself that music isn’t dorky, that I should be pursuing it. I think at 15, I really was into sports, and not so much into music. Playing trumpet was more of a chore my parents made me do (and I’m glad they made me do it), and I wish I had treated it differently. I think a lot of this was that I didn’t realize how much fun playing was, and I didn’t think it was that cool.

Image: Hot Steamed Jazz Festival; all others from Alex Owen

Professional SpotlightSpotlight

It’s not every day that we see an illustration, design, or logo that makes us feel something. However, when we see Kate Harmer’s illustrations and designs, we are immediately inspired and moved.  Kate drew constantly when she was a little girl and she hasn’t stopped since. After following her passion and enrolling in Cornish College of the Arts, doing internships, getting job experience in design and illustration, and completing graduate school at Rhode Island School of Design, Kate launched her own design studio, Hum Creative, that focuses on creating and developing brands. More recently, Kate illustrated a fun book based on the popular Twitter feed @tweenhobo.

Kate is not only amazingly talented, but she is smart, kind, and thoughtful. We are encouraged by her self-starter attitude, work ethic, and of course, her creativity. Kate not only has the ability to draw and design, but she also knows how to build an incredible team of people with serious creative skills. Through determination, hard work, and learning how to grow a thicker skin, Kate has excelled in her field, and she generously shares the lessons she has learned during her journey. Read on to learn more about Kate Harmer, a true inspiration!

Name: Kate Harmer
Age: 32
Education: BFA in Illustration from Cornish College of the Arts; MFA in Design from Rhode Island School of Design
Follow: Twitter / Hum Creative / Instagram

Carpe Juvenis: How do you define ‘Seizing Your Youth’?

Kate Harmer: It’s common to hear successful people look back and say, “We were so young, we were so crazy, we were so brave!” They’re talking about times that were challenging, but they are able to look back and laugh. I try to remember that I’m in that time right now for my future self. Knowing that all of these things won’t seem as hard or scary once they’re done encourages me to take big risks.

Yes, I’m 32, but that’s super young! Someday I’ll hopefully laugh at my failures and be proud of having challenged myself. Both are positive outcomes. To me, seizing your youth is embracing that now is the time to be free and brave.

CJ: You received your BFA in Illustration from Cornish College of the Arts. How did you determine what to study?

KH: My career has been a process of elimination. When I was in high school I didn’t know what graphic design was. I just knew that I liked to draw and wanted to do something creative. I went to school for Illustration and worked as an Illustrator for a while. I tried to follow my passion in a broad sense, then tried lots of things to see what I enjoyed and to get more focused.

CJ: What sparked your love of illustration and design?

KH: As a kid I would sit in my bedroom for hours and draw fake advertisements for the commercials I heard on the radio. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was thinking like a graphic designer. I wasn’t super social, so drawing was a natural way for me to process the world and express myself.

Because I drew constantly, I had good foundation of skills by the time I was looking at colleges. I definitely think most things can be learned, but you have to put in the time.

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CJ: You also received your MFA in Design from Rhode Island School of Design. Why did you decide to go to graduate school, and would you recommend it?

KH: I went to graduate school to learn new skills and jump start the next phase of my career, which was more about design than illustration.

I would recommend graduate school, but only for people who are really ready for change and have fully explored on their own first. I don’t think graduate school is required to be successful, and some life experience first is key. You can create a condensed learning experience on your own, but some people need help. I needed grad school to push me.

Graduate school was both awful and great. The workload was almost unbearable at times, making it one of the toughest experiences of my life so far. It was a critically intensive, so I graduated with a much thicker skin. I also made amazing friends, learned a ton, and I felt empowered to do what I do now. It was a full, amazing experience.

CJ: You are the Principal and Creative Director at Hum Creative. What do your roles as Principal and Creative Director entail? 

KH: When I first started the company I was doing a bit of everything – designing, sweeping floors, and writing invoices. Now my role is to think about this entire company as a design project. I am responsible for our overall strategy and goals, getting the best team of people together, and directing the creative process. I also play on our kickball team.

CJ: Before Hum Creative, you were a designer at Starbucks Creative Group. What kinds of projects did you work on at Starbucks?

KH: I got to illustrate coffee bags, draw lots of little croissants and coffee mugs, and help design seasonal merchandise and packaging. I was fresh out of school and supported senior designers and creative directors with illustrative tasks that were needed to fulfill their vision.

I think about that job every day while building Hum Creative. When I was at Starbucks, it really felt like everyone was happy with their jobs and coworkers. A lot of what I learned there has stayed with me.

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CJ: You illustrated the book Tween Hobo, which is based on the popular Twitter feed @tweenhobo. What was that illustration process like?

KH: Alena Smith knows the Tween Hobo character so well. I flew down to LA to brainstorm initial ideas for the book with her, then worked remotely for the next few months. Alena sent me in-progress chapters every couple of weeks. I would read them and keep a running list of possible visuals. We would Skype to discuss and narrow them it down. Most of the process was brainstorming with Alena. I would sketch the illustrations in pencil first, and then once they looked good I drew over them in Sharpie.

CJ: What are the greatest lessons you have learned from being an illustrator and designer?

KH: Professional creatives need to be open to criticism and flexible to change, but they also must stand up for what they believe in – when it really matters. Grad school and client work has helped me grow a thicker skin and to understand that everyone’s input is valid. You can’t be too precious about your work – sometimes people won’t like it. That’s okay. Not all battles are worth fighting… when you do push back, it should mean something.

CJ: What is the best part about being a designer?

KH: The best part of designing for me was seeing my work out in the world, successfully doing its job. As a creative director, it is so fun to see this whole group make work that they’re proud of. Knowing they worked hard, made beautiful work, and enjoyed the process is hands down the best part about what I do.

CJ: What does a day in your life look like?

KH: My day involves a lot of time reading emails and meeting with our internal design teams to check in on projects moving through the studio. I also meet with clients often to present work and discuss feedback. Some days are spent on the set of photo shoots or visiting the printer for press-checks.

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CJ: What should a teenager or young adult who wants to be an illustrator and designer do to set themselves up for success?

KH: Make a lot of work. We look at a lot of portfolios here, and the people who really stand out have been making up their own projects and designing things on the side. Drew Hamlet, a Lead Designer at Hum, started an online radio station in high school and he designed the branding, website, and collateral for it. I’m very impressed by self-motivation. You learn so much by just being active in your field, even if it’s just practicing. Don’t wait for people to ask you to do something, just do it yourself.

It is also important to have a sense of the design community and what has come before you. Look at blogs, read design books, and absorb a design education as much as possible.

CJ: How do you like to spend your free time?

KH: I work long hours and am a homebody when they day is over. My husband and I love to cook and enjoy big dinners outside, then take our two French bulldogs on long walks.

CJ: What motivates you in your everyday life?

KH: Professionally, this team motivates me. The responsibility of having people who come to work in an environment that I make is both very intimidating and very inspiring.

My husband is very motivating and inspiring outside of work. He is a creative that has worked really hard since he was a teenager and he’s done well. He’s always wanting more and imagining fun things he can do. He’s constantly learning and dreaming. He’s a really good reminder to keep your mind open and active.

CJ: What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?

KH: I’d tell myself to be braver sooner. It took me a little while to start realizing that taking risks almost always pay off in some way. It might not always be in the way you planned, but taking on challenges is the fastest way to grow.

Kate Harmer Qs

EducationSkills

Summer has just started and most of you are probably too busy soaking up the sun to think about your first semester of college. But everyone else? Well, if you’re anything like I was the summer before my freshman year, then every other thought that you have is about college.

Is that a good thing? Yes!

It’s good that you’re thinking about college because, before you know it, you’ll be moving in to your dorm room and your life as a college freshman will begin. But don’t be afraid! While college can seem intimidating, it’s not as scary as you think it is. Once you get settled into your room, explore your campus, and get the hang of where all of your classes are, your university won’t feel like home just yet but it’ll be a lot more familiar.

If you want your campus to start to feel like your home away from home, then getting involved is the best way to go about making that happen. You’re probably wondering how you’re supposed to get involved if you’re the new kid on campus. Well, for starters, don’t think that just because you’re new means you can’t get involved. All of the clubs and organizations at your college will be happy to have you because that’s part of what makes college college. Outside of academics, universities thrive on student-run organizations and activities. So, to make the best of your college experience, put yourself out there and become a part of your collegiate community.

Not sure how to do that? That’s okay!

Here are a few tips on how to get involved on your campus:

Join Clubs

Most colleges dedicate a day or even a whole week to showcasing the different kinds of clubs and organizations on campus. Whether your campus has more than forty clubs or less than twenty, make sure you visit as many club/organization tables during your school’s activities fair as you can. Learn about each club and organization by talking to the people at each station, and if you like what they’re about, sign up! Clubs are a great way to submerge yourself into the community and to make new friends.

Look at the Event Calendar

As I said before, universities thrive on student-run organizations and activities. If there are any events or activities happening, chances are students were behind making them happen. Usually there are event calendars posted around campus and maybe even on the school website. Wherever it may be for you, make a note of when things are happening. Is a local band performing in the student community center? Is there a comedian coming to campus? A lot of college events are fun and more importantly free! Don’t miss out on your chance to attend some of them, or better yet, volunteer to work the event. This brings me to my next tip.

Volunteer

If you volunteered at a nursing home every week or helped clean up your neighborhood while you were in high school, that’s great! If you didn’t do a whole lot of volunteering, don’t fret. You still have a chance to get involved with different volunteering organizations. Penn State has an organization that helps raise money for kids with pediatric cancer called THON. Your campus might have a similar organization so ask around to find out. If you’re not into fundraising, see if your campus is affiliated with Habitat For Humanity or any other non-profit organization. If they are, this is your opportunity to get involved with some of them. Just like clubs, volunteering is a great way to network and to become a part of your campus.

Talk to People

Freshmen Orientation is the perfect time to make connections. Your orientation leaders are there to help you, and the great thing about that is – they’re sophomores, juniors, and seniors. They’ve been where you are and know the ins and outs of college and how to get involved. Ask them questions about their college experience and how they went about making the campus their home away from home.

These are just a few tips to get you started on getting involved on your college campus. Trust me, once you find your place at your university, navigating the collegiate world will get easier and, before you know it, you’ll no longer feel like the new kid.

Photo courtesy of Eric E Johnson

CultureEducationSkillsTravel

The past couple of days have been a whirlwind in our nation’s capital. As I shared last week, I was honored to receive the Congressional Award Gold Medal yesterday. From the dinner to the actual Medal Ceremony, it has been awesome getting to see more of D.C., as well as meeting the other amazing medal recipients. If you’ve been following along on Instagram, you’ve seen a behind-the-scenes look at what I experienced. I thought I’d share some more details about the pictures here in a diary format. Let’s begin!

Tuesday, June 17

Penn Station

 7:00am – Rise and shine! The train for D.C. left bright and early, and the journey officially kicks off with a delicious breakfast sandwich, apple juice, and a full itinerary for the next couple of days.

Train view

8:00am – The view from the train is perfect for zoning out and seeing America zip by. Love views like this when I want to focus on absolutely nothing.

Working on the Train

 9:00am – Enough zoning out. It’s time to get some work done! With a full to-do list and more posts to write, the train is the best time to concentrate on the task at hand. It’s like being at the airport – there are many ways to stay productive.

National Geographic Society

 2:00pm – No time to waste now that I’m here in D.C.! Made a super cool stop at National Geographic HQ for an awesome upcoming Professional Spotlight. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 18

Constituent Coffee Russell Senate Office Bldg

8:00am – Another early D.C. morning! I trek to the Capitol to meet for a Constituent Coffee with Washington’s Senator Patty Murray. It was a pleasure meeting her and other Washingtonians.

Gold Dinner 2014

 8:00pm – The first official Congressional Award event: the Gold Medal Dinner. I took Catherine, who has earned her Silver Medal, and we met really inspiring youth from around the country. We also heard from some pretty incredible speakers, including Kevin Liles, the Honorable Ron Kind, and Chris Jordan.

Lauren holding CA medalist book

 9:00pm – Here I am holding The Congressional Award Medalist book with other medalists’ stories and speaker information. The energy of the room was contagious!

Thursday, June 19

Carpet from Ceremony at Capitol Cannon Caucus House

 9:00am – The time has come for the Congressional Award Gold Medal Ceremony! This carpet design caught my eye, and I couldn’t not snap a quick picture before going through security. I felt so official just standing on this carpet.

Offices in Cannon House

 11:45am – Walking through the halls of the Cannon Caucus House. Everything is so…impressive.

Catherine and Lauren by reflection pool

 12:05pm – Catherine and I standing in front of the Capitol Reflecting Pool. Can you spot the Washington Monument? Can’t wait to be here again next year when she earns her Gold Medal!

Lincoln

 3:30pm – I have the afternoon off! I walk to the Lincoln Memorial, and as usual, am in awe of its impressive size and beauty.

This week has been amazing, to say the least. Thanks for coming along on the journey with me, and I hope you enjoyed the sneak peeks!