J-Term: A Study of…?

For those of you who don’t know, J-Term, or January Term, is a mini-semester in January during which students take one class every day for 3 hours. These classes can range from a trip to Japan to studying the Apocrypha to figuring out the math behind certain puzzles and games. Basically, students get to ease into the spring semester by taking a light class that appeals to their interests. So what class did I sign up for? I’ll answer your question with a riddle:

You hear it speak, for it has a hard tongue. But it cannot breathe, for it has not a lung. What is it? 

Have you given up yet? Okay, here’s the answer: a bell. Props to you if you guessed correctly!

That’s right, I’m taking a class on English Handbells for J-Term. Now, you may read that and scoff at how lame that class sounds as many other people did. However, I am here to declare that you are wrong because handbells are definitely the opposite of lame. I get to actually feel beauty when 10 students come together and create music. I don’t just hear the beautiful music or feel happy because we survived a 4 page song. I actually feel beauty. Who knew that someone could do that? Now, sometimes there’s only chaos and a cacophony of clashing notes, but that’s just something to laugh about and improve the next time!

So, other than the class that I enjoy so much, what’s so great about J-Term? Well, let me tell you something. The free time during J-Term can either be a curse or a blessing. J-Term starts to feel like a drag when you have a lot of free time and nothing to do. Of course, that is remedied simply by finding things to do and people to be with. I’m freed up to do so many activities that I never had time to do last semester, but I have a hard time organizing everything that I want to get done each day. I end up not getting anything done because I just watch Friends on Netflix and exercise. To be fair, there are those rare occasions when I sit down and knit a beanie or practice piano for an hour. I feel pretty productive after those days! It is also a little odd that I don’t really see as many people throughout the campus as I used to, but I definitely appreciate the people that I do get to see! Plus, I get to push myself to make plans to spend time with people that I never really spent time with last semester. Last night, my friend Grace and I got to take a girl shopping to celebrate her birthday and we had a great time! I can pretty much promise that we would be studying hard if it was Tuesday night during a regular semester. Thank you, J-Term, for making that valuable time available!

Maybe the sleepy, relaxed atmosphere at Erskine is abnormal for J-Term or it’s completely normal. Regardless of the answer, I’ve got to say that I do really enjoy J-Term. It is really nice to have a light 3 week workload at Erskine before the spring. J-Term may not be perfect, but hey. If something was perfect, we’d just find some way to screw it up, right? Plus, J-Term has a lot of strengths, such as fun classes, lots of free time, the ability to overcome procrastination, and the ability to bond with people (if you can find them).  😛 It’s just another perk of going to Erskine!

To Ireland and Back Again

This January, a group of Erskine students is exploring Ireland with Professor of Psychology Robert Elsner.  So far they’ve kissed the Blarney Stone, tasted fantastic local cuisine, and explored castles that have stood for centuries.

If you’d like to follow along with their adventures, the class is posting regular updates to a blog:
There And Back Again

J-term is campus slang for Winter Term, a special 3-week term in January of each year.  Students select one course from among a wide variety of faculty interests and hobbies, or they can travel abroad or schedule an internship/externship experience within their major field.  Classes range widely depending on the year, giving faculty the chance to show off areas of expertise that otherwise might not fit the standard curriculum. And students benefit from sitting in class next to people from outside their discipline.  It’s a great way to kick off a new year of intellectual pursuit!

The castle in Limerick, Ireland, as seen by Erskine students traveling for J-term

The castle in Limerick, Ireland, as seen by Erskine students traveling for J-term

Me, My Camera, and a Volleyball

Everyone wants something to rally behind. A team they can cheer for, a cause they can support, a movement that’s bigger than themselves on their own. And I’m no different. Sure we have sports teams and groups on campus, but so far, nothing had really stuck with me. Enter men’s volleyball. New on campus this year, all the players are freshmen or transfer students, which means they could either fail miserably at adjusting to life in Due West, or they could take a nod from the Thrive initiative and, well, thrive. And thrive they have! Bonded yet not exclusive, the team seems to be making its home here at Erskine. The team came back from their fourth game on Tuesday with yet another win, and is scheduled to play – get this – Harvard later this season!

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I’ve been to half of their games so far, the most recent being their Tuesday win over Emanuel in Georgia. Three friends and I drove down to watch them bring the fleet heat to the Lions, and I got to test out my new camera! It’s a Cannon Rebel DSLR… and I think I geeked out… just a little. Anyways, here’s to the Flying Fleet! I think my camera and I have found something we can rally behind.

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studying abroad: the application process

The application process for study abroad started last fall for me, when I decided for sure that I wanted to spend a semester at St. Andrews. When I was in high school, I wanted to be a Spanish double major and knew that I would have to study abroad for that–it has always been something that I looked forward to.  After my freshman year at Erskine, my favorite Spanish professor (Dr. Granados) took a yearlong sabbatical and I decided to double minor in family studies and Spanish instead.  However, I still wanted to go abroad and decided that St. Andrews would be a great place to go.  The University is currently celebrating its 600th anniversary–what better time to go and be a part of its history?

To begin the process, I talked with Dr. Gorka (our study abroad coordinator) and started filling out Erskine’s application in early February.  I also asked two of my favorite professors–Dr. Elsner [psychology] and Dr. Evans [Bible & Religion]–to write my letters of recommendation.  I submitted my completed study abroad application and student agreement in late February and heard back in mid-March from Dr. Christie that Erskine’s committee had accepted me.

Dr. Elsner also wrote my letter of recommendation for my St. Andrews application, and the Academic Office helped me send an official transcript.  I submitted that application on October 9 (the deadline for Spring applicants is October 31) and received my offer of acceptance on October 18.  If I remember correctly, I squealed and started dancing around my dorm room in my pajamas when I read the email and there may have been a few tears.  I am not ashamed.

I accepted my offer almost immediately and submitted my accommodations application that same week.  Coincidentally, I received an email from Delta around that time advertising a sale on airfare to Europe.  Within a week, I booked my flights for an amazing price.  I applied for and received my passport in August, so I did not have to worry about taking care of that while I was at school.

Since then I have been spending a lot of time looking through the course offerings at St. Andrews.  The British system of credits and classes is quite different from the American and several times I have found myself Google searching phrases or words to figure out what they mean.  There are several “honours-level” psychology classes, unlike any we offer at Erskine, which I am interested in taking.  Alternatively, I found an introductory level Divinity class, a Social Anthropology class, and a Scottish Music class, all of which look quite interesting if I need another course.

I have also set up my St. Andrews email account, which they do through Gmail. It’s a great set-up!  The University also has a webpage with a list of steps to be completed by applicants and another for incoming students, both of which I have found to be quite helpful. (If you are interested, here is the link: http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/studyabroad/incomingstudents/internationalstudyabroadprogramme/.  The offer & entrant information link is on the left side.)

Moving through this process, I have realized that there are so many details to consider and take care of.  Fortunately, both Erskine and St. Andrews staff have been extremely helpful the entire time.  I have talked to Erskine’s financial aid and business offices several times each, and I always come away with all of my questions answered thoroughly and offers to help more should I need it.  I have had the same experience with St. Andrews: every person I have emailed has responded in a friendly and timely manner and I always find the answers I am looking for.

Today is the first day of January term classes at Erskine.  Although I am homesick for my college home and family, I realized this morning that I leave 2 weeks from tomorrow.  The closer my trip gets, the more excited I am!  I cannot wait to begin this exciting journey.

[Update: I do not have my housing situation resolved yet, but  I hope to hear from St. Andrews this week.]

Where Have I Been?

Where have I been? The answer is…not at Erskine! That’s right, I used Erskine’s unique J-term opportunity to pursue interests outside of the classroom and spent the month at home. Okay, now before you go there, I did do some work. I promise. However, I was able to do work in a setting much different from the college atmoshpere and gain a new perspective entering into the spring semester.

In case you are unsure of what I am talking about, J-term or Winter Term as some may call it, is a one month semester taking place during the month of January. Rather than beginning a full spring term after returning from Christmas, here in Due West students take this month to take only ONE class. These classes are typically unrelated to their majors and range from Music Videos and Cinema to Math Puzzles and so much more. In addition, January offers unique travel destinations to places such as New York and Italy! However, I chose to do none of those this year.

After the Christmas lights were taken down and all of the presents were put away, I began researching areas in my field, Education. While at Erskine, I have had plenty of chances to take classes and spend time in the schools with students, but I wanted to spend January looking into specific areas of interest and sharing them with professionals. Therefore, I spent the month exploring the topics of collaboration, service learning, and technology before presenting them at teachers’ meetings at local schools. While I will admit this was somewhat intimidating, it was also extremely rewarding. I was able to see what a difference I could make in my community while also gently stepping into the world of professionalism. Even better, I got three hours of credit for this! I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend my month.

Does this sound exciting to you? Or perhaps it is rather boring? Either is okay! Many more opportunities like mine exist and Erskine can help you find them. Through internships, externships, and research opportunties, if you are willing to work, you can find a way. So now, I am back and well into my second week of the spring semester. I am sure I will have some intersting stories so be sure to keep looking…there is more to come.

The Company of Books

Now that J-term is over, I spent a couple of days at school last weekend, and then headed home on Monday for an extended J-term break.  My sister and I both finished our classes early, so we are enjoying a full week at home, sitting outside in the beautiful Charleston weather and catching up on everything that seems to get neglected while at college.  First on my list: Reading.

Some of my J-term Break reading that I have been enjoying.

There is a permanent pile of books sitting on my shelf that I am dying to read or re-read (usually for the past few years), but during the semester there are always textbooks and novels to read, essays to write, projects to plan, laundry accumulating, and so many tasks that accumulate.  But in those precious days of vacation between semesters, I have hours to pick up and enjoy these dear friends that have been neglected for too long.  What can be better than a few hours sprawled out on your bed, lost in a novel?  Or savoring an anthology of your favorite poet, discovering new meanings in your old favorites?  And even delving more frequently into The Book – isn’t it comforting to be able to sit down and get a good message out of a Bible reading and study?  Ah, c’est la vie.

Another thing that I have discovered to be quite enjoyable, despite my lack of great enthusiasm about technology, is following a couple of blogs.  Although I am far from a faithful reader to any, I have a few bookmarked on my computer that are written by friends, and I enjoy catching up on then once in a while.  For example, one is a first year teacher, like my older sister, so it is fun to compare their experiences.  Another is a recently graduated friend who is very artistic and musical, so I like to see her projects and get some good suggestions for new music.  Also, as various acquaintances at Erskine go abroad, I find it especially exciting to follow their adventures in England, Spain, France, or elsewhere – especially after having such a great experience abroad, myself.

Finally, there is a wealth of news and information to read on the internet.  Catching up on current events – something I do not leave myself much time for at school – and reading articles is a great use of a few spare minutes.  My dad often sends me interesting articles to read on npr.org, my sister does the same with cnn.com, and I have a few of my own sites that I frequent, one of my favorites being earthsky.org (I always had a curiosity for science, especially astronomy).

Just a few days left!  Imagine all the quality time I can fill reading in those many, free hours

Show Time!

Well, I did it after all – we did it.  My show went off well on Friday, well-received by the audience and with a lot of fun on stage by the performers.

Friday was exceedingly wet; it was grey and raining steadily all day, and generally foreboding.  As I finished some of the last-minute details, I watched the puddles and rivulets forming outside, wondering if the foul weather would prevent some prospective audience members from attending.  I also could not help from feeling a little more nervous, in my already anxious state, about the weather being some kind of sign indicating a mishap to come later that evening.  Luckily, I was able to distract myself for most of the day with little projects, keeping my eyes and mind mostly off of the pouring rain.

Despite the weather, that evening we had an overwhelming audience of over a hundred – we ran out of programs!  Peeking out into the audience before the show, I was excited to see so many peers, parents, professors, and locals sitting there – it was rewarding to see so much support from the community.  Whatever their reasons for coming to the show (good publicity, the friend or family they came to see, jazz music), I was pleased that we got to share all of our hard work with so many people.

A shot of the cast during our opening number, "And All that Jazz".

Afterwards, most of the cast re-congregated in the lobby of one of the dorms for a cast party.  We watched a freshly-burned DVD of our performance and ate brownies and cupcakes.  It was fun to be able to celebrate our performance together, having the cast all congregated one more time.  As we watched ourselves bow and leave the stage on the recording, I could tell by looking around the room that everyone was as proud of what we accomplished as I was – I know that I couldn’t have done it without a great cast of talented vocalists and instrumentalists, and it turned out so well!  We have even been invited to perform selections in the coming semester at a couple of events, so perhaps the show is not over yet, after all.