Archive | July, 2010

Views of Williams College

29 Jul

Thompson Memorial ChapelOutside the Williams College Museum of ArtDormsParesky Center and Chapin HallInside the student center


Trip Report: Williams College

29 Jul

In 2010, U.S. News & World Report ranked Williams College the #1 liberal arts college. With an undergraduate population of 2,200 students, it is a small school nestled in the Berkshire mountains in northwestern Massachusetts.  We visited the 450-acre campus recently and attended an information session hosted by an admissions officer.

Greg, our enthusiastic student tour guide, is an English major, adept at walking backwards and talking at the same time.  He showed us the campus and spoke glowingly about the small class sizes and how easily students can get to know their professors.  This is not a school for those who prefer to be anonymous on campus.  With a student to faculty ratio of 7:1 and a median class size of 12, if you’re not prepared for class, it will be painfully obvious.  Should you crave even more attention, the school offers Oxford-style tutorials that pair two students to one professor.  Lest you think it’s a campus of nerds, half of the student body is involved in sports, and many participate in more than one sport.

The architecture is a mix of modern and traditional New England styles, which gives an eclectic look to the neat campus.  As you walk around, you can glimpse the Berkshires in the background.  The great outdoors is a big attraction here.  In fact, one of the freshmen orientation activities is to go camping in the woods for two days.  One can easily imagine how spending time with your fellow classmates up close in nature, with no showers, running water, or working toilets can lead to intense bonding.

Williamstown, where the college is located, is a rural small town and home to the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute.  This is a gem of a small museum with a remarkable collection of French Impressionist paintings.  It’s definitely worth a visit.  Our guide also showed us Williams College’s art museum but we didn’t go inside.  Around the campus there are restaurants, cafes, and small shops that cater to the college community.

As expected, admission to Williams is highly competitive.  According to the New York Times, the college received 6,636 applications in 2010 and admitted 1,236, which makes for an admission rate of 19% (rounding).  At the information session, the admissions officer, Mr. Derrick Robertson, acknowledged that there are many more qualified candidates than spaces available.  In selecting an incoming class, the school tries to create a diverse community of students with wide-ranging backgrounds, talents, and interests.

The cost of an education here is not cheap.  Tuition, room, and board for 2010-2011 will run you $52,340, not including books and other expenses.  But apparently 96% of its students receive some form of financial aid.

Some interesting facts about Williams College:

  • Their mascot is the purple cow
  • Most popular majors are economics, English, and political science
  • 10-12% of its students are math majors
  • Every student has to pass a swim test in order to graduate
  • Some famous Williams alumni: Elia Kazan, Stephen Sondheim, George Steinbrenner, President James Garfield
  • There are no fraternities or sororities on campus
  • Their arch-rival is Amherst College
  • Housing is guaranteed for all four years

Learning to Let Go

22 Jul

My cell phone chirped shrilly, startling me.  It was another text message from my daughter who is spending her summer in the Berkshires studying Chinese.  Each night we text each other:

Her: Watcha doin?  (Not for the first time I wonder whether we are raising a generation of poor spellers).

Me: Watchin the closer.  (One of my favorite TV shows.  I love how everyone always underestimates the petite blonde police chief with the cute Southern accent).

Her: Cant wait 2 watch it my braces hav been bothering me (it’s not just the spelling but the punctuation too).

Uh oh.  Disquiet gripped me and I grabbed my landline to call her.  The connection was muddy and I imagined the wireless phone company man from the TV commercial asking me, “Can you hear me now?”

“No!” I yelled back at him, “I can’t hear you!”

“Mom, the connection is bad.”  My daughter stated the obvious; even across the distance she could sense my mounting anxiety.

One of the wires in her braces had been poking into her cheek, drawing blood and causing pain.  Normally when this happens, I take her to our orthodontist and he fixes the wire.  Bah-da-bing, bah-da-boom, we’re in and out in five minutes.  But with her being three hours away…

“I forgot to pack my wax.”

Of course she would forget to pack wax.  Ok, no point in chastising her about this now.  My mind raced through the options.  I briefly contemplated driving up there and bringing her back down, two round trip journeys totaling twelve hours, just for a five-minute appointment.  Well, I’ll do it if I have to, I thought.

Finally we agreed that I would call our orthodontist and she would tell her RA about her problem.  Between us we should be able to come up with a solution, I assured her, sounding more optimistic than I felt.  Needless to say, restful sleep eluded me that night.

The next day I waited impatiently as the orthodontist flipped through his American Association of Orthodontist directory to give me names and numbers of local practitioners.  Armed with a few names, I called each one, explaining my situation and almost pleading for them to see her.  Two of them were on vacation and the other two refused to see other people’s patients.  One receptionist even suggested that my daughter take a sterilized nail clipper and cut the wire herself.  I was too agitated to be properly horrified at this.

In the end, one assistant referred me to a local pediatric dental practice that was willing to see her.  In relief I offered up a prayer of thanks to God.  All that remained to do was to call the language program and arrange for someone to take her there, which I promptly did.  I then ran around looking for her wax to mail it to her.


When do we stop worrying about our children?  Never, says my mother.  It occurs to me that this incident is a lesson in letting go.  It’s a new experience and not a comfortable one either.

Fortunately, after seeing the dentist, my daughter said she felt better.  They had given her some wax and a rinse.  Too bad they couldn’t give me something to take away the worry!

Scotch and soda, anyone?

No Fly Zone

15 Jul

“I don’t want to fly anywhere for college,” my daughter announced.

I was excited to hear this because it meant that she was beginning to think about what she wanted in a college.  This was also an important criterion because it narrowed down the choices to colleges within driving distance of northern New Jersey.  Of course, the length of driving distance was still up in the air.  So I tried to get her to give me a sense of distance or hours away from home.  She shrugged, the universal teenage mode of communication, which can mean anything from, “I don’t know,” to “I don’t care” and everything in between.  I was pushing my luck.

A friend told me that her son had not wanted to fly either but he ended up attending Oberlin College, near Cleveland, Ohio.  Her point was, kids will change their minds many times before it’s time to submit the application.  I’m familiar with how quickly things change for teenagers but if I know my daughter, this is not something from which she will be swayed.

Her aversion to flying developed while we were living in Dublin, Ireland.  We discovered that she would become airsick during flights, especially during take-offs and landings.  A friend who suffers from similar problems told me about sea-bands, available from any drugstore.  Using the ancient Chinese practice of acupressure, the sea-bands apply gentle and continuous pressure on a specific point between two tendons on the wrists.  The treatment is painless, non-invasive and worked in curbing her nausea and discomfort.

Which was a big relief to me because we were planning to travel a lot.  Because of Dublin’s location and cheap airfares offered by budget airlines Ryanair, two hours by plane and you could be sipping cappuccino in a piazza and admiring Michelangelo’s David. We wanted to see all these places where we had only previously dreamed of going.

Maybe it was a Pavlovian response but my daughter still did not like to fly despite the sea-bands.  She did not look forward to our travels as much as we did, no matter how hard we tried to convince her that these were wonderful opportunities.  In the end, I confess that my own desires to see the world trumped her desires not to fly and we dragged her along with us everywhere.  And yes, I do feel a little guilty about it.

I think this time we will honor her “no-fly zone.”

Fireworks, spicy foods and 3D

8 Jul

You’re wondering now, what do these things have in common?

These are some of the things we are rediscovering and enjoying in our daughter’s absence.  This summer she is at a Chinese language immersion camp, living away from home for the first time.

I had thought I would be an emotional wreck, crying into my pillow every night, howling at the moon and generally being mopey.  But to my surprise, many delightful benefits have emerged.

For instance, we were able to take in a fireworks show this past Fourth of July weekend.  In years past when she was younger, the fireworks were always held inconveniently past her bedtime.  Then as she grew older, the loudness of the fireworks frightened her.  So we had not gone to an Independence Day fireworks display since she was born.

We trekked out to a nearby town to watch their fireworks and enjoy the atmosphere of small town America celebrating the Fourth.  The fireworks were as brilliant as could be hoped for, amazing pyrotechnics of light and sound, color and wonder.  When it ended we wanted to see another one.

Then we reacquainted ourselves with the pleasure of spicy foods.  Last week I made a tofu stir-fry with hot red pepper flakes, garlic, spinach, mushrooms, and toasted sesame seeds.  Usually I omit the pepper flakes because my daughter doesn’t like spicy foods.  As the piquant kick from the red peppers slowly spread in my mouth, I said to my husband,

“You know, this tastes so much better.”

“Mmmmfh…” he answered, his mouth full.  I took that as an agreement.

Finally, we saw our first full-length 3D movie.  My husband had long wanted to see a 3D movie but both my daughter and I had been reluctant.

“I don’t like things coming at me,” says my daughter and I feel the same way.

With two against one, my husband never stood a chance.  But now that she was away, it was harder to say no.  So this weekend we saw Toy Story 3 in 3D and like the rest of America, we were wowed by the animation and technology.

Who knew life as an empty nester could be so much fun?  I wonder what other things we will rediscover this summer while she’s away?

Meanwhile, it’s Indian food this weekend.

The search begins…sort of

1 Jul

When we set out to explore colleges this spring, we didn’t know where to begin looking.  There are, after all, over 3,800 colleges in this country, according to the College Board website.  How does one begin this daunting task?  When I asked my daughter what kind of college she wanted to attend, she just shrugged.  Fair enough, she was only a sophomore.  My hope is that she will gradually take charge of this journey to find the right college and we as parents will simply guide her and serve as her sounding board.

We’ll let you know how that works out.

I know that we have plenty of time before she has to decide where to apply and in part we can’t begin to look at schools until we know how her sophomore year and first semester junior year grades will look.  Those grades, more than anything, will help to determine choices.

Times have changed a lot since my husband and I applied to colleges.  Back then, fewer parents took such an active role in helping their children apply to colleges.  We had only just arrived in this country a few years earlier and so my parents didn’t know too much about all the available choices.  But everyone knew about the Ivies, Stanford and MIT.  So the understanding was, if I could get into an Ivy League school, preferably one that was close to home, I would go.  There was never any discussion about what schools would suit me, my personality, my interests.  Questions like, would I thrive in a bigger school or a smaller one, in a city versus a rural campus, never even occurred to us.

Of course the competition to get into the top name schools has increased manifold in the last three decades.  Just this year Harvard College received over 30,000 applications and its admission rate dropped to less than 7%.  So now more than ever, we need to focus on finding the right fit for our daughter and less on chasing after the big names.

We’ll let you know how that works out too.

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