This week, sophomore Renée reflects on how being assigned to a single dorm room in freshman year – something she was worried about at first – motivated her to go beyond her comfort zone and shaped who she is today.

By Renée Girard ’20, Government major, Law & Society and Public Policy double minor

My first year room in Balch Hall.

I am confident that Cornell has fostered my growth as an individual and will continue to contribute to my development as a lifelong learner in the years to come. Coming from San Francisco without any of my fellow high school graduates, I was apprehensive when I was assigned to a single dorm room. Looking back, it was this very room assignment that gave me invaluable skills that have shaped who I am today. When I moved in, I was motivated to go beyond my comfort zone and maximize my experience as a student.

I quickly learned that Cornell attracts students who are dedicated to their studies, and this commonality allowed me to connect with my dorm-mates regardless of our majors. Although I am studying government, I became very close with a girl in my hall, a fashion management major from Vietnam. We bonded over passions for our future endeavors, and enjoyed working together and comparing our fields of study. My assignment to a single dorm gave me the opportunity to go beyond my comfort zone, pushing me to reach out to peers in my classes, my dorm, and extracurricular activities. I joined Cornell’s Pre-Government Fraternity and the Society for Women in Politics, and subsequently befriended students from around the world that I could learn from and relate to. I even found friends in my dorm who were as passionate about skiing as I am, and we broke out our skis during Cornell’s snow day to ski behind our favorite dining hall.

Skiing with my friends during Cornell’s first snow day in over 20 years!

During my first year as a Cornellian, I developed the skills to be proactive in connecting with those who share my passions, which gave me the confidence to pursue an internship in a field I was curious about. This past summer, I had the opportunity to work at a law firm that specializes in gender discrimination, an issue I had developed an interest for after interacting with other students and their experiences in my career-oriented clubs. I am grateful for the skills that Cornell has given me thus far, and I am confident that I will continue to develop over the next three years!

Embracing My Heritage at Cornell

This week, sophomore Dean discusses how Arts and Sciences’ language requirement and Asian Studies department helped him explore his heritage and culture as a Korean American. 

By Dean Kim ’20, Chemistry major, East Asian Studies minor

My KOREA 1102 (Elementary Korean II) section from Spring 2017 semester, posing for a group photo after discussion. We had just learned about ordering food at restaurants!

Looking back to just over a year ago when I arrived at Cornell, it is hard to imagine that I am the same person now as I was then. To think that the very same person, who, one year ago, went to Uris Library instead of Uris Hall for a Korean class and shyly asked the librarian where to go, is now an extroverted sophomore declaring a major and a minor is astounding. Cornell has positively changed me in too many ways to count, from making me more independent and responsible, to helping me discover new interests and hobbies.


Before coming to Cornell, I did not know a lick of Korean and needed to enroll in the non-heritage Korean course because I had no speaking or listening ability whatsoever. Regardless, I decided to take Korean to fulfill my language requirement and also to impress my parents by speaking to them in Korean the next time I went home.

From left to right: Isaac, Kim seonsaengnim (teacher), and me after the end-of-semester Korean Language Program Showcase.

This was one of the best choices I have made since coming to Cornell. 송 선생님 (Teacher Song) and 김 선생님 (Teacher Kim) were both so engaging that I never felt bored in class. In fact, I could not get enough of Korean and frequently attended both of their office hours, reviewing materials from class and simply attempting crude conversations in Korean. From these two semesters, I gained so much more than the ability to speak Korean, 12 credits, and a fulfilled language requirement. I made friends and memories, learned about my culture and heritage, and set the foundation for pursuing an East Asian Studies minor.

My KASA gajok (family) from last year dressing up as farmers and farm animals for Halloween. (Robin the Gorilla didn’t get the memo.)

In addition to taking Korean classes, I joined the Korean American Student Association (KASA) last year as a little and was matched with a gajok (family). My gajok supported me through thick and thin, and we had a great time hanging out over the year. I made great memories, learned about Korean pop culture, and grew less shy. Even now, we still hang out to catch up on what we are doing in our lives. This year, I am a big with my fellow co-littles from last year. I hope that I can provide my littles this year the same wonderful experience I had as a freshman, and help them learn about their culture in as many ways as I can – from gajok dinners at Korean restaurants in CollegeTown to 노래방 (Korean Karaoke) events! In just a year, Cornell has changed me a lot and has allowed me to learn about my Korean heritage and embrace my culture. 한국어를 사랑해! (I love Korean!)

Creating My Own Identity Amidst Cornell’s Diversity

This week, junior Jady looks back at her time at Cornell thus far, and shares how she was able to make the vast campus her own through classes, clubs, and friends. 

By Jady Wei ’19, Economics and Government double major, Law & Society minor

Me and my friends at our very first Cornell basketball game, celebrating the start of second semester freshman year.

I can still remember walking into my very first class at Cornell as a freshman. It was at 9:05 a.m. on a Tuesday, all the way at the Statler Hotel, which back then, seemed like the farthest trek to ever be endured. Of course, my overly-excited freshman self made certain to set the alarm hours ahead so that I would have ample time to wake up, get ready, grab breakfast, and navigate through all the slopes and hills. Soon, as the auditorium began to fill up, I became more aware of my surroundings — the class was huge, the lecture hall packed, and the number of students easily exceeded a couple hundred. It was an introductory economics course, which I later learned, would explain the class size. Little did I know that this experience would play a significant role in defining my time at Cornell.

My project team for Social Business Consulting, a business organization I am involved in on campus!

Now as a junior, I realize that one of the most important things I have learned at Cornell is to find my own identity and voice in an institution with a considerable student population, a large breadth of focuses, and a wide array of classes. As a Resident Advisor on North Campus, I often hear my freshmen residents vent about the size of Cornell and how the vast spectrum of resources Cornell offers can be overwhelming and challenging. However, that is the essence of Cornell’s significance — the opportunity to challenge ourselves to navigate amidst the abundance of resources, and carve our own experiences the way we want to define our college narrative. Overwhelmed by the amount of resources Cornell had to offer, I joined eleven different student organizations in freshman year. Over time, I have consciously narrowed these down to a few key commitments, which in turn, have shaped my friend group, interests, and direction for my future.

Me and some friends during an event for one of Cornell’s pre-law societies.

In one of my final classes of freshman year, a professor read one of my favorite poems by C. P. Cavafy. One verse always lingers in my mind whenever I hear the piece: “Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey. Without her you would not have set out.” Cornell truly has so much to offer, and although the size of this campus and abundance of resources can be more anxiety-inducing than comforting at first, learning how to navigate the resources on such a vast campus and understanding the importance of creating my own identity amidst the diversity were the most valuable lessons I have learned thus far. It has challenged me to continue rediscovering myself, be open-minded, learn from those around me, and ultimately, follow a path that I know is unique to my own experiences.

Learning to Welcome and Grow Through Challenges

This month, Ambassadors will be reflecting on how Cornell has changed them compared to the first day they arrived on campus, or even to just a couple months ago. In the first post of November, senior Carlee talks about how the classes, professors, and friends she encountered over the four years have taught her to welcome challenges and to think critically. 

By Carlee Moses ’18, History and Government double major

How has Cornell changed me? That is a big question. As I begin to approach my graduation date, and reflect on my four years here at Cornell, I confidently believe that Cornell has made me a better version of the person I was four years ago. In some ways, I feel that the person who is sitting here writing this blog is exactly the same as the person who arrived in Ithaca in August of 2014. I am still a complete history nerd, I still spend the majority of my free time hanging around with friends and family, and I still get down to the same eclectic mix of pop hits, country music, and Holiday songs that I did during my senior year of high school. In other ways, however, I could not be more different. I have spent the past four years on a campus that I believe is defined by the diversity and intensity of its students’ passions, I have surrounded myself with an incredible group of friends who encourage me to be unapologetically myself and inspire me on a daily basis, and I have done things that I did not know I was capable of four years ago. Through Cornell, I have sharpened and deepened my passions, and learned to seek out and embrace challenges that present themselves to me.

Me and my freshman year roommates on the first year Move-in Day.

When I applied to Cornell, I applied to the College of Arts and Sciences as an anticipated history major. History was the class in high school that I enjoyed the most, and it didn’t hurt that the subject typically came pretty easily to me. The study of history at Cornell, however, was unlike anything I had experienced before. At Cornell, history was challenging. My classes dive much deeper into historical events and figures, and instead of letting us to blindly accept the claims made by historians and textbooks, my professors encourage me to question everything and to form my own conclusions. I have only become more interested in history through my time at Cornell. Cornell has helped me turn my fascination with the people who have influenced and whose decisions have impacted the major events of history, into my passion.

Me and a few Cornell friends pose in front of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain during our study abroad.

A few months ago, I attended a panel of several young Teach for America alumni. One of the alums shared a piece of wisdom that was imparted on him during the trying times of his first year of teaching: “If you aren’t being challenged, you aren’t growing.” After hearing this, I realized that the statement describes my time at Cornell. Cornell has been filled with challenges. Whether it was fighting through Professor Fontaine’s Intermediate Latin Class, struggling to attain an internship that aligned closely with my passions, or deciding to leave the campus that had become comfortable to study abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark for a semester, Cornell has been a challenging place. However, it is through these challenges – and through overcoming them – that I have become the person who I am today. I realized after hearing this token of wisdom that embracing the challenges that have been thrown my way during my time at Cornell, although difficult, was what allowed me to grow. Cornell has taught me not only to embrace challenges in life, but also to actively seek them out.

Me and my best friends standing in front of our eighteen person (!) home on our final Homecoming as undergraduates at Cornell.

Cornell has played a very large role in the formation of my current self. While so many things about me resemble the person I was four years ago, Cornell has bettered everything that makes me ‘me.’ Cornell has made me smarter, more passionate, and more driven. Cornell has helped me realize, and have confidence in the fact, that I have a voice, and that it is important to speak up and use this voice when I witness injustice in this world. I hope that I continue to be hungry for challenges, and to seek out challenges as I depart the campus this May. I know that I must do this in order to keep growing. In coming years, I hope that I seek out challenges that result in impacting our world in a way that leaves it a better place than how I found it. Cornell has given me the foundation and the skills – and most importantly, the greatest support system of friends – to do this.

Why Walk When You Can Dance?

In our last post of the month, sophomore Shoshana takes us for a stroll across Europe, where she spent the summer studying Psychoanalysis and Art, and traveling.

By Shoshana Swell ’20, Performing & Media Arts and Psychology double major

This summer, I travelled to Prague, Czech Republic to take a class about Psychoanalysis and Art (not to become a prima-ballerina). Halfway through my trip, I had dozens of photos just of me smiling and wanted a new way to remember the trip. So, I decided to dance! Each scene highlights a magical moment in my travels abroad. In addition to a month spent in Prague, I travelled to Hungary, France, and Croatia.

This summer was all about putting myself into unfamiliar situations. Once the last final exam of my freshman year ended, I packed up my dorm and flew out to Prague two days later. I immersed myself into a new culture, found a new family of friends, and everything became clearer. Living abroad is one of the most magical experiences I have ever had.

I spent my mornings studying the untold stories of the psychoanalytic perspective in Psychology and how they weave into the creation of art. On the weekend, I travelled to Croatia and chased peacocks around on an island.

Europe gave me more than what I could have asked for. Here are just a few moves to show you how groovy it was (so cringey, so punny?).


A post shared by Shoshana Swell (@shoshanaswell) on


A Very Spanish Summer: Interning at the U.S. Consulate General in Barcelona

This week, senior Hadassa shares with us how she spent her summer interning at the U.S. Consulate General in Barcelona, an experience that complemented her studies in Government and International Relations.

By Hadassa Jakher ’18, Government and Spanish double major, International Relations and Law & Society double minor

My first day at the U.S. Consulate General in Barcelona.

I had the incredible experience of spending my past summer interning with the U.S. State Department at the Consulate General in Barcelona. I worked in the Political/Economic Section of the Consulate. I prepared analyses and reports concerning the political and economic developments of the autonomous regions of Catalonia and Aragon, as well as the Principality of Andorra.

This was an exciting time to follow the political situation of Spain, and in particular, Catalonia. That summer, the autonomous community was in the midst of planning to hold a unilateral referendum on independence from Spain, despite the central government in Madrid declaring such a referendum unconstitutional. (On October 1, Catalonia attempted to carry out their referendum, which was met by opposition from the Spanish state). Working with the Political/Economic Section allowed me to see American foreign policies applied firsthand, a wonderful complement to my studies as a Government major and International Relations minor.

Decorations for the annual 4th of July Celebration and 25th anniversary of Barcelona hosting the Olympics.

I also had the opportunity to participate in the Consulate General’s annual 4th of July celebration. This event coincided with the 25th anniversary of Barcelona hosting the 1992 Olympics, with various Andorran and Catalan government officials and Olympian athletes in attendance. Because of my high proficiency in both Spanish and Catalan, I was entrusted with escorting the VIPs and presenting them to the Consul General. It was a great experience to have been able to speak to the attendees, especially to members of the Catalan Parliament, the Catalan Regional President, and the Syndicate General of the Andorran Parliament.

Me (left) presenting the Syndicate General of the Andorran Parliament, Vincenç Mateu Zamora (middle), to U.S. Consul General Marcos Mandojana and his wife (right) during the 4th of July Celebration.

Interning at the Consulate General in Barcelona was a fantastic way to spend my summer as I learned a lot about Spain and the U.S. Not only was I able to cement my interest in the U.S. Foreign Service, but I also had the opportunity to do so in the beautiful Catalan capital of Barcelona.

How to Complete Distribution Requirements While Watching Music Videos

Writing on the theme of “Easing Back into Classes,” junior Sheyla tells us about an exciting class on Beyoncé, intersectional identity, and feminism. 

By Sheyla Finkner ’19, Biology and Society major

We had a professional photographer take our class photo to send as a birthday card to Beyoncé!

It is a typical Tuesday morning. I walk from my ethics class to a lecture hall on the arts quad, sit down, and pull out my laptop. A few minutes later, my professor walks in and begins playing several Beyoncé music videos over the projector onto the big screen. Our class begins dancing and singing along. After a few videos, the professor begins lecturing and leads a class discussion. As the end of the hour approaches, we hand in our essays, pack up, and head out. This is just an average day in class.

Cross-listed in American Studies, Africana Studies and Research Center, English, and Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Departments, my class is better known on campus as “Beyoncé Nation.” Taught by Professor Riché Richardson, “Beyoncé Nation” addresses highly important and relevant topics, such as intersectional identity and intersectional feminism, and creates a space for open dialogue. However, rather than lecturing about such topics, Professor Richardson takes a different approach –  teaching through the example of Beyoncé. By watching Beyoncé music videos and reading biographies and other literature written on Queen Bey, we are able to discuss such important issues and see how she has influenced the conversations around these topics. Let’s face it – we are all a little more excited to attend lecture and learn when it is centered on one of the most iconic celebrities of – dare I say – the century.

Professor Richardson created a syllabus that does double duty as a research guide!

Not only is this class fun, informative, and important, but it also completes a distribution requirement! This course fulfills the Literature and the Arts category for Arts and Sciences distribution requirements. While the thought of completing distribution requirements may seem daunting, classes such as “Beyoncé Nation” make it fun and manageable. In addition, there are no core or required classes in Arts and Sciences, so you get to choose what class you want to fill each category with! If “Beyoncé Nation” is not your cup of tea, you can choose from hundreds of other classes that do interest you instead. Distribution requirements are a nice way of taking a step back from your normal coursework and learning about a new topic. Personally, many of my favorite classes at Cornell were those I took because of distribution requirements.

As I go through my days filled with biochemistry and ethics, I can always look forward to going to “Beyoncé Nation” to watch some great music videos, learn about the impact of a pop star, and complete a distribution requirement for graduation while I am at it!

Summer in Tanzania

Continuing on with the theme of “Summer Adventures,” senior Shanna tells us about how she spent this past summer in Singida, Tanzania conducting global health research.

By Shanna Smith ’18, Biological Sciences and French double major

One of the most interesting experiences of my life was participating in global health research in Singida, Tanzania this past summer. I have been working on the Singida Nutrition and Agroecology Project (SNAP) since Spring 2016. SNAP is an agroecological intervention-based project that also focuses on nutrition and gender equality education to address household food insecurity and the high stunting rate among children in rural villages of Singida. This past summer, I got to see my research come to life as I visited our ten intervention villages to lead semi-structured interviews and partake in participatory validation of graph data. I also played a role in mother and child anthropometric measurements and data entry quality control.

Women in Singida, Tanzania walk to the village SNAP meeting.

One of my favorite aspects of field research was getting to meet our participants. I got to not only hear about their lives but also see their lifestyle. Before this summer, I had never had the opportunity to witness or be immersed in a non-Western culture. I came out of the summer gaining an appreciation and much greater understanding of customs and cultures that are different from those of America. Many of our participant interviews took place in subjects’ homes and occasionally while the participant was doing housework. Also, at the end of my first village visit involving a village-wide meeting of SNAP participants, everyone broke into song and dance. Dancing along with them was an experience I will never forget. I really admired the idea of community in Singida. We had a team of Tanzanians helping us with transcription and translation that I got to know at a personal level at the office every day. If one of our staff members was home sick, we would visit him or her and bring a small gift.

I have always praised Cornell for the extensive research opportunities given to students. For instance, there is a research database on the Office of Undergraduate Biology website that lists professors and details their research, making it relatively easy to learn about and get involved in academic research taking place on campus. Cornell also provides research opportunities that do not involve joining a research group. While I decided to continue the research I had been working on for a couple years, there are many global health abroad programs – both summer- and semester-long – that students can participate in through Cornell to gain valuable fieldwork experience.

Overall, I am really grateful for this amazing opportunity and will remember the fieldwork I conducted, the Tanzanian staff I worked with, and the memories I created during my stay for the rest of my life.

Easing into Junior Year: New Year, New Me with a Clearer Path

This week, junior Emma Bryan talks about how the flexibility of the Arts and Sciences curriculum helped her discover her passion for French and reconfirm her interest in Economics, setting her up for an exciting junior year.

By: Emma Bryan ’19, French and Economics double major

Here I am ready to start my junior year while picking apples that are fortuitously ready today with friends at Indian Creek Farm!

After spending the summer in Ithaca, August finally rolled around, and I couldn’t wait for people to come back to campus so that I could start my junior year with my peers by my side. Ithaca in the summer is amazing, but there aren’t as many people as there are during the year, and I was ready for campus to become livelier. There were many aspects of life at Cornell that I was eager to resume—eating Cornell Dairy ice cream, enjoying bubble tea with my friends in Collegetown, marveling at how the song on the clock tower always seems to fit my exact mood—but above all else, I was ready to dive back into a year of academic challenges and the pursuit of further knowledge in my second-to-last year at this esteemed university.

For my first two years in the College of Arts and Sciences, I had no set plan of what I wanted to accomplish academically. Freshman year, I came to campus saying that I was going to double major in Computer Science and Economics; however, I took CS1110 (Introduction to Python) and quickly realized that my home at this large university was not going to be in the Department of Computer Science. At the same time, I took a French class to satisfy the language requirement, and I was so intrigued by FREN2320 (Introduction to Francophone Culture and Film) that I decided to veer off of my more computational path and dabble in the Romance Studies Department. I continued taking French courses, and two years later, here I am with a declared French major. First semester freshman me wasn’t completely wrong though! The interest in Economics stuck, and after passing all of the required major core classes and realizing that I truly am passionate about Economics, I refuse to let go of that half of my initial plan.

Though my first two years of academic exploration were a blast, it is so comforting to now come back to campus and have a clearer path and individual major advisors who are able to give me guidance as I navigate my final years at this university. I remember picking courses as a freshman the summer before I came to campus, and I’d be lying if I said the process wasn’t a bit overwhelming. I felt as though I were blindly choosing classes, knowing that there were over two thousand courses offered every semester and I was going to be taking only four or five of them. What if I chose the wrong courses? What if I didn’t know what I wanted to study? What if I wasted my time taking classes that had nothing to do with my ultimate path? To put it bluntly, in the kindest way possible, the answer to each of those questions is a simple, “it doesn’t matter.”

This is a picture of me enjoying Ithaca in the summer! I took a hike with some pals at Buttermilk Falls State Park.

First, there’s an add-drop period built into the beginning of the school year, so if you decide that the classes that you signed up for are absolutely not what you’re interested in taking, you’re able to drop those classes and add others. Additionally, if you’re interested in a class but do not foresee it being something that you’re going to major in, you have the option to take it S/U (satisfactory/unsatisfactory) so that so long as you pass the class, the credits count, and the overall grade will not factor into your GPA. After realizing that Python was not for me, I switched it to S/U, which took a lot of pressure off, and I was able to enjoy learning for the sake of learning rather than worrying about my GPA.

What I love about Arts is the fact that cross-field curiosity is encouraged, and earlier in my college career, I took advantage of this by taking classes that have nothing to do with my majors, which assured me that I am confident in the direction I have since chosen. You are not required to declare your major until second semester of your sophomore year, and after that, it is very possible to change majors. I’ve taken a wide range of classes in other departments, such as Government, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, and Cognitive Science, yet I’ve made enough progress on both of my majors to potentially graduate early. Now that I have a set path, I find myself increasingly excited to choose my classes, and as I have grown and spent more time on this campus, I feel that I have really gotten the hang of things.

Interning in London

Happy October! This month, we will be focusing on two themes, “Easing Back into Classes” and “Summer Adventures.” In the first post of the semester, senior Solveig shares with us her experience interning in London this past summer. 

By: Solveig van der Vegt ’18, Biological Sciences

I went on a day trip to Oxford with my cousin and visited the botanic gardens there.

About halfway through the Spring 2017 semester, I was starting to panic a little because I had not yet found an internship for the summer. Most deadlines for applications had passed by that time and it was hard to find anything in the U.S., especially as an international student. While googling opportunities, I came across the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program at the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences, which is affiliated with Imperial College London. This ended up being the luckiest thing that happened to me all semester!

My family came to visit me and we walked across the roof of the O2 arena, which gave amazing views!

The past summer in London has been one of the most exciting internships I have done so far. The research group that I was in, Behavioural Genomics, was very welcoming and I learned a lot throughout my time there. I got experience working with worms, which I had never done before, and I got to try my hand at computational biology, which was very exciting because that is what I want to study in graduate school. Moreover, I had the chance to talk to many PhD students and postdocs, which was incredibly helpful as I am applying to graduate school this semester.

I stayed in Camden, which has the most amazing market over the weekend with all the best food you can dream of.

Besides an amazing research experience, I was lucky enough to have the time to explore London! I had been to the city a few times before because I have family there, so I could avoid all the more touristy bits and just explore all the different markets and lesser known museums around town. I also got to meet some incredible people in my lab who took me out to bars and restaurants. I am still in touch with some of the people from my lab and I hope to return to London some time soon to see them again. All in all, not a bad summer!