Winter Break in Peru: The Chance of a Lifetime

By: Matthew Donnelly ’18

IMG_1496One of the greatest aspects of Cornell as an institution, in my opinion, is the number of doors an education like mine can open. Having recently decided to declare Spanish as my second major in addition to Biology, I was eager to find opportunities to practice the language with native speakers. After talking with some friends, one of whom is Peruvian, we decided that over winter break we would embark on a journey to Peru to experience the culture that I had come to love through my courses here at Cornell. Weeks passed, the trip was planned, and before I knew it I was on the plane traveling to a country I had been waiting to visit for years.

Upon arrival, I was immediately thankful to Cornell, not only for introducing me to some of my best friends who made the trip possible, but also for endowing me with the skills necessary to communicate with a new group of people. After completing three Spanish courses here, I felt more than prepared to converse with people in the country. Whether it was the tour guide on our trip to Ollantaytambo, an Incan archeological site near Cuzco; the store owner who I was forced to haggle with to purchase a souvenir; or the waiter who was more than happy to explain the local cuisine to us; I was able to meet people who had lived in Perú all their life and really experience the culture and pride that fill the country.

The trip was eye opening, not only due to the amazing places I got to see firsthand (Machu Picchu, Lima, Las islas ballestas), but because it really made me appreciate the value of my education here at Cornell. I realized that I was gaining lifelong skills, which allowed me to spend over an hour talking with an older couple from Arequipa about everything from how they met to the infamous taste of cuy (guinea pig!). Cornell gave me the opportunity to travel, the opportunity to communicate, and the opportunity to experience something I never thought I would.


Machu Picchu!

GOVT 3434: Chinese Empire and the Cambodian Experience

By: Austin McLaughlin ’18

Arriving back in chilly, cloudy Ithaca for the spring semester was in stark contrast to the 95-degree sunny days in Cambodia. Altogether, I spent 14 days in Siem Reap and 5 in Phnom Penh. I didn’t get a tan, but I did leave with an enriching experience.

Wat Damnak

The grounds of Wat Damnak, the holiest Buddhist site in Siem Reap. Our class was held there.

This is in part because GOVT 3434 was not like other classes. While the course offers a few days of in-class lecture, it was largely centered on guest speakers, field trips, and on-site lectures. Led by Professor Andrew Mertha, the course delved into questions about the relationship between China and Cambodia and brought in unique political, anthropological, and archeological perspectives in addition to the complex history between the two countries.

Austin at Angkor Wat

Me at Angkor Wat, the largest religious site in the world.

While the course mainly focused on Cambodia’s recent history, it still left room for sightseeing of the ancient temples. Notably, Cambodia is the only nation in the world to fly a flag proudly emblazoned with old ruins, and deservedly so, as Angkor Wat is the most magnificent structure I have ever laid my eyes on. The walled complex is huge for something built in the 12th century, and its stone carvings are both intricate and expansive. Later, our class toured the smiling Buddha faces at Bayon and the giant trees growing on the ruins of Ta Prohm. These temples are all representative of Cambodia’s rich cultural history, a source of pride for the country to this day.

The whole program at Angkor Wat

The whole program, alongside TC3 students, at Angkor Wat.

Of particular relevance for the course, we had the opportunity to attend the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), a tribunal to convict leaders of the Khmer Rouge. Less than 50 feet from us, through a glass pane, was Khieu Samphan, the president of Democratic Kampuchea and the man responsible for the deaths of 2 million people. Seeing his unmoving face was truly a surreal experience.

Truly, never did I think I would eat whole frogs, trek through jungles, or even get a massage. Cornell in Cambodia allowed me to try new things and opened my eyes to a different perspective on the world. Thinking about it several weeks later, I am brought back to this original question: why Cambodia?

Anlong Veng

The whole group at Pol Pot’s bunker in Anlong Veng, which is a two-hour hike through the jungle.

For me, it was about adventure. I wanted to find the edgiest possible study abroad program offered by Cornell, one that would also offer me intellectual growth. While Cambodia is not a Rome, Madrid, or Berlin study abroad, it remains a unique opportunity for personal enrichment. Before Cambodia, I had no conception of a developing country, much less how a population views and responds to a world dominated by the West. Afterward, I grew to appreciate the abundance and availability of products in the U.S. and the privileged position we live in. The winter course also remains a great option for those who don’t want to miss a full semester in Ithaca, like me, because they love being on campus.

I am very thankful for being able to go on this rewarding and transformational trip, as not only was it one of the best experiences I have had at Cornell, but also in my life. Shout-out to the Center for Khmer Studies (CKS) as well as Mr. Pheng, our facilitator, for making this trip possible.

Why I Love Cornell: The Magic of the Arts Quad

Welcome back! As our Ithaca campus comes alive again for the spring semester, we here at the Arts & Sciences blog will begin posting weekly material once again. Good luck to all the seniors who recently submitted applications – as you wait for college decisions, enjoy senior Maddy Finkelstein’s post about the beauty of Cornell’s campus – even in the winter! 

By: Maddy Finkelstein ’16

As the new semester begins, I’m reminded again and again of how picturesque Cornell’s campus is.

As a Government and French double major, I basically live on the Arts Quad. I eat my meals at Temple of Zeus in Goldwin Smith, I spend hours in the stacks of Olin Library, and I’m constantly visiting my advisors in White Hall and Morrill Hall – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Cornell is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, but it’s not just about the aesthetic beauty of the physical buildings themselves. For me, it’s the sense of history that accompanies it. I love walking on a campus that I know has been here for one hundred and fifty years. It makes me take pride in my university especially when it comes to the Arts Quad, which housed Cornell’s first buildings back in the 19th century.

Arts Quad

A snowy view up Libe Slope at McGraw Hall and Morrill Hall overlooking the Arts Quad.

While the new buildings like Arts and Sciences’ own Klarman Hall are nice, there’s just something magical about having class in McGraw Hall and imagining what it was like to be sitting in that same classroom a century ago.

At the end of the day, getting to leave my own small mark on the large history of Cornell is worth the sometimes-unpredictable weather and the hours spent in the library. Just one glimpse out the windows of Olin’s 7th floor reminds me how lucky I am to go to such a beautiful school.

Happy Holidays from the Arts & Sciences Ambassadors!

Here at the blog, we’ll be taking a break to spend time with family and enjoy the spirit of the season. From all of us with the Arts & Sciences Ambassadors, happy holidays and good luck to all high school seniors submitting college applications!

Thanks so much for reading our blog and stay tuned for new material from Arts & Sciences students in early January!

The Physics Family

By: Sarah Marie Bruno ’16

Cornell is a big school. When I arrived on campus as a freshman, I had no idea how I would possibly decide where to eat dinner, let alone what to study. Over time, though, I’ve found my niche here, and this big school has started to feel like a much smaller community.

holiday party

Celebrating the holidays with the physics family!

There are many places to find this small community. You can find it in your dorm hall, your freshman writing seminar, an a cappella group or a sports team, just to name a few. What I didn’t expect as a freshman was the incredible sense of warmth I would soon find at Cornell. (Cue the weather jokes—really, the winters aren’t that bad). I immediately felt welcomed by my peers, by upperclassmen, and by professors who were all eager to share their small slice of Cornell with me.

Some members of the physics department present a hilarious skit for the holidays!

Some members of the physics department present a hilarious skit for the holidays!

In particular, I found my home in the physics department. My major in physics has given me a group of friends I can truly call my second family. The incredible sense of community is not limited to the undergraduate population—professors are approachable and friendly, graduate students make themselves available to offer advice and answer questions, and everyone in the department would be thrilled to discuss their research for hours (myself included). My research group (I work in cosmology) is more than just a group of people who work together. Everyone supports each other in their extracurricular activities, from cheering at soccer matches to attending concerts.

celebrating Halloween physics style

Cooking up some physics magic for Halloween!

h pic 3The Society of Physics Students also fosters a sense of community among physicists, hosting events to connect undergrads with grad students and professors. We even celebrated Halloween in the style of physics.

The department celebrates the winter holidays, too, in our special style, complete with physics-themed carols, physics bingo, a delicious potluck, and hilarious skits.


Physics Bingo!

It’s exciting to be surrounded by people who are so happy to be doing exactly what they are doing, whether that is physics or work in another field of study. I have found that people who enjoy their work always find ways to celebrate that work and share it with others. I know this type of community does not exist everywhere, and I feel very fortunate to be a part of the physics department at Cornell.

Spotlight on: Carl Becker House

By: Madeline Cohen ’18

As a sophomore this year, I live on West Campus. West Campus consists of five houses, each named after a Cornell professor who has impacted the Cornell community and the world as well. I live in Carl Becker House, which is named after a famous Cornell historian. I am fortunate to live in this newly renovated house, which is a wonderful place to come home to after a long day of classes.

The goal of the West Campus founders was to create an intellectual community where graduate students, undergraduates, and faculty can come together to interact with one another.

I love living on West Campus, and here are five reasons why:

Becker House library

Carl Becker House library

1. Each dorm has its own study areas:

There is nothing better than going downstairs to the library or one of the many study alcoves that exist in Becker House, especially when it’s cold out. Whether I want to be in our library surrounded by students and books or in a private study space, options abound.

2. Professors and alumni come to talk in Becker House:

We don’t have to leave our dorm to interact with professors or hear their perspectives on some of the biggest issues affecting our world. For example, Professor Maria Cristina Garcia and Professor Holly Case recently led an interesting and informative discussion about the current refugee crises in Europe and the Middle East.

3. As students, we get to create our own fun events for the House:

From Halloween parties to pie-making socials, students organize the events in Becker House. Each Sunday night, all interested students come together to plan events to bring members of the Becker House community together.

Pie-making social

Some friends and I hang out at the pie-making social. I’m on the far right!

4. We have dinners as a House each Wednesday night:

Wednesday nights are particularly great experiences – every week, the tables are covered with tablecloths and each place setting gets its own cloth napkin and silverware for that night’s special dinner. Although dinner at Becker House includes a wide array of food options every night — from Italian night to Asian night — there is always something extra special when our faculty fellows and residents come together for “House Dinner.”   The food is always wonderful – recently we had chocolate fondue for dessert!

5. The walk to and from classes is beautiful!

The walk up and down Libe Slope, even though it’s sometimes challenging, is one of my favorite parts of being a student. It is invigorating and leaves me energized when I arrive at class.  Also, the view walking down the slope in the afternoon is breathtaking (check out Dylan Van Duyne’s October post for a wonderful picture of the sun setting over the Slope and West Campus!).

Living and Learning in the Japanese Language House

As the holidays approach and we close out the semester here at Cornell, and as prospective high school seniors put the finishing touches on their college applications, we thought it would be nice to focus on the things we love most about Cornell. This first post is from sophomore Jendayi Brooks-Flemister, who writes about her experience living in the Japanese Language House on West Campus. Enjoy and happy holidays!

By: Jendayi Brooks-Flemister ’18

Konnichiwa to all the prospective Cornellians and parents! I’m currently a first-year resident in Cornell’s very own Japanese Language House! At Cornell, those who want to improve their language skills in the language of their interest can live in the Language House, located in Boldt Hall on West Campus. It’s such a great opportunity to learn languages because—surprise!—you can only speak the language you’re studying in the Language House. It may seem scary at first, but the Language House is an excellent opportunity to get practice speaking something other than English. Currently, the Language House has Spanish, German, French, Japanese, and Mandarin, and if enough people are interested, other languages can pop up as well.

Japanese group

The Japanese crew – I’m on the right, in the grey Cornell hoodie!

This year there are seven of us in the Japanese section, plus our native speaker, Genki Takahashi. Genki is currently a grad student, but even with his busy schedule, we manage to have a great time in the LH.

Each week we meet four times for dinner and once for a conversation hour. During these times, we only speak Japanese (though we may occasionally use English to convey certain expressions). Our conversation hours incorporate lots of different activities. One week, we walked to the Cornell Plantations so Genki could sketch for one of his projects, but on the way we learned a lot of words for animals and plants. At Ithaca’s annual Apple Fest (the most exciting part of fall semester, honestly), we got awesome food and wandered around the Commons. JLH3We’ve also done karaoke – my Japanese is nowhere near as good as some others’ in the program, so the last time we had karaoke night, I settled for singing in English with Julie (sophomore, and the only other girl this year). The final song of the night was a beautiful rendition of Genki and Denis (junior) singing “Never Gonna Give You Up.” I 10/10 would recommend them for American Idol.

During the first weekend of November, Genki decided to throw a nabe party with Japanese students from neighboring colleges. Nabe is a tradition Japanese hot pot of vegetables, meat, tofu, and delicious broth for cold nights. Julie and I spent a lot of time watching the Japanese students cook.  JLH4During one of our conversations, they told us that if they didn’t look at us, we sounded Japanese. We were so amazed and excited to realize how much the Japanese Language House has already been improving our speaking skills! Once the nabe was finished, we all dug in. It was so delicious! It was my first time having traditionally cooked Japanese food. After dinner, we all got on Andy’s WiiU and did karaoke for hours (the Japanese absolutely love karaoke). It was really cool to see how similar our cultures are, yet still so different. JLH5 They were all going crazy over singing different songs, and Julie and I even did a duet! I still didn’t sing in Japanese, but one of the songs Julie did was definitely familiar, so I read along (poorly).

For Thanksgiving break, I wanted to make a great American-style meal for us, since nearly all of us stayed for the break. Julie, Denis, Genki, and I ended up making turkey breast, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes and gravy, a cranberry and walnut salad, and baked ziti. Julie attempted to make apple roses, but we didn’t exactly follow the instructions…they still tasted amazing, though! It was a great time to bond for all of us, and Genki taught us some Japanese measurements in the process. JLH6

JLH7 Haruka, Julie, and Denis

Haruka, Julie, and Denis

We really do have an wonderful time in the Japanese Language House. We’ve all become so close, and nearly all of us are returning for next year. I can speak especially for myself when I say that I have become much more confident in my speaking skills (and my Japanese oral exam proved it, too!). So, if any of you prospective Cornellians out there are interested in learning a new language, and maybe even learning it full time, I highly recommend Cornell for its languages and the Language House. It truly is a one-of-a-kind experience.

Study Abroad: Havana, Cuba

We close out November with a post from junior Maya Golliday, who is studying abroad in Cuba. She provides an exciting perspective on academics and student life outside of Cornell’s campus in Ithaca, NY. Enjoy!

By: Maya Golliday ’17

What’s good, prospective students and parents!? I am currently almost finished with my semester abroad in the beautiful “La Habana” and would love to tell you a little bit about my experience thus far.Maya

I guess I’ll hit the ground running and start with why I chose Cuba (and also how I’m able to study in Cuba given the history the US has had with Cuba and restrictions on travel). As we know, the Obama administration has made efforts to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba and in doing so, restrictions on travel to the country have been lessened. Americans are able to get licenses to travel to Cuba for very specific purposes and studying abroad or “educational activities” is one of the permitted occasions for travel.

Plaza de la Revolución

Plaza de la Revolución

I chose Cuba specifically because out of all the countries that Cornell Abroad offers, the Cornell in Cuba: CASA Consortium program seemed to fit perfectly with my interests and passions. As a government major, I study international relations and comparative politics; given the political history of the two countries and President Obama’s recent efforts to normalize relations, Cuba could not have been a more attractive country to spend my fall semester abroad in. I am also a Spanish major and Latin American studies minor, so my time here is providing me with an opportunity to better my Spanish and broaden my knowledge about another Latin American country.

The first week or two in Cuba felt like an eternity because so many things had to be taken care of. First on the agenda was to introduce us to our host families and get settled in to our “casas particulares” (home stays). The “casa” that I was placed in is an awesome apartment near the “malecón” with incredible views of the ocean. I eat breakfast and dinner every night with other students from the program in this apartment complex.

the view

The view from my “casa particular” of the ocean and the city of Havana.

Next on the agenda of things to accomplish was picking classes. The CASA consortium program gives us the option to take classes at Casa De Las Americas (CDLA) (a research institute in Havana) or the University of Havana (U.H). I, as did many of my peers, chose to take classes in both. CDLA and UH both have a shopping period where students can sit in on classes and see which ones they would like to take (very similar to Cornell’s add/drop period), so I spent my first two weeks attending multiple classes and talking with professors to finalize my schedule for the semester.

After a couple of weeks, things slowed down and we all settled into some sort of groove and were able to start venturing out on our own to figure out our social lives here in Cuba. Our program funds many group activities/trips on the weekends (such as bike rides, beach excursions, weekend-long trips to other parts of the island, etc.), but when we do have downtime, my friends and I love to just stay in Havana and find things to do on our own.

Beach day

Beach day with the entire program.

Havana is an invigorating city because there is always something going on and you can always find something to do. Almost every couple of weeks there is a new cultural/arts festival and on any night you can find a plethora of musical concerts, theatre performances, or dancing events. And for those chill nights where you just feel like sitting and talking with friends… the “malecón” seems to be the local favorite! On this rocky barrier that rests against the ocean and borders the entire city to the north, you can find families, teens, and everyone in between chatting, dancing, or listening to music. To me, this spot is the heart of Havana.

My friends and I have found ourselves spending a lot of our free time taking dance classes. I compete for Cornell’s Varsity Track and Field team back in Ithaca, so to stay active (and because you can’t come to Cuba and leave without becoming a “salsera”) I’ve been a Salsa class regular.

All in all, though, I’ve been enjoying my time here in Havana. There is no doubt in my mind that my decision to study abroad was the best decision I’ve made at Cornell and I am so lucky to have found a program that is such a great fit for me!

CHEM 3570: Organic Chemistry

By Shanna Smith ’18

My friends from other schools think I’m crazy when I say the best class I’ve ever taken is organic chemistry. Across the country, organic chemistry has been characterized by its “terrifyingly difficult” reputation, and generally feared by all students who know this infamous course is in their near future. I was also afraid when I entered lecture for the first day; however, my worries were immediately squashed in the first 15 minutes of class. My professor, William Dichtel, stood in front of the class and declared his love for organic chemistry, stating his seemingly-ambitious goal: by the end of the semester every single one of us would love organic chemistry as well. People generally dislike organic chemistry for its difficulty level; the subject matter alone is quite hard, and adding ambiguous lectures and unclear exam questions to the mix makes it virtually impossible to understand. While I can’t speak for the rest of my class, he definitely won me over.

orgo textbook

My orgo textbook (and a furry friend)!

Almost every day, Professor Dichtel – or his co-teacher, Professor Bruce Ganem – gives us examples as to why organic chemistry is so important. During many lectures, Professor Dichtel and Professor Ganem have a “Molecule of the Day” segment in which they show commonly-used organic molecules that many of us never knew involved organic chemistry. I had never before thought an organic molecule was responsible for the smell of oranges or understood why our tongues can distinguish between two molecules of the same molecular formula and same atomic connectivity. The professors make sure to state everything clearly in a non-arbitrary way, so as to prevent unnecessary confusion. Office hours are provided by both the professors and teaching assistants on a daily basis – for most hours of the day! – to make sure that everyone who is confused gets the help they need. Yes, the class is difficult, but only because the content is tricky. The lectures are interactive, exciting, and comprehensible. As a result, we are able to solve higher-level problems, contributing to our high-class organic chemistry education.

Organic chemistry is not alone; in my experience of classes at Cornell, the lecturer often goes out of his or her way to make sure everyone understands and is excited about the subject matter at hand. We then are able to solve more difficult problems and think on much higher levels, giving us the thorough education we desired when we chose Cornell University. This is one of the reasons I love Cornell; the professors here truly want their students to learn as much as possible and think as critically as possible.

Spotlight on: Palonegro

By: Braulio Castillo ’18

Coming from a Latino household on the West Coast, the move to Ithaca in upstate New York was definitely a big change for me. The transition was certainly challenging, but Cornell offers so many opportunities for students to remain in contact with their culture and feel right at home that I was quickly able to adjust.


Palonegro, a Latino music group, performed on campus on November 7th.

Two weekends ago, I was invited to a performance by a Latino group, Palonegro, on campus. The audience comprised faculty and local community members, their families and friends. Nostalgic but happy, I could not help but clap my hands and tap my feet to the beat of the music. Sergio R. Ospina, one of the musicians, directed us to dance along and participate with the performers. With such musicians that managed to engage their audience well, I fully appreciated the sense of community I felt.

The performance consisted of various bambucos, pasillos, cumbias, porros, danzones, merengue, and Latin jazz. The mix of instrumental, vocal, and even poetic pieces made for a diverse performance – I felt like I had gone back home to Tijuana, Mexico. The group even performed pieces by famous artists like Café Tacvba and Juan Luis Guerra!

After the concert I decided to learn more about the group, which consisted of grad students (among them David Miller, the graduate residence fellow at my dorm), and undergrads, though some professors like Alejandro Madrid, James Spinazzola, and Paul Merrill (the faculty in residence of my close friends’ dorm, Balch Hall) jumped in on the fun and helped the group out with their performances!

The whole crew

The whole crew together at Barnes Hall.

I got to speak to Sergio, a graduate student in musicology, and his wife Martha as they explained the program to me. A year ago they came to Cornell from Columbia and started this group spanning “traditional South American Andean styles to Afro-Caribbean music and Latin jazz”. Other students were attracted by the Latin beat prevalent in this genre and asked to participate in Palonegro. With a rhythm absent from any other music, people gravitated to it, and Palonegro has had several successful performances at Cornell and in Ithaca so far.

I am glad to know that the music that I grew up with has attracted so much attention in the United States and at Cornell (The concert hall, Barnes Hall, was full). This school offers every student many opportunities to be a part of a vibrant community, no matter your interests, background, or aspirations.