Category Archives: Student Life

My Zumba Instructor Journey: Dancing my way from California to Cornell!

In our last post of the month, senior Hadassa writes about her journey of becoming a veteran Zumba instructor at Cornell. 

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

Smiling after an intense (and sweaty!) class with my Zumba mentors at my hometown studio.

One of my all-time favorite things to do is dance! Growing up Latina, I would always be jamming out to salsa and merengue tunes with my family. So when I found out that there was a Zumba studio in my hometown in California, I was ecstatic. I fell in love with the “fitness party” atmosphere of the classes and decided to become a certified Zumba instructor. When I got to Cornell, I was excited to see that Cornell Fitness Centers hired students as group fitness instructors. I took extra PE classes at Cornell in Latin Dance and Salsa to ensure that my skills were up to par for my upcoming audition with CFC. Thanks to all of the preparation by taking classes in my hometown and refining my techniques, I aced my audition and I was hired! I began teaching my own Zumba classes the spring semester of my freshman year.


Participants rocking out at one of our Zumba classes in Noyes gym hosted by Cornell Fitness Centers.

I love my job as a Zumba instructor. Since my freshman year until now (my final year!), I have taught a diverse range of classes. The participants in my classes included both students and faculty, and I taught across different gyms – from Helen Newman to Bartels Hall to Noyes. I started teaching with some of my favorite songs that I had learned from the awesome instructors from my hometown studio. As I became more experienced, I even began to choreograph my own moves to new songs. Participating in Zumba in my hometown in California and being able to teach here at Cornell has been such a wonderful experience. In both places, there has been a great sense of community that allowed me to grow as an instructor and as a dancer. I am so grateful that I have a job where my participants come to have fun and work out, all while doing what I love – dancing!

Work, Work, Work (By Zoee D’Costa, Not Rihanna)

This week, junior Zoee shares with us what she loves about being a student tutor and a resident advisor on campus.

By Zoee D’Costa ’19, Biology & Society Major, Psychology Minor

When I came to Cornell I knew I was going to be working hard. But I didn’t know I was going to be working hard at something other than school. During my first two years at Cornell, I was a varsity athlete and was able to receive free tutoring through the athletic department in all my classes. I learned so much from these passionate student-tutors, and in my second semester, I became one. The following semester I also got hired as a Resident Advisor (RA). So my Cornell work became work, work, work.

A large poster depicting all of my 42 residents from last year was made to welcome all the students to the floor and hung in our floor lounge throughout the year. It says “High Rise 5 Floor 3’s Big Happy Family!”

Me with a sunflower I picked during our RA team-building retreat at Indian Creek Farm in August.

I love working both of my jobs on campus because much like being an Ambassador, they allow me to work directly with younger students and help them navigate all the opportunities and challenges the Cornell campus has to offer. As a tutor, I am able to help student-athletes with difficult courses of study and help them along the same path I took (as a pre-med student-athlete). This job also has allowed me to stay fresh on the subjects that I have taken at Cornell, which is very helpful for MCAT studying.

Me and some of my RA coworkers at CU Downtown, a large-scale program to introduce Ithaca to incoming freshmen during their first few weeks at Cornell.

This year, I am working as a Senior Resident Advisor (SRA) in the Mary Donlon community and through my job, I am able to work with other RAs and students, as well as serve as a supervisor in our community library. While it is a lot to juggle, I have found so many opportunities to grow from working on campus. Being an RA and having the opportunity to impact people every day has been a wonderful leadership experience for me, and allowed me to understand what it means to be responsible for people other than myself. I have gained confidence in my public speaking abilities as well as my ability to go up to new people and start a conversation (it is a lot harder than it looks, and it is something that you have to do A LOT at Cornell). The job has educated me in practical areas as well, teaching me how to remain calm in a stressful situation, how to handle medical emergencies, and how to be a good listener and friend. Being an RA has also helped me find some of my strongest interests and passions: discussing sexual misconduct and inequality in RA training propelled me to seek out organizations where I could help educate others, including Consent Ed, an organization in which I serve on the Executive Board. More than anything, it has given me the invaluable opportunity to grow into a better version of myself, learning to face challenges and be persistent.

All of the door decorations I made for the Donlon RAs this year to welcome them back to the building.

Canoeing on Beebe Lake with my residents!

I am grateful to have been given the opportunities I have during my time at Cornell, and I know that through them I’ve been able to develop into a stronger person. While balancing all of this has been somewhat stressful, I know that I am prepared to handle any of the work that the real world throws at me after college. No wonder Rihanna was complaining about all of her work, work, work – she never went to Cornell!

From an Awkward Pre-Frosh to a Confident Adult

In the last post of November, senior Sydney looks back at the many ways Cornell has surprised and changed her for the better. 

By Sydney Mann ’18, American Studies major, English minor

Me at my high school graduation in 2014.

Cornell has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. From my grandfather to my mom, and then my sister, Cornell was just always there. For that reason, I thought that I already knew everything that one needed to know about Cornell even before setting foot on campus; where to eat, what classes to take, what month the weather switches from 70 degrees to 40.

And just like any good story goes, I was wrong. I had no idea what effect Cornell would have on me because I was yet to discover myself.

My first semester freshmen year was pretty standard. I had chosen a major (English), found friends, and joined an a cappella group. It wasn’t until the second semester that things began to shift. From classes becoming harder, to friend groups changing, I started to feel lost. Sophomore year was a lot of the same; I wound up changing my major essentially ten times. I even considered switching out of Arts and Sciences.

My a cappella group, Nothing But Treble, at our Spring Concert 2017.

But then I realized, college isn’t supposed to be easy. If it were, people would never change – they would walk out of college exactly as who they entered as. In fact, the intensive courses were what made me realize that I was passionate about history, sociology, and English, to name a few. Arts and Science’s American Studies Program has provided me with an unparalleled holistic education that I am extremely grateful for.

As for friends, I never thought that the people I sing with in my a cappella group would become my people. Little did I know, they have shown me – time and time again – that people can truly change others for the better.

Some friends and I at the Intergroup Dialogue Retreat in Spring 2017.

One of my most formative experiences at Cornell has been participating in the Intergroup Dialogue Project. Never in a million years did I think that anyone (and I mean anyone) would let me co-lead a class of sixteen students. In addition to introducing me to arguably some of the best people of Cornell whom I would not have met otherwise, the project showed me that I had grown into a confident and mature woman.

So, upon reflection, I can confidently say that Cornell has changed me because it has challenged me. It has transformed me from an awkward pre-frosh into a confident adult. It has made me realize that it’s okay to not know exactly what I want to do. It has cultivated me into an independent actor and thinker who is always up for what life has to offer.

Becoming A Smarter, More Confident Self

In the final post of the month, sophomore Sylvie shares how, over just a year, she came to learn a lot about herself and grew as a person through meaningful interactions with professors and peers. 

By Sylvie Kuvin ’20, American Studies major

First day of my freshman year.

I have only been a Cornell student for a little over a year, but I already feel as though I have changed in ways I could not have predicted. Cornell has been a part of my life ever since I was little – both my grandfather and my mother speak incredibly fondly of their time spent here, and would tell me stories of Ithaca winters, late nights in Uris library, and the Dairy Bar ice cream, which is “to-die-for.”  When the time came for me to apply to college, I knew Cornell would be at the top of my list. I wanted to discover a whole new place: one that was big and beautiful, and bursting with knowledge. Cornell passed my test with flying colors, and I was absolutely ecstatic when I found out that I would be going to school here.

Posing with my mom on the first day of sophomore year.

When I arrived on campus freshman year, I was wide-eyed and timid, unsure of my every action. I did not know where to eat lunch or how to use the printer, let alone how to navigate the enormous campus. I constantly second-guessed myself and my abilities. I thought that I was definitely not smart enough to be here, and that I would not be able to do well or make friends. However, as time passed, I figured out how to walk to my classes, and I realized that I could be a successful student here. I made amazing friends and developed a steady and fun routine. As I reflect on the short time that I have been at Cornell, I realize how much I have learned from the incredible professors and people I have met. These are the individuals who push me to think differently, and with whom I can have stimulating and thought-provoking conversations. I have developed a voice that I did not know I had, and that has made me more confident and self-assured both in- and outside of class.  Although it feels as though the person who stepped onto North Campus last year was a completely different version of myself, it wasn’t. I am definitely the same person, just a little smarter and more confident. I cannot wait for the next two and half years so that I can learn and experience more of what Cornell has to offer.


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.

The "Hogwarts Effect"

This week, sophomore Yousef Anwer describes how his interdisciplinary experience at Cornell has been utterly magical…

By: Yousef Anwer ’19, Economics major, Law and Society minor

Growing up I had Harry Potter fever. I still low-key blame J. K. Rowling for ruining fantasy books for me, because nothing I’ve read since has ever been able to match up to the wild imagination that was allowed to run rampant in her novels. Still, at least we parted on good (?) terms – sort of like when you finish that jar of Nutella and part of your brain says, ‘well that’s enough saturated fats for you’ and the other half is screaming, ‘MORE!’ – so there’s something to be said in that.

The first time I’ve really thought about Harry Potter since I saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Tw0 was right at the end of my freshman year when I was checking out McFaddin Hall (I was supposed to live there in the coming fall). ‘Ooh you’re going to be living in Hogwarts,’ is what everyone said to me when I told them about my housing arrangements. Personally though, I wasn’t too fussed about it. I’d be living on the sixth floor, and yeah, the view was nice, but there was no elevator (gasp, I know right).

A magical view of West Campus (Haris Hasan, SHA ’18)

Anyhoo, glossing over my first-world problems and back to this so-called ‘Hogwarts Effect,’ I entered my sophomore year, and even though it’s not over yet it has (if I may say so) been the greatest nine and three-quarters of a year (see what I did there) that I have ever had. Maybe it’s the fact that we’re in the middle-of-nowhere-there-are-cows-grazing-10-miles-away, maybe it’s the professors, maybe it’s the phenomenal students, maybe it’s all of the above, but there’s just something magical about Cornell (and I’m not just talking about PLPPM 2010: Magical Mushrooms, Mischievous Molds).

“He was home. Hogwarts was the first and best home he had known. He and Voldemort and Snape… had all found home here” (Rowling 697) [You have to remember to keep these MLA citations, they give us a huge spiel about plagiarism and what-not during orientation]. But back to this effect I keep harping about. Minus the bit about ‘first’ and adding ‘one of the’ before ‘best’ and not restricting this to males, we have what I like to call the ‘Hogwarts Effect.’

I genuinely believe there’s something special about Cornell. It’s is possible we’re being slipped a love potion (my guess is one of the Wonder Witch line products from Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes) but I’m a little skeptical about that – it’s just difficult not to fall in love with this place. I came to Cornell as a very goal-oriented and inflexible individual. I was going to graduate in three years, major in economics, and be off on my merry way. Instead, I took a course in astronomy where I met Professor Steve “The Martian” Squyres (that’s what I call him, I don’t think anyone else does), and so began my little affair with the subject. Sometime later I took BIOEE 1540: Introductory Oceanography (which I think should be mandatory for every single student – global warming it’s a thing, check it out, we should be freaking about it, but I digress) and it significantly changed my views on what I wanted to achieve in life. There are so many other courses like this that I’ve been able to take as an Arts & Sciences student which have left me better off. Even the ones I’ve been atrocious at (I’m looking at you CS 1112: Introduction to Computing Using MATLAB) have left me with a set of skills that I didn’t previously have. I’ve now come to realize the value of that extra year which I was ‘saving’, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

What Do I Want to Do with my Majors?

This week, meet junior Suzy Park, an economics and psychology double major who was recently inspired by her experiences in Arts & Sciences to pursue a career in law. Suzy will be taking over the Ambassadors blog next year – see what she has to say below!

By: Suzy Ji Soo Park ’18, Economics and Psychology double major, Communications minor

When I introduce myself as an economics and psychology double major, 99 percent of people say, “Oh, that’s cool! So what do you want to do with it?” Until recently, my response was, “I’m not sure. Econ and psych are just fields that interest me!” But starting a couple months ago, I can confidently say, “I want to go to law school.”

A view of the beautiful Cornell Law School building on a March afternoon.

All throughout my life, the word “lawyer” was constantly thrown around in conversations with my dad. He had always emphasized the advantages that come with a licensed profession – accountant, doctor, actuary – and lawyer was on the top of his list. But honestly, the idea of becoming a lawyer was as scary as it was interesting, and I never truly considered it as a potential career until I took PSYCH 2650: Psychology and Law the fall of my sophomore year.

Taught by two distinguished law scholars – Professors Jeffrey Rachlinski and Valerie Hans – the course explores how psychology research helps us understand and improve the legal system. Delving into areas of constitutional law, criminal law, false convictions, jury decision-making, and more, the course not only confirmed my passion for psychology, but also instilled in me a newfound curiosity for the law. During one part of the course on children’s testimonies and their reliability, we read an article titled “Expert testimony in a child abuse case: Translating memory development research” coauthored by Maggie Bruck and Stephen Ceci, who is the Helen L. Carr Professor of Developmental Psychology here at Cornell. Incredibly excited by his body of research on children’s memory and its implications in the courtroom, I approached him to discuss working as a research assistant in his Child Witness and Cognition Lab. I am so grateful that he offered me the position, and over the last three semesters, I have worked on two exciting projects about intergroup relations in children and about linguistic analyses of juror deliberations. Although his lab is housed in the College of Human Ecology, I have been able to use the research credit hours towards my psychology major thanks to the flexibility of the Arts & Sciences curriculum.

I pose (second from the right) with my fellow research assistants at a poster forum hosted by the Cornell Undergraduate Research Board.

The best part of being an Arts & Sciences student is that the College allows the entire campus to become your field of exploration – your intellectual journey is not restricted to Arts & Sciences courses and professors (which are undoubtedly amazing) but rather, you are free to take advantage of the law school, the business school, other colleges, and more. Following Psychology and Law, I have continued exploring the discipline of law through courses such as LAW 4021: Competition Law and Policy, as well as through conversations with PhD and law students I have met along the way. By making available all of Cornell’s valuable resources, Arts & Sciences invites its students to build upon their strong liberal arts foundation through coursework and extracurricular experiences that span over all seven colleges and four graduate and professional schools.