Reflecting on First Semester

As exams wind down, it’s finally occurred to me that my first semester of college is over. While I rejoice at the opportunities to see family, sleep in, and relax over winter break, knowing I am halfway done with freshman year is bittersweet. Retracing to the beginning of the school year, I’ll admit the first few weeks or so were intimidating. I remember calling my mom and confessing how much I missed her, my family, and my friends back home. I was worried about acing classes, making friends, and feeling “at home” in a new environment. How would I find my place at such a huge university?

Gradually, I found myself feeling more comfortable calling U of M my home. In fact, thanks to wonderful friends, great professors, and some spontaneous decision making, it didn’t take long for me to love life at Michigan (I also want to give a shout out to the Residential College for giving me a community to belong to). I tried different activities, both familiar and new, to further build connections and find interests. By stepping out of my comfort zone, I ended up forming some great friendships that made everyday life both manageable and enjoyable. Additionally, football games and arts events (which were/are sometimes free for students) were opportune moments to take a break from schoolwork and make memories.

Until now, I didn’t think anything would go by as fast as senior year of high school. This semester went by insanely quickly, and it’s almost frightening. While I still don’t know what I’m doing with my life, this semester has been incredible, and I hope to take advantage of the rest of my time here at U of M. Here are some things I’ve learned:

  1. College goes by really fast
  2. Call your family members, they miss you and are there for you
  3. Late nights are a given
  4. Naps are essential
  5. It’s okay to get out of your comfort zone
  6. ^^ You can do this by talking to people, taking a class you normally wouldn’t, or even going to events by yourself once in awhile
  7. Even though I truly enjoyed high school, college is so much better (albeit harder)
  8. There are a ton of great study spots around the libraries
  9. One way to hang out with friends during the week is by studying together in the dorm lounges (though be aware you might get distracted)
  10. Convincing yourself to go to the gym, even if it’s just ten minutes away, is difficult
  11. Eating healthily is fairly attainable with a dining meal plan… then again, it’s also easy to eat ice cream every day
  12. Ann Arbor has plenty of great restaurants for when you get tired of said dining meal plan
  13. Ann Arbor is a pretty cool place to explore in general

Take a Break for Art During Finals

Final exams. The dreadful words are enough to send college students everywhere into a state of distress. While in high school, the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas often meant holiday decorations, festive food, and snow days. In college, however, this period of time is typically chaotic, with the end of classes yielding a pile of final essays, tests, and projects. With sleep deprivation and increasing stress, you may be left feeling overwhelmed. During a time that can be physically, emotionally, and mentally taxing, it’s important to remember to take care of yourself. One way to do so? Take a break for art. Here are a few ideas for managing college life pressures:

  1. Listen to some of your favorite music.

Music can have a huge impact on your mood and emotions. Upbeat music can set an energetic and positive tone, while music with a slower tempo can be calming and used for relaxation. Plan periodic breaks when studying and take a few moments to listen to your favorite tunes to destress.

  1. Write a thank you note.

Focusing on thoughts of gratitude can help put you in a positive mindset, and writing a card or letter is an excellent way to express appreciation for someone’s help. Thank a friend or parent for their support throughout the semester. Maybe even thank a professor who has had an impact on you (though consider the best time to give it to them).

  1. Draw or paint a picture.

Regardless of how “good” or “bad” you may be, drawing and painting can be good ways to reduce stress. Drawing and painting hold some of the benefits of meditation, and when you’re finished being engrossed in your art, you might have a more focused mindset to tackle your schoolwork or other problems.

  1. Jot down your thoughts, stresses, or ideas.

Consider taking a pen to paper in documenting goals, daily events, or feelings. If you feel guilty about taking time away from studying, make a list of what needs to be accomplished and use it as a to-do list.

  1. Color.

While the adult coloring book trend seems to have dwindled in the past few years, coloring is still a great relaxation activity. Coloring involves both logic and creativity. It can provide a distraction from stress and be a form of meditation for some people.

  1. Rearrange or clean your room.

Tired of your usual environment? Consider rearranging some furniture, getting rid of old things, or adding new decorations (with permission from your roommate, of course). Put up positive affirmations, photos, or artwork to contribute to a comfortable atmosphere. Cleaning can be a way take your mind off of schoolwork while still being productive, while rearranging can appeal to your more creative side.

  1. Play around with playdough.

Grab some clay from the store or make your own playdough for an emotional outlet. The squishy, malleable dough is a highly sensory medium that can be used for unleashing tension. For additional stress relief, you can add essential oils for some aromatherapy.

These are just some of many simple endeavors that could provide relaxation during a very stressful time. Whether it’s artistic or not, consider taking a break from studying once in awhile to recoup and destress.

Raising Awareness Through Music

Music is a powerful thing. It has the ability to evoke emotions and trigger unexpected feelings. Different genres affect different people, with something out there for everyone. Because of this, it’s no surprise music often acts as a comfort or escape from everyday life. While we are influenced by music and its components, we also have the ability to connect with it. Music can affect people on a deep emotional level, which is why it can be a powerful tool in building empathy and shaping our perceptions. Next week, RC Singers plans to use music in this way for a refugee benefit concert aimed to raise awareness for Freedom House Detroit.

Currently directed by Joseph Kemper, RC Singers is a mixed choir affiliated with LSA’s Residential College program. Composed of University of Michigan students with a variety of academic interests, the choir studies and performs an assortment of choral music literature. This involves multiple time periods and genres, which results in a unique collection of pieces with their own styles and sounds. In addition to areas like music literacy and vocal technique, the songs for this year’s concert revolve around expression and empathy.

As mentioned earlier, the concert is aimed to raise awareness and money for Freedom House Detroit, a “temporary home for survivors of persecution from around the world who are seeking asylum in the United States and Canada,” according to the foundation’s website. Their mission is “to uphold a fundamental American principle, one inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty, of providing safety for those ‘yearning to breathe free.’” This mission is supported by the music in the concert, with “yearning to be free” directly translated into the lyrics of the song, “The Lady of the Harbour.” The concert has over ten songs covering styles such as folk, classical, and pop, all of which carrying themes related to openness and helping one another. Some songs specifically pertain to the refugee crisis, such as Caroline Shaw’s “To The Hands,” which has a movement listing data on displaced persons during global refugee movements. The content of the songs supports the mission of Freedom House Detroit:

“Guided by our belief that all people deserve to live free from oppression and to be treated with justice, compassion and dignity, we offer a continuum of care and services to our residents as well as to other refugees in need. We advocate for systemic change that more fully recognizes the rights of refugees and asylum seekers.”

Overall, with the use of powerful lyrics, harmonies, and instrumentals (live strings and a pianist), RC Singers hopes to build awareness and empathy while demonstrating the musical skills developed throughout the semester.

Joseph Kemper, Conductor

Sarah Jordan, Assistant Conductor

Minji Kim, Collaborative Pianist

Deb Drennan, Guest Speaker, CEO Freedom House Detroit

More information on Freedom House Detroit:

Facebook event:

Note: Concert takes place Thursday, December 6th (not December 7th) at 7:30 P.M.

The Joys of the Fall Season

For some, saying goodbye to the summer season is a difficult thing to do. For others, welcoming the fall season means preparing for a period of bright colors, cool weather, and a series of holidays. From a personal standpoint, I rejoice at the first sign of “sweater weather.”

Fall, otherwise known as autumn, is full of great weather, good food, and fun activities. The season is perfect for taking a visit to a cider mill, spending time with friends around the campfire, or simply enjoying the scenery. Sunsets in the fall present a brilliant orange hue unlike any other, and the darker, cooler starry nights often seem magical. Vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows cover maple trees, allowing you to gaze at an artistic masterpiece just by looking out the window. Fall is a great time to take a walk outside, as there’s something satisfying about walking under a canopy of fall foliage and hearing the sound of crunching leaves underfoot. In addition to providing natural beauty, the season presents an opportunity for growth, as fall brings a new school year and new experiences.

Fall is a busy time, packed full of events and activities to look forward to. Holidays such as Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas mean plenty of celebrating. There’s also a galore of fun things to do, as the fall season is a great time to go camping, hiking, and more. Seasonal activities such as picking apples, attending a college football game, or conquering a corn maze are great ways to make memories with loved ones. Furthermore, there are opportunities to carve pumpkins, go on a hayride, and share delicious food with family. Along the topic of food, there’s plenty of it, including an abundance of pumpkin pie and sweet potatoes. In addition to traditional seasonal delicacies, there’s apple and pumpkin everything, including that pumpkin spiced latte you love to post about on Snapchat.

Another wonderful thing about fall is the weather. Cold drizzles indicate that it’s the perfect time to light a fire in the fireplace and snuggle up with a cup of tea or hot cider. The words “cute,” “comfy,” and “cozy” come to mind when breaking out the suede boots and fuzzy blankets, as the first slight chill in the air calls for donning comfy sweaters and scarves in preparation for the cooler temperatures. Instead of worrying about drowning in sweat or getting a sunburn, you have the chance to decide which oversized jacket or flannel to wear next.

On a deeper level, fall serves as a reminder of the changing nature of life. During this time, the life cycle of many plants finishes or turns into the other stages, with the dead leaves on the ground disintegrating and turning into part of the soil. The change in scenery presents an opportunity to reflect on the impermanence of things, with the need for us to continuously grow and embrace the present. As such, fall is a great time to think about what we are thankful for. With so many different holidays and activities, it is perfect for cherishing and spending time with loved ones. Overall, fall gives a sense of comfort, fun, and reflection that makes it a truly unique and enjoyable season.

Maps as Art

If you handed me a printed map from a rest stop, I’m not sure I would be confident in telling you which direction to go. To me, physical maps are geographical puzzles you shove into the back of your car’s glove compartment. In the past, I never thought of a map as beautiful, let alone as an example of art; however, this perspective was challenged after a field trip to the Hatcher Graduate Library.

Instead of the normal lecture, my digital research class was treated to a brief tour of the Shapiro Undergraduate Library and Hatcher Graduate Library. Out of the numerous books, resources, and study spots, what caught my attention the most was something I would have never expected: maps. I was mesmerized by the Unique Perspectives: Maps from Tokugawa & Meiji Japan exhibit, which was on display until October 30th. While slightly faded, an array of swirling colors and intricate details captured my attention, and I found myself wandering back to the exhibit after class.

For a moment, I forgot about the stresses of essays or homework and was whisked away to another time and another place. Triangular mountains and waving rivers somehow made me feel at peace. While granting me historical facts, these displays stretched my imagination. All the lines and jagged squiggles weren’t meaningless marks on paper, but places, history, and art. I daresay the mere size and grandeur of some of the maps resembled priceless paintings. As someone studying Japanese through LSA’s Residential College program, I was also drawn to the uniqueness and artistry of the symbols. I imagined shiny black ink caressing the paper in gentle strokes, forming different characters with something important to say.

In moments I saw maps – and art – in a new light. I found myself no longer cringing at the series of puzzling lines, but captivated by the complexity and splendor the maps held. Now, I’m not educated on traditional map making rules, nor am I an analytic art critic; it’s possible my perspective of the display simply reveals my ignorance about maps. However, I viewed even the most simple of maps as anything but stereotypical or boring. This is my first blog post, and if a small trip to the library prompted me to see maps in a new light, I can’t wait to explore what other artistic treasures are in store during my journey here at the University of Michigan.