Why Bryn Mawr?

Along with “What’s your major” and “How are your classes going”, this is one of those quintessential college questions you get asked by your relatives at literally every holiday dinner.

For me, it’s the most difficult one to answer, usually because they’re not actually asking why I chose this school. What they really want to know is:

“Why on earth would you choose to go to a historically women’s school? Won’t you miss men?”

“Do you hate men?”

“Are you secretly super smart?”

“Are you secretly a lesbian?”

What some people think goes on at Bryn Mawr, apparently.

Honestly, the whole no-men thing really weighed on other people a lot more than it weighed on me, and a lot of people had opinions about what a historically women’s college is like. One rude customer at my old job delightedly informed me that Bryn Mawr used to be a finishing school, which is a.) untrue and b.) misogynist as hell. I was told by friends and strangers alike that it would be terrible because everyone would be catty and gossipy, that as a relatively tough woman I would be driven crazy by all the weak girly-girls I would have to live with, and that our menstrual cycles would sync up and we would all turn on each other Lord of the Flies style.

I wish I was exaggerating, but that’s really what people think! And literally none of it is true. I thought we as a society had finally managed to acknowledge that women are strong, whole, rational people, but I guess not. When I was growing up nearly all of my really deep and meaningful relationships were with girls and women, so I honestly didn’t think twice about applying to Bryn Mawr as a “women’s school”.

“Why Bryn Mawr” is also a difficult question because I’m not quite sure what drew me to Bryn Mawr. For all of other schools I applied to, there was a specific thing that drove me: either they had an interesting political science program, or my parents wanted me to apply, or it was just where everyone else in my class was going.

Me and my roommate after we got our lanterns.

When I went on college tours, a lot of the tour guides would answer “Why _____ college?” with “It just felt right! As soon as I stepped foot on campus, I knew that this was where I had to be”. This, of course wasn’t helpful to me at all at the time. I really liked a lot of the schools I visited! How was I supposed to know which one was more right than the others?

What I didn’t realize at the time was that I had already figured out where I wanted to be.

Though Bryn Mawr has some interesting programs and opportunities, they’re not nearly as dramatic and exciting as the ones in the big universities I was looking at. Really, the only thing that stood out to me about Bryn Mawr was its campus culture and traditions.

Of course what sparked my interest was Lantern Night and May Day– who doesn’t like cryptic ceremonies and frolicking in the flowers? But I also really liked the vibe on campus. It’s intellectual without being cutthroat, friendly without being overwhelming, and traditions-oriented without being old-fashioned.

When it came time to choose a school, I was paralyzed by indecision. I had narrowed down my choices to American University, which had a really interesting international school and was offering me a decent merit scholarship, and Bryn Mawr, which had nothing in particular going for it, at least on paper.
Luckily, my parents could afford for me revisit both schools. It turned out, all it took for me to make my decision was a few minutes on each campus.

American University is a nice school, and I’m sure it’s a great fit for some people, but it was just way too loud. I felt tired and strung out only twenty minutes into the tour. Bryn Mawr, on the other hand, felt like coming home.

Me, after my campus tour. This tree outside of the admissions building was the biggest tree I’d ever seen.

I think that the hyper competitive nature of young adult life has distorted the process of higher education. A lot of people choose schools based only on how competitive they are or what programs they offer, but prestige is only one piece of a much larger and more important puzzle. It’s hard to do well in school when you don’t vibe with the culture or don’t feel like you belong.

College doesn’t have to be the best time of your life– in fact, one of my teachers even told us “If anyone tells you school was the best part of their life, they’re having a pretty sad life.” However, I think it’s important to go to a school where you feel you belong, and that is what I found in Bryn Mawr.

Quote Walls

Have you ever been in the middle of a conversation with your friend, and it takes a bit of an odd turn? And before you know it you’ve just half shouted “Can’t talk about fingernails in the freezer when no one will make eye contact with you!” in the middle of a silent coffee shop.

In that moment, you know, from the bottom of your heart, that although that was a perfectly legitimate thing to say in your conversation with your friend, no one who just heard you will ever believe you’re not in a cult.

A lot of people like to jot down snippets of conversations that got a little weird or sound hilarious out of context. I used to record them on the cover of my first journal, and I have friends who keep a detailed archive in the notes app on their phone.

The Brecon 2nd quote wall.

I live on the second floor of Brecon, and the people on my hall tend to hang out together a fair amount. Conversation topics can range from Arthurian literature to events on campus, but we often end up saying some pretty goofy things. Rather than keep this to ourselves, we took to recording them on a Quote Wall for the rest of the world to appreciate. We originally wrote them on a small white board my Customs Person had outside her door, but it filled up within a month.

So, my roommate created a new 3 foot-by-4 foot monstrosity to log our quotes. As a finishing touch, I donated the gnome-shaped crayons my grandmother sent me as a gag gift, and we tacked them up in a special gnome-pouch.

Our small collection of gnome crayons.








Gnome pouch.

I have included some of our more memorable quotes:

“I don’t like fruit. I’m a bad Californian.”

“Horses are measured in hands because that’s what they eat”

“Please, Mr. Doo is my father. Call me Scooby.”

“Hmm. I can’t remember if I’ve had any bad run-ins with the clergy…”

“I feel like this movie is not appropriate for a STEM major to watch, I am leaving.”

I did some exploring around campus and found a few more quote walls: in Merion and Rockefeller halls. I couldn’t tell you the context for any of these quotes, even the ones from Brecon, but they’re that much funnier because of it!

The Merion 4th quote wall.

The Rock 1st 1st quote wall.

Spring Break in Peru

I’ve had a travel bug for as long as I could remember, so when my friend Zoe suggested going somewhere cool for spring break, how could I refuse?
She initially suggested New Zealand, but I thought that was way too far out of the way. The time difference alone would make it exhausting, not to mention the nineteen hour flight!
After a few hours of deliberations and research, we finally decided on Peru.

Getting there was not easy. Both of us were working with very tight budgets, so although we were only on a plane for twelve hours, we were in transit for twenty six hours. I took a greyhound to New York, met up with Zoe, flew to Mexico City, then flew onward to Lima. It was grueling, but we finally made it out of the airport at 6 p.m. on Friday.
It probably would have been a good idea to ask our hostel to send a taxi to pick us up, but neither of us thought of it. We ended up in a cab with a driver who tried to convince us we should go to a different hotel than the one we asked for (that hotel would then pay him a commission for taking us there). But, we finally made it to our hostel, conveniently situated directly across from the art museum! It was a gorgeous old colonial house, and I was sorry we were only going to stay there for two nights.

The intricately tiled floor in our hostel.

We only had one full day in Lima, so we decided to take the free walking tour offered by our hostel in order to see as much as possible. The tour mostly centered around the Plaza de Armas, but we learned a lot about Lima’s history, both before and after the Spanish invaded.

Lima’s Plaza de Armas in the golden hour.

The next morning, we took a bus to Ica. Lima is technically in a desert, but you wouldn’t know it by staying in the city. Ica, on the other hand, is a city among sand dunes.

Me, resting after hiking to the top of a sand dune. Picture taken by Zoe Herring.

Ica’s biggest draw is the Huacachina oasis. Though water stopped flowing into the lagoon in the 1980s due to human activities, water is pumped in from a nearby farm in order to preserve the lagoon and the tourist industry surrounding it.

The whole place is a little bit of a tourist trap, but that doesn’t stop it from being absolutely beautiful! We hiked a sand dune to watch the sunset.

We’d heard there was a wine festival in town, so the next day we set out to find it. After a lot of research, we determined it was taking place in a park fairly close to our hostel.
It was not in the park.
We did however find a zoo, which looked open, so we went in.
We immediately fell into a conversation with two students, Diego and Gina, who volunteer at the zoo for school credit. We talked to them for two hours! Though initially we just worked through some questions they had about English grammar, we eventually began talking about our lives, our cultures, and everything in between. I’ve never formally studied Spanish, but I was proud of how much I could follow along anyway.

That night, we took a bus to Cusco, which was the capital of the Incan Empire. It’s home to countless ruins and is the nearest city to Machu Picchu. It’s a beautiful city surrounded by mountains, with an elevation of over 11,000 feet!

The street outside our hostel.

For our first full day in the sacred valley, we went to the nearby town of Pisac.
As soon as we arrived, we met a guy who I eventually dubbed Colombian Supertramp, because he was A) Colombian and B) in the middle of walking across South America.

Sketch of Colombian Supertramp on the back of a receipt.

We decided to go on a hike with him along a river. A dog we’d stopped to pet in town followed us, and our little entourage set out for adventure! Along the way we talked about plants and their uses, discussed folklore, and told travel stories. In addition to being well traveled, Supertramp was a very spiritual person, and we stopped midway through the hike so he could pray.
He ended up coming back to Cusco with us, and spent the evening making a heroic effort to flirt with both of us at the same time. It’s pretty hard to convince two girls you’re equally interested in them, but he didn’t let that stop him!

The next day, we went to Machu Picchu.
We decided to hike up instead of taking the bus because we’re tough chicks who aren’t afraid to sweat, but we definitely were not prepared for the altitude.

I may or may not have gotten a massive head rush and almost passed out while standing up after taking this picture.
However, we made it to the top with our limbs intact, and it was definitely worth it.

The sky was spectacular.

I also got menaced by a llama.

Since both Zoe and I are artists, we took the time to sit and sketch, which was a nice break from all the climbing.

My sketch (Left) and Zoe’s (Right) of houses in Machu Picchu.

Huayna Picchu, a lactose intolerance joke, and a warning about llamas.

We were so involved in sketching, we forgot to keep track of time, and ended up having to run down the mountain to catch our train back to Cusco!

We spent our last day in Peru cafe-hopping and catching up on our journals. After all, we were on vacation!

Me, writing in my journal.

Overall, I loved Peru. I’ve traveled to a lot of places, but I’ve never seen landscapes like this! The mountains of the Sacred Valley were stunning, and the desert around Ica was more beautiful than I ever imagined it could be.

A foggy morning in the Sacred Valley.

On the road to Machu Picchu

This wasn’t even my favorite part, though. A lot of people go to Peru to hike the Inca trail, or do one of the other famous treks. I’m sure that’s a wonderful experience, but personally, I love cultures and people. Mountains and ruins are pretty neat, but there’s nothing I love more than trying some street food, making a new friend, and picking up a few words in a new language.