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Sam Miller: Plumber in New York City

July 27, 2011

Sam Miller
Class of 2011.5

I spent 2009 as a plumber in New York City.  I joined the Local 1 Plumber’s Union and worked as a Class B Mechanic, repairing existing work and doing new construction.  I found this job to be a drastic change from the time that I had previously spent at Brown.  Everyday, I worked to accomplish something tangible.  I would install a new sink or tie in a new waste line to a roof drain.  This helped me to apply a more short-term perspective to my schoolwork, trying to enjoy my classes in the present instead of seeing them as a necessary step toward a final goal.  I came back to Brown extremely motivated and with a newfound appreciation for the opportunities that this university affords its students.  Taking time off was one of the better decisions I have ever made.

Avery Houser: Worked in Portland, Traveled around U.S., Africa, and Europe.

July 5, 2011

I moved to Portland, OR for my semester off. Born and raised in NY I had no sense of how life goes on the west coast and had heard wonderful things about the city, that it is a kind of bourgeois paradise, that everyone hangs out all day and works at a bike shop or a coffee shop or a brewery, and generally does their own thing. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted, but I knew I didn’t want to be at school and I didn’t want to just go home and I had no interest in going abroad, it seemed like a waste of time to pay as much as brown costs for something that seems like a semester of foreign vacation.
I moved into a Craigslist share house with an art student and a 36 year old boat builder come bike mechanic who just moved to Oregon from Alaska. I got a gig brewing a few days a week and wrote for a beer magazine and had a lot of time to read and write and watch movies. It got too expensive to just live on my own with no steady income though so I took the train home via Seattle and Chicago, stayed with friends along the way, biked around. I biked up to school and spent some time there, then spent a few weeks in NY living at home, flaneuring.
My mom’s dad died while I was in Oregon. Sad, yet it was “his time.” In many ways it was a weight off of my grandmother’s shoulders as she had been taking care of him for the last 5 years. She could now travel again, and I had a ton of free time, so we traveled in Tanzania together for 2 weeks. The flight home connected through Amsterdam so I jumped ship and stayed with family there, then met up with my fam in Brussels, then headed for London to stay with a friend from school. It was a whirlwind. It was great to have the time and go with whatever presented itself, things always do. I went in with little structure, but a trajectory emerged. It was defined by an openness to doing what came along and meeting new people. I met such a range of people and saw so many places in a way that would have been utterly impossible in any kind of structured program. I spent a lot of time in Portland with motivated, like minded people who didn’t go to college and had no interest in it, they had other things going on that were physical and immediate and it worked in a way I never knew could before going away. I spent an enormous amount of time with very old people in Tanzania. I developed a lot of respect for their perspectives as they have seen so much, and also realized how valuable the voice of the young is and how much I had to offer them as someone who’s perceptions and opinions are still forming.
It was weird transition back to school, but it was actually very nice to go back into the academic world, into something structured by more than whim and budget (although those seem to be two of the largest factors in everyone’s decision making at Brown even when in school). I felt a lot more prepared to deal with the bizarre social workings after having spent a lot of time alone and getting back in touch with myself as an independent person, something I feel I prided myself on in high school and lost somewhere along the way the first two years of college. And the people at Brown are really wonderful, something I had forgotten, or lost sight of, and think about all the time now that I’m back.

Grandma and me in Tanzania

Montana, on the “Empire Builder” train across the country

Angela Mellon: Intern for the UN Refugee Agency in Syria

July 5, 2011

Angela Mellon

I only meant to be in Syria for the summer, but the longer I stayed the more I fell in love with the people around me and their hospitality and kindness. Every woman on the bus was my surrogate mother, every girl my new best friend. I was surprised, even confused, by their welcome but I got used to it and now home is the place that feels strange. I interned for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and saw that same Syrian hospitality stretched thin with the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees living in Syria. Summer passed, then fall, winter. The secret police cut my stay short on February 3rd, giving me 48 hours to leave the country. Government aside, we have a lot to learn from Syrians, if only more of us went there to listen and learn and share.

Andrea Dillon: Study Arabic, Research for an NGO in Syria, and Travel in the Middle East and S. Asia

July 5, 2011

Andrea Dillon

I took the fall of my junior year off to study colloquial Arabic and conduct research for an NGO in the West Bank and Damascus, Syria. Between work and lessons, I traveled through Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, and India. Highlights include: hitchhiking from one side of Turkey to the other; watching history’s largest, world-record-breaking kanafeh (a Middle Eastern sweet made of cheese and honey) get trampled by a stampede of human beings at Nablus’ annual Kanafeh Festival; taking a lone, 36-hour train ride across the berth of India; playing Capoeira with Damascus’ local company and teaching the Brazilian art in a Syrian girls’ juvenile prison; learning to cook from my Palestinian tutor and learning to paint with watercolors from a Palestinian refugee; hiking the Middle East’s highest peak; driving a motorcycle around the Golan Heights; getting my hair dyed hot pink in an Iraqi refugee’s hair salon; crashing three weddings and the reception party of a fourth; perfecting the art of setting up a hookah; and sleeping amongst Sikh pilgrims at Amritsar’s Golden Temple. Assets of my time away from Brown include becoming friends with myself; appreciation for the unbelievable progress that language immersion allows; insight into how to adventure on a shoestring budget; learning that plans are made to be broken; and acquiring confidence that landing it a place and making it happen isn’t as hard as it sounds. There’s little I like more than talking about this kind of stuff, so hit me up!

Eli Bosworth: Internship with Activision on Call of Duty Video Game

July 5, 2011

Eli Bosworth

My semester abroad was the continuation of an internship I had in Portland, Maine working for Activision on the video game Call of Duty: Black ops, which is a violent game celebrating American imperialism and McCarthyism in the early sixties. My task for the summer was to make the game display in 3D in order to support the new 3D televisions that are now on the market. I was told it was just an experiment and wouldn’t be a feature in the game. Near the end of the summer, I was informed that the dudes who worked over in L.A. thought 3D looked great and that if I was willing to stay until the release of the game to keep working on the 3D effect then they would probably put it in the game. I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to help raise a new generation of gun-crazy children to be afraid of the word ‘socialism’ so I called up Brown and asked for a semester off. It went great. Go buy a 3D TV, an XBOX, and Call of Duty: Black ops and check it out. Also Portland was a great place. Coming from New York City, it was actually a little bit of a culture shock to be living with my 5 roommates who were all from small towns further north in Maine. I can’t wait to go back and visit everybody.

Here’s an image I found online of one of the dudes from call of duty shooting fidel castro. I thought that worked better with my story then a picture of Maine.

Cecilia Pineda: Family Time, Travel, and Volunteering with Environmental Organizations in Mexico

July 5, 2011

Cecilia Pineda

There are myriad reasons why I took time off. However when I go through the list (placing academics into practice, a break from Brown, desiring an abroad experience but not wanting to take away from my time to study at Brown, Spanish immersion), sometimes I feel like I took time off just to take time off –yet it is one of the best decisions I have made at Brown.

I bought a roundtrip ticket to Mexico City since I knew I’d end up there to celebrate the holidays with my family (most of which lives in Mexico). Over my time I took classes in Guanajuato, hitchhiked to Oaxaca, traveled to Sinaloa with my Pa, volunteered and got to know different non-governmental and governmental environmental organizations throughout Mexico and even one in Cuba. I got to taste and experience several new parts of Mexico. I grew a better understanding of the climatic, cultural, economic, and gastronomical variations throughout my family’s country.

Although living with my family in Mexico did not draw me to leave Brown, by far it was the most valuable part of my leave. My visits to Mexico usually last 1-2 weeks around the winter holidays, and are packed with family get-togethers, delicious foods, hellos and goodbyes, and not enough time to catch up with all of my cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandmothers from both sides of my family. When I was leaving Mexico after my semester off, my grandmother told me that it was wonderful to finally get to know me. I was somewhat shocked, because I had always felt so at home and comfortable with all of my family from my mother’s side. Yet she was right, that was the first time I had ever really lived with them. Growing up in the States, I always felt as if I was living in two different worlds. But now whenever I am state-side, I can so strongly feel all of my family on the other side, my other home.

Coming back to Brown, I held a new sense of focus and clarity in how I wanted to be spending my time. I cannot understate how much I look forward to seeing my beautiful family in Mexico whenever I get the opportunity to go.

 Here is a picture of me in Salina Cruz, Oaxaca.
We went to a market on our last day
to buy pineapples and fish for beachside grilled tacos.
I met a friendly parrot named Pancho.

Lizzie Baron: Travel and Ecological Volunteering in India

July 5, 2011

Lizzie Baron

I decided to take time off after my third semester.  I felt tired and constrained by school, and confused about why I was getting a higher education.  I enjoyed my first year and a half at Brown, while I simultaneously didn’t know if I was at Brown because it’s what I wanted, or just what I’d been told to do.  I wanted to carve out my own path, and attend Brown when I actively wanted to be there.  I was interested in intentional community, international travel, and spiritual practice so… I bought an open-ended plane ticket to India!  I planned out my first couple of weeks before I left- I would be volunteering in an ecological intentional community called Sadhana Forest, and trusted that the rest would fall into place as my time there progressed.  I ended up loving the community, and stayed for my first and last month in India, spending two months traveling and one living and working with a family in a rural Himalayan village in between.  I got to work outside, hike, learn Hindi, practice yoga, and travel with my sister and friends from Brown; to explore, live moment-to-moment, immerse myself in another world…

By the end of my travels, I felt tired and excited for school.  After so much time abroad on my own, returning to this familiar and comforting setting was just what I wanted.  The rest of my Brown experience was much different- I designed my own major and took all my classes S/NC.  I grew more comfortable with many of the questions I asked myself before and during my time away.  Even as they lingered on, I was more relaxed, more confident in my decision to be there, and lived a much more balanced and centered life.  I’m so thankful for that experience, and for taking that risk when I had a safe and welcoming place to return to.

Me learning how to make paper.