About Bryn Mawr

Three stories that focus on the college.

Sydney Espinosa, who covers science, surveys Bryn Mawr students to discover their definition of success. She got some surprising results.

Alex Hamel, who covers campus life, also did a student survey.  This one was about how students handle the bone-crunching stress of finals week.  (Hint: Lots and lots of coffee.)

Tianyuan Zhang, whose beat is called Culture Shock, interviewed Chinese students at Bryn Mawr and asked them: What caused the most culture shock when they first  arrived in America? Who would have thought it would be Mac ‘n’ Cheese?

Can You Have It All?

Bryn Mawr students have their own definition of what success means

By Sydney Espinosa

There was something strangely tense at Bryn Mawr College.

The campus was quiet and still underneath the winter-chilled midday sun, which shined lazily behind thin, feathery clouds.

The crunchy brown leaves rolled by like the tumbleweeds in a 1960’s Spaghetti Western. A small group of students hurried into nearby dorms and libraries.

Outside, the campus was almost empty. Inside the dorm rooms, libraries, coffee shops, and computer labs were a hive of

activity, buzzing furiously.
Students occupied every table in the Lusty Cup cafe, each of them in a different stage of stressed exhaustion.

Chargers for laptops, phones, and music players filled each outlet, jutting from the wall like roots, sprawling out into nearby Canaday Library.

It was finals week for the 1,300 women at this prestigious liberal arts college in suburban Philadelphia.

Why were they working so frantically? They wanted to do well in their finals. This last-minute push was their way of trying to succeed.

The dictionary defines success as “the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.”

But, what exactly characterizes this elusive concept called “success,” at least among Bryn Mawr women?

To find out, a survey was sent to Bryn Mawr students asking them to supply their definition of “success”—not only today, but in the future as well. With a response rate equal to eight percent of the student body, several clear trends emerged.

To begin with, the vast majority of respondents chose “High grades/GPA” as best describing success at Bryn Mawr. This ranked well above several other traits that were listed, such as “Volunteerism/Civic Engagement,” “Involved in lots of clubs,” “Scholarships/Fellowships,” and “Lots of internships.”

When asked to indicate what they wanted their future to hold, respondents said happiness was most important, then — in this order — social network/relationships, a career, romance/marriage, financial security, an advanced academic degree, making a lasting impact, and, finally, parenthood.

Reasons for attending Bryn Mawr centered on financial aid offered and the college’s sense of community. Almost no one had changed their major, but many wished that they had. Plus, most thought that their Bryn Mawr experience had made an impact on their definition of “success,” their academic interests, their post-graduation plans, and career path.

Interestingly, students described themselves as “goal-oriented,” “hard-working,” and “a leader,” much more often than as “successful.”

Why don’t students feel that they are “Bryn Mawr College” successful?

It might be that there is a disconnect between definitions of personal success and what success at Bryn Mawr is perceived to be.

For 19-year-old History major Quinn Conlan, ‘15, from Annapolis, Md., academic achievement does not necessarily exemplify success for her personally, even though it may by the college’s standards.

“Success is not how well I do [in class],” said Quinn, “but how much I get out of it.”

Quinn exemplifies a viewpoint that the college administration has pushed on its students through various efforts such as offering free SEPTA tickets that can only be used for non-academic purposes. According to the administration, these “fun initiatives” were meant to encourage students to focus less often on grades.

Yet, as the survey showed, the old image of Bryn Mawr success is still there, and students can still get hung up on the academics.

“Academic pressure holds me back from changing my definition of success to a more holistic one,” said Emma Mongoven, 20, a Classics major from St. Paul, Minn.

Still, Mongoven and many other students reported that their own personal definition of success had changed over time.

She described how her personal focus had moved away from her grades and more towards thinking about her satisfaction with life. Continue reading

Another Cup of Coffee

How Bryn Mawr students handle the mind-crunching stress of finals week 

By Alex Hamel

It’s that time again — ashtrays are fuller, shiny Red Bull cans fill the recycling bins and students in sweatpants walk like zombies, their unrested eyes drooping.

Its finals week at Bryn Mawr College and the recipe for relaxation is nowhere to be found.

December 13th was the last day of classes, leaving a week for students to complete exams, final papers and daunting presentations. Though there are no classes, there is still the pressing demand of final work and the need to complete it all on time. It’s a major stress maker.

“I think it’s very unhealthy the way college students handle finals and the subsequent stress,” says Anne, 20, a junior. “The demand of finals is stressful enough, and then there is the stress about the damage we’re doing to our bodies. It’s a vicious cycle. Too much is expected in too short of a time.”

How do students handle the stress? To find out, a survey measuring the intensity of stress and what students do to cope was sent out to Bryn Mawr students. It had a 10 percent response rate, a substantial sample of the roughly 1,300 who attend the all-women Main Line college. (In exchange for their candor on the survey and in the following interviews, the names of students have been changed.)

The survey confirmed that stress is a major factor. Sixty percent of the respondents defined themselves as “moderately” stressed, while 40 percent describe stress during this period as “extreme.”

How do they handle it? Most — seven out of 10- use caffeine as a booster, while about two out of 10 use alcohol to help them relax.

Caffeine is available in many forms – in coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks and pills such as No-Doz. Eight out of 10 students get their caffeine through coffee.

“I generally use caffeine to prevent stress,” says Evelyn, 19, a sophomore. “For example, I might have a cup of coffee or a soda while I work on a paper in order to reward myself and keep myself alert.”

Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system. In even moderate doses, it can increase alertness and reduce fine motor coordination. But, ingesting a lot of caffeine can cause insomnia, headaches, nervousness and dizziness, according to a report by Washington University.

Amy, 21, a senior, replaces sleep with the stimulant. “I basically just toss aside sleep in lieu of Red Bull and coffee,” she said. “I know it’s bad, but what are you going to do, you know?”

Like Amy, 15 percent respondents also reported using energy drinks, which mix large doses of caffeine with sugar and other stimulants like guarana and taurine. These drinks provide a quick way to become awake and alert.

Drinks like Red Bull and Rockstar are able to bypass the FDA’s limit on caffeine by not calling themselves sodas. Rockstar contains about 250 milligrams of caffeine compared to the approximately 100 milligrams in a cup of coffee.

Are the ways students attempting to relieve their stress actually working in reverse? Are they using caffeine to stay awake in ways that are often at the expense of staying well-rested and healthy?

There are fans of healthier ways to manage their stress. About half of the students use exercise. However, during finals it is often hard to find time to exercise because of time constraints and the feeling that energy should be expended on schoolwork. Continue reading

The Mac ‘n’ Cheese Wars

Chinese students new to America are shocked by some of our habits.

By Tianyuan Zhang

     Among more than 1,300 students at Bryn Mawr College, students from China make up about 10 percent of student body. Every year, according to “People’s Website” in China, the number of Chinese students who apply to American colleges increases by five to ten percent. As more and more Chinese students march into American campuses, their voices about their lives in the United States become stronger and more audible, and their experiences and complaints of culture shock can no longer be ignored.

     The cultural differences between China and America cause misunderstandings, conflicts and troubles, but they also encourage students to communicate and get closer. Please read the following stories, listen to the voices of some Chinese students and find out about their culture shock experiences.

     As the stories includes roommate conflicts and misunderstandings, their full names are not used in exchanged for candor about their thoughts and experiences.

In no special order, here are four things that irk and confuse Chinese students about their American experience.

 1. What’s so special about Mac ‘n’ Cheese?

     Cheeeeeeeese!  While American students smile at the cameras, calling for the most popular dairy product in the world, Chinese students are fed up with Swiss cheese, Cheddar cheese, blues cheese and especially, Macaroni and Cheese.

  “Cheese stinks!” said Sunny, a Bryn Mawr freshman from China, “I simply don’t understand why Americans are crazy about these smelly things.”

  Cheese has never been an ingredient in Chinese cuisine. Nobody cooks Chinese dishes with cheese. Even if all kinds of cheese are sold in markets, they are never the popular goods. Many Chinese have never had cheese until they went abroad for the first time.

   “I hate the smell,” said Sunny. When the fermented milky smell first hit her nostrils, she said she wanted to throw up: “It’s disgusting!”

   Among all the cheese products, Macaroni and Cheese is Sunny’s least favorite. Her roommate Sarah is a huge fan of Mac ‘n’ Cheese. Sarah ate a bowl of Mac ‘n’ Cheese every night. It bothered Sunny constantly.

   “She ate Mac ‘n’ Cheese in our room and the smell spread,” said Sunny, “it made me nauseated.”

     After a long struggle of trying to accept this cheesy smell, Sunny finally asked Sarah to eat outside their room.

     “I did not mean to be offensive and selfish, but the smell haunted me for hours and I could not concentrate on anything.” said Sunny.

     “I was sorry because I could tell that Sarah was annoyed.” Sunny said, “but what else can I do?”

     As time went by, Sunny’s Chinese nose started to accommodate the smell of cheese, but she was still confused, “I still do not understand, what’s so special about Mac ‘n’ Cheese?”

 2. They Don’t Know How To Wash Their Clothes!

     On a sunny quiet afternoon, two Chinese students were talking in the laundry room in Denbigh Hall at Bryn Mawr College.

     “There is no way I can wash my underwear by hand!” said one of them, “there is nowhere I can hang and dry them, so maybe I should throw them into the washing machine.”

     “No way!” answered the other, “That’s your underwear! You should hand-wash!”

     Mothers in China teach their children to always hand-wash their underwear, because they consider it the best way to prevent cross-contamination.

     “My mom said it’s important to hand-wash and air-dry my underwear,” said Lina Kong, a first -year student at Bryn Mawr College. “Underwear directly touches your skin, so we don’t want to contaminate underwear by germs from other clothes.”

     After Kong came to America, she found that nobody hand-washed clothes and it was almost impossible to hand-wash underwear.

     “You don’t want to wash them in the bathroom and let everybody watch you doing it, do you?” she said.

     To make the situation worse, Kong found nowhere to hang and dry her underwear.

     “Even if I hand-washed them, where should I hang them?” Kong said, “There is no balcony in the dorms and no hanging ropes in the closet. Don’t tell me you want to have an underwear exhibition in your room!”

     With all these difficulties ahead of her, Kong once thought about throwing underwear into washing machines.

     “But I cannot imagine my underwear rolling in a drier,” Kong said, “Honestly, why do Americans do that?”

     In the end, she decided to tie a rope inside her closet and dry her hand-washed underwear on it.

     “Being able to hand-wash and air-dry made me happy,” said Kong, “No offense, but I think Americans don’t know how to wash their underwear,”

 3. Too Much Sunlight Causes Cancer!

     It was only early April, the warmth of sun just returned and the smell of spring grass just sneaked out of the soil. Ya, a junior at Bryn Mawr, was dragged out by her roommates to have a “sun-basking party” on the Merion green. Reluctantly, Ya went out — but with her umbrella in hand. Continue reading

Outside the Bubble

Two pieces by students who traveled off campus to find a story.

Ariel Kraakman, whose beat was public art, has a piece on the tradition of Christmas decorating the streets and rowhouses of South Philadelphia.

Ivy Gray-Klein, who covers the arts, has a story about the tremendous success of the music web site Bandcamp, which links musicians with new audiences.

South Philadelphia’s Christmas Tradition

Rowhouses decorated with elaborate displays of Christmas lights mark the holiday

By Ariel Kraakman

South Philadelphians love their holiday decorations so much they would take them to the grave. Literally, as in the case of Mary Yanetti.

Yanetti’s grandson, Jason Douglas, owner and teacher of Dancedelphia on the corner of 11th Street and Snyder Avenue, recently held a Christmas-themed funeral for his grandmother, founder of the dance studio.

Douglas describes it one Friday night in December as he sweeps his studio. To him, decking the halls in honor of Mary Yanetti was the obvious thing to do.

“She passed before Christmas, which was her favorite holiday to decorate for,” he says.

The event was festive, as Yanetti had hoped it would be. Poinsettias led the way into the room, which was filled with

A South Philadelphia Home at Christmas

Christmas trees “for the grandkids.” Her casket lay below a wooden beam wrapped in pine. Yanetti herself wore electronically lit Christmas earrings, which flashed even as the family closed the casket for the last time. People left the viewing to retrieve family members, so they wouldn’t miss out on the festivity.

The family also jumped out of their cars to perform the Mummers strut before entering the funeral parlor.

Mary “Grandmom” Yanetti had grown up at 7th and Federal Streets, which Douglas describes as “borderline Italian…by the projects; it was mixed…Hispanic, African American, Italians, a little bit of everything.”

Every holiday season she had strung lines of lights and decorations in her studio to please her little dancers, as Douglas does today.

Dancedelphia’s holiday lights twinkle welcomingly at all who pass by. The building’s fence and the trees behind it are luminous this time of year; garnered in white lights and classic red bows. At the side of the building, a colorful electric “Little Drummer Boy” decoration blinks on and off.

There are old-fashioned looking decorations too, like the cast iron children in Christmas hats climbing a cast-iron ladder. Inside the studio, a television broadcasts cartoons. At the end of the fence outside, in a doghouse-sized manger decked in electric stars, wooden figures of Mary and Joseph pray quietly over Jesus. On this night, miniscule red laser dots dance over a stack of pizza boxes on the front stairs, which are outlined in rope lights, movie theater-style.

That the decorations have strong Christian roots, like most in South Philadelphia, seems not to bother the many Philadelphians of all religions and backgrounds who send their children to Douglas’ studio for lessons. In fact, Douglas says, the studio is so diverse that a reality show was proposed there.

He had declined the offer.

“It might get me more customers but it would ruin my studio,” he explained. “What we are. We’re Philadelphia. Philadelphia is a diverse city, and you have it here.”

About the decorations, Douglas adds, “we see a lot of kids having a lot of joy in them, and my grandparents always did it because they wanted people to walk by and take pictures and have fun, and we’re keeping up with the tradition.”

South Philadelphia has changed since its older residents were young. Known then as a predominantly Italian-American neighborhood, it is becoming home to people of a variety of backgrounds, including a sizeable Mexican population. As the neighborhood’s identity shifts, one thing remains constant: residents’ love of extravagant holiday decorations. What started as an Italian neighborhood tradition is becoming a South Philadelphia hallmark.

Continue reading

The Rise of Bandcamp

The website is changing the way people buy and listen to music.

By Ivy Gray-Klein

The online music market has been revolutionized — and not by a product prefixed with the letter “i’.

Bandcamp.com has streamlined the way music is heard, shared, and bought on the Internet. With free music streaming, easy-to-access artist information, and several purchase options, the site is a one-stop destination for critics and casual listeners alike.

“I like Bandcamp because it’s simple to use and almost any active band has music uploaded,” said Alex Fryer, a frequent visitor to the site. “I like listening to full albums and it makes that very easy to do.”

Unlike popular streaming sites Pandora and Spotify, Bandcamp listeners don’t have to pay a monthly fee to hear ad-free music.

You won’t find flashy background ads either. Bandcamp’s strength is in its simplicity. This minimalism places focus where it should be: on the music.

Bandcamp’s ad-free music library is also accessible on mobile devices for easy, on-the-go listening.

With a catalog of five million songs and counting, Bandcamp has become a premier outlet to discover new artists.

“It’s really easy to browse Bandcamp to find new music,” said Dan Colanduno of New Jersey band Slow Animal. “We’ve gotten e-mails from people who said they found us by randomly cruising the site.”

Like Twitter, Bandcamp artists can create tags to describe their albums. Visitors can use tags like “folk” or “Philadelphia” to find music.

Bandcamp provides a simple but successful option for artists to connect directly with their audience.

“I remember when we first started playing shows, we would get asked if we had a Bandcamp for people to listen to our music,” said Lucia Arias of New York band Turnip King. “I couldn’t play a show or go to one without hearing that word.”

Though created in 2008, the past couple years have marked significant growth for the site.

“Because it is so simple to use, I rest assured knowing that it is accessible to everyone,” said Arias. “I know there isn’t a barrier between the work that we’re putting out and the people that want to hear our music.”

The artist pages are designed with the listener in mind.

“I really enjoy the fact that pages are sectioned off into albums,” said Daniel del Alcazar, a talent booker for Haverford College’s concert series. “I can check out what a band’s most current sound is while still checking out what their early stuff is. This will give me a good idea of what a band will play during a set.”

Bandcamp has even inspired a series of blogs. Sites like Metalbandcamp.com and Bandcamplike.com highlight independent artists discovered on Bandcamp.

“I think a lot of listeners are finding their way to Bandcamp because of its popularity among blogs,” said Colanduno. “When blogs write about us, they almost always include our Bandcamp link.”

The user-friendly platform has also achieved a previously unthinkable feat: successfully converting pirates to buyers.

Bandcamp’s data revealed that many visitors originally searched for free downloads before coming to the site and paying for music.

Since 2008, Bandcamp cites total artist revenue at over $28 million.

Because artists can set their own prices, tracks are cheaper than on price-regulated stores like iTunes. This encourages visitors to buy full albums instead of a song or two.

On average, the market outsells albums to tracks 16-to-1. Bandcamp sells them 5-to-1.

Continue reading

Three Profiles

We add three profiles to our list of posted stories.

Yara Jishi, who covers art and literature, writes about the creative process author Dan Torday went through to write his novella, The Sensualist.

Emily Kluver, whose beat is religion, profiles a Swarthmore College senior whose personal faith journey led him to Buddhism.

Eleanor Durfee, who covers ‘green’ issues, profiles not a person but a project: the computer mapping of all the trees and plants in Haverford College’s historic arboretum.

The Making of ‘The Sensualist’

It took 10 years and 230 drafts for Dan Torday to create his novella.

By Yara Jishi                                                                                                             

The novella The Sensualist is set in Pikesville, a Baltimore suburb where writer Daniel Torday spent his high school years. Set in the 1990’s, the novella takes readers into the realm of fiction that tackles late adolescence through the character of Samuel Gerson.

The 175-page novella is the first for Torday, who is director of Creative Writing at Bryn Mawr College in suburban Philadelphia.

The Sensualisttells the story of Gerson’s breaking out of the small tight-knit Jewish community where he spent his whole

Dan Torday

life. Ready to quit the baseball team and recently befriending Dmitri Abravomich Zilber, a Russian, Jewish immigrant who is infatuated with the works of Fyodor Dostoevsky, Samuel’s world begins to change.

 When his grandfather commits suicide, Gerson begins to spend more time with Dmitri and his sister Yelizaveta, fueling a series of violent and disturbing events. This evocative coming-of-age story reminds readers of the struggles of late adolescence and the evolving nature of friendship.

Behind the glossy, light-blue finished copies of The Sensualist are 10 years of writing, drafting, researching, and editing. It took Torday 230 drafts before he felt that it was finished to his satisfaction.

The tale of  Torday and his process behind writing The Sensualist offer not only a close look at what it takes to get published, but also insights into the creative process and the steps it takes to make a mark on the literary world.

 In its raw and truthful take on adolescence, The Sensualist showcases the intertwining of fiction and non-fiction, and the struggles and triumphs that occur in attempt to say something lasting and real about human relationships.


Getting the Idea

Readers often wonder how much of the writer is present in what they write.

Do the main characters speak closely to the writer, or not at all? Do writers attempt to disconnect themselves from the world of fiction they create, or place themselves in it?

 For Torday, it’s a bit of both. Coming up with the idea for The Sensualist was a combination of his upbringing, heritage and literary interest.

Torday’s upbringing was a different from Samuel Gerson’s. Torday spent most of his younger years in Boston, where his mother is from. After living in the suburbs of Boston for several years, Torday and his family moved to Baltimore, where he spent his high school years.

“I felt like an outsider there,” Torday said, “it was a tight-knit, but closed community in a lot of ways.”

Torday constructed Gerson’s character to be an outsider, to be a character who didn’t know where he fit amongst friends and the tight-knit community he was born into. Gerson, literally meaning alien or outsider in Hebrew, grapples with his identity and sense of belonging throughout the novella.

 “There were periods where I had to think of him like me, and periods where I had to think of him differently,” Torday said, speaking to the versatility in constructing characters, and the ways they end up being a compilation of the writer and his experience and of other people he has met. Continue reading

A Journey to Faith

A lapsed Catholic and one-time atheist’s journey to Buddhism   

By Emily Kluver

8:00 a.m. Sunday, December 9 

Chris Geissler lets his door shut quietly behind him as he walks out into the dark hallway. He is careful not to wake any of his hall mates as he heads down the stairs and out the door into the cold morning mist.

The world is silent. And though he professes to be tired, everything he does is done with energy. He walks quickly, talks quickly, thinks quickly. Everything is done quickly, in great contrast with the languid quality of morning.

He sits down on a bench at the train station and waits. By 8:15 a.m. the train arrives and Geissler escapes SwarthmoreCollege’s sleeping campus, bound for the Chenrezig Tibetan Buddhist Center of Philadelphia.

Geissler, a 22-year-old senior at Swarthmore College, was not raised in the Buddhist faith tradition. The New Jersey native

The Buddha

was not technically raised in any religion at all.

His mother, raised Catholic, has never liked religion and tends to stay away. Geissler describes his father, raised Episcopalian, as someone who has a vague belief in God but does not think about it much.

“I was baptized Catholic,” Geissler says. “When I was born my mother was vaguely afraid of limbo and my grandmother on that side wouldn’t have had it any other way.”

As a child, Geissler attended what he affectionately calls, “The Hippie School,” until middle school when, against his parents’ wishes, he decided to attend a Catholic School for grades seven through 12.

Growing up, Geissler knew very little about religion. He says, “When I was about to start the Catholic school, I finally realized, wait a minute. People actually believe this stuff? On a factual level?”

Geissler jokes that his early moral instruction was rooted in Thomas the tank engine. “That was my first religion,” he says, only half in jest.


4 p.m. Wednesday, December 5

Geissler tries his hand at explaining Buddhism. He gets progressively more animated as he fills the blackboard in an empty classroom with strange terms like Gelugpa, Nyingma, and Padmasambhava.

“In tantric practice you visualize yourself as the deity, in whatever context, you are the deity,” Geissler says, crouching on a desk chair and gesturing enthusiastically. “This is seen as extremely efficacious because you are taking the goal as the path, but it is actually very dangerous because if you aren’t ready for it or you do it wrong, this is something that will cause huge inflation of ego and pride.”

As the lesson gets more and more complicated, Geissler’s speed increases as though these teachings were second nature.

But Buddhism is complicated, especially for people in the West who only get glimpses of what Buddhism is and how it is practiced.

Geissler tries to get down to the basics. He explains that Buddhism was founded based on the teachings of the original Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, who is believed to have lived and taught sometime around the 5th century B.C.

Tibetan Buddhism is a sect of Buddhism that is known in the West due to the prominence of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual head of all Tibetan Buddhists. The majority of people practicing this particular branch of Buddhism live in Tibet, India, Nepal and Bhutan.

Chris Geissler

Geissler’s personal journey with Buddhism began around the middle of high school when he decided that he needed something to attach himself to.

“I was jealous of these folks who had this connection, this group identification,” says Geissler.

But at the time, he found the idea of following God preposterous and identification with atheism purposeless. That’s when he started going to the Ethical Culture Society Center near his home in Maplewood, N.J. The group was founded on a religion of ethics. Geissler appreciated that they had a congregation, even if he was the youngest member by several decades.

As time went on, Geissler began reading about Buddhism. His religious development was influenced in large part by two Buddhists, a massage therapist and a psychotherapist, who were members of the Ethical Culture Society.

“In Catholic school, I came in an atheist and left a Buddhist,” Geissler says smiling. “I think a lot of my interest in religion as a practitioner is a result of growing up in dialogue with the Catholic Church.”


8:50 a.m. Sunday December 9

As he gets off the train, Geissler checks his watch. Reading Terminal market will not be open for another 10 minutes so he takes a seat at his bench, the one he always waits at before he grabs breakfast.

The meal does not vary much. He gets his usual bagel with cream cheese and this week he stops for a coffee because he was up past 2 a.m. the previous night and does not want to fall asleep during meditation.

There is plenty of time before services start at 10 a.m. so he sits and eats and talks about the bagel place he used to frequent. The place had brought in H&H Bagels from New York until the company closed while he was studying abroad in India the previous semester.

Continue reading