Community and its Many Forms

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Image: Flickr.com

Excuse the cliche, but one could not swing a dead cat without hitting an adult who thinks adolescents of this generation are “out of touch.” Often, baby boomers can be heard describing us as “present, but not really present.” They are referring, of course, to our dependency on technological devices to communicate. While there are many sides with convincing arguments on this topic, I found a new perspective while writing posts for my blog as well as commenting on the blog of others’. I learned how to better present my own thoughts in addition to communicating with others. In this way, I learned that while technology can isolate us, it can also bring us together.

The first few posts, I admit, felt awkward. Most students dread the thought of writing for peer review. I often had a hard time deciding what to write about while considering the fact that my classmates would be reading it.

After time, however, I finally adapted the “we’re all in this together” mentality and wrote, and commented, more freely. Once one accepts the common goal of a group, it becomes much easier to complete a task.

Despite this newfound comfort, however, there was a new challenge: commenting on the blog of a non-OHS student. This was daunting at first because my original mentality was no longer applicable. The foreign bloggers were not “in this” with us and our motives, from their perspective, for starting a conversation were no longer assumed to be “I want to get an A.”

Among the outside blogs that I commented on were a forum for discussing the growth and exportation of the Hass Avocado and another documenting one man’s experience in eating insects. Despite the initial awkwardness, I found that it was easier to be earnest and thorough in my comments when I was genuinely interested in the topic of discussion.

In the end, I found that this is the main goal of blogging: becoming comfortable enough to be able to utilize the internet for communicating with others on topics that interest you- becoming part of a community you wouldn’t otherwise been able to participate in.

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Can a Song Be Too Groovy?

One might alternatively ask: “What makes a song a ‘banger’?”. Certain repetitions or chord progressions often can spark profound emotions. Listening to music can bring people to tears or lead them to dance with reckless abandon. In Virginia Hughes’s article, Why Does Music Feel So Good, she explores how music affects our brains.

I first became interested in this topic after listening to Antonin Dvorak’s piece, American, for string quartet. Like Hughes describes in her article, when I first heard American, I felt an unfamiliar and unexplainable rush of emotion.I didn’t understand how any music, especially classical music, could bring about this sentiment. Dvorak’s music felt powerful and uplifting in a way I had never thought music could.

According to Hughes’s article, these emotions can be explained by the  parts of the brain that are active when one listens to music. She cites “…the amygdala, which is involved in processing emotion,[and]  the hippocampus, which is important for learning and memory” as the main contributors to music-derived pleasure.
Although I couldn’t find an article regarding the subject, I next wondered what parts of the brain are involved when one receives pleasure from music she is playing herself. Though I have never played Dvorak’s American, I often have unexplainable affinities for certain pieces we play in Philharmonic. In this, I feel whatever emotions are are sparked by music are twice as powerful when that music is being produced by the individual experiencing the emotions. Have you ever felt embarrassingly moved by a sappy song? Or liked a band or orchestra song a little too much?

Education in Equitation

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Image: Personal photo courtesy of Janeen

More often than is typical of most people, I find myself pondering the particular peculiarity that horses exist in the Western hemisphere. Had Spaniards not introduced them to Latin America nearly 500 years ago, horses would seem as exotic to us as elephants or giraffes. Fortunately, in the face of this geographical enigma, I have friends who are quite knowledgeable in the vibrant world of equine practices.

Thanks to my dear friend Janeen, I recently had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with a charming horse by the name of Dandy. Having had an acute fear of horses for the first fourteen years of my life, I’ve spent very little time around them and consequently know very little about them. Janeen, however, being an avid equestrian, is quite learned in the ways of horses and was willing to show me the ropes, so to speak. The first thing I learned is that, in general, when one is walking in a barn and is offered a carrot, the carrot is meant for the horses and not for oneself.

Before riding, Janeen fed and groomed Dandy. The regular grooming, I learned, is important because rocks and other debris can become lodged in the horse’s hooves and make it uncomfortable for them to move. Next, Janeen warmed Dandy up by taking him through a series of walks and trots. She also informed me of the various kinds of equestrian competitions. There’s quite a bit more to the preparation and presentation of horses than I had previously thought. Most surprising, I found, was that judges at a competition often ask the rider and his or her horse, on the spot, to perform a certain skill. I gather that this means the rider must be prepared for a variety of different scenarios.

Janeen also let me ride Dandy which was an exhilarating experience. There is a lot of coordination and balance required to ride horses. Aside from learning some verbal commands, Janeen also taught me how to post. This involves rhythmically standing in the saddle so as to not bounce awkwardly when the horse is jogging. I found it very difficult at first because one must stand when the horse is stepping with a specific foot. After a few minutes, though, I began to get accustomed to the rhythm of the Dandy’s step and stand at the correct moment.
From this equine experience, I learned that working with horses requires as much personal effort as cooperation with the beast.

What Kids Teach Us

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Whether they’re older or younger, interacting with non- peers can be challenging. While working at camp last summer, I found that connecting with younger children can be both difficult and rewarding.  Counselors are generally trained first by teaching them the basics of safety and team building and then giving them opportunities to test their new skills by working with kids. Despite these measures, on my first day working with campers I felt as if I were a toddler being thrown into a lake and being told to swim.

I see myself as learning best through experience. In other words, I find I most effectively take in information when I’m given the chance to try things myself. Luckily, the path to becoming a camp counselor involves quite a bit of hands-on training. After overcoming the initial hurdle presented by my own nerves, I became much more confident with the kids. I can proudly say only one child under my supervision was nailed in the head with a kickball last summer.

All joking aside, however, to work at summer camp one has to be ready and accepting of disaster while still retaining a demeanor that allows campers to experience a week of fun and encouragement they may not receive at home.

Another counselor once told me “kids will teach you more than you thought possible”. Not only did I find this to be true in that I learned more about myself by working with children, but also in a more literal sense. I have a distinct memory of a day a camper wanted to show me something. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a hand-full of leaves. I now know said leaves as wintergreen, small leaves that grow close to the ground and when chewed, taste similar to spearmint  gum. At the time, however, I was completely baffled. The camper was ecstatic to be teaching someone so much older about something she was so knowledgeable in. This incident reminds me of all the things I learned at camp and why I wanted to learn them. What are your experiences interacting with people of other ages? What have you gained from them?

You are Here

Image: commons.wikimedia.org

Most people have experienced the moment of anxiety and profound defeat that accompanies the realization that one is lost. Often this shortly follows the point at which one asks a stranger for directions, gets confused half-way through the stranger’s explanation, but pretends to have understood anyway to avoid awkwardness.

I find that, especially when driving, I can understand directions with considerable ease. For some, however, the ability to interpret directions, or spatial abilities, does not come as naturally as it does for others.

In Graham Southorn’s article, Why are Some People Better at Reading Maps than Others?, he explains that successfully reading a map requires several strengths. These include self-location, route memory, and map rotation. Having strength in solely one area may not necessarily guarantee the ability to accurately interpret directions.

Self-location describes one’s aptitude for locating himself or herself on a map in correspondence to the real world. This also relates to map rotation, the ability to comprehend a directed turn without actually turning the map.

Personally, I believe route memory is what most largely contributes to my aptness for following directions. Once I’ve been shown the way to a specific location, I can generally return there without much difficulty. However, this strength has been thoroughly tested since I began to confidently drive on the highway.

Given the lack of distinct turns and landmarks, my route memory when navigating a highway is not nearly as consistent. If I’m returning to a particular location, though, I’ve found the familiarity of time between exits and the exit numbers themselves are most helpful to me in remembering my way.
Do you find it difficult to follow directions or read a map? What are some techniques you use to remember how to get somewhere?

The Bilingual Brain

 

Not uncommonly, one may come to understand that being bilingual makes an individual smarter. Hence, he or she may wonder: Does learning more than one language make one smarter or do smart people learn more than one language? There is a profusion of research regarding this subject, but this TED- Ed video by Mia Nacamulli explicitly explains the cerebral aspects of speaking two languages and what it means for the learning process.

Watching this video, I found it interesting that regardless of when an individual learns a language, the exercise one’s brain receives from processing two languages, while perhaps delaying a decision, also activates and strengthen the Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex. According to Nacamulli, this part of the brain is largely responsible for problem solving and “focusing while filtering out irrelevant information.” In other words, bilingual people may take longer to make a decision, but they are more likely to make a thoughtful, more informed one.

A teacher of mine had an interesting example of this speculation. He pointed out that in English, we have one word for snow, but the Inuit have over fifty. This is beneficial to them because their ability to hunt and survive depends on the conditions around them. Thier capability of being able to specifically describe fifty different kinds of snow is necessary to their existence. Consequently, if an Inuit from Canada’s Nunavik region relocated to America and learned English, they might become overwhelmed if one were to ask he or she, in English, what the snow was like outside. According to information in Nacamulli’s presentation, this individual would most likely take longer to process the information, but would ultimately give a more effective answer given their exhaustive labels and knowledge of snow.

However compelling this proposition is, I have yet to experience it myself. I am currently recieving my third year of instruction in French, but do not consider myself to be any better at making decision because of it. I assume this is because for this particular effect of bilingualism to be present, one must be fully proficient in a language. In conclusion, if for no other reason, I am motivated to continue learning a second language in hopes that it will one day help me make better decisions.

Learning through Mindfulness

Learning through Mindfulness

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Mindfulness is often described as the state of being actively aware of something. Meditation often calls for mindfulness of breath, thought, and feeling in order to achieve a therapeutic effect.

In Jan Chozen Bay’s book, Mindfulness on the Go, Bay describes an exercise in which the reader intentionally notices the actions of his or her hands. In addition, the author calls for the viewing of the individual’s hands as if they belonged to someone else. In doing this, the individual comes to appreciate his or her fine motor skills more deeply.

Similar to the previously described exercise, many of the activities outlined in Mindfulness on the Go, involve the reader becoming deliberately awareness of the senses in order to achieve an almost meditative appreciation for the world around him or her.

According to Lisa Firestone in her article “Benefits of Mindfulness,” mindfulness can increase emotional stability. The more one notices and accepts his or her thoughts and emotions, the better he or she is apt for coping with these emotions later on. Thus, it’s logical to assume that practicing mindfulness can help one learn about himself or herself through his or her emotions.

Often, we defer emotions that we find unpleasant or troublesome and consequently become ignorant to their origins. However, if we actively notice and accept our actions and emotions, we can learn how outside influences affect us and how we feel.

Bay, Jan Chozen. Mindfulness on the Go. Boulder: Shambhala, 2014. Print.