During a week-long break from classes, some Illinois Wesleyan students continued their collegiate learning experience far beyond the classroom setting by participating in – and blogging about – one of three Spring Break trips:
Saturday, March 17 – A St. Patrick’s Day Drive
Today we spent a majority (10 hours) of the day driving home from Birmingham. By 7:30 a.m., we were completely packed up and on the road back to Bloomington. As usual, the time was spent napping or jamming out to some throwback tunes. Originally, we had planned for a hike on the way home, but every single ASBer on the trip was too exhausted to even fathom going on a hike, so as a collective group, we all decided to try to drive straight to Bloomington.
One of the only stops we made was at Panera Bread for a late lunch. There, we revealed our secret buddies. Every single person found and created a memorable gift. Personally, I received a piece of the floor tile I had spent so long laying on the very first work day. Although we were all exhausted and itching to get home, it was heartwarming to hear the fond memory of each secret buddy as he or she passed on the gift. There were smiles all around, and I cannot think of a better way to end the trip.
Arriving back at IWU, my only thought was wondering where the trip is going next year. I already cannot wait to apply for another week filled with tough, physical work and new friendships! Until then, you can find me signing up to volunteer for the Bloomington-Normal chapter of Habitat for Humanity!
– Teagan Potter ’19
Friday, March 16
On Friday morning, we gathered our bags and checked out of UIC Guest Housing before heading downtown to the Art Institute of Chicago. And what better way to end our week’s exploration of the humanities than by coming to a cultural icon like the Art Institute, with a series of collections that spans centuries of history around the world.
We easily lost ourselves in its labyrinthine galleries, my favorite being the gallery of Thorne Miniature Rooms. Mrs. James Ward Thorne commissioned and oversaw the construction of these painstakingly detailed replicas that range from a humble cottage living room in Cape Cod to a Buckingham Palace drawing room during the reign of Queen Victoria. The amount of work that went into meticulously recreating not just fancy palaces but also the homes of everyday people across different countries indicated to me that these locations share a similar importance. Every one of those 68 rooms were displayed side by side, democratically in a sense, as beautiful works of art in their own right, and it got me thinking about the significance of the home as a mode of artistic expression.
We as a society invest so much time and energy in building a home, or any similar private space, that reflects our personalities. Regardless of class or nationality, a home acts like an individual’s sanctum. I loved how the rooms captured the kind of unique, relatable, and deeply personal beauty that any of us can experience whenever we enter the place we call home.
Those of us taking the train back down to Bloomington said our goodbyes to the students who would be staying in the Chicagoland area for the weekend. We then had a couple hours on our own to explore the city, browse some stores, and grab a bite to eat before boarding the train. I met up with my mother, who works downtown, and she even brought with her a Tupperware of homemade Filipino food to share with the rest of the humanities fellows, because she’s amazing.
As we were catching up, my mother asked me a simple question: “So what was the purpose of this trip?” I paused for a bit, because the answer to that requires a bit of thought. To an outsider, this immersion trip looks like nothing more than a glorified field trip around Chicago. But to me and the rest of the humanities fellows, this trip was about exploring our love for subjects in the humanities in new and engaging ways.
I appreciated that this experience provided the freedom to explore my academic interests beyond the confines of a fixed curriculum, where sometimes topics can feel irrelevant to the real world. We visited places that I wouldn’t really have considered going to on my own, or places that I didn’t think would have any relevance for an English major. And yet, as these blog posts have shown, everywhere I went I was able to come away with some insight about humanity and the arts that I could apply to my personal experiences or to the general human experience as I’ve studied in my English classes.
I discovered a surprising number of interdisciplinary connections with history, social sciences, and the arts. I engaged with topics beyond my discipline, even daring to use my journal as a sketchbook at times (which definitely stretched my boundaries when it comes to the humanities). And the entire experience culminated in a better understanding of the humanities and the tangible, integral role they play in understanding our cities, our history, and our cultural identity. That level of intellectual growth, to me, was the purpose of this trip.
And, in reflecting on the people who made this trip possible, I want to thank Professor Joanne Diaz and Professor Carmela Ferradans, who have devoted themselves to the First-Year Humanities Fellows program from the very beginning. A special shout-out to humanities fellow Taylor Plantan, who helped organize the entire trip as part of her work in the English department. A huge thank you to all the other humanities fellows, whose insightfulness and positive energy made this trip so fun and memorable.
And of course, thank you to everyone who followed our adventures through this blog. I can’t wait to hear all about the next batch of First-Year Humanities Fellows and their adventures on this trip next year!
– Rachel McCarthy ’21
Friday, March 16
Today was the toughest day for the ASBers to wake up yet. It’s also the last day of work on our trip. Our bodies are sore, and we’re drained mentally, but we press on to finish the week off strong.
We split into two equal groups again this morning. My group headed out to the Habitat ReStore, while the other group finished up a house in a different neighborhood. At the ReStore, a department store that sells affordable home improvement items, the customer bathroom needed to be retiled. The IWU group from yesterday started the project, and we began a full day of work to try to finish it.
Shane, our supervisor for the day, was amazing, friendly, and extremely funny with his goofy and weird sense of humor. He had a baby about three weeks ago and, naturally, talked about her all day long and showed us pictures. His baby is so cute that we didn’t mind seeing a new picture every half hour or so! Shane stuck with us all day long and helped us out with the tiling. He even gave us creative freedom with the accent tiles to decide how we should implement them into the project because as far as he was concerned, this was “y’all’s bathroom.”
Although we didn’t quite finish up the project, we shared more laughs today than any other day of the trip. Shane said we did such a great job that he didn’t even mind that the job wasn’t done. Sadly, at 3 p.m., it was once again time to say goodbye. Today was especially difficult because Shane was so easy to work with and was so nice. We told him we’d be back soon enough to see the finished bathroom, and I hope that promise becomes true.
After working all day long, it was time to celebrate with ice cream (supposedly the best in Birmingham) and delicious BBQ. When we finished dinner, we headed back to the house to hang out and work on our projects for our secret buddies. Similar to Secret Santa, we drew names at the beginning of the week to see who we had to get a gift for by the end of the trip. Then, we had to work with the excess materials on the work sites to create something memorable for our buddy. Tomorrow is the big reveal!
I wish I could say we all went to bed at a decent hour because we have to get up before the crack of dawn tomorrow, but that wasn’t the case. Everyone sat up talking and telling scary stories until late at night just to enjoy the last night of being part of ASB. I think I can speak for everyone when I say, we’re ready for rest, but we’re not quite ready for the trip to end.
– Teagan Potter ’19
Thursday, March 15
Journaling and doing reflective writing exercises made our early Thursday morning fly by as we took the bus up to Hyde Park, home to the Robie House and the Oriental Institute.
We began at the Robie House, designed by the exceptional American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. I had heard his name before because of the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Oak Park, Illinois, the town where I went to high school, but never before had I taken the time to learn more about his buildings.
As the tour guide led us through Wright’s vision for the house to reflect the surrounding landscape of the Midwest, I felt awestruck by the meticulous attention he would give to the tiniest details. Everything, from using a different color mortar to make the rows of bricks look like flat Midwest plains, to constructing tall-backed dining chairs to keep people from looking around too much during a dinner conversation, had a purpose. This is a place I certainly wouldn’t have thought of going to on my own, but even without any architectural background, I could still admire how he devoted all his creativity to build a uniquely modern, Midwestern home where the Robies could build wonderful family memories.
Our next destination in Hyde Park was the Oriental Institute, which displays artifacts from ancient Mesopotamian cultures. I distinctly remember visiting the Oriental Institute as a kid with my family and blowing past anything that wasn’t taller than ten feet or filled with lots of colors. Naturally, I had missed out on some truly incredible cultural relics.
My personal favorite section was on the Book of the Dead, filled with magic spells said to help one’s soul move into the afterlife. It describes the ba, similar to the soul, staying within the corpse at night to ba rejuvenated so that in the morning it can join Re, the sun god, as he moves through the daytime sky. The ba is depicted as a bird with a red sun disk around its human head, and as someone interested in how different cultures perceive and cope with death, I loved that image of being able to look up and see the souls of your loved ones flying as birds through the sky. It demonstrates that these ancient peoples felt many of the same anxieties that we do today.
Part of studying the humanities means looking for those kinds of universal thoughts and experiences that define what it means to be human, and this museum was filled with examples of how those human themes manifest again and again across both space and time.
We rounded off our day with a performance by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, playing Haydn’s “Symphony No. 89 in F Major” and Mozart’s “Sinfonia concertante in E-flat Major, K. 364” and “Symphony No. 36 in C Major, K. 425 (Linz).” And if those titles convey nothing more to you than a jumble of numbers and notes, then you likely know about as much as I did about classical orchestra music going into the performance. Fortunately, we were able to attend a pre-concert talk, during which the speaker discussed how the compositions were written during transitory periods in both composers’ lives. Haydn was making the transition from employment by wealthy patrons such as Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy of Hungary to freelance work, an uncommon route for composers that was rife with uncertainty at the time. Mozart, meanwhile, composed Symphony No. 36 just a few short months after the death of his infant son, Raimund Leopold.
Knowing this historical context helped us take notice of the transitions in the music that conveyed the broad range of emotions that both composers put into their work. We all agreed that the musicians blended together beautifully to sound like a unified instrument. You could even see the harmony in the synchronized movements of the violin bows, like little waves rippling over and over again. They pulled off a magnificent performance, one sure to do Haydn and Mozart proud.
Just as any good symphony, our trip has crescendoed and reached its final notes. Tomorrow we say goodbye to this beautiful city on our fifth and last day of the FYHF Immersion Trip to Chicago!
– Rachel McCarthy ’21
Thursday, March 15 – The Endless Hike
“I think one of my favorite things about these trips is that they bring together students of different majors and backgrounds in general that you wouldn’t normally get to meet in your classes and you’re able to develop strong and close friendships that continue after the trip is over.” -Crystal
Back to work today for the ASBers! The group was split a little differently this morning. We separated in half at 7:30 a.m. for our separate projects for the day. Half of the ASBers went to the Habitat ReStore, a store dedicated to raising money to keep Habitat for Humanity functioning. The other half of us headed to a rehabilitation project at a house near downtown Birmingham.
The house today was an extremely fun project – probably the most fun I’ve had so far in the trip. Our supervisor, Matt, managed all ten of us on his own. Matt was not only incredibly kind but also funny enough to keep us laughing all day long. Our favorite part of having him as the supervisor was that he did very little micromanaging. He left us to our own projects and only intervened if he thought we needed it which led to some interesting situations, but those situations only led to new lessons learned.
My tasks for the day included demolition of a sealed-shut screen door. Matt showed Amy, Ricardo and me the door and said, “I have no idea how to do this, but you need to get this door out without breaking the glass.” Although we all shared a laugh about his parting words to us before our project, we realized he was completely serious. The three of us spent an hour hammering, prying, and shaking to wriggle the door out of the space in the wall. Finally, the door came out and the entire ASB crew in the house all cheered with us. I don’t know if I have ever felt so satisfied in a project. To spend an hour on a project that seems impossible only to find out that you can do it is one of the best feelings during construction.
The rest of the work day was spent hanging drywall to the ceiling and framing the wall for a new window. At 3 p.m., we left our favorite supervisor after a very productive day. Immediately from the work site, we drove to Ruffner Mountain for a “short” hike. However, the hike turned out to be nearly three hours long. Although the entire group can agree that the hike was gorgeous, we were all so dead from the long day and the lack of dinner that our feet were dragging the whole time. The view from the top, however, made the entire hike worth it!
After what felt like an eternity, the ASBers returned to the house where it was my group’s turn to cook dinner: pasta and salad (although I didn’t help much because, let’s face it, I can’t cook). While finishing a very quiet and tired dinner, we celebrated Audrey’s 22nd birthday with cake, ice cream, and Taylor Swift’s “22”. We finished the night by going around the room giving compliments to the other ASBers. I can’t believe tomorrow is the last day of work before heading back to Illinois!
– Teagan Potter ’19
Wednesday, March 14
What better way to end a fantastic trip to one of the most well-known cities in the world than visiting one of the most famous streets in the world. Folks, you definitely do not need Google Maps to recognize this one because Wall Street is not just your typical street– it is a street filled with many people in suits, a lot of energy, and of course, lots of money.
Our first stop on Wall Street was the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). Walking into the NYSE for the first time is similar to visiting Disney World for the first time, and let me tell you, there is some sort of magic in the air. With a countless number of screens, live reporters, numbers everywhere, the names of business after business, the NYSE is truly the Disney World of the financial district. Even if you have no idea what any number or graph means, this experience was one that truly captured the essence of New York City. In one room, there were what seemed like a million things happening at once, yet everyone seemed to handle everything with ease, as if they fed off of one another’s energy.
As if witnessing the money in the NYSE wasn’t enough, following the NYSE we had the chance to visit the Federal Reserve Bank. Not only is the Fed the hub of money for banks, it also looks like money with its classic architecture and vaulted ceilings that make you feel as if you are in another era. Along with receiving our own personal bag of shredded money from the Fed, we had a chance to visit the gold vaults that lie in the basement, and are worth hundreds of billions of dollars. After witnessing all this gold, I must say, there truly was some “24 karat magic in the air” (–Bruno Mars).
All this money in one day and it was time to take some selfies with the famous bull on Wall Street. After all, if you didn’t take a picture with the bull did you really visit New York city? A few selfies, some amazing authentic Chinese food for lunch, and my top purchase of a hat that says New York all over it to flaunt my tourist self, and that’s all we needed to wrap up our trip to the Big Apple.
On the flight back to Chicago, I realized just how inspired I felt after leaving this city. New York showed me that although there are tons of career paths that exist, no path is easy, yet there is a road to success within each one that can be found with hard work and determination. In New York, I saw people who were driven, motivated, and successful, and many of these people were our very own Illinois Wesleyan alumni.
It is incredibly inspiring to see people who started off just like us, taking the same courses with the same professors, who were involved in the same organizations on campus, achieve such success. The CIE is a networking trip, but in the end, I realized it is so much more than that. Not only did I strengthen my networking skills, I also strengthened my knowledge about life in general.
Life can be hard at times. It can mean hating your first job, losing your path and then rediscovering it, living in a tiny apartment with fake walls, or dropping everything to make a change and begin working in another city or country. But within each struggle is a lesson learned and success that follows, and after this trip, I have proof of that.
Thank you to everyone who made this trip truly life changing. What an unforgettable experience! New York, that’s a wrap, see you soon, and hopefully I’ll be working in this city by that time!
– Vi Kakares ’20
Wednesday, March 14
It’s been a chilly March with scattered snow flurries during our time in Chicago, so our tour of the Garfield Park Conservatory couldn’t have been timed more perfectly. The moment we shed our winter coats and walked into the humid air of the first room of the conservatory, the palm room, we were transported to a landscape that felt more like escaping into an idyllic scene from a picture book than into a building in the heart of Chicago. And that’s precisely the point: Inspired by Central Park in New York City, Chicago commissioned a series of conservatories around the city in order to bring urban workers in touch with the marvels of nature, in a space that has remained free and open to the public to this day.
Visiting a conservatory might sound like an odd destination for a group studying the humanities, but in fact, the conservatory is a place where history, art, and nature come together in a one-of-a-kind experience. As our tour guide explained to us how conservatories have evolved throughout history, it struck me how a place that once housed groves of orange trees for northern aristocrats to show off to their friends has transformed into a place in which so many passionate people have invested their time and energy. I loved how human art is on display in the form of statues and sculptures, in order to accent the art of nature that hundreds of dedicated staff and volunteers maintain so that it can flourish.
And how fortunate the public is to see the results of their work! Wandering around in these rooms brought such tranquility to replace the usual stress about work. If this were a nature blog, I’d spam the following section with all of the hundred or so pictures I took at the conservatory, because it was just that wondrous of a setting. With any luck, some of the pictures in today’s photo gallery will be able to convey parts of its beauty.
In one sense, spending the morning taking pictures segued nicely into our tour of the Museum of Contemporary Photography. However, it required transitioning from soothing nature scenes to depictions of war and conflict around the world — including Libya, the former Yugoslavia, and Israel and Palestine — that have impacted even those who are not direct victims of the violence. Our tour guide was wonderful in explaining the historical context of these conflicts and also the biographies of the photographers who felt compelled to capture these horrors, whether through realistic or symbolic means. For instance, artist Diana Matar told the story of her father-in-law, who was kidnapped in the 90s for speaking out against Gaddafi’s regime and was never found, by tracing his steps through Libya until the trail finally goes cold.
Other galleries weren’t quite as linear, but each of them still conveyed a powerful story about loss, chaos, and war. As I went through the galleries, I was surprised at how interpreting the pictures became somewhat easier the more we explored the museum. For me, and I’m sure for others as well, it’s a struggle to look beyond the surface level of a photograph. Having the photos in the context of a historical narrative, however, helped to make sense of the deeper, artistic meaning. The political science majors in particular jumped at the chance to view historical events from their classes through this new lens (no pun intended), but everyone in the group still felt the emotional impact of these stories, conveyed through an artistic medium that allows one to see a whole other side of the world through the eyes of a solitary human being.
In a brief window before dinner, we read an article about the parallels between Henrik Ibsen’s play “Enemy of the People” and the Flint Michigan water crisis before heading to see the play at the Goodman Theatre. The play, in which a doctor’s discovery of the town’s toxic water is discredited by the manipulative government, features a main character, Dr. Thomas Stockmann, who harshly criticizes democracy. At a public debate, Stockmann rants that democracy has created a cycle in which an ignorant majority elects leaders who use institutions to brainwash citizens into believing that they have free will. It’s a distressing message to deliver at a time when parts of our country doubt the legitimacy of democratic elections, but I think that it can also have a more positive interpretation: in a country led by the people, we must ensure that we educate as many citizens as possible to be discerning, intellectual people with the ability to lead the nation if called upon. It’s a lofty goal, but as our education system continues to expand and improve, hopefully the dream of an educated population is not too far off.
Sadly, the end of our time here in Chicago is also not too far off, but we’ve had an incredible time so far. Day 4 of 5 is coming soon!
– Rachel McCarthy ’21
Wednesday, March 14 – The ASBers Take a Day Off
“If we are wrong, the Supreme Court is wrong.
If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong.
If we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong”
-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The ASBers finally got a day off (well…sorta). We ended up doing another volunteer project later on in the day, but it was unrelated to Habitat.
We started the morning off slow because we FINALLY got to sleep in until 8:30 a.m. By 9:30 a.m., we were on the road with our lunches packed and music blaring. All of the ASBers headed towards Downtown Birmingham for a day at the Civil Rights Institute. There, we all had an incredibly powerful experience regarding many of the civil rights events. While I won’t spend time trying to recap all of the exhibits at the museum, I will say that being in Birmingham made everything in the museum all the more real.
For those who may be unaware, like I was, there were many bombings during the civil rights movement in the ’60s. Some of the most striking bombings included churches because most Americans, black and white alike, found churches to be safe havens away from the violence of the protests. However, in the ’60s, the 16th Street Baptist Church was bombed, killing four little girls. From the museum, we could see the church which made reading about the bombing situation invoke even stronger emotions. However, I felt the saddest today when I saw the artifacts found on one of the four little girls when she died. The case included her shoes, her bracelet, her necklace, but it also held the chunk of brick that was lodged in her head. Seeing these items made history come alive- it was no longer something we just read about in history books or see in pictures, but it was real, and it happened to actual innocent people.
The ASBers were already experiencing quite a mix of emotions – sadness, hope, anger, frustration – but the Civil Rights tour did not stop there. Our next stop was the actual 16th Street Baptist Church. This experience enlightened us further on some of the scarring details regarding the bombing, but the most saddening story was actually part of the tour guide’s history. When our tour guide was in college, he lived in Atlanta, Georgia. At the church in Atlanta, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was the associate minister and was scheduled to speak on the day of the Birmingham bombing. Right before speaking, he got a call in his office that told him about the bombing.
Our guide recalled that when King came out to speak, he was absolutely speechless. An eloquent man who always had something enlightening to say in every situation was speechless. Once again, King got another call which he took in his office. During this call, he was told about the four little girls. Our guide said that when King returned, he had a look of complete devastation, shock, and confusion. Our guide, 55 years later, was still choked up recalling this event. This piece of history was something that couldn’t be found in a museum, and yet, it is the part of the tour that stuck with us after we left the church.
The day wasn’t all emotionally down though. Even as we were pulling out of the museum, the ASBers were talking amongst themselves about the sadness they felt and the hope they had for the future. To improve our mood, the ASBers then went to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens where we got a short tour and began a conservation project. Even on our day off, we suited up with work gloves to pour mulch around the pathways of the fern garden in order to preserve the plants better. It felt good to give back, even if it only had a miniscule impact on the community, especially after our emotional morning.
Our night ended on a high note because it was taco night in the Habitat home. The ASBers are really becoming close-knit. The room was filled with laughter and conversation between each and every person. I’ve never met a kinder and more giving group of people and I’m honored to be able to participate in this Habitat trip with them. As for tomorrow… we’re getting back to work!
– Teagan Potter ’19
Tuesday, March 13
There is a common saying. “He shoots, he scores,” and boy did we score on day 3 of the CIE trip. Not only did we have the opportunity to visit the NBA Headquarters, but we also scored the chance to meet with people working in the consulting and insurance industries, not to mention the insight we gained from networking with highly successful and talented alums working in the New York area at an alumni social event later this evening.
Before we could have a sip of our morning coffee, we got a sweet taste of what it’s like to work as a consultant in the New York area. For someone like me who has heard of consulting but never really knew much about the profession, I must say that I was incredibly intrigued. I think what is most interesting about this industry is the unique relationships consultants build with their clients. It is interesting to see the dynamic of these relationships and truly get a glimpse of the people skills that are needed for any business to thrive along with the technical skills.
We are all insured in some way (at least I hope we are). Whether it’s homeowner’s insurance, auto insurance, or health insurance, it is important to have some type of coverage because, let’s face it, life is just a little too risky. But after attending our afternoon insurance panel with Marsh and McLennan, an insurance agency, I learned that there is a lot more that goes into this risky business than simply calculating premiums and deductibles. I learned that data analytics plays a large role in the insurance industry. Companies are always going to face risk, but what is their best form of coverage against that risk? The answer to this question can be found in data analytics, a growing field in the insurance industry that insurance agencies, like Marsh and McLennan, are using to support their proposed insurance plans and ensure billion dollar companies that they are indeed, properly insured.
When most people hear the word basketball, they tend to think of the game itself, or the NBA, or players like Michael Jordan. But it is also important to consider that basketball is not just a sport– it’s a business, and a pretty big one. Thanks to Ed Winkle ’86, the vice president of global partnerships at the NBA, we got a closer look into this business and the vast amount of opportunities that exist for future internships and careers in the NBA. There are so many components that make the NBA the multibillion industry that it is, and our visit to the NBA Headquarters allowed me to see this first-hand. Ed’s work experience in Asia for 15 years before coming to the NBA was also inspiring. Ed said that he never would have pictured himself working abroad, and because of this, he emphasized the importance of taking risks and having an open mind because it is often the unexpected opportunities that lead to the greatest experiences. Also our NBA snapbacks were a plus– thanks to Ed and the NBA for the wonderful gifts!
When you talk to people about college, many will ask you what you’re majoring in, what your future career plans are, and what you hope to gain out of these four years. At our alumni social event later this evening, I finally found the answer to these questions. College isn’t simply about learning– it is about being a part of a larger network of people who have different majors than you, but the same ambition to fulfill those dreams. Standing in a room full of Illinois Wesleyan alums who graduated in the 1960s, all the way until now, made me realize that I truly am a part of a group of people who graduated from the same school and have achieved success in their field.
We all share the Illinois Wesleyan experience. We’ve all been to Shirk, ate at The Dugout, and found a second home in Ames, yet we’ve all ended up somewhere different. That is the beauty of college. It is having a pool of mentors all around the country, and all around the world, who were once in our footsteps, who share the same roots yet have planted their success in different industries, in different parts of the world. This strong alumni network is one that I can only hope to be a part of when I too find that same success.
To top off this incredible evening was a visit to Fox News, which was truly a dream come true for an aspiring broadcast journalist like myself. Not only was my jaw dropped the entire time while visiting the Fox Newsroom, I felt even more inspired to continue working toward my dream after the visit. A huge thank you to Tariq Khan ’93 for allowing us to have a sneak peek behind the screens!
– Vi Kakares ’20