Hospitality in India

This spring break, I went on the school global education trip to India. We traveled all over Northern India, from New Delhi to Agra (where the Taj Mahal is located) to Dehradun (where we stayed at boys’ and girls’ boarding schools), and finally to Varanasi, where we closed the 16-day journey. The entire trip was very eye-opening. I was particularly struck by the colorism in the country. For example, all of the movie stars were extremely light and most menial jobs, such as drivers and cooks, were done by darker Indians. However, what I was most struck by during my stay was the hospitality of the girls at Welham Girls’ School.

My first impression of Welham was good and bad. The food was delicious and everyone was so welcoming. However, the campus in in the middle of a city and is surrounded by barbed-wired brick walls on all four sides. I felt caged in and started to see the rolling hills of Groton in a new light. I was also turned off by the highly strict and traditional nature of the school. The girls aren’t allowed cell phones at all and can only leave campus with their own parents through a strict sign-out system. However, over the course of my stay, my opinions started to change.

Firstly, I started to warm up to the traditions on campus. Breakfast was at 8 and just like at Groton the dorms started to wake up all at the same time–7 a.m. After breakfast, all of the girls filed out and lined up for morning assembly. Their school captain (our version of senior prefect) opened the assembly, and then their headmistress made announcements. The whole assembly began with the singing of a hymn (sometimes in Hindi, sometimes in English)–just like at Groton. The girls complained like crazy about their classes and their teachers, but they were passionate about their interests too–just like at Groton. After school, the girls hustled to sports before they had study hall before they had dinner–just like at Groton, albeit in a different order. I was struck by how similar we were to the girls, even 10.5 hours around the globe. However, what really affected me was how kind the girls were.

When I say that I felt the most welcomed that I have ever felt in a new environment at Welham, I am not exaggerating. The senior girls who were tasked to show us around went above and beyond the line of duty. Not only them, but younger girls whom we didn’t interact with during the day would come to our dorm after dinner and talk to us about our lives. In addition, our dorm head constantly checked in to make sure everything was okay with our lodging. The whole experience made me realize how Groton falls short in our exchange program. It also made me realize how much more I personally can reach out to people whom I’m not that close with. All in all, my India trip made me realize that we humans are more alike than we think, and that’s a beautiful thing.

Broomball!!

I love ice skating. Ever since I was a little girl, I was obsessed with ice skating. I love going to the seasonal public rinks every winter. My birthday is in early March which, although is still cold, just falls out of range of the dates of the rinks, which usually close in February. For my 10th birthday however, I begged my parents for a skating party, and my wish was granted with a party at a year-long rink located very far north of my home in Atlanta. The Ice Center had two rinks, one to rent and one for the public to skate in. This was my very first time seeing the sport of hockey being played.

When I came to Groton, I got to see a lot more skating. I so vividly remember watching the varsity boys hockey game on St. Mark’s Day in Second Form. It was my first time watching a full hockey game and I was entranced. It may sound silly, but I think of hockey like a very intricate, beautiful dance. I was stunned by how fast the boys skated and how the puck got from point A to point B in less than a second. I vowed then that I would try hockey, and I eventually did during my Fourth Form winter. Participating in girls JV Puck was the best decision I’ve ever made at this school, and I readily spew this fact whenever my short hockey career is brought up. I wasn’t a hockey prodigy, but I must say, I think I could have been really good at hockey if I had started as a young child.

This winter I’m doing the musical, Cabaret, and I’ve sorely missed my ice time. The past few weekends have made up for it though. I’ve recently gotten into broomball, also something that I was first exposed to at Groton (along with field hockey, hockey, squash, lacrosse (in big doses), and modifying adjectives with the word “wicked”). If you don’t know, broomball works the same way as hockey except you play on only one-third of the rink, and instead of a hockey stick and skates, you use a wooden stick with a rubber end and your normal street shoes. I first begged my friends Amy and Ali to go with me about three weeks ago, but we just played again this past weekend and it was as fun as ever. Part of the joy is that it truly is for fun. The other people who go to broomball are a large group of Fourth Form boys who spend half the time playfully heckling each other. Although some of these boys are amazing at broomball, I feel no pressure whatsoever to perform, so I truly let go and just have a good time. It’s the perfect end to a long week, and I highly recommend giving it a try if you ever have the opportunity.

The Perks of Being Snowed In

Saturday was the first snowfall (that stuck) of the year. Snow had already hit the South; I had received videos and pictures of my own house from my parents back in Atlanta. However, I have to admit I never yearn for snow. It’s very cold and I dislike the feeling of snow flurries constantly berating me. Winter doesn’t officially start for 11 days, but at 12 pm yesterday Massachusetts was already letting me know what’s in store for the coming season. I was not amused. I didn’t have musical rehearsal so I had planned to fill my afternoon with work and watching the girls varsity squash invitational. However, with the snow, all games except for hockey were canceled. Additionally, I had planned to go on a school trip off campus for dinner, but all off-campus trips for the night were also canceled. I was left without a plan, but out of that lack of a plan came a spontaneity that allowed me to have one of the best Saturdays of the school year.

After classes got out I went to lunch and then back to the dorm, where I hung out with friends for two hours. After a while, I figured that if I wasn’t going to work, I should at least work out.  My roommate, Nikkie, and I went to the Athletic Center together. I was very excited because I’ve been wanting to get into the weight room for a while now, but I didn’t know how to start. Thankfully, Nikkie loves to weight lift, being into CrossFit and also following the training regimen of a varsity hockey player.  After teaching me the proper form for squatting, Nikkie had to leave, but I ended up doing an entire girls hockey workout with two senior girls who are on the team. It was an amazing, empowering feeling. Although, I won’t have many days off of rehearsal this winter, I hope I can keep the weight room in my regular fitness rotation.

After working out, I finally hit the books, albeit only for an hour. Don’t blame me, though–the Dining Hall was serving “Fasian” (Fake Asian) for dinner, which is one of my favorite meals. In Fifth Form it’s harder to catch up with all your friends because everyone is in different places all the time, but at dinner a large group of us crammed into the same table. I ended up staying at the Dining Hall from 5 to 7:30, the entirety of the operating dinner hours, talking and catching up with people. I don’t remember the last time I had such a long, laughter-filled dinner.

Afterwards, before getting ready for Middle School Dance, which I think has the best music out of all of our many themed dances, I caught up with my two friends Marianne and Shirley. Shirley was saying that she was disappointed that she had gotten so little done, work or otherwise, throughout the day. Marianne, ever wise, rebutted her, saying, “No, it’s going to be a long week. You needed that me time.” I realized she was right.

The two-week period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is always intense. Usually teachers fit an entire unit within the short time frame so the last couple of days before students leave for Christmas break is always filled with major commitments. For that reason, at the start of this weekend I was determined to have an uber-productive Saturday, filled with homework, in order to get ahead on homework for the week. Although, I may not have had the most productive day work-wise, I had one of the most fulfilling Saturdays in a long time. I finally worked out in the weight room, something I’ve been wanting to do all fall term, and I caught up with so many friends. On top of all of that, I ended the day at one of my favorite dances of the year. All in all, it was a great day despite the start of what promises to be a cold, snowy winter.

133 Blue Bottles on the Wall!

Every year, we celebrate the school’s birthday at sit-down. It is always an event, with the whole school crammed into the Dining Hall and the Webb Marshall room below, everyone bubbling over the always highly anticipated ice cream cakes for dessert. However, this year I was all the more excited for sit-down because as a Fifth Former I got to sing “Blue Bottles” with my entire form to the Sixth Form. This Groton tradition is ages old and it’s one I’ve personally looked forward to ever since Second Form.

I’m not even a particularly huge fan of sit-down, but this was one I am sure to remember for quite a while. For starters, sit-down was held in the gym to comfortably accommodate everyone. Secondly, we sat by advisory groups, which was very nice because I love my advisor and advisory. Also sometimes sit-down can be awkward if the table chemistry is off, and it was nice to not have to worry about that. Thirdly, the food was stellar. Lastly, we sang “Blue Bottles”!! As people started to clear their plates, I started to anticipate the moment when the Sixth Form would go above to the indoor track to yell, “We want ‘Blue Bottles’!” At that time, the Fifth Form was to gather on the bleachers in front of the rest of the school sitting down to sing (read: yell) the song.

The form had practiced the song once the week prior, but I have to admit that we were not very in sync. I was on the front row, directly center, in front of Mr. Bannard, who was conducting with a huge knife (another wacky tradition). We started the tune way way way too fast. The way it works is that you count down from “133 blue bottles hanging on the wall,” then one hundred, then fifty, twenty-five, fifteen, ten, then by one until you reach “no blue bottles hanging on the wall,” increasing your tempo and noise level as you go. However, we started at too fast a pace. (I say too fast, but I was very enthusiastic and honestly part of the problem myself). By the time we reached “ten blue bottles hanging on the wall” we were simply screeching, also might I add, banging on the floor with our feet as well as clapping in time. Put simply, it was the highlight of my fall term.

After the song was over, I left the bleachers in a daze and on Cloud 9. I was so happy. Sometimes I think it’s hard for other students to relate to my excitement, but when you’ve been at Groton since Second Form and you finally get to do the traditions you’ve seen the classes ahead of you do for three years now—the feeling is incomparable to anything else. Singing “Blue Bottles” was for me the official sign that I am in Fifth Form, and I honestly couldn’t be happier about that fact (even though there was not ice cream cake for every table).

Film Club Debut

This is a picture of Julien and me, along with our friend Tilly, who is a head of Unicef and the Business and Management Club, at the school club fair two weeks ago.

This year I have become increasingly involved in extracurricular activities at school. It’s been tough juggling a heavier school load along with my other activities, but as an Upper Schooler I’ve found myself wanting to be involved in more and more activities as I’m realizing that there’s only so much I can do in the short time I have left as a Groton student.

I am a member of the school’s new MIT launch club, which I am very excited about. I am a team leader of the Diversity and Inclusion task force, which means I help Ms. Sen Das, the teacher sponsor and director of the task force, along with twelve other Fifth and Sixth Formers, to plan the meetings for the rest of the students on the task force. In that capacity, I will also help lead my dorm discussions on issues that Diversity and Inclusion sponsors. I also am an assistant features editor for the school newspaper, the Circle Voice. What I am most excited about, however, is being a head of Film Club.

As of right now, when people ask me what I want to do, I tell them I want to be a screenwriter and director. I love to write, and my favorite movies are the ones that I judge to have the best screenplays. In fact, I’ve always wanted to do something to do with writing ever since I was a kid. I bounced from wanting to be a novelist, to considering journalism, to now wanting to screenwriter. Therefore, I am very excited to head Film Club. My friend, Julien Alam, and I are co-heading the club. Film Club has been an on-again, off-again club on campus since we were both in Second Form, but this year we’re trying to revamp it and make it a serious activity for students on campus.

Two weeks ago was the all-school club fair. Julien and I were both very nervous to debut the club, but we enjoyed a lot of sign-ups. This past Thursday we held our first meeting. I think one of the most nerve-wracking, cringe-inducing things one must eventually do on this campus is send an email to the whole school. The week prior to the meeting, when we were planning out what we would do in the first meeting, Julien and I  playfully argued about who would send out the initial email telling people when and where the club would meet.  It is super daunting. There is also something exhilarating about sending out an email for your club. It is a sign of getting older and taking charge. I still think it’s crazy that I’m a Fifth Former and that Lower Schoolers look up to me. That being said, the first meeting was a huge success. We had a great turnout for our first ever meeting, and we got positive reviews after it was over. During the meeting we went around and did introductions, watched a clip of Barry Jenkins, the director of Moonlight, talking about his process during production, talked as a group about what film meant to us individually, and finally we finished with a short project wherein everyone split into groups and was given ten minutes to compose a short “film” on their phones.

Julien and I were both really pleased with how the meeting went. I cannot wait to see what else the club accomplishes in the coming weeks.

Fifth Form Fun

The first week of school is always weird. This week was especially strange for me as a new Fifth Former. I no longer have mandatory study hall! It’s amazing, but also strange not to know where everyone is all the time. The answer to that question, I discovered, is: in the new library. (Tip: do not go there to reach maximum productivity levels.) That aside, I also had to adjust to new teachers and courses. So far my favorite classes are Precalculus, AP Latin, and US History.

I’ve found myself looking forward to all of my classes this year, which I haven’t always been able to say. I think that part of that comes from the fact that as a Fifth Former, my course load actually reflects my interests. This year I dropped Spanish, but kept Latin. I also am taking a history elective, Power and Politics, this fall, which I’m very excited about. The same is true for my friends. When schedules came out over the summer and we were comparing, we found that there was less class overlap than in the past. It’s a very cool, I think, and perhaps an inevitable phenomenon. This is the big year for specialization after all, and I’m finding myself very happy with the choices I’ve made so far.

That being said, I still admittedly live for the weekends and after a long week of classes the weekend finally arrived, along with the first soccer game of the season and also the opening dance of the school year, which is always very fun. Tomorrow is my friend Dashy’s (who is also coincidentally a Zebra Tales blogger) birthday. To celebrate her, yesterday evening a small group of friends met in the CPAC lobby to just sit, laugh, and chat over pizza, wings, and jalapeno poppers. It was a surprise party and Dashy was in fact surprised. I almost ruined it though. I was sprinting to the CPAC right at the minute the party was meant to start, and I turned my head to see Dashy walking up another path with our mutual friend, Julien, who coordinated the party and was leading Dashy to her surprise. Later Julien told us all that as a distraction in that moment he pointed in a wayward direction and yelled, “There’s a snake!” The potential crisis was thankfully averted and the gathering was a huge success. It was a great start to the weekend—surrounded by the people I love most—a little piece of normalcy in this new start of the school year.

 

Summer Behind the Scenes

This summer I interned at Horizon Theatre in Atlanta, working under stage management on their summer show, Blackberry Daze. I want to be a screenwriter and director when I’m older, and this was my first time doing active work in the industry. It was very intense. Our day off was Monday, but other than that we worked eight-hour days, six days a week. My main job, along with the other intern, Maria, was to be in charge of props and set pieces. So, for the first week or so work was pretty dull. The cast busied themselves with read-throughs and music rehearsals while we mostly watched.

However, a couple of weeks in, my load really picked up. The set was abstract so Maria and I spent hours scribbling diagrams of the set—which mainly employed three benches to set the scene for any particular moment—and then erasing and redrawing when the director changed his mind, which he did a lot. When we moved to the main stage, I had to be ready to move scenery at any moment. Maria and I were also responsible for organizing the props backstage for the actors. I’d say it was about as mentally stimulating as my AP Chemistry class last year. That is, no matter how tired I may have been, I literally could not afford to let my mind wander.

But that isn’t to say that the work wasn’t enjoyable. Working on the show was amazing because I got to be “in the room” for the first time and just let the theatrical genius wash over me. My dad is a musician and he frequently does theater in the city, so I’ve been to several rehearsals in my life, but I’ve never been along for the entire process. I was there for the read-throughs and the first music rehearsals, and I helped the cast learn choreography.

My favorite parts were when I was just sitting watching the cast rehearse, and the director would stop to make notes. I love love love director’s notes. I’m a very analytical person. Even in our school productions (I’ve been in three shows at Groton so far), I like knowing, “OK, this is exactly what I need to work on.” Watching the director, Tom, give notes would give me chills. Sometimes the notes were more technical, but other times he would describe something pivotal to the actor and you could feel a flip switch in the room. One note can completely change the trajectory of a scene. I love that. I was also very lucky to be working with an all-black cast. Going in, I was immediately more comfortable. Plus, as a teenager, being surrounded by such degrees of black brilliance has more of an impact on me than I’d ever admit to my parents, coming home from a long tiring day of work.

I only worked on the show up to opening night, July 14 (which was magical and lovely). That night I had my mom, dad, great aunt, and family friend supporting me in the audience (and making me cringe when I had to come out to change the set pieces at intermission). However, in early August I saw the show from the audience with my sister, who actually also worked on the show unofficially, assisting the music director for two weeks; my grandmother; my cousin, who I grew up with but who has since moved away; and my dad. At the end of the show I felt so happy and proud. That was my cast. Afterward we stayed behind to catch up with everyone and it felt full circle. (Though I will admit that I didn’t mind having my summer back to myself in the weeks following opening!)