Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Top 8 Moments of 2008

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summertime homemade pizzafest

another year full of memories has gone by.  i’ll probably be doing more reflecting after my new year’s eve festivities, but for now, here’s a list of 8 good times in 2008.

8.  having dozens of friends show up at my 21st birthday, which was a laid-back concert held at four friends coffeehouse before they closed down.

7.  selling my old powerbook G4 to a friend majoring in graphic design at GVSU and using the money to purchase a used macbook air that was listed on eBay for a steal of a price.  i love my air, and because i use it everyday, it deserves a spot on this list.

6.  completing a big website project near the beginning of the summer, which freed me up financially so that i could explore new opportunities all summer long.

5.  exploring all summer long.  i networked and job-hopped the local media and entertainment industries, going from event promoter to artist manager to DJ to sales representative and back again.  i had such a blast, and met so many cool people.  best of all, i got to know myself a bit better, so i have an idea of what i do and don’t want to get into after graduating.

4.  buying some turntables a week before a gig, learning to DJ via YouTube tutorials from ellaskins, practicing 8 hours a day for 3 straight days, then throwing down and rocking out.  it was a win-win situation.  i picked up a new skill, my friend had a blast for his birthday party, and i made a good impression on the venue’s owner which has led to more opportunities.

3.  getting $140 from someone i’d just met to start kalvin kulture.  in 3 months, that $140 has turned into over $4000 worth of goods and services.

2.  being notified one morning that an article was featuring my company on the front page of calvin college’s website.  ever since i came to calvin, i thought that’d be kind of cool, and i never expected it to happen.

1.  talking about life and future at various times with my various housemates.  we’ll soon be separating to experience another stage of life, life after college.  i’ve got one semester left with them, and i hope to make the best of it.

here’s to a great 2009!!

Posted by Nehe555 on 12/31 at 05:04 PM
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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Learning How to Learn II

judging from my experience in calvin’s religion department, any departments that require argumentative papers develop potential salespeople.  i’m sure calvin’s philosophy department would be great recruiting grounds for southwestern.  over the years, calvin has developed a respected philosophy program, and i was fortunate to take an honors philosophy class for core.  philosophy majors can write like no other.  after four years of experience arguing about metaphysics, i’m sure philosophers can easily argue why southwestern’s educational products are much better than their competitors’.  also, lawyers are accustomed to arguing points, and their negotiation skills would come in handy when drafting a contract.  although calvin doesn’t have a law department, they have a pre-law program that prepares students for law schools.  i haven’t met a lot of pre-law students, but i’m sure i’ll recognize them.  they’ll be the ones that somehow persuade me to go on a 10k run after i’ve gorged myself on chinese buffet.

so far i’ve been focusing on how various fields relate to business.  that’s probably because i’ve had to explain to countless people why i’m a religion and communications double major that owns a startup business.  by now, i can connect religion and communications with business in my sleep—i’ve already explained it so many times.  but i have a hunch that if religion, philosophy, and law equips students for business, maybe engineering, nursing, and psychology can equip students for a field such as public relations.  there must be plenty of cross-over between different fields.  let me think out loud for a couple paragraphs.

according to my housemate, an electrical engineer, engineers are problem solvers, and darn good ones.  from what i know about my nursing-major-friends, they learn to connect with people on a face-to-face level.  more than a few of my friends have interned at pine rest, a local mental health facilities, and they’ve cared for everyone from the mentally-challenged to bed-ridden grandparents.  i can imagine that facing these people everyday can be quite depressing, but i’ve been surprised by how nursing majors can cope with their surroundings.  some of the people they care for are going to die in the near future, yet my friends smile and shake off the hopelessness.  another one of my housemates is a psychology major, and he’s a great listener.  i took my intro to psych courses at the university of toronto one summer, and i became a better listener simply by learning about human behavior.  i can imagine how four years of psychology courses can teach someone to be an incredible listener.  moreover, good listeners tend to have good discernment.  my housemate’s certainly a great discerner.

how would that all relate to public relations?  from my limited knowledge of the field (i’ve only taken one class, and i don’t know many PR people), i understand that PR is responsible for being the face of the company/organization they represent.  sometimes they need to handle PR nightmares, and i’m sure mccain’s PR staff had a field day dealing with his “bomb bomb iraq” song.  safe to say, there would be some problem-solving involved in any PR nightmare, so anyone with an engineering background would be cut out for those situations.  also, as the face of the company, PR reps would often be at publicity events mingling with press and other attendees.  most nursing students that have interned at pine rest or other mental health facilities would be able to connect with people and make a good impression under high pressure situations.  and as with any people-related job, the ability to listen is crucial.  how would mccain’s PR team handle “bomb bomb iraq” if they couldn’t discern the gravity of the situation?  i’m sure mccain’s team was listening closely to mainstream media, trying to predict how the american public would react to the video clip.  also, how could PR reps make a good impression at a publicity event if they spent all their time talking people’s ears off?  i’m sure they’d use their listening skills to encourage two-way conversations.

since there’s so much cross-over between various fields, does it matter what field i choose?  maybe the best PR reps don’t graduate with a public relations degree, but rather an engineering/nursing/psychology interdisciplinary degree.  to be honest, i don’t know.  but here’s what i do know: if i can convince the employer that i’m the best fit for the position, i’ll get it.

Posted by Nehe555 on 12/30 at 03:11 PM
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The Recession and Entertainment

one statistic particularly stuck out when i took my world cinema class two semesters ago.  the textbook said that during france’s economic depression decades ago, box office sales soared.  apparently, because inflation made material goods too expensive, people didn’t have much left to spend their money on, so they bought movie tickets.  for the french, movies became a place of escape from the harsh realities surrounding them.

i was talking with my dad when i worked in the local music industry over the summer, and he was concerned about how the economy would affect the entertainment industry.  i didn’t have concrete evidence, but i had a hunch from my world cinema textbook that the entertainment industry wouldn’t be adversely affected by a recession.  although a few lines in a textbook isn’t nearly enough information to draw conclusions from, a recent headline caught my eye:

Hollywood Celebrates Big Showing at Box Office

although the article states that grosses are down 0.9% from last year, the Christmas weekend pulled in some really good ticket sales.  i’ll be keeping my eye on this.

Posted by Nehe555 on 12/30 at 01:49 PM
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Monday, December 29, 2008

Learning How to Learn

i realized something over the past few months.  after years of responding to the questions, “what’s your major?” followed by “why a religion and communications double major?”, i’ve realized that knowledge in any field applies directly to any other field.  for instance, my religion major has happened to equip me very well for certain aspects of business, particularly sales.  so how does karl bart’s theology correlate with sales pitches?

here at calvin, the religion department routinely hands out the lowest GPAs.  i think that’s because all students are required to take a 100-level and a 200-level religion course as part of their core requirement.  and contrary to other core courses, religion faculty don’t lower their expectations just because most of their students aren’t religion majors.  the courses are tough: students are expected to read some really dense articles, regurgitate the information in thorough tests, and churn out several research papers within a semester.  if i find these courses difficult as a religion major, i can’t imagine how non-religion majors are faring.  i’ve heard plenty of complaints, and i know my GPA would be a lot better if i didn’t take religion classes.

but calvin’s religion department is incredible, and i wouldn’t be studying here if i wasn’t majoring in religion.  the department equips people for sales pitches in two ways.  first, religion rewards diligence, and second, religion improves writing skills.  i have some friends who participated in southwestern company’s internship program.  for an entire summer, they worked 70-80 hours over a six-day week doing door-to-door sales.  before they hit the streets, they go through the company’s orientation program.  if i recall correctly, one of the rules-of-thumbs that the company teaches them is that ~15% of the people they approach simply will not buy the product.  meanwhile, ~15% of those they approach will buy the product, just because they show up.  your sales pitch determines what happens with the remaining 70%.  the top interns earn $40,000+ in one summer because they’ve developed excellent pitches.

i have a lot of respect for southwestern interns, and they’ve taught me a lot about sales.  the main lesson is that hard work pays off.  even the worst southwestern intern can make a few thousand dollars in a summer if they spend 80 hours a week knocking on doors.  it’s a bit of a shotgun approach—by virtue of statistics, ~15% of the doors they knock on will result in a successful sale.  so they knock on a lot of doors.  just like in calvin’s religion classes, diligence pays off.  if students follow their professor’s advice and start their research papers two weeks before the deadline, they’ll earn a good grade.

of course, you’ll still need to be a decent writer, and that’s what high school and calvin’s english 101 course is for.  like i said before, religion classes hone your writing skills.  religion professors expect polished and well-researched papers, and they’ll dock big points if any student falls short of their standards.  every point needs to be backed up, and all points must contribute to a logical conclusion.  if the professor isn’t convinced by the student’s arguments, the student will receive a low grade.  no if, ands, or buts—enough religion professors have already been placed on probation by calvin’s administration for flunking large numbers of students.  just like how religion professors won’t accept a poorly-argued paper, potential customers will reject poorly-argued sales pitches.  southwestern interns give their pitches in person, not on paper.  i’m hoping to reach that level one day, because i think giving pitches in person is much harder than pitching by e-mail.  at least with an e-mail pitch, i can leverage my religion-influenced writing skills.

i never expected any of this when i signed up for religion.  but by sticking with a good program, i realized that the skills i’m developing can equip me for opportunities in many different fields.  after all, i can’t go wrong with learning how to sell—within the next few years, i’ll be selling myself to various employers and/or grad schools.

Posted by Nehe555 on 12/29 at 02:08 PM
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Obamas To-Do List?

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i wouldn’t mind if it relieves his stress and helps him focus

According to headlines from the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, maybe this stuff is on our President-elect’s to-do list:

- Distance himself from controversy from his home state’s governer, Blagojevich
- Alleviate an economic recession that reshaped Wall Street and crippled American automakers
- Face the military tension between American ally, Israel, and the Hamas in the Gaza Strip
- Face the military tension between India and Pakistan
- Shift America away from reliance on fossil fuels
- Maintain Army operations with a 30,000 soldier deficit
- Withdraw from Iraq

And they say it won’t be easy.  Is it just me, or does Obama’s inauguration make other Presidents’ inaugurations look like a cakewalk?

Posted by Nehe555 on 12/29 at 01:11 PM
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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Asian Unrest

on september 11th, 2001, planes crashed into the world trade center and pentagon, killing almost 3,000 innocent civilians.  america responded shortly afterwards, announcing a war on terror that brought troops to countries in the middle east.  other NATO nations also denounced the attacks, and joined america’s anti-terrorism efforts to varying degrees.

on november 26th, 2008, a group of gunmen landed on india’s coastline and began a shooting spree, killing at least 173 people.  after 3 days of combat in india’s financial capital, all but one gunman was killed.  the surviving gunman claimed to be connected to pakistan, a country that has a rough history with india.  india responded shortly afterwards, condemning the attacks and pointing fingers at pakistan for failing to halt such activities.  other nations also denounced the attacks, particularly those that had citizens killed visiting mumbai.

recent headlines in the washington post:
- Pakistan seeks to reduce tensions after troop move
- Pakistan Moves Troops From Tribal Areas to Border With India

compare 9/11 to the mumbai attacks, and look at how the respective countries handled/are handling the situation.  i think pakistan has every reason to fear an Indian invasion.

and america’s hands might be tied.  we can’t stop india from invading pakistan.  look at how we responded to 9/11.

Posted by Nehe555 on 12/28 at 02:31 AM
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Saturday, December 27, 2008

News Headlines Get Personal III

Bernard Madoff Arrested Over Alleged $50 Billion Fraud

my retired neighbors drive their RV down to florida every winter.  besides enjoying the sunshine, they spend time with other retired friends that live in retirement communities there year-round.  when i was spending christmas eve with them, my neighbors told me that entire communities in florida were hit by the madoff scandal.  after some thinking, it all made sense.  a fellow international student told me that his family back in jamaica used to invest their money with a foreign exchange trader who would earn them a 10% return every month.  he quickly became the top trader at his bank, and soon afterwards, jamaica’s cream of the crop heard about his reputation and snapped him up.  now the trader spends his time making the country’s richest even richer.  madoff was a similar character.  he had an incredible track record, and a great reputation.  as a result, word spread, and madoff won over the firms that handled retirement portfolios.  when madoff collapsed, entire retirement communities did too.  after all, if a certain firm is earning an incredible return on a couple’s retirement portfolio, their friends want in.

Posted by Nehe555 on 12/27 at 04:32 PM
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Friday, December 26, 2008

News Headlines Get Personal II

Fed Clears GMAC Plan To Become A Bank

i know my neighbor to the left is feeling a bit of relief.  a father of two, he works at a car dealership nearby.  judging from the cars he drives, his dealership sells American cars, which means it’s either directly or indirectly connected to GMAC.  after all, GMAC funds most of the automaker’s dealers, and even if GMAC doesn’t directly fund his dealership, it’ll fund his neighbors.  if GMAC goes down and pulls down a bunch of dealerships with it, firms that fund those newly-failed dealerships have a good chance of failing too.  and those firms might fund my neighbor’s car dealership.

the retired couple living across the street have a son-in-law that develops products for car interiors.  as a tier-2 supplier to GM, Ford, Chrysler and other automakers, most of their business depends on how well American cars are selling.  i highly doubt their company’s very diversified, because he was talking about how grateful he was for GMAC’s switch.  he wouldn’t be so concerned if his company was also developing products for the tech and textile industries.  he’s a father of two lovely kids that i just met.

one of my friend’s uncles is the president of an engineering firm that provides products to the automakers.  their company’s more diversified, having expanded into the medical industry a few years ago, but any collapse in the auto industry could significantly reduce their profits.  they’d need to cut costs, which can mean layoffs.  and my friend’s uncle would probably be the one telling his employees the bad news.  and the thing about layoffs is that it doesn’t just affect one person.  some employees support their wife/husband and kis, so laying off those employees is like laying off an entire family.

Posted by Nehe555 on 12/26 at 03:49 PM
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Thursday, December 25, 2008

News Headlines Get Personal

Fed grants GMAC ability to seek bailout funds
Fed Cuts Key Rate to Record Low
Auto Bailout Talks Collapse as Senate Deadlocks Over Wages
White House, Democrats Near Short-Term Deal For Automakers
U.S. Throws Lifeline to Detroit
some recent headlines.  the list goes on…

I started getting into current affairs during early October (i think), when the credit crunch kicked off in the financial industry.  since then, i’d wake up to washington post and wall street journal headlines, which i’d read while brushing my teeth.  in the back of my mind, i knew that this stuff was important (even though i didn’t completely understand why), and i’d discuss current affairs with some other friends who’d keep up with the news.  i figured if my parents read chinese newspapers religiously, and if my advisor reads the wall street journal between academic advising appointments, i better start too.

back when i was a freshman, i was completely in the calvin bubble.  i didn’t even know hurricane katrina hit until days afterwards.  i learned about it from a call to prayer at some campus worship service.  now i know why i should be reading about AIG, bernie madoff, oil prices, GM/Chrysler/Ford, and most recently, GMAC. 

all of the headlines above have a direct effect on me, a college student.

if all goes as planned (and it rarely does), i’ll graduate in may 2010.  during recessions, people like going back to school since there aren’t any jobs available.  got laid off?  get into grad school, take out some loans, and increase your chances of getting a better job when the recession ends.  history tells us that’s true in america.

that means if i want to go to grad school, i’m gonna be competing with a lot of people, some of which have already proven themselves in the workforce.  i won’t just be competing with the class of 2010.  i’ll be competing with the freshly unemployed manager that now wants an MBA so he’ll do a better job next time.  i’ll be competing with newly unemployed salespeople that were smart, but were just assigned to hard-hit regions like detroit, where residents are barely making enough to survive, let alone buy luxury products.  i’ve heard enough admissions officers repeat the mantra, “we don’t just look at your GPA.”  well, if they look at things like work experience, community service, or awards, most undergrads will lose out.  and i’m pretty darn sure admissions officers look for those things.

i don’t want anyone spending $100,000 on a bachelor’s degree to end up at a restaurant serving tables.  nor do i want them ending up at a retail outlet like banana republic, gap, or american eagle.  but i look at my friends who just graduated in may 2008, and i see reality.  they’re shooting off resumes for months, but they’re generating little interest.  in the meantime, it’s back to working the third shift at starbucks.

Posted by Nehe555 on 12/25 at 03:03 PM
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A Merry White Christmas

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a couple hours worth of shoveling

from “5 feet of snow in 5 weeks” to “50 inches in the last month,” weathermen/women have been documenting the aftermath of 3 snow storms.  and for once, they’re right.  my arms and back tell me so after i shoveled out my driveway.  but the exercise is good for me and keeps me warm, and the weather isn’t too cold.  really, it’s just the wind that gets me, especially when it’s blowing right at your face when you’re walking to school.  the wind’s much more effective than caffeine, and it wakes you up for free.  no need for starbucks gift cards, beaner’s coupons, or even calvin’s own coffeeshop, the fishhouse, which serves fair trade coffee.  during the semester, i’ll walk through my neighborhood to get to school, and there’s always this one street which is incredibly windy.  i feel like a car in a wind tunnel, like this one:

there’s one difference though—wind glides by this car, but it doesn’t glide by me.  i eat it.  i really can’t complain though… i signed up for this when i decided to attend calvin!

Posted by Nehe555 on 12/25 at 01:39 PM
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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Inspiration

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inspiration comes in the strangest of places, even here

for my company, kalvin kulture, i’ve developed an infrastructure for selling products on facebook.  at least 60% of my target demographic has a facebook account, and nationwide statistics show that the student demographic spends 1-2 hours on facebook per day.  my strategy was to meet our target market where they’re at instead of funneling them to a new website.  sure, we sacrifice some branding points, but our brand isn’t too established yet.  we can always relaunch with a new brand and direct traffic to a new site if we wanted to.  so far the strategy is paying off, as we’ve processed hundreds of dollars worth of goods on facebook, and have only spent $15-20.

i was surfing around facebook the other day looking at how other companies leverage facebook, and i bumped into one of the strongest brands in retail clothing, victoria’s secret’s PINK label.  that label targets high school and college students, which is exactly the same demographic we’re targeting.  after checking out their facebook page, i was inspired to modify our own company’s facebook pages.  PINK does a really good job leveraging the facebook platform for marketing exposure, and i’m sure they spent thousands of dollars in consulting fees to create their strategy.  why not copy them and save thousands of dollars on consulting fees?

so the picture above is a wireframe of our new facebook pages.  i’ll be developing them sometime over the break while working on kalvin kulture’s new branding.  our existing brand was thrown together in hours just so we could launch our company and get our feet wet.  now that we’re more established, it’s time to kick off the second semester hard.  it’s gonna be fun!

Posted by Nehe555 on 12/24 at 12:56 PM
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Endless E-mails

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a few days ago i had conquered my inbox

i’m staring at 35 new emails in my inbox.  somehow, they crept up on me over the last two days.  despite my diligence in fighting back, trying to respond on the go with my phone and shooting back replies during meals, they still keep coming back.  that red badge with the bold white font that says 35 screams out, “i’m waiting!!  cmon cmon, you’ve got stuff to do.”  i’ve been fortunate to rub shoulders with some managers and executives at friend’s events, and i’ll often hear the same complaint.  sometimes i’ll meet them at thanksgiving dinner when a friend invites me over to hang out with his/her extended family.  other times i’ll just walk into their offices and ask for a tour.  i think the worst situation i ever saw was a roomful of law firm partners and recruiters glued to their blackberrys during a presentation, more-or-less oblivious to the consultant their company had paid thousands of dollars to.  one of my friends tells me that her dad, a company president, doesn’t like to carry his iphone with him because he can see his emails.  i’m sure his secretary/assistant has a blast trying to get in touch with him.  sure sounds glamorous… just like how the Office portrays corporate life.  not.

Posted by Nehe555 on 12/24 at 12:30 PM
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Monday, December 22, 2008

Class is Fun (Sometimes)

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we used an actual chalkboard in my favorite class

my interdisciplinary class this past semester was so interesting that i had fun attending it.  in fact, i missed a class once and i began hitting myself over the head.  i was missing out on so much good stuff!  the class had some really long name, and it focused on the world’s current energy situation.  the professor was a canadian, hailing from edmonton, alberta, which is six hours north from where i lived for grades 3 and 4.  when i asked him about my town, medicine hat, he told me how he’d often drive through there.  what a small world!

professor piers is an emeritus professor, and he returns to teach just this one course.  he taught chemistry before he retired, and which gave him a lot of credibility when he’d discuss the efficiency of ethanol and the amount of energy gasoline contained.  every class was a tremendous learning experience, and his lectures were so enlightening.  i could tell that he had spent many years honing his teaching skills.  we covered natural gas, oil, coal, solar, wind, and everything in between, and by the end of the course, i had a much better understanding of why obama is urgently pushing for alternative energy.  after learning the facts, i can’t help but feel the same way.  we need to move off oil as soon as possible and invest in alternative energy to power our nation.

over my career at calvin, i’ve noticed that great classes have a few things in common:
1. the prof is knowledgeable and confident.  the religion department is filled with these kinds of profs.  that’s why i’m a religion major.
2. students get involved.  nothing like great discussions from students who care about the topic.
3. the prof lets students get involved.  many a great discussion has been squelched by a prof determined to reach chapter 12 by october 11th.
4. in-class material is different than textbook content.  i’m not attending a class to hear the professor repeat what i just read.
5. the profs believe in the course content so much that their enthusiasm spreads to the students.

those are the classes that i’m sorry to miss, and those are the classes that i hate to complete.  i’d rather extend the semester than receive a letter grade on my final exam.

Posted by Nehe555 on 12/22 at 11:29 PM
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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Beautiful Vacation

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our house mascot and i devoured that book in a couple of hours

christmas break is here, and i’ve spent my first few days of vacation relaxing.  aaaaaah…!  near the end of the summer, some of my friends plopped me in front of a television and introduced me to 24.  i never watch tv.  never.  but i kinda liked 24, and so on and off during the semester, i’d watch an episode or two online.  the show kinda makes me laugh and cry at the same time.  i laugh when jack gets into terminator mode and takes out 1304123 bad guys at once.  i cry when another good guy dies.  the last few days i finished off season 1, and i’m now afraid to start season 2.  i don’t want to spend my whole christmas watching this show… i think there’s 7 seasons or something.

besides watching 24, i’ve done my share of cleaning around the house.  my housemates and i agreed to do a little end-of-the-semester cleaning, and our house is looking pretty darn nice.  i’ll probably spend more time cleaning parts of the house, just to relax.  i feel like cleaning is kind of like painting.  one of my housemates paints houses over the summer, and he explains how he finds the work quite rewarding.  the task can be quite challenging, and the finished result looks so good.  he says there’s this great sense of satisfaction seeing a house transformed by your hard work, even if you just added a coat of paint.  i completely agree—seeing the results of your labor is a nice luxury.

and of course, i’ve been cooking again.  during the entire semester, i did minimal cooking and just bought my food at the spoelhof cafe.  the food there is healthier than johnnys, and there are fewer students so the environment is much more subdued.  oftentimes i’ll catch up on some studying while eating, and every thursday i’ll have a business lunch with my team and some calvin staff members.  i just walked back from grocery shopping where i bumped into a friend’s mom.  the nice thing about living in a neighborhood by calvin is rubbing shoulders with faculty, staff and students off-campus.  after being here for 3 years, the area’s really starting to feel like home.

as christmas nears, friends are coming back from semesters abroad, and i’m oh-so-excited to see them again.  last christmas i had a blast hanging out with friends in town, and i’m sure this christmas will be similar.  there’ll be plenty of hot chocolate by the fireplace, board games, christmas music, and general snow-related shenanigans.  nothing like a well-deserved break!

Posted by Nehe555 on 12/20 at 10:14 PM
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I’m Back

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i know i haven’t written all semester.  you can find out why by looking at the calvin homepage right now and clicking on the news item about a t-shirt business.  when the news item is removed from the calvin homepage, you can read the article here.

i’ll be writing much more later.  ah, a vacation feels sooo nice right now!

Posted by Nehe555 on 12/20 at 02:01 AM
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