A year at Clark from my eyes

What a year has passed by!!!

The year has ended in a blink of an eye. Everything flew by so fast. For a whole year, I have learned and met a lot of people. Thanks to them, I became more attached to Clark, my second home. Clark has handed me a chance to experience so many new things. In Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where I am from, all year round is summer. The weather is always hot and humid. In Clark or Worcester, every season is so different, and I can feel that every time I walk out of my dorm.

My story began in the summer when I first arrived at Clark during Orientation. The weather is nice and hot, but not as hot as Vietnam’s. My peer advisors and the people I met at Clark were so friendly; they guided me in every way I needed to get adapted to a new place, which is so far away from home. I was lost at first, and never knew where I belong to until I met some people who would later become my best friends.

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The photo was taken during the first week of Orientation

Before school started, I took a ride around Worcester with two new people I made friend with. We rode to City Hall and the area around. Worcester is old and historic, which clarifies the fact of being near Boston, one of the oldest cities in the United States that witnessed many revolutions. Worcester draws a picture of an old city on the way to innovation. There are sites under construction around, but the majority of the buildings wear an antique reddish color of the bricks. I was surprised and a little disappointed when I compared those sites with other scenes filmed at nice cities from some Hollywood movies I have watched all my life. The reality is different.

However, I did not spend much time on thinking about it as classes began. I was occupied with homework and clubs. Every start demanded effort to become used to the routine of going to classes, clubs, and even school. I made more friends, and we did many activities together. Time flew as the wind blows when fall came and went, leaving my friends and I special holidays so that we had time to understand each other more. We planned on trips together to New York and Boston on Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks. The times outside school strengthened our relationships when we experienced new things together. To some of us coming from Asian countries, snow is something really special because we have never seen this before. Like children, we played with snow and built snowmen. However, somewhere in my deep soul, I felt a tingle of sadness as this time is for family gathering. I started to miss home, and friends are people I sought during those times.

With some snow showers at the beginning of the year followed by rainy days, spring has come to this land bringing new promises. Work at school became less stressful as I got used to the way Clark worked during the fall semester. I was more active in class and hung out more often with friends. I might have done more things, but to what I remember now, Spree Day was another amazing day as it marked the end of this school year. It was great to have a day off and the school turned into a recreational park with inflatable games, food, and music.

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Then, finals came and we never had much time to play until our last exam finished. It‘s too fast!

It all ended in the same place it started. I said goodbye to my friend and this year at Clark at this summer. My whole year is like a full cup filled with both joy and sadness. Everyone took a different route in the summer, but we understand that “All good things must come to an end”. However, in our heart, we know that it is just a beginning of our long distance relationship with Facebook and Skype and we will soon reunite.

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I saw my friend off when she was about to took off to the airport 

– Anh

All photos were provided by the author.

A tour into a chocolate factory

On Thursday, April 7th, I had a chance to take part in an annual field trip organized by Clark Sustainability Collaborative Club. It was amazing. We went to the TAZA chocolate factory in Somerville to take a tour around a factory that makes awesome organic chocolate. For those of you who don’t know what this means, organic chocolate is chocolate that has ingredients that were farmed sustainably. The farmers replace pesticides, fertilizers, and other harmful chemicals with organic materials for composting and pesticides-making. Alex Whitmore, the founder of the place, pays attention to maintaining a direct relationship with the cacaos farmers to ensure both the quality of the cacao and the rights of the farmers who grow it. TAZA pays a premium above the Fair Trade price for their cacao.

The factory is medium-sized, but it is the only place that produces any TAZA brand chocolate in the world. An employee at the factory led our group inside the factory and guided us through a few sections of the building. The tour guide told us that the cacao beans were purchased from the Dominican Republic, Belize, Guatemala, Bolivia, and Haiti. The cacao grows from trees, and during the harvest, farmers will cut the pods from the tree. Then, the cultivator cracks the pods to get the beans and fruits, which are then fermented in wooden boxes. The beans are dried after fermentation, and once dry, the cacao is ready to be shipped to TAZA for chocolate making.

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Cacao beans in the pods (Source)

We were guided to the roasting and winnowing room where the cocoa is crushed and separated into two parts: shells and nibs—chocolate in its purest form.

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From left to right: Cocoa beans, shells, nibs (Photo provided by the author)

During the tour, our group was offered to try many chocolate flavors, and they were so tasty. They all have good combinations of flavors you can imagine of such as raspberry, salted almond, and Chipotle Chili.

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(Photo provided by the author)

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(Photo provided by the author)

After the tour, I felt like I learned a lot about how a chocolate bar is produced. When the factory received the cacao beans, the employees will roast it, and then winnow it to separate the shell and the nib. The special procedure in chocolate making at Taza is the grinding machine using the handcrafted stone, which explains where the name “Stone Ground Chocolate” comes from. After the first grind, the Cocoa Liquor is transferred to the mixing tank where the raw cane sugar is added. Depending on whether the final product is a bar or a disc, the next steps are different. The bars are smoother so they go to the role refiners to reduce the particle size of the mass, while the discs go to a second grind. To create the shiny appearance, the right melting point, and a crispy snap of the crystal chocolate, Taza applies their unique techniques in tempering. Subsequently, the tempered chocolate is poured into the moulds and is ready for packing.

What I experienced is a general idea about chocolate making process, but there is definitely a lot more to say if we want to study the methods in detail. However, I hope that you will learn something about organic chocolate, and how it is made after reading this post. The taste of their cacao is delicious, so if you are curious, definitely pay a visit to Taza or sign up for this trip next year!

-Anh

(Cover image source)

 

Clark Profile: Greg Doerschler

“I always liked nature, open space, and the outdoors, and the fact that our open lands are nearby. I couldn’t imagine myself living in the middle of a large city without natural spaces around me.”

“I think those spaces are very important in protecting nature. When folks come to Clark, they usually think of the outdoors as the White Mountains up in New Hampshire, the Green Mountains in Vermont, and the Adirondacks in New York. Those are wonderful places, but there are also other places that are 10 minutes away. They are there because the people such as folks in the Greater Worcester Land Trust (GWLT) care about protecting open spaces. If we do not protect these spaces, as cities and communities develop they will be swallowed up by development. Protecting lands enhances the quality of life for everyone around us.”- Greg Doerschler.

I had a chance to talk with Greg Doerschler at his office on a sunlit morning. His room is small, but really pleasant because of its lively environment, with many photos of happy faces from many outdoor trips hanging on the walls. Greg is a senior analyst in Clark’s Office of Institutional Research and the adviser to Clark’s Outing Club. I am sure that many of you have at least heard of this club, or are on its mailing list, or have taken part in one of its trips. Greg came to Clark in April 2000, and started advising the Outing Club in 2002. He is from Connecticut, but attended Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and since then has chosen to reside in Worcester.

I knew Greg from being involved and becoming a member in the Outing Club. I thought he was a very active and passionate adviser in the club, so I wanted to know more about him through this interview. As I got to know him better, it turned out to be a very nice talk.

His job at Clark is within Clark’s administration – he works with numbers and survey data pertaining to the Clark student body. If I had not talked to him, I would not have known that every college has an Institutional Research Office. The aim of this office is to collect, maintain, analyze and share data about Clark, such as the information you see in College Guidebooks and websites like U.S. News. He said that in order to improve educational policy, college administrators need evidence to see whether their decisions are effective. The responsibility of the Institutional Research Office is to measure the results and provide necessary information for the creation of better policies.

Besides working in the office, Greg is also engaged in the business of the Outing Club. He loves to lead and organize Nature Connection trips for Clark students. He is most excited about reaching out to those who are not predisposed to hiking to go up a mountain. “Yeah, I will give it a try”—one of the students signing up for a trip might say, and they end up falling in love with the hike.

Greg gains his joy by creating enjoyable moments for others. He does not want Clarkies to think that Main Street is all there is to Worcester. After seeing The Cascades – a 300 foot waterfall in Worcester – and the lands protected by the GWLT, many Clark students have decided to do volunteer work, internships, and LEEP projects with GWLT. Their first connection with the GWLT and its properties is often through an Outing Club trip.

As a last question, I asked Greg whether he would want to see any changes at Clark in the future. He said that he loves Clark the way it is right now, and hopes its mission does not change. He wants the character of the student body to remain. He wishes to see the student body as individuals who always feel at home at Clark, and connected with everyone. And he hopes the choice which students make to be at Clark is not based solely on affordability, or good financial package, but because you find Clark’s small but friendly environment to be a good fit. You like the LEEP model of education at Clark, and you choose the school because you want to make good things happen and challenge convention. You pick a school not just because you want to be able to earn a good salary, but because you yearn for a better education to be able to pursue your passion to thrive.

“Being with the students is the way I get my energy.” Greg likes to mention his experience with the Outing Club to explain how he has changed and learned many things by being an adviser. I want to say thank you to Greg as his way of thinking changed my perspectives about Clark’s mission, and his ideal inspires my love for nature. His passion is amazing, and his contribution to the love of nature in the Clark community is worth recognizing.

Check out this Facebook page about Outing Club trips, and you will have an idea of what a trip is like. I hope to see you on one of our trips!

-Anh 

(Cover photo by author)

How do women change the world?

Although today is the last day of March, I want to take some time to recall how the Women’s History Month has passed by. The women history is infinite: it passes through time and space, and a page is not going to be enough to cover it. Therefore, to save time, I am not going to talk about the “old” history, but about the “new” one. However, “old” history still means a lot of things, because it is the first step to the end of the road, or the first brick to the complete building. The civil right lady Rosa Parks, the famous scientist Marie Curie, and the benevolent nun Mother Teresa are familiar names that are undoubtedly in our minds when we talk about women who changed the world.

And yes, these women have dramatically changed the world, but the world still needs changes. It is the growing group of new faces that keeps necessary changes continuing. Let’s just take a few minutes to remember them—the ones who still live with us now.\

Malala Yousafzai, an 18-year- old Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest Nobel Prize awardee was shot by the Taliban at the age of 14 when she sought women’s rights for education. Her action brought the world’s attention to the injustices women experienced in the Swat Valley when the local Taliban had banned girls from attending school. Like Rosa Parks, she stood up in public, and fought for the privileges that women, as human beings, deserve to have. Her action symbolizes that age, sex, and nationality do not matter as long as you are determined and brave enough: the sky is the limit.

Not only do contemporary women fight for the rights for education, but they also stand up for their beliefs. Amani Al-Khatahtbeh is a name to know if you have heard about the blog MuslimGirl. This amazing woman takes advantage of the Internet to raise awareness about Muslim women in the United States. Little has been known about them, so this site is a great place for Muslim women to express their true identities without hiding, and others can also learn about this religion, which they may not be acquainted with.

What would you do when you reach the age of 69? Would you retire and go on a vacation somewhere to unwind your busy life? This is not the case for Hillary Clinton, one of the promising candidates for the 2016 presidential election. She was the United States Secretary of States, a senator from New York, and the First Lady of the United States. Needless to say, her contribution to America is huge. If elected, her achievement will mark another era of “Women who changed the world”. Go Hillary!!!

After reading their stories, I hope that every woman will be encouraged to follow their dreams. Like Dr. Mae Jemison —the first African American woman to travel in space once said, “I realized I would feel comfortable anywhere in the universe — because I belonged to and was a part of it, as much as any star, planet, asteroid, comet, or nebula.” Do whatever you want, it does not have to be big, but never be afraid of how people think of you because a woman deserves to achieve whatever she wishes for. Then, to everyone who loves you, your achievements are meaningful.

In the end, you may take a moment to remember the important women in your life. It is not too late to say Happy Women’s History Month, or I am thankful to have you in my life. And I personally want to say, “Happy birthday Mom—the most endearing women who has brought me to this world so I can sit here and write this post.”

– Anh

(Cover image source)

Mindful Consumer: Where do my clothes come from?

“Where do your clothes come from?”

“Is it made of cotton from a farm, wool from a sheep, or silk from silkworm?”

“Have you dug deeper into that?”

You may have never imagined that before coming to your hands, your clothes have passed through the hands of many people from all around the world: ones that you have never even met or known. At the beginning of the last century, most of our clothes were made in the United States. However, by the early nineties, apparel manufacturing moved to Latin America and Asia. Looking at your clothes’ tags, you will probably see “Made in China”, “Made in Vietnam”, or “Made in Bangladesh.” [1]

Because labor and production costs are so cheap in these countries, clothing stores like H&M and Old Navy can sell incredibly cheap outfits. Clothes nowadays are far cheaper than they were in the past. We have seasonal fashion lines for a few months, and then a whole new inventory is out the next season. It is hard to deny the temptation to buy a $5 T-shirt, or $15 jeans, when something new is out. The average American buys 64 items of clothing a year and 7 pairs of shoes [1]. The effect of fast fashion has not crossed their minds. Somewhere along the lines of production, something has to make up for the low cost. As Mathew Green points out in this article, “There is no way the fast fashion model could exist without the army of extremely low-paid workers to quickly turn massive orders around.” [2]

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Labor and production cost between Bangladesh versus the U.S. (Source)

The more you buy, the more you create the demand on those workers, and indirectly push them into the endless cycle of selling their lives on the sewing machines. UNICEF found that, “There are about a million children aged 10 to 14 working as child laborers in Bangladesh, but the number is far higher when the age band is expanded” [3]. These employees do not have time to go to school. They sleep, eat, and wash in these sweatshops.  However, what they get is only around 68 USD a month, roughly 2-3 dollars a day, not to mention their working conditions [3].

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Monthly minimum wage of Asian countries in garment industry (Source)

Worker rights are few, rules are harsh, and most importantly, the machines and buildings are unsafe. The Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013 is the worst accident ever in the garment industry. It killed over 1,100 people, and left thousands more injured. Although it brought awareness about the safety condition of labors, the accidents in the workplace did not end here.

Elizabeth L. Cline also mentions in her book “Over-dressed: The shockingly high cost of cheap fashion” that cheap fashion does harm to charity thrift shops and textile recyclers where our masses of clothing castoffs end up. If you can buy a new T-shirt with $5, then why would you go to the Clark Thrift Store to purchase a used one? There are some benefits when you buy clothes at the thrift store: you buy inexpensive things, and you protect the environment by reusing things in a way so they are not being wasted. You cannot get rid of your clothes just by not wearing it, or putting to the dumpster. Your clothes are not going to disappear, but they are going to be turned into something else that can be harmful to the environment. Your big junk is still somewhere. So think next time before you decide to buy something. Will you need the item or you can still use your old one? You are not only helping the environment, but also doing good for the human rights so people are not selling their labor for a low price.

-Anh

Reference

[1] Franzese Heather. Changing how you think about clothes. 20 Oct 2011. Tedx Talks. 18 March 2016. (Link)

[2] Green Matthew. Who Made Your T-Shirt? The Hidden Cost of Cheap Fashion. 17 May 2013. News Article. 18 March 2016. (Link)

 [3] Hunter Isabel. Crammed into squalid factories to produce clothes for the West on just 20p a day, the children forced to work in horrific unregulated workshops of Bangladesh. 30 November 2015. News Article.  18 March 2016. (Link

(Cover image source) 

How do you spend the weekend?

“Worcester is small”

“Yeah, it is too small to do anything. It is boring.”

“Any plans for the weekend?”

“Sleep”

“Study”

When I first came to Clark, I asked my friends those questions, and their answers were the same. We are in the middle of nowhere. How can Worcester possibly be the second largest city in Massachusetts? I do not know what to do. During the weekends, all I can think of is to stay in my dorm the whole time. As I was bored, I thought of every way to transfer to another area.

Is Worcester that monotonous? Surely, it is not.

Let me tell you how I have come to truly enjoy my weekend. First, I came across the club called AKOG—All Kinds of Girls, that happens to be at Atwood. It was pretty easy to get in, so I signed up to be a mentor just to kill some time with someone. However, my first intention changed as I got to know more about this organization. Our mission is to help middle to high school girls to recognize their strengths, and find ways to express them by having mentors and girls get together for some enjoyable activities. Each Saturday has a theme, such as ‘I have a dream day’, V-day (Valentine Day, Violence Prevention Day), and Science Day.

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A day at Atwood (Photo provided by Madilyn Jacobsen) 

This is a good way to make connections between ages, and make friends with other mentors on a very fun and relaxing Saturday. I find the activity really helpful when we can stay in the same setting, and hang out with little girls. I feel like a part of a community, and I am doing something to change these girls into better empowered people, listen to their stories and feel happy for their achievements, or be supportive for their bad days. Seeing these girls change every day and become more open to mentors makes my work enjoyable.

And do not worry if you aren’t females. There is something else in store if you want to work with children. Worcester Refugee Assistant Project (WRAP) also needs volunteers on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Together, we are committed to assisting refugees from Burma as well as other Asian countries by providing support, mentoring, and tutoring their kids. On Saturdays, the organization has theme days for the kids. I go there on Mondays to help the kids with their homework. I also go on some Saturdays, and sometimes, they also have plans on Sundays. If you are interested in this project, you can check out the link at http://www.worcesterrefugees.org/about-wrap.html.

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In case you are really tired from your weekdays, and would rather relax, you can sign up to go on trips organized by the Outing Club at Clark. You should plan ahead, as the space fills up pretty quickly.

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I have come to find Worcester as home as I tried to discover the parts of it. It is not as glorious as Boston with skyscrapers and lights all around the city. Instead, it brings you a peaceful and silent beauty. Keep exploring, and you will find the things you feel you belonged to. A walk around the Worcester Common at the City Center, or at the park near campus are sometimes enough to bring my feelings up.

Overall, I just want to say that if we want to do something and make a meaningful weekend, there are plenty of ways. I hope you find one of these activities interesting to engage with.

-Anh 

(Cover photo source) 

*Note from the editor: Anh Mai Nhu is a first year student at Clark University. This is her first blog post for The Things That Matter. Welcome to the crew, Anh!