Debate and Rhetoric, Session II
Summer College 2017
Hi, my name is Anna and I'll be a junior next year at the International School of Brussels. I'm half Dutch and half American, but I've lived in Brussels, Belgium ever since I was two years old. I love dance, photography, reading and music. This past January, I participated in a week-long Model United Nations conference in the Netherlands with the MUN club at my school. I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to find a way to have a similar experience this summer and practice my public speaking. This led me to enroll in the Debate and Rhetoric program at Cornell. I'm very excited to spend three weeks exploring Ithaca, meeting new people, improving my skills in argumentation, and sharing my experience on this blog!
I only arrived at Cornell a week ago, but it feels like it has been ages since the first morning of Summer College. I started off my stay with a great lunch at Collegetown Bagels with my parents (it definitely lived up to its great reputation). After lunch, we walked around campus for a while and made our way to the Statler Hotel for few introductory speeches. We then got to see my classroom for the first time, where my professor gave a brief talk about what we would be learning in our debate course. His openness and humor put all us nervous students at ease. In that meeting, I managed to make some really nice friends in my class, which made saying goodbye to my parents after the introduction much easier! I noticed right away how open and friendly everyone at Summer College was, and by the end of the walk from my classroom to my dorm I had picked up a whole new group of friends on the way. That evening, we had an ice cream social where I got to meet the rest of the Summer College students. I was surprised by the diversity in the program and met people from all over, including Turkey, Dubai, and even Hawaii.
Since that first day, I have experienced many new and interesting things both inside and outside of the classroom. My debate course is rigorous, but the homework is manageable and the content is much more interesting and engrossing than most of the classes I've taken at school. I took this course in the hopes of improving my public speaking skills, and one week in I can already tell that I'm becoming more comfortable debating and expressing my own opinion eloquently under pressure. My professor has created a classroom environment that is encouraging rather than intimidating, which has given me the courage to volunteer to debate and present in front of the class, something I would ordinarily never choose to do.
Luckily, there are plenty of fun things to do at Cornell besides homework, and I've had a great time exploring all Ithaca has to offer. Last weekend, my friends and I took a trip to the Farmers Market where we had delicious crepes, and ended the outing with a hike back to campus along the gorges. A love for food runs in my family, and between pizza at The Nine's, milkshakes at Jack's Grill, sushi in Collegetown, and warm Insomnia cookies ordered in late at night, the foodie in me hasn't been disappointed. The people I have met here have all proven to be as nice as they seemed on the first day, and I've had a great time with my new friends hanging out in our dorms, watching the sun set on the slope, having movie nights, and listening to each other jam on the piano. I'm excited to find out what the next two weeks at Cornell have in store!
My second week at Cornell Summer College has flown by even more quickly than the first. The amount of work has been picking up, but our assignments continue to be interesting and exciting, which makes them less tedious to complete than the assignments I'm used to getting at school. One thing I've really appreciated is that my professor likes to incorporate areas like music, art, and poetry into our curriculum and study them through the lens of debate. The other day he took us on a trip to the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, where we got to study the paintings and analyze what arguments the artists were trying to make. It was fun to get out of the classroom and take advantage of the great resources right outside our building. During the walk back from the museum, our professor had us take turns getting up on benches and having speed debate rounds in partners. We've also been learning to recite Hamlet with our teaching assistant, who specializes in speech and acting, which I've really enjoyed. These are just a few examples of the activities that keep the course fun and engaging, while helping us improve our debate skills.
Although our class gets assigned a lot of homework, I'm able to get it done without too much trouble, leaving me plenty of time to have fun and explore Ithaca. On Tuesday, I took a bus down to the Ithaca Commons after class for some amazing New York-style pizza. I made it back to the Commons later in the week, and had dinner at the Ethiopian restaurant. The food was delicious, but my favorite part was using bread wraps to pick up my food instead of forks and knives, since Ethiopians traditionally eat with their hands instead of utensils—messy but fun! This weekend, I went to watch the talent show at Willard Straight Hall. The hall itself is beautiful, and the singers, dancers, and musicians in our program all proved to be very talented and impressive. The next day I had a final lunch at Collegetown Bagels with a few of my friends, followed by a walk across the suspension bridge to see the gorgeous view. I'm so thankful I had the opportunity to spend three weeks of my summer in such a beautiful place, with so many nice people, learning so many interesting new things! I've had an amazing experience at Cornell's Summer College, and I hope to make the most of my last few days here before graduation on Saturday.
My last week at Cornell was action-packed. My final exam was Friday, so I spent most of the weekday afternoons preparing for my test. I appreciated that my professor had a fairly relaxed attitude towards the exam, which took a lot the pressure off and turned studying into a learning experience instead of a chore. The final exam was also an excellent opportunity for me to practice time management and improve my organizational skills in a new environment.
Despite the increasing amount of work, I would say my last week of class at Cornell was probably my favorite. During the last few days before the exam, our professor on took us on three fun excursions to lighten the mood that I thought were a real highlight of the debate course. The first was a trip to the Cornell psychology department, where we got to see an exhibition of famous brains, including that of the famous serial killer Edward H. Ruloff, who is said to have the largest brain on record in the entire world! Our professor incorporated debate into trip by having us debate about whether the controversial "DSM-5" is a legitimate book which doctors should be able to use to diagnose patients with mental disorders. Our next trip was even more interesting than the first; our professor took us on a guided tour of the Cornell rare manuscript collection, where we got to see a whole selection of interesting and priceless artifacts that are usually kept locked up in a vault inside the Cornell library. These included an original complete collection of Shakespeare's plays, a lock of Charles Dickens' hair, a postcard written by James Joyce on the day he met his future wife (which is also the date on which his famous book Ulysses takes place), and even an original copy of the Gettysburg Address, hand-written by Abraham Lincoln. The last (and possibly the most fun) trip we went on was an excursion to the Cornell Dairy Bar, where we debated while eating delicious free ice cream!
Besides the fun of going on interesting excursions, at this point in the course everyone in my class had become comfortable around one another, meaning we were much more eager to actively participate in class. The debate motions were also getting increasingly complicated, so by the third week we were all really engaged in our challenging debates. I personally felt a lot more comfortable speaking in front of my classmates, and found it an extremely rewarding experience to notice my improvment over the course of just three weeks. Besides becoming a more confident public speaker, the course also often forced me to consider both sides of an argument. Putting yourself in the position of a person who holds the opposite point of view from yours helps you understand their position better and can make you better at refuting their points in the future, which was a strategy I will definitely make use of during future arguments.
On Saturday, we had a nice graduation ceremony which family members were invited to attend. Our professor jokingly made us each present an argument as to why the debate course we had taken was excellent. My reason was that before this course, I would have never been confident enough to make an impromptu speech in front of a room full of people, but after three weeks of having to think and speak on the spot for hours each day, it didn't feel intimidating at all. I mentioned in my first blog post that in these three weeks I hoped to explore Ithaca, meet new people, and improve my skills in argumentation, all of which I have done and enjoyed. My experience at Cornell Summer College has been an exclusively positive one and I'm very grateful for everything I have learned here, and the lasting friendships I have made!