Connor Martin, ‘14, is attending Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. Martin has not settled on a major yet, but is considering a double major in Chinese and political science with a minor in philosophy. Martin is pre-law, so he will most likely apply to law school after Vassar. Martin’s classes ended on May 12.
Q: What classes were you taking?
A: I’ve taken multivariable calculus, French, a year-long Mandarin course and Process, Prose and Pedagogy. (The last one) is for people who are interested in joining the Vassar Writing Center, which is a student-led organization that helps students with their essays. Someone will help you through your structure, grammar and ideas. I recently completed my final interview process for the Center and just got an acceptance email! I also took queer studies, international politics and an introductory econ course.
Q: What were your classes like?
A: They were quite similar to the classes at Country Day in that they were really small, especially my writing and language classes. There are a lot of good discussions during class. My Chinese class reminded me of the French class at Country Day because there were only eight kids.
Q: What was your favorite?
A: International politics because the professor is a pedagogical genius. He teaches so well. His questions are so stimulating. He asks about things like human rights and capitalism. It’s really hard to answer his questions because he can play devil’s advocate so well. The political science department at Vassar is very philosophically intensive. It demands a lot of critical thinking.
Q: What was your hardest class?
A: I put in the most work for Chinese. The class was for people who have already taken Chinese in high school. I didn’t take the beginner course because it didn’t work with my schedule. I was just desperately trying to keep up with my classmates, who had one to four years of experience on me. We had tests every week and went through 15 characters every day. I can absorb the material and understand it for tests, but it’s pretty difficult because you have to memorize thousands of characters.
Multivariable calculus was awful because the teacher was so bad. Math is not Vassar’s strong suit – it’s much too theoretical. We didn’t do one practical application of the calculus all semester! One time the teacher told us, “You won’t understand what I’m about to teach you today, so just memorize the steps.” What the hell? I was spoiled by the Country Day math department. If (SCDS math teacher) Mr. (Glenn) Mangold had taught me this material, I would have gotten it in a heartbeat.
Q: Do you have any extracurriculars?
A: This semester has been very low on extracurriculars for me, which is something I want to change. I am an art model a few times a week. It is not the most fun because you just have to sit there for two hours, and the poses get really uncomfortable after 45 minutes. It can be awkward sometimes because I’m just standing there without any clothes, but it pays well.
Q: Did you live on campus?
A: Yeah. I lived in a triple in the main building (he will also live there next year) and I had two roommates. Vassar is the prettiest campus I’ve ever been on. It’s kind of like Harvard with the brick buildings and green lawns. My room was pretty big. The bathrooms weren’t that nice. The student cafe is in the building, which is nice because I don’t have to trudge through the snow to get some food. All the administrative offices and my mailbox are here too, so I don’t have to walk across campus if I need something. The people I’ve met here in the building are really nice.
Q: What are your roommates like?
A: They’re cool. We got along well. One is from Manhattan and the other is from Boston. They’re kind of messy. That would be my one complaint. They made me messy. At first, I liked to keep everything in order, but later I didn’t care if half the room was already messy.
Q: Do you have a car?
A: I don’t have a car and I probably won’t have a car unless my parents let me keep it here, but then I’d have to pay for my own insurance. I usually just rely on my friends who have cars.
Q: What is the weather like?
A: Oh my God, honestly, there is no air conditioner in the dorm room, so it is always so hot and so humid. I have five fans in my room right now between me and my two roommates. There are about three or four months in the school year when it is very nice. Then, there are like five months when it’s -10F. I get bedhead in the morning, so I always wet down my hair, and by the time I get to my class it’s frozen. I will literally have chunks of ice in my hair. In winter, it is fine as long as you have a really nice coat.
Q: What is it like living in New York?
A: The school is gorgeous, but the city outside is a little lackluster. There is a brick wall around the school and then there is a little nice town, but if you venture too far out it gets pretty sketchy.
Upstate New York is heavily wooded, so it’s really pretty. We have a lake near our campus. I’m about 90 minutes from New York City and that’s a nice train ride. I love the city! There are so many good art and history museums. The Met is gigantic. Eight museums could fit inside of it. Whenever I go to the city, I try to go to the Met to see a part I’ve never been to. The restaurants are great. It always hurts my wallet when I go there because I’m a poor college student now, but my modeling money helps. The shopping is great, too. It’s great to see the energy in the city.
Q: What do you wish you had known at the beginning of the year?
A: I wish I would have been more careful of where I put my time in socially. I like to go out and party, so I chose a friend group that liked to party every weekend. Then, I started to realize that I should have chosen my core friend group based on something more substantial. It turned out to be fine because I’ve shifted my social scene, so I’m happier. I wished I had paid attention to what I was looking for in a friend group.
Q: What is your favorite part of Vassar?
A: I’m gay, so I wanted a school where I would be comfortable. I’ve never felt that people were unaccepting of me. I swear to God, 20 to 30 percent of the guys here are gay or bi. Here I just feel at ease. Being gay has become such a non-issue for me, which is such an incredible relief after several years in the closet when I really struggled. There are other perks that I like. There are so many liberal people, and it’s nice to be in a socially liberal environment. There is not that much diversity of opinions here, so debates revolve around who can be the most politically correct. It can get so self-righteous and very annoying. But usually, if you’re eloquent enough and have sound logic, you can calm down the social justice warriors. There aren’t too many of them, but they’re vocal. Conservatives aren’t tolerated so well here, to be honest. If you’re a Republican, then you might want to keep that to yourself. Or just don’t apply to Vassar.
Q: What are your plans for the summer?
A: This summer I am going to Qingdao, which is a city in China on the coast near North Korea. I’m going to be living at the University of Qingdao for two months, and I will study Chinese for 5-7 hours a day. I will get 2-3 credits, which is like all of the work that I have done in my Chinese class this year. My Chinese class met five days a week, which is such a pain. It will be incredibly intense. Chinese is really difficult because of the characters and word order. My goal is to stay away from Anglophones. I want to spend time with native Chinese speakers. After my experience with Chinese this year, I feel like if I wanted to become fluent in French I could do it in a few months. Chinese is a whole different game. It takes much longer to gain fluency. I went to China in my freshman year of high school over Spring Break, but I hadn’t spoken any Chinese. It’s going to be great to really get some diversity of ideas. I’m just going to forget what I know and try to absorb the culture.
Q: What are your plans for next year?
A: Oh my God, next year! I’m so excited! I’m doing a lot of things next year, but I’ll just talk about one of them. I applied to a political science class and it is taught at a women’s correctional facility. I will take a bus with nine other Vassar students to the facility, where we will take a class with 10 inmates. We will be discussing systematic bias against single mothers of color, intersectional feminism, which covers the intersections between race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality and socioeconomics and how they affect women who end up in the correctional facility. It is a joint discussion class. It is so far from anything that I have ever experienced in my life. We talk a lot about white privilege at Vassar, and feminism is definitely a big topic of study. I’m so excited that I got into the class! It is going to be a great experience to understand these women. It is a pretty popular class. I had to write an essay to get in. I’ll also be taking a women’s studies class next year because apparently the professor is phenomenal.
Q: Where are you going to live? With whom?
A: I already chose my room for next year. It’s in the same building, but on a different floor. I am going to live with my best friend, and we’re going to get a milksnake and name it Harvey Milksnake. In a couple of years, I’ll probably apply to live outside of campus in one of the townhouses.
Q: Any stories?
A: One mistake I made was that I did not have boots, so I put them on my Christmas wish list, but it snows here before Christmas, so I wore Sperry topsiders and those are miserable, miserable shoes to wear in the snow. I wore them for two months. I wore thick socks, but suede is not waterproof.
I’ve pulled a lot of all-nighters because I’m taking a lot of credits this year. Between my job and my classes I don’t have a whole lot of free time.
My immunity did not fare very well in this northeastern environment. I had a cold constantly. I had three or four fevers and the flu, but I got better after I started going to the gym. I was also diagnosed with mononucleosis in March. That sucked. Do not get mono.
Q: What is your advice for incoming college freshmen?
A: Keep in mind that college is not high school in that it is meant to challenge you in every facet of your life. Don’t be afraid of these challenges. You’ll see yourself grow as a person and you’ll be proud. It’s so great to feel change. I know that in three more years I am going to change much more. It’s such a satisfying experience. College has a lot to offer, so take advantage of it.
Choose your professors wisely because it really matters. I chose my classes based on the professors. I’m majoring in political science mainly because the professor is so great. They present the material in such a captivating way that that is what I want to spend four years on. A good professor changes everything. Absolutely everything.
Q: What is your advice for the class of 2016?
A: Look for the college that makes you think for yourself instead of just giving you information. I recommend liberal arts colleges for this reason. After this one year of college, I am constantly questioning things. It’s a great mental workout, and I feel that I’m better prepared for the rest of my life.