ISEPphotoandessays
Photo Essay Contest

Aleksi Ahonen
Host Institution: Hampshire College -Massachusetts-
Home Institution: University of Joensuu
Period: All Year 2008-2009




We were somewhere around Amherst, MA, on the edge of a corn field when the happiness began to take hold. I had been at Hampshire College (Photo 1) for about a week and many of my pre-conceived expectations about Americans had come to pass. Back home in Finland it’s easy to get used to the politely introverted mentality that we often display when meeting new people, especially foreigners. I was warned several times that the “Yanks” would be arms wide open and voices raised to happily piercing octaves right from the start. Granted, the pep in their “howareyous” took me by surprise at first, but I soon found myself liking this grandiose joy that they displayed even after just meeting me less than a week ago.
While I thought that this was how Americans were all around, many of the locals felt that Hampshire College didn’t really represent “mainstream America” – that even within the Five College Consortium that was located within the town triangle of Amherst, Northampton and South Hadley, they were living in a bit of a bubble. I’m guessing that in their minds, this notion was related to the well-informed nature of a Hampshire student. It could indeed be that if highly socially aware and politically passionate pacifists aren’t your thing, you might find mingling in certain circles around campus a bit weird.
Of course, no need to panic – to balance out the socio-politically devoted, there are also scores of students who would rather spend their free time kicking a football, watching movies, chilling in gazebos or playing Dungeons & Dragons. A nice balance, really. Student group activities range from acting to acapella to frisbee throwing to foamswordfighting to karate to making the college newspapers to baking goodies while reciting Shakespeare – just to mention a few. The library building and sports complex are even connected with a bridge if you’re the busy type. (Photo 2) If you can’t find a suitable activity for yourself at Hampshire, you should check your pulse.
As pertains to accommodations, I requested a single room of my own prior to coming on campus and struck gold when I actually got a double all to myself. This was apparently really, really rare, but it’s worth a shot for those who enjoy their solitude in their own room. Those who wish for more surrounding action have plenty of chances to request a shared double room or even a shared mod with many inhabitants.
The largest I visited had 12 people living in it, so for the hyperactive who want to meet lots and lots of people whenever possible, the mods would suit you well. As an exchange student doing only one semester, my room was in the first year student-dormitory (Photo 3). I believe that this will be the case for most exchanges visiting for the same amount of time as I did, so prepare for the moderate noise level that the enthusiastic youngsters just beginning their college life may generate. The best way to cope with them is of course by being even louder, as I did my best to be. A guitar and a loud voice helped, but many other methods are possible. When making noise gets too much for you, exploring the surrounding nature will surely soothe you (Photos 4, 5 and 6).
The academic possibilities are very versatile. I concentrated on literature and journalism pretty exclusively but could’ve picked anything from photography to mathematics to screenwriting and much in between. I was surprised how relatively few courses required any pre-requisites, so even if you come in for a year without any previous courses taken in Hampshire, your array of choices is plentiful. The local faculty ranges from the adorably humorous to eccentric, but a connecting quality between them all was competence. Every professor had a definite aura of knowing what they were doing so I felt comfortable in doing my own tasks and presenting my views.
The college’s location right by the idyllic small town of Amherst might sound a bit backwater at first to starstruck minds who wish to see the massive metropolises of America, but despair not! The town provides all a developing mind and body requires, from the awesome pizza place that is Antonio’s (Photo 7) to the mandated Ben & Jerry’s to quality book stores to, of course, the awe-inspiring greatness of Newbury Comics.
Whether your thing is movies, music or comics, you will kneel down in appreciation when facing the huge and affordable stocks at Newbury Comics. Travellers will also enjoy the availability of the Peter Pan Bus Services, which swing by downtown Amherst every day, taking you quite smoothly from Boston to New York and several places in between. Add Greyhound and Amtrak to the Peter Pan connections and your wallet is your limit.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “How much did the college pay this guy to write this dreck that reads like a thinly veiled advertisement?” Not one red cent. Thinking back on a year that was undeniably awesome, I’m baffled at how few problems I had during my entire trip. The few that I did encounter (Greyhound bus running brutally late, losing my sunglasses) really had nothing to do with the college. Any questions I had there about pretty much anything were either answered by the good people at Hampshire’s Global Education Office (Photo 10), or said people directed me to someone who could give me an answer.
Take a Scandinavian chump who likes heavy metal and pro wrestling as seriously as you’d like, but if you decide to take a stateside ride with ISEP, especially if you aim for the East Coast, go with Hampshire College. To borrow their motto a bit: To know is not enough – You’ve got to experience it too.