It’s that time of the year again…

Lazy August Afternoon
One sunny August afternoon on the ECLA of Bard campus…

I still vividly remember August 26, 2012 – my first time in Berlin and at ECLA of Bard. A lot of expectations blended into the abstract colors of the unknown. Another start anew, characterized mostly by the “pull-and-push” mechanism between anxiety and excitement. The interesting thing about being a student is that you have a different perspective on new beginnings than most adults do. The time when we revise our past, decide upon new callings, dream bigger and with new enthusiasm is not the start of the calendar year, but rather that of another academic year. I felt it last year. In fact, I feel it now, too. So does the new generation of ECLA of Bard students that arrived to our tiny, yet fairytale-like campus in early August this year…

Seeing the new students confusingly wander around campus in their first days gave me a “déjà vu” of my past experience, but also made me feel slightly envious. It is funny, this phenomenon we call “time” – it goes by so unnoticed and fast, and before you even realize it, something in you has already changed. The thought of going back in time and experiencing all the ‘firsts’ in Berlin and at ECLA of Bard suddenly becomes so luring and inviting: re-living experiences, such as going to the East Side Gallery or the Club of the Visionaries for the first time, and yet again, having that rush feeling of doing something in a new place and time. This novelty sometimes incites you to discover a part of yourself you did not even know existed; maybe yet again get excited about something like the (omnipresent) Berlin street graffiti or a 2,500 year old mummy from the ancient Egyptian period on the Museum Island, depending on your sphere of interests.

Duncan and Lysan
Two freshmen students, Duncan (USA) and Lysan (the Netherlands), enjoy the walk tour of Agata Lisiak – while being in front of the group as usual on that day.

Indeed, I can say in full honesty that the new students have brought a lot to our campus this year: a new social dynamic, for sure, but also the realization that we go from BA1 students to BA2 ones in no time, and before we know it, the graduation ceremony comes knocking on our door. All this made me think of how precious these four years we have here are, and how every single moment should be seized for doing something memorable – even if it is just sitting on our lawn swing and talking about life and other wonders, which seem particularly fascinating when we’re in our (early) 20s – with our friends and classmates, all having various interests and different backgrounds.

It was during some of these interesting conversations on the lawn, in the Cafeteria, as well as during the Walking Tours of Berlin, which took place on the Saturday of August the 17th, that I “soaked in” some of the impressions shared by the new students, many of which, (un)surprisingly, were crossing my mind last year, too.

Picnic in the Tempelhofer Park.
An idyllic setting for getting-to-know-each-other conversations – and an ideal rest after a 1.5 hour walk in the sun.

With Berlin being the best place in the world, I was not surprised to hear the admiration and genuine happiness in the new voices discussing the charm of our city. Gustavo, a BA1 student from Brazil, enthusiastically shared his first observations about Berlin to me, noting that the city offers a great possibility for new explorations and endeavors. “One can get lost in this city and still enjoy it by accidentally stumbling upon one of its numerous parks or cafés, a jolly street musician or some of Berlin’s finest street artworks”, he added. Agreeing with Gustavo’s remarks, I can only affirm that it is quite difficult to ever get bored in this fascinating place rich with history, and which convincingly points towards the future.

Although usually very busy fulfilling the requirements of the Language and Thinking Program (L&T) – a general introduction to the liberal arts – the new students still manage to enjoy the present moment and the Berlin summer. While still looking for their way around – and occasionally getting lost on their way to the Cafeteria during the first days – most of them still find time to socialize and form bonds with other students. Looking at them – or, better said, at all of us together as a community –, one can already see the prospects of beautiful new college friendships.

The Culinary Walk on August 17 with Stefan Will ended with a feast worthy of the day.
The Culinary Walk on August 17 with Stefan Will ended with a feast worthy of the day.

Talking of new connections, the best place to observe the forthcoming kinships come to life is the social hub on campus – our marvelous Cafeteria. No matter how diverse in their thinking and backgrounds the students are, I can with certainty say they all agree on one thing: Stefan’s kitchen is the best. Just like last year, a consensus was reached that the ECLA of Bard kitchen is one of the most attractive campus features of our college. In addition to the Cafeteria there is of course the beautiful green campus, in whose sun tracks and shades I can see every day a freshman or two doing their L&T readings, or a group of people laughing and studying together. Sometimes you’re one of them as an upper-class student (usually when you are not working or looking for internship opportunities).

My further revelations on the impressions of the new students I collected on a tour of the Tempelhof Airport, led by a former faculty member, Agata Lisiak. The tour focused on Berlin in the 20th and 21st century: from Nazi architecture and divided Berlin, to the contemporary topic of the Turkish minority in Berlin. Altogether, a very interesting journey to Berlin’s recent past, accompanied by even more engaging conversations and curious questions. And so, in an inconspicuous quest for freshmen impressions – while strolling around the Tempelhof Airport and visiting the Sehitlik Mosque on Columbiadamm – I too managed to catch a glimpse of the L&T spirit through students’ reflections on the program.

Students walking to Ka De We during Stefan's Culinary Walk - some being particularly happy after a night out in Berlin (Alzbeta, BA1 from Czech Republic) or busy eternalizing the day on their camera (Claire, BA1 from Hungary).
Students walking to Ka De We during Stefan’s Culinary Walk – some being particularly happy after a night out in Berlin (Alzbeta, BA1 from Czech Republic) or busy eternalizing the day on their camera (Zsofia, BA1 from Hungary).

It seems that we have quite a creative and energetic class this year: most students were thrilled at the opportunity to engage their acting skills in the L&T program activities. Alzbeta and Lysan, BA1 students from the Czech Republic and, respectively, the Netherlands, were the happiest people I’ve ever seen while they were imitating cows as part of an act that connects Metamorphosis with other works of Franz Kafka. The interactive part of the program won the gold medal by all means – which already awakens my curiosity for next year’s theatre installations and film productions. The new generation has certainly brought a lot of intriguing and diverse minds to our campus, many of whom even now make my visits to the Cafeteria – our most common social gathering place – all the more motivating and stirring.  

I still remember my second day at ECLA of Bard, too: my 19th birthday and the lovely chocolate cake my Dutch ex-roommate and a couple of other people (now good friends of mine) then made for me. As that date approaches again and I am entering my twenties (the strange stamp on the end of my teens that could be a story of its own), I feel settled and lucky that this year I get to spend it with my friends, who at this time last year were merely strangers to me.

Every academic year has a flare of its own. The transition from being strangers to becoming friends is perhaps its most exciting part. As this thought crosses my mind while on the lawn in front of my dorm, I see a group of freshmen practicing their free performances on “evolution” and “being human” in front of another dorm, taken in by their creativity and eagerness to display it at its best. Summer might be at its end, but I see a lot of novelty and engaging, great new experiences on the horizon of our new academic year – regardless of whether we dive into it with a clean slate as 1st-year BAs or with a box of memories and another few to fill up as the older BA generations. The unknown seems comfortably inviting at the moment, and there is only one thing my intuition whispers to me with absolute certainty: a good year shines on all of us, new and “old” students of this uniquely-spirited place.

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