Jean O'Friel '07

Jean O'Friel

Jean O'Friel '07

Hometown: Paris, France/Manila, The Philippines
Major: Religion

Why did you choose to come to Bowdoin?
Because I grew up overseas, I was at a bit of a loss when approaching the college application process. I didn't even know there was a difference between universities and liberal arts colleges! However, my father suggested that I look into applying to Bowdoin because of its excellent academic reputation. I visited Bowdoin and immediately liked the intimate feel of the campus.

I attended the American School of Paris and my graduating class consisted of about 80 people, so I knew that I didn't want to be overwhelmed by a large student population. I also found it very appealing that Bowdoin has such a small student/professor ratio. What especially sold me about Bowdoin was the school's encouragement of creativity and free thought. I knew that I wanted to go to a school where I'd have the opportunity to intellectually interact with other students, rather than simply attend large lecture courses.

Why did you choose your major?
I really sort of fell into my major accidentally. I started at Bowdoin convinced that I would be a double major in Government and English. However, I chose my freshman year schedule based on classes that I thought looked interesting. This included "Islam," which was taught by Professor Jorunn Buckley of the Religion Department, and "Victorian Art" with Art History Professor Pamela Fletcher.

I realized that Religion and Art History are fascinating subjects, because they cover such a wide range of social, political, and cultural issues. Both act as a commentary on the development of society, and its evolution into what it is today. I also really liked that both departments are fairly small, which helped me form strong relationships with my professors. Although I initially planned to do a double major with both, I am now doing a minor in Art History instead.

What has been your favorite course at Bowdoin?
It's extremely difficult to choose just one, because I have taken many excellent courses at Bowdoin. One that particularly stands out is "Dante's Divine Comedy," which is taught by Professor Arielle Saiber of the Italian department. I took the class on a whim, since I had never read the Divine Comedy before.

This course was amazing. Professor Saiber is extremely enthusiastic and well-read about the topic, which made the classroom discussions interesting and lively. She encouraged different interpretations of the text, and made it relevant in a range of contexts. I was also lucky enough to take this class in conjunction with "Art of the Italian Renaissance" taught by Art History Professor Susan Wegner, which was especially interesting because I was able to see how Dante's work influenced images of hell during the Italian Renaissance.

What professor or professors have especially inspired you during your time at Bowdoin?
Professor Jorunn Buckley of the Religion Department has been the most influential and inspiring professor I've had at Bowdoin. She is incredibly well-read, fascinating, unconventional, and challenging. I'm currently taking my fifth class with her, and she still manages to provoke me towards higher levels of thought. I definitely credit her for my decision to major in Religion.

What extracurricular or work experiences have you had at Bowdoin?
During my freshman year I was a part of the Poeting club, a student group that encourages the discussion and sharing of original poetry. I especially enjoyed being in the club because I was exposed to many different styles of poetry I had never encountered before. It was also great to have the opportunity to share my work with peers and in turn be inspired by their writing.

I have worked at the Hawthorne-Longfellow Library circulation desk through my time at Bowdoin. I absolutely love books and am a voracious reader, so to me it's the best job on campus. It's great getting to interact with other Bowdoin students, and to also gain a thorough knowledge of how the library works. This job has definitely helped me learn how to research effectively for papers, which is a huge plus!

I also worked at the Hatch Science Library circulation desk for a year, performing basically the same responsibilities. This year I have another job at Hawthorne-Longfellow, working as an INNReach student assistant. I process incoming requests from MaineCat, NExpress, and CBB and then send the books out to the various libraries/academic institutions.

Did you study abroad during your time at Bowdoin?
I studied abroad for a year at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland at the New College School of Divinity. It was an interesting academic experience in many ways. The teaching and assessment style in the UK is completely different from those at Bowdoin, so I had to reorient my way of thinking to fit Edinburgh's different standards. What was extremely beneficial about taking courses there is that I was able to fill some gaps that were missing in my knowledge of religion. I took four courses on Judaism, a religion that has always interested me, as a way to supplement the education in religion I've received at Bowdoin.

However, a year was quite a long time to be away from Bowdoin and I got a little homesick for Brunswick! One piece of advice I'd give students who plan on studying away is to make sure you've carefully reviewed your major and distribution requirements before going abroad, so that you don't have to rush to finish them senior year.

What have you done during your summers?
My parents both work for the State Department, which means I spend most of my summers overseas. The summer between freshman and sophomore year, I went to Costa Rica with my best friend and worked at a nature preserve for a short time, painting the newly constructed bathrooms at its camping site.

My Parents are currently posted in the Philippines, so the following summer, I spent a month working as a consular clerk at the Citizenship and Passport Unit of the Consular Section of the American Embassy in Manila. I processed American citizenship claims, passport renewals, and birth registrations. It was interesting to get firsthand exposure to the American citizenship process, and realize how difficult it is to obtain it! I also visited a women's jail while working at the Embassy, which was a heartbreaking but valuable experience. Many of the women there were older, and had been convicted for drug trafficking and other such crimes. Living in Manila has exposed me much more to the poverty and hardships of my own people, and influenced me to decide to adopt children from the Philippines when I am older.

I love living in the Philippines because my mother is a Filipina, and I have become much more familiar with my own culture. When I go back home I get to spend time with my MANY cousins, which I didn't get to do before because we traveled around so much. Christmas there is crazy. People start putting up extravagant light displays in the beginning of November. Then on Christmas day, we get together with my mom's family, who bring their personal karaoke machine (Filipinos LOVE to sing) and spend the day singing, eating, and talking.

Finally, I spent another summer working at the Law Offices of Girardi & Keese in Los Angeles as a legal intern. The internship was a great opportunity for me to see how a law firm worked and learn more about the legal process.

What is your best Bowdoin memory?
My best Bowdoin memory would probably be from the first week of school during my first year here. My best friend from high school, her roommate, and I sat outside of Moore Hall and finger painted a mural that we still have to this day! It's a great representation of the lasting friendships you can make at Bowdoin.

What are your plans for after graduation?
I plan on taking a year off and doing paralegal work at the Law Offices of Maloney & Maloney in San Antonio, Texas. During that time, I'll be studying for the LSATs and working on my law school applications.

What advice would you give to a prospective student or first-year about the Bowdoin experience?
Be experimental with your class choices. There are a lot of amazing courses I've taken at Bowdoin that all managed to connect back to my primary field of study.

What quirky or fun thing did you wish you knew before you came to Bowdoin?
I wish I had known about Big Top Deli on Maine Street in Brunswick. They have the most amazing sandwiches I have ever tasted!

Story posted on January 19, 2007

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