Rachel Florence Tavel '05

Rachel Florence Tavel '05

Hometown: New York, N.Y.
Major: Spanish, with a minor in Classics (Archaeology)

Why did you come to Bowdoin?
#1 Food! (OK, OK, just kidding - although I'm telling you right now, it's certainly a perk!)

After I decided to visit Bowdoin, the school quickly became an itch I had to scratch. I had never heard of Bowdoin, so I was skeptical at first. Then I visited the Bowdoin Web site and saw that it had a link to teach people how to pronounce the word "Boe-din." This was when I knew Bowdoin was worth my time, and everything after that was positive.

I began my college search process knowing that I wanted a small liberal arts school and that I was probably going to head north of Manhattan. However, I loved just about every school I visited, which began to present itself as a problem. I guess what stood out about Bowdoin was the ambiance of the campus, despite the miserable November weather the day that I visited. Everywhere I turned, people smiled and said "Hi." My tour guide was witty, smart, and interesting. I lost my backpack, and Bowdoin found it for me.

Being near the ocean was also appealing and Maine is a wonderful place. I got a sense that nobody at Bowdoin was here accidentally; that going to Bowdoin was a goal everyone had attained. I just figured why not trade the concrete for some pine trees for four years of my life? Everything about Bowdoin - from the academics to the extracurricular opportunities to the feeling I got when I was on campus - just worked for me. It still does.

Why did you decide on your major?
I'm the kid whose major chose her. Basically, I knew I wanted to continue taking Spanish throughout college and that I wanted to study abroad in a Spanish-speaking country. My mom's whole side of the family is from Argentina, so speaking Spanish and knowing more about the history of Latin America had always felt like a self-appointed obligation for me.

Then, after arriving at Bowdoin and taking a Spanish course each of the first four semesters, I found myself faced with the opportunity to actually live and study in another country. I spent a semester in Barcelona where I lived with a family and took courses at the Universidad de Barcelona. As you can imagine, it was an incredible experience. I returned to Bowdoin with an insatiable desire to speak more Spanish and travel to more Spanish speaking countries around the world. By taking Spanish throughout my time here and also studying abroad, I accidentally became a Spanish major.

The archaeology minor was also an accident. I always loved Greek myths and ancient Roman history but never had a chance to study either of the subjects, so when I came to Bowdoin I took advantage of the courses offered. I went from a Classical Mythology course to an Ancient Greek Medicine course, and then continued with Pagans and Christians and Archaeology of the Hellenistic world. I realized that I love learning about history through images and artifacts, much more than just through textbook readings. Before I knew it, I was a couple of classes away from the minor in Classics/Archaeology so I figured, why not?

I would just like to note that I came to Bowdoin pretty sure that I was going to be an English or Philosophy major. To this day, I haven't taken a single English or Philosophy course at Bowdoin. I found that what I loved about English and Philosophy in high school, I found I could appreciate through other departments in college... So keep an open mind.

What's the best class you've ever taken at Bowdoin and why?
The best class I've ever taken would have to be my first year seminar, Seekers' Lives with Kidder Smith. The class focused on Buddhism and Hinduism but taught so much more. I learned about the two religions but, unlike any class I had ever taken, Seekers' Lives really changed the way I approach every situation in my life.

After Seekers' Lives, I ended up taking a bunch of other courses in the Asian Studies program and doing an independent study with Kidder Smith on Samurai culture and philosophy. The chances that I will go into a profession that requires my knowledge of Buddhism, Tibet, or Samurais is pretty darn small, but there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I will use what I have learned in Seekers' Lives on a daily basis for the rest of my life.

What extracurricular activities do you participate in? What do you like about them?
I have done a bunch of extracurricular activities at Bowdoin (Campus Activities Board, Admissions Committee, Culinary Club, Outing Club, Hillel, intramural sports, Latin American Students Organization, etc.), but anyone who knows me here would probably think of Crew first.

For more than 50% of the past three years, I have woken up at 5:30 a.m., put on a full head-to-toe outfit of spandex and fleece, and rowed under the sunrise in all different weather (including snow blizzards - welcome to Maine's "spring"). Being on the Crew team has been one of the most challenging and rewarding elements of my Bowdoin experience and I have no doubt that it has had an extremely large impact on who I am today.

Crew has required so much self-discipline and both physical and mental energy, but I wouldn't give up all those early, cold practices and all those blisters on my hands for anything. The team is one big dysfunctional family and I love it unconditionally. Plus, I love spandex almost as much as I love life itself now. If only spandex were a little cooler... Oh, well. We all have to make sacrifices.

What's your best Bowdoin memory?
I guess it's a good sign that this is the toughest question to answer! I'd have to say my best Bowdoin memories have been formed in the cracks of really good ones. Big campus events, successful crew races, and having Bowdoin friends visit me when I was in Barcelona were all wonderful times. But it's the details that have really made me stop and be grateful that I'm here.

Freshman year it was the silliness and excitement of living with the girls in my freshman dorm (most of whom I live with now). Sophomore year it was the deeper sense of friendship I had formed with all different kinds of amazing people. Junior year it was the feeling of coming back from being abroad and having so much to share with my friends who studied in totally different parts of the world. And now, as a senior, I think it's getting even simpler than all that, to the point where there is something to appreciate about every single day and amazing Bowdoin memories are being formed without me knowing it. I like to assume that my absolute best Bowdoin memory is still ahead of me, but if it's not, I'd be absolutely satisfied.

Have you studied away during your time at Bowdoin?
Yes. I spent the fall of my junior year in Barcelona (as I mentioned earlier). As a Spanish major, I probably should have spent a whole year abroad. The truth is, I considered it, but eventually resisted the temptation because I just didn't want to be away from Bowdoin that long. There are too many amazing courses and opportunities here to miss out on a full year of Bowdoin. I will admit that I was tempted to stay in Spain or go to Argentina for the second semester, but after coming back and having such an incredible spring semester, I know that I made the right choice.

What are your plans after graduation?
Let me put this simply: I don't know. I hope to go to Latin American for an extended period of time. Then, maybe work in NYC (maybe in PR), maybe travel around the world as a food expert and critic, maybe work my way through grad school... I just don't know. Basically, I'm at a point where I want to make decisions as I go along. This question will answer itself as I explore the possibilities. My goal is at this point is just to be proud of the answer.

Is there anything else about Bowdoin or your experiences here that you would want prospective students to know?
Take chances and stay busy. In high school, most of the courses you're offered are generic in departments such as Math, Science, English, History and Foreign Language. Because of this, many people aren't aware that they may be interested in Russian Literature, African Mythology, or the History of Tibet. Look at all the courses offered when you get to college, not just the ones you've already enjoyed. College is about discovery and exploration. Not getting your first choice class might lead you accidentally toward an unanticipated passion. This advice applies to the college experience in general.

Bowdoin opens up the whole world to you in so many ways. There is no single route you need to take, just keep going. Sometimes getting lost is the best way to understand where you end up. Take chances, don't work too hard, and eat dessert every day. The rest will happen around you. You won't even know what happened until you're sitting at your computer, answering these questions, thinking, wow, here I am now, with all of Bowdoin becoming a little too close to just one big, happy memory.

Story posted on October 27, 2004

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