My Recent Trip to RPI

Last week, Julia and I went up to my old college: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. I hadn’t been there in quite a while and now that I am bit older and am attending another university (Universität Heidelberg) in Germany, some things were apparent that hadn’t been while I was there. This is, then, a short list of random observations that I made in my few hours at RPI.

Dining Hall

The food in the dining hall was okay, but not as good as I remember. There were far more posters on the wall calling for people to eat healthy. Each section had a vegetarian meal and there was even a vegan meal in the center of the room. I assume they offer it every day. I was really happy to see this. They have the same in Heidelberg, but I was not sure the same movement in the states.

The Commons cafeteria at RPI.

The Commons cafeteria at RPI.

There were still the same two soda fountains in the cafeteria offering a variety of drinks. Refills are free, as you are only required to pay once when entering the cafeteria. In Germany by comparison, no drinks are free (including water) and prices usually start at 2 Euros, or $2.50 for a 20 ounce bottle. There is a strange incentive to take soda/juice when you have already paid the entrance fee. Even though I drink water 90% of the time, I felt like I was wasting something by not taking a free “upgrade” drink. I can’t help but wonder if small differences like this partially account for the weight/diabetes epidemic in America.

Land of the free soda.

Land of the free soda.

On the same topic, after offering free hard and soft ice cream with toppings, by the exit you could get a Magnum or Nutty Buddy ice cream “to go.”

The technological church

I always thought it was weird that an old church in RPI was turned into a computing center, but I never realized just how weird. I can’t imagine another time in all of history when such a blasphemous act could be committed. What better tangible example of Nietzsche’s idea of the shift from faith in God to a faith in Science?

The front of the Voorhees Computing Center.

The front of the Voorhees Computing Center.

Stained glass windows among computers.

Stained glass windows among computers.

The EMPAC Building

When I graduated in 2005, the new EMPAC building wasn’t yet completed. It is quite an architectural marvel. Julia and I got to walk around a bit inside and go into the huge blimp-shaped theater that protrudes out of the building.

The EMPAC building.

The EMPAC building.

The reflection of the city in the glass of the EMPAC building.

The reflection of the city in the glass of the EMPAC building.

 

I felt very nostalgic when I visited RPI, which I hadn’t counted on. I had already visited a few times after I graduated and didn’t feel very emotional about it. I appreciated the architecture, the landscaping, and the weather more and genuinely missed being there with all of my good friends, with whom, I am happy to say, I still get to see much more often than most other people I talk to – what luck.

On a final note, one thing I don’t miss is the price. After we got home I looked it up: $46,000 per year without room and without food. All in all, you can count on $60,000 a year. That is $240,000, or one house, if you graduate in four years. In Heidelberg I pay 135 Euros a semester: less than the prices of two books at RPI (sidenote: I had to buy no books at Heidelberg last semester). This tiny price includes discounted food and public transportation as well as a free sport and fitness program, psychological services, etc. Many people in Germany have asked me how and why Americans do it instead of protesting: for Germans this price is unthinkable. I don’t have a good answer for them as I don’t know myself. I  guess we don’t think there is another option. I am here to tell you there is. People in the USA have laughed when I have told them to educate their child in Germany, but I’ve been serious each time. You get to be a part of a wonderful culture, expand your horizons, save enough money to buy a house, and the only “cost” is learning the German language, which is actually a joy in disguise.

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