Maddie Swarr has already had adventures some of us can only dream about. She has skydived, worked on a coffee farm, and lived a summer as an au pair in Argentina. A dedicated music lover, Swarr has also explored the music scene in and around Albany and now equipped with a car and an adventurous spirit, she plans to contiue to attend more concerts and to travel again to South America.
What was your 99 this Winter Study?
It was really interesting. The way we came about this is funny, actually – through my dentist. [He was] cleaning my dad’s teeth and talking … he actually roasts his own coffee and really wanted to do this on the side, and he was talking to me about starting direct trade connections to farmers in places like central America and Africa and was talking about taking a trip down there to make these relationships with farmers. My dad’s like, “Oh, sounds like something she would like to do.” I was trying to do something off campus. I got a 99 to go to Costa Rica. We pretty much stayed on small specialty coffee farms and learned everything there is about coffee.
What kinds of things did you learn about coffee?
It comes from a fruit. It’s like this red bean, and you squeeze it and it’s called a pulp, inside is the coffee bean. There are two coffee beans next to each other. They actually are the seeds of the plant. The processing of coffee is really laborious. We got to pick it, process it, and we got to dry it. Eventually, it turned into manual labor.
Any other stories from your trip?
When we were in Panama, we were in this really weird town. It was a coffee farming towm, but a lot of expats lived there. Weird culture class: Americans and local indigenous Panamanians. One night we went out to get a drink or something, and we went out and it was all local Panamanians. It was such a culture shock for these white teenagers in the middle of this town in Panama and everyone was really drunk and fighting. There were bar fights and the fights kind of had rules. And Joe [Glass-Katz, ’17] was like, “Lets just stand in the middle of the street.” So it was pretty funny, just two white teenagers standing in the middle of a street and everyone looking at us.
What did you do last summer?
I spent it in Argentina au pairing for a family. I didn’t have to pay for food and housing, but I babysat for them.
How did you get the job?
Again, another random connection. My mother’s college roommate is from Argentina, and my roommate actually gave me the idea to go abroad for the summer and au pair. It all came together and I got to learn Argentine Spanish.
How did you like Argentina?
I liked it. It was immersing yourself in another culture … it was so cool comparing it to Costa Rica because Argentina is so European. When I would go out with people my own age, all the women there, I don’t know, it was so separate. I liked it though. It was so hospitable, which is something you don’t find here.
Are you still in communication with the family you babysat for?
Yeah, they were awesome. I’m trying to study abroad in Argentina. I would love to study abroad in South America. It was sad leaving; it really felt like a home away from home.
Do you play an instrument or sing?
I play guitar. Unfortunately, I should really pick it up again. I did some coffeehouse last year, but I have not had time, which is sad because I really love music
How long have you been playing?
I never took lessons because my brother was a great teacher, so I’ve been informally playing since sixth grade.
What did you play at coffeehouse?
Me and my friend played this country song with raunchy lyrics – [Laughs.] my parents loved that one – and we did a Beatles one the next time.
Did you like being up on stage?
No, I hate it. I get so nervous, but afterwards I’m really happy I did it.
Have you been to any concerts this year?
I have. One night, I randomly went to an Ok Go concert in Albany. It was really fun. It was random in this weird strip mall converted to a concert venue. It was fun because I like to get out of the bubble. In March, I’m going to an Odessa concert. I’m trying to go to more because I have a car on campus.
What do you like about concerts?
Listening to music is great, but going to see a live performance is this whole experience. You go with some of your good friends and watch these talented performers. When you know a band and have a special connection with them, it is amazing to see how talented they are. It’s not prerecorded, it’s just raw. I don’t know, it’s the whole experience, the lights, and how it makes it so much better.
I also heard you are a certified bartender?
No, not a certified bartender! I took bartending classes one time. It was a lot of work. It was senior year and I knew I was coming here, and I was like, “When am I ever going to bartend in Williamstown?” So me and my friend went to these classes. Yeah, you only need to be like 16 to work at a bar. Or maybe it’s 18, but either way I was legal to do it as long as you’re not drinking the alcohol.
You’ve been skydiving. Where?
In Cuba, last year. My friend talked to me about it and said, “Let’s go skydiving.” I talked to my parents about it, and they said “No way.” And then it was so funny, the next morning my mom comes over and says “I’m coming skydiving with you!” So my whole family went skydiving with me, and my mom was the most proud of it. She put a picture of her skydiving on our Christmas card – like, we all did that too! So it was definitely something you can check off the bucket list.