I had the pleasure of getting to know Andrew Bloniarz ’18 last year when he was one of my Junior Advisors (JAs) in Dennett 4. We sat down to talk about everything from running and Russian to the rigors of student life and his dreams for the future.
How do you like working at Goodrich?
It’s probably one of the best parts, if not the best part, of my time at Williams. I’ve been able to work with a bunch of different people whom I don’t overlap with socially and in a lot of other ways. Especially managing this year, I’ve learned a lot about responsibility, delegation and time management – it’s been a big learning process – one that I’m super thankful for. But I don’t drink coffee! That’s the big scam [laughs]. I’m in it for the bagels. I am a bagel boy.
You went to Russia, right? Tell me about Russia.
I did go to Russia! That’s part of my crusade to make the most of my time at Williams and have them pay for as much as possible. This was my third spring break trip paid for by the school. Sophomore year, I went to Baja California in Mexico for two weeks for a research field trip, and my junior year, [I traveled to the] Outer Banks for Geosciences research. In North Carolina, I got to live in a house with my professor and 10 other students, and we had a great time. And then I went to Russia, thanks to a grant that the Russian department applied for! We had five days in Moscow and five days in St. Petersburg. It was really awesome to finally be surrounded by the language that I’ve been studying for so many years now. That was really, really fun.
Tell me how you came to double major in Russian and Geosciences.
Both are great majors. I had no idea what I wanted to do when I started at Williams … Then, sophomore year, I started taking Russian because I needed Div. 1s. I heard great things about the department, and I really liked learning a language in high school, and I was like, “I’ll try a new one now.” So I tried it, and then I fell in love. I started taking Geosciences because I loved being outside for lab, and I loved the professors, and they all have really great dogs. So it was just a great group of people to be with, and then by the end of my sophomore year, I was like, “Alright, you know what, I’ll just declare this as a major.”
You were a JA as well. How was that?
That was great! I loved it. I mean – what a funny question. I knew you were going to ask about this [laughs]. I want to be careful with how I talk about it because I had such a great time, but I recognize that I have certain identities such that the system is made for me in a lot of ways, and I don’t want to discredit the difficulties that a lot of people legitimately had as JAs or as freshmen in the system. But on the whole, I think it’s a really wonderful thing – it’s one of the biggest things that sets us apart from other similar institutions, and I care about it a lot. Of course, it was really hard at certain times, but also so fulfilling and really, really wonderful to get to know 20 freshmen so intimately like that. It really meant a lot to me.
So you’re going to be leaving soon – what do you feel like your time here has impressed upon you?
It’s interesting – I think the stress definitely piles up over the years here. I think about when I was a freshman, and I was super enthusiastic, happy-go-lucky, trying everything, doing everything. I joined a bunch of clubs, I was running all year, I was working at Goodrich and leading a WOOLF [Williams Outdoor Orientation for First-Years] group. All of these things were happening in my freshman and sophomore years, and then as the semesters passed by, it got harder and harder to do those things. Now, I’m just doing Goodrich and schoolwork and trying to be a human being and hang out with my friends, and that is so hard… I cannot wait to not be in a stressful environment like this one. But I feel like this place has given me a much deeper appreciation for people – I’ve met so many wonderful people here, and I’ve come to have a deep belief in people, if that doesn’t sound too cheesy. People are really great. And there are some bad people too, but I think the good really outweighs the bad.
Okay, so I feel like you’re known as a very friendly person. Is that something you think about?
I think I’m just really loud, but thanks for characterizing it as friendly. But I don’t know – I feel like this is going to reveal my deep insecurities, but I don’t want people to think I’m networking [laughs]. I worry about that a lot, like, “Do these people think I’m just trying to be friends with them to get ahead?” Because that’s never on my mind – I don’t know, I think a lot of it was just trying to make this place more comfortable for me. By being so friendly and feeling like I recognized people and I knew them and they knew me, I really sunk deeper and deeper in the community here and the space here in a way that made me feel more comfortable. So I think it was purely a self-preservation comfort thing, and it worked out really well because, you know, I want to feel a certain way and be treated a certain way by people, and the best way to make that happen is to treat other people well – it sounds kind of biblical [laughs]. But if I can treat other people well, and then other people treat me well, that’s an A-plus in my book.
So you run cross country as well.
Yeah, I run cross country – sometimes I forget that I was an athlete at Williams. When people think of athletes or sports teams, I don’t think they tend to think of cross country, just because whatever stereotypes are associated with athletes, I don’t think we fit a lot of them – we definitely fit some of them, and we are not without fault – but yeah, I forget. And especially only having done cross country in my junior and senior years and then having it end pretty unceremoniously – I didn’t have a fantastic last race or anything like that, and I didn’t make it very long in the season because I’m not particularly fast – it just sort of ended… I never really had a moment of closure, like, “Okay, my nine-year career of running for a competitive team is officially done, let’s think about it.” It was just like, “Whoop, on to the next thing.”
You were team captain, though, right?
I was! Yeah, believe it or not, those goofballs voted for me. It was a good time, but it was really hard – being a captain was really, really hard. I learned a lot about my working style – my friend has this expression that I’m going to botch right now, but it’s like “peeves and needs” – knowing what you need from other people and what irks you about working with other people. I learned a lot about that through being a captain.
So what’s next for you?
For the summer, I’m going to be working in and living above a soup kitchen in Boston called Haley House, which I’m soup-er excited about [laughs]. But yeah, I’m really excited about this summer opportunity, but I’m also thinking more critically about it. Haley House is a pretty big organization that does a lot of different things – it has some subsidized housing that it manages, it has urban agriculture plots, it has a transitional employment program for formerly incarcerated people in a cafe that they own – so I’m really excited to dive in and learn about all the different elements of such a dynamic non-profit organization. After that, who knows? … I’m still waiting to hear back about a Fulbright – maybe by the time this is published I’ll know. I sure hope so. I don’t know if I’m going to take it if I get it… Russia is cool and all, but generally, there is a lot of homophobic sentiment in the people there, so is that really what I want to do to myself for nine months after graduating? It’d be really scary and challenging; I’d be teaching classes in English at a university, and they intentionally don’t put you in Moscow or St. Petersburg, so I would be in Siberia or the Far East or something, so definitely less populated. They asked in my interview, “So how would you feel about being the only American there?” It’d be kind of scary. It’d be hard, but I would love to live abroad for a little while, use my Russian, learn about the Russian people outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg. And I want to communicate what it is to be an American that isn’t the image the media portrays. So I’m waiting to hear back about that… I think it’s really easy to get swept up in all the wonderful opportunities that are presented and feel like you should be doing something, whether or not you actually want to, so I feel like I need some time away from here to really learn about myself a little more – spend some time thinking and understanding what it is I really want to do.
So you’re the last senior One in Two Thousand – any words of wisdom for the rest of us?
It’s so hard, because everyone’s experience is so different, and mine’s only one of many. I certainly have regrets about how I went about my time here, both academically and personally, but I guess the biggest piece of advice I could give is really to just lean into relationships with other people. Be friendly, get to know everyone you can and you’re comfortable with, your professors especially … They’re such wonderful people and care about me so much. I encourage students, especially underclassmen, to develop some of those relationships with professors. Find the ones that fill you up academically – that’s a really weird way to phrase that – but really, the best part about Williams is the people. Really.