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Unexpected Hobbies

Northwestern community members share their surprising recreational activities.

Portrait of Jeffery Coleman curling
Jeffrey Coleman on the ice.Image: Shane Collins

Winter 2024

Jeffrey Coleman, associate professor of Spanish and Iberian Studies 

After watching the 2018 Winter Olympics with a bunch of my friends and seeing the U.S. men’s curling team’s gold medal victory, I was like, ‘Where can we do this? It seems really fun.’ I live in Milwaukee, and lo and behold, Wisconsin is the No. 1 place in the country to curl. The sport is completely enthralling to me. I’m a big strategy nerd and one of the greatest things about curling for me is that it’s essentially chess on ice. 

In 2020, I also launched Tinterías, a podcast about fountain pens and stationery that fosters connections among Spanish-speaking enthusiasts around the world. Recently certified as a Spanish wine scholar and cava educator, I’ve taught classes on Spanish wine in Milwaukee. This journey has inspired my current book project, Liquid Identities: Bottling the Nation, which explores Spanish national identity through wine. 

Courtesy of Xiaomin Bao

Xiaomin Bao, assistant professor of molecular biosciences and dermatology 

My hobbies — snorkeling and diving and antique hunting — enrich my life journey as an explorer. My love for animals is deeply satiated when I snorkel or dive, allowing me to observe marine creatures in their natural habitats. I also appreciate fine art and often collect unique pieces from estate sales and antique shops. A common thread binding these hobbies is the element of surprise. Whether it’s a chance encounter with an eagle ray near the shore or the discovery of a mid-century carved stone owl, the unpredictability enhances the thrill. 

Photo Credit: Martin Wilson ’10 MS

Jason Wang, assistant professor of physics and astronomy 

When I started at Northwestern in 2022, I was looking for ways to stay active that didn’t involve going to the gym. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Chicago has an active circus scene — and that the Actor’s Gymnasium near campus offers classes in aerial arts, such as trapeze, lyra [aerial hoop], silks and tightrope walking. Aerial arts combine strength training, flexibility, balance and performance in fun and interesting ways. It also makes you really appreciate Cirque du Soleil! 


Photo Credit: Joshua Zhu

Ricardo Hernandez Alcala, doctoral student and graduate researcher for the Scheidt Group 

My father introduced me to the world of analog watches. Collecting them is a tradition in our family that started with a small timepiece from my great-uncle and has evolved over the past 40 years into the collection my father and I maintain. My father taught me everything there is to know about these machines, and yet I’m still perplexed by their intricacies. One of the most rewarding experiences is thinking it will be impossible to restore a piece and then, through sheer luck, having all the components harmonize to create the ticking sound. 

Photo Credit: Jim Sabo Photography

Jay Winston ’98, choral and vocal music teacher at The Pingry School  

I’ve always whistled. Whenever I’m walking, I’m whistling — and probably annoying people. But I never knew about the Masters of Musical Whistling International Festival and Competition until May 2023. I submitted my audition videos just before the cutoff date. A few weeks later I was invited to the live auditions in Hollywood to compete against whistlers from all over the world. This was the first time I had an opportunity to express my musicality where whistling was considered the instrument. I prepared all summer but I did not expect to win the competition. I was in absolute shock when they named me the new world champion whistler. 

Catherine Carrigan, assistant professor of instruction in the Department of Radio, Television and Film  

I took my first woodworking class the year my grandfather died, as a way to feel connected to him again. I had always assumed he was the only handy person in our family, but it turns out that handiness, like most things, is a learnable skill. Woodworking requires my complete attention — I’m operating heavy machinery, after all — and it allows me to make beautiful, functional objects for myself and my friends. I joke that woodworking and my other hobby, quilting, both combine my love of art with a very specific set of rulers. 

Holly Adler, financial administrator for Northwestern’s Residential Services 

I have been collecting snow globes for the past 10 years and have 51 in my collection. I don’t even remember why/how I started, but I do remember my first one: It was a gift purchased for me in Barcelona, Spain, and features La Sagrada Familia, a temple designed by architect Antonio Gaudí, in the center. Since then, I’ve collected snow globes from at least 30 of my travel destinations — Canada and Slovenia are next. It’s fascinating that even in Budapest [Hungary] or Prague snow globes are popular. I have globes representing roughly half of the United States. It’s interesting to see the landmarks, monuments and symbols that each destination decides to put inside their snow globe: Texas, for example, has a huge boot, and New Orleans has fancy gold trim. Of course, there are many hazards to bringing back liquid snow globes in your luggage. My snow globe from Florence, Italy, featuring Michelangelo’s statue of David, accidentally fell, and the glass shattered; now just the statue is left on its stand, but it’s so amazing that I still keep it in my collection.  

Thomas Hayden, lecturer and academic director of the IMC Certificate Program at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications 

I grew up in Louisville, Ky., so I’ve been attending the horse races at Churchill Downs since childhood. It wasn’t until 2003, though, that I got together with a few friends and created a small syndicate. Over the years we’ve owned and raced about a dozen horses, including three of the six we bred. My fondest memories include watching the birth of a foal, dawn workouts at Arlington Park and Churchill Downs, and standing in the winner’s circle at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky., for the very first race of our very first horse! Love of horses and love of the sport drove our little group. Our primary goal was to pay taxes each year, as that meant we actually made money! 

Leave a comment below about your surprising hobby! 

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