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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Choosing Classes

Before I begin a short rant about how difficult it is to choose classes, I must mention that my mom turns 60 today. Its kind of strange how, when I was a kid I couldn't imagine ever being 40, and the idea of turning 60 meant automatically being a grandparent teaching the grandkids how to play bingo, or trying to throw a baseball and struggling to pick the ball up off the ground. Now, 60 seems so young compared to then. I mean, all things being equal, I plan on being retired at 60 and spending half the year traveling through West Africa or some such exotic locale. Of course, all things are not equal and I don't know how realistic that is given the school loans being taken on these days, but still...
Anyway, back to mom. Mom, Happy Birthday. I can't wait until you don't have to teach anymore and can go spoil yourself with a cruise through the Baltics and a long stay in Vancouver, or Alaska.
Now, to choosing classes. One thing about a school like SAIS for someone who is fascinated by IR, Foreign Policy, China, Africa, etc etc. There are so many bloody courses to choose from. Because of the structure of the degree, you may get to sneak three or four electives in there, but there are probably 15 or so you might like to take. By you here, I mean of course me. I think I have spent about as much time working out a plausible first year / second year combo of courses as I have studying for my Microecon. course that ended yesterday. Can you believe...20 days, almost 18 chapters of Micro. And still a final exam to go.
The thing with choosing classes, just when you think you know what you want to take, you talk to someone who mentions a course they are taking and you think..hmm, that would be interesting. And then you talk to someone else and the same thing happens. Then you meet with the career counsellor and he brings you back a bit, reminding that you are here not just to take a lot of interesting courses. The objective is to put together a combo of courses that will maximize your...no not utility, no econ references here....post-graduation employment potential (in the sense of doing what you want to do for the company/department/NGO you want to do it with at hopefully a salary that can pay off your loans). Then, after re-adjusting courses accordingly, you speak with an academic advisor who rattles the whole boat suggesting doing this course now instead of later, and reminding you that there is competition for positions in classes and you may not get into the courses you really want to get into. Then, just to really screw with you, she may even suggest doing an economics specialization, which means taking 8 econ courses instead of 6. You think to yourself, no way. Econ? 8 courses? Ha.
Then, while at home later, with your head pounding, and the knowledge that you should be studying for your final poking you in the brain, you look at all the classes again, and even the econ courses that could make up that specialization. You think, actually, that could be pretty interesting. Econ really isnt that bad, is it? You take out a new piece of paper and write a new course outline...two years of courses you would like to take, all things being equal. Finally, you think.
Then, as you get up to go study for that final, a class you somehow never noticed before peeks out at you.
Hmm, you think, that could be interesting...
And it all starts over again.

And now I really must study (right after I call my mom).

Monday, August 13, 2007

Languages

Going out to dinner the other night with a group of China Studies students, I was reminded of how nice it is to be surrounded by foreign languages. DC in general does that...it seems like every time I leave the apartment I hear at least three foreign languages (Spanish always, and then maybe a smattering of German, or Arabic, or Chinese, or some African dialect). Anyway, out at dinner the other night, all of us had at least some level of Mandarin, four people could speak a decent level of Spanish, a few were fluent in French, a couple could speak Taiwanese, and I think a couple had some German and Japanese background as well. One guy was able to speak 7 languages, at least proficiently if not fluently, and a few could do four. I felt pretty inferior. But it also made me excited about the fact that I was surrounded by people who have the same belief in the importance of having an international, multi-lingual background, and who had traveled and lived abroad. And again, with DC in general...it seems like everyone here has some connection to the international world. The fact, then, that DC feels insulated from the rest of the world - like it is its own little universe, is all the more strange. It is a dichotomy I suspect I will be thinking a lot about - at least when I have time to take a break from the Micro.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Time Management

You know, going to a college of 800 people in a town whose main draw was Wal-Mart, and where the biggest event in my time there was the Christmas Wal-Mart decided to go 24 hours, I never really learned time management.
I'm having to learn fast.
Three chapters of reading (not three chapters of Harry Potter..this is 30 page + per of ATC, AVC, MCp, MCl, SAC, LAC, alpha, beta, change of this over change of that kind of reading. Plus the written homework, plus the trying to organize life (home, parking permit, insurance, etc), plus trying to meet people....plus plus plus. I can't even imagine what this is going to be like when Im taking four classes, auditing a fifth, and studying Mandarin.
And Im paying $31,500+ to do this???!!!
Idiot.

But Im sure it will pay off in the end, right?

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Try Again

It is a bit odd to think that the last time I gave this a crack, I was in Buenos Aires consumed with the World Cup, thinking about a wedding, and not quite sure what I was going to do after coming back to America.
Now, after a sojourn in Cincinnati, here I am in Washington DC, beginning grad school at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (no - it isn't the med school. Yes, it is a top notch program) and sweltering in 100 heat. Nothing says fun like readings, homework, stress-filled tests, heat and humidity. And to think, the reading, homework, and tests part is only just beginning...one class that meets every day for a month. Microeconomics. Fun.
On the bright side, I'm meeting a lot of cool people, people with incredible backgrounds, from all parts of the world and all parts of the international working community - government, military, NGO, etc...And then there's me. Hmm...well, if nothing else, I've been to a lot of places.
So why do this again? Why start writing a blog when I'm sure to be burdened with enough reading and writing. Well, I was re-reading posts from Taipei a few weeks ago, and a flood of forgotten moments came back, and I realized that this is an excellent way to keep a journal. And I guess I can let the folks know I'm doing this again and they can keep up with the ups and downs of my new life.
So, before closing this down for the night..a few notes. Our neighborhood is incredible...the northern end of Cleveland Park, where the houses on the cross streets off Connecticut probably average 3 or 4 million. A bunch of embassies around here too. And a lot of promising looking restaurants that sadly we cannot afford!
Before coming to Washington, I was obsessed with listening to NPR and all the political shows and discussions. Since I've been here, I think I've heard 10 minutes of Diane Rehm (even though she broadcasts from about 15 minutes from the front door of our condo), no Talk of the Nation, no All Things Considered, etc etc. My experience of Washington since moving into our place...our immediate neighborhood and the short walk from Dupont Circle Metro to our school. And many trips to Target, a stop at Costco, and a few other shopping related journies. I was going to head to the ellipse in front of the White House to play soccer tonight, but too hot. Hopefully I'll get around a bit sooner or later.
That's it. Anybody who comes around to this, friends and family, and you are thinking about coming to DC...we'd love to have you.
Off to read some Micro now!