2 Days Til Cuba

30 Dec

I’ve been quiet lately on the blog, but there really hasn’t been too much going on. After finishing my last final I had was able to hear Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speak at Georgetown University, went for a tour of the State Department, and then headed home to Boston/Sharon for a few days. I spent a day and a half in the city at my friend’s place, first catching up with my old friend Jamie from Ecuador (an American) who I hadn’t seen in over two and a half years. She’s also from the Boston area and was home for the holidays, even though she still lives in Ecuador while getting her Master’s.

Later, my friend Sebastian, a Paraguayan who is studying at American University, came to Boston to spend Christmas. He spent the night with my friends and I as we went out to a couple of bars, and the following morning we gave him a quick tour of Boston on a cold day. Luckily my buddy Fish knows the city like the back of his hand and gave a great tour, including New England Clam Chowder. My time in Boston was short lived and I flew back on Christmas, returning to Washington with a nasty cold. I whiled away three days in my apartment alone trying to recuperate and enjoying my only real week of vacation before leaving for Cuba. Yesterday was the only real day that I got out for a bit to do something, going down to the National Portrait Gallery Smithsonian. I’ve wanted to go there for a while, but as often happens when I go to a museum, I lost patience and wandered through quickly.

When there are too many exhibits and people I don’t like being in a museum. That explains why I was in and out of the Louvre in 30 minutes. I saw three big pieces and got out. In just two days I’ll be leaving Washington to head down to Miami, and the following morning we’ll be leaving as a group to go to Havana, Cuba. I’m still debating whether or not I want to bring my lap top, and it will probably be a game time decision. I’ve been told that our hotel will have Wi-Fi, but I’m skeptical of the connection speed, especially if 14 other people there are trying to use the Internet at the same time. I don’t want to come home to 200 emails, but I also don’t want to be so connected that I’m online all day long. Part of the joy of traveling is disconnecting.

Check back in just in case to see if I’m blogging from Cuba or if not, I’ll be back in two weeks and will have stories, photos and probably videos as well (though my ability to edit videos together when I get back is cut short by the beginning of the semester and my internship at the Organization of American States).

The Official End of the First Semester

19 Dec

Today at 5 pm my last final was officially due, and even though I emailed it to my professor yesterday afternoon, I can now say that I have officially survived my first semester of grad school. You can tell how much time it took up by the amount of blog posts I did per month. For the last three years I averaged around 20 posts a month, and since starting school I’ve dropped down to around 10 or so. It’s also harder to think of interesting things to write about when your life simply revolves around foreign policy, going to work and school, and studying.

To celebrate the end of the semester, this afternoon I went to hear Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speak at Georgetown University on the U.S. National Plan towards Women, Peace and Security. The Secretary laid out some interesting plans for working with nations to ensure the safety of all genders and security throughout the world. Mrs. Clinton is an excellent public speaker and it seemed as though she was talking to a small group of friends rather than a packed hall with students standing up in the back. In attendance were some dignitaries, including the new President of Kosovo, Atifete Jahjaga, who is also the country’s first female president.

Tomorrow I’ll be going for a morning tour of the State Department, followed by my first meeting as President of the US Foreign Policy Association in the afternoon. On Wednesday I’ll be heading home to Boston for a few days to rest up and regroup before leaving for Cuba.

How to Prepare for a Trip to Cuba: Part II

14 Dec

Last month I wrote a piece about how to prepare for a trip to Cuba in preparation for my two week study abroad at the University of Havana in January. Our group had our second pre-departure meeting tonight, so here’s a bit more on the kinds of things you should consider if ever thinking about a trip to Cuba.

First we had an hour lecture from the Secretary General from the Cuban Interests Section in Washington. Though the United States and Cuba do not have diplomatic relations in each others countries, they do have an Interests Section under the flag of the Swiss. This basically means that if anything should happen to a citizen of either country, or a situation should arise, it would be easier to work out a solution. Likewise, there are educational and cultural aspects behind this, and I think that a part of it has to do with at the very least, trying to keep relations from totally being cut off.

The Secretary General gave us a little history on Cuba and its relationship with the United States, and then took some questions from the students, depending on what they will be researching in Cuba. I’ve decided to research how the economy has been developing related to post-Soviet era tourism. After the Iron Curtain fell, Cuba lost a great trading partner and aid, and thus had to look for another way to bring in revenue. Around this time period investments started to be made in the tourism industry, and as restrictions ease, the tourism industry seems ready to boom. I’d like to figure out the implications should the doors between the US and Cuba freely open one day.

Most importantly, we covered little details on things to remember and be careful about when traveling to Cuba. Bring as much cash as you think you’ll need because your ATM and credit card will not work. If you’re there on a tourist visa, you are only legally allowed to spend $179 for necessities per day (food, drinks, entertainment). Of course, that’s according to the United States, but once there, the Cubans won’t mind if you spend over.

You are not allowed to buy anything as a souvenir. Literally, nothing except artwork will be allowed into the US. If it’s a piece of art from a known artist, it has to get an official seal. Street vendor art doesn’t count, unfortunately. However, you can bring back informational items, such as books, movies, CDs, and posters. Sorry, but the little magnets and cigars are not worth the potential fines and jail time.

Apparently you are required to keep records of all of you travel documents for five years after visiting Cuba, just in case. This means you should hold on to any records of receipts, notes, journals, photos, or airline tickets. If you ever want to get a security clearance, you might want to hold on to these things. Your passport does not get stamped for your benefit. Imagine getting stopped anytime you travel with your passport again and interrogated as to why you were in Cuba. Instead, you’re given a separate document to hold onto while you’re on the island.

The charter airplane only lets you bring 44 lbs worth of luggage with you, including your carry on, so pack wisely. However, you also might want to consider bringing some gifts. Evidently, Cubans are very open to talking to you in the street, and engage with you easily. Yet it’s also common in the culture to ask for a gift as a sign of friendship, and it could be awkward if you have nothing to offer. Something small should do, like a pen or a something along those lines. I’ve already thought ahead and have decided that a stack of autographed Post-Its should be well received when I explain what a famous blogger I am back home (right?).

I’m still trying to finish my last final paper so I can breath a bit, enjoy a few days at home in Boston/Sharon, and then come back to sit around in Washington for a week. It turns out I don’t have work the week of the 26th, so I’ll be able to see some sights in DC, finally. In other news, today I was accepted for not one, but two internships at the Organization of American States. One was related to hemispherical security (including international terrorism, drug trafficking, criminal organizations, etc) and the other was dealing with the ministries of labor of the member states of the OAS, worker’s rights, etc. It was a tough choice because both paths are very interesting and will be challenging yet rewarding, but in the end I chose to work in the department related to labor. The internship will start at the beginning of next semester and run until May.

BA Cast: Season 2 Finale

9 Dec

BA Cast

This week is the season finale of Season 2 for BA Cast. This is another slightly-longer episode and ends the season in a nice way. This was a really successful and fun season for the show, and we grew a lot in our material and listener participation. We hope those of you who listened enjoyed it too, and we’ll look forward to providing more material in Season 3. Chau!

End of Semester Jitters

5 Dec

After working harder than I’ve ever had to before, my first semester in grad school is winding down. This is the last week of classes, and it seems that because I worked very diligently over Thanksgiving break that I’ve set myself up to cruise into finals. That was not on purpose, and it reminds me of the time I decided to double major by adding on Journalism at UMass. Upon doing so, I was convinced I’d need to take 6 classes from then on instead of the standard 5, and worked extra time that first year. As it turns out, I positioned myself so well ahead of the curve that in my senior year I was able to take 4 classes a semester.

That isn’t the case nowadays, yet I’m helped by the fact that one of my finals won’t even be assigned until the last day of class on Wednesday. It’s a blessing and a curse, because while it has allowed me to focus entirely on my two other finals, I wish I could use the time right now to work on it and I know that once classes are finished, I’m going to be lazier about the last final. Also, once classes are over, I’m going to take on more hours at work and thus won’t have obscene amounts of free time anyway. After frantically rushing around for the last three months, from work to study to class to study, etc, I’m finding it hard to simply sit down and catch my breath. I read about a journalist in the 70s who was working the schedule of two people, and when she went on vacation found it impossible to sit down and relax. After extended periods of time in constant movement and stress, down time becomes the stress factor, as there is a sense of not knowing what to do with yourself.

I feel like I’ve learned a year’s worth of material in just one semester and regardless of whether or not I took the courses I wanted to take, I can say unequivocally that I am smarter in the aftermath. I’ve learned about some extremely interesting things, both good and bad. I’ve become familiar with the government of the United States in ways that I never thought, and though I never considered myself very political, I’ve come to the realization that I need to at the very least understand it. After all, I’m basically studying international politics, not culture. This first semester has given me the chance to meet some amazing people and make great friends, including Americans from all over the country, as well as foreign students who add their own touch to the lessons.

I’ve learned that in order to survive as a grad student, you have to develop some kind of cynical and desperate sense of humor. You have to laugh at how ridiculous your course load is, at how stressed out you feel and how helpless it seems when someone speaks in class and you think you’re the dumbest person because you have no idea what they’re talking about. But you also get your chance to put other people in their place once in a while. The classmates form a little support network and understand in just a few monosyllabic words or facial gestures how exhausted we all are, and when we have an opportunity to go out for a drink, we make the most of it to blow off a little steam.

Still, I can’t complain too much when I think about the students in Buenos Aires, for example. I work 20 hours a week in addition to being a full time student, and I feel like I barely make it week by week. Yet friends back in BA would work full time, which is typically 9 am-6:30 pm, and then have class which could get out at 11 pm, or even start at 11 pm. It’s not unheard of. On top of that, some go to the gym, play a sport, and manage to stay active enough with their friends. It’s probably why people go out so late, and also why most people don’t graduate when they’re 22.

I don’t know if I would have it in me to keep this up for another 6 years, but for now I’m getting the hang of it. It’s a wholly unique experience and is not at all the undergrad life. Again, that’s a good thing and a bad thing. Anyway, now that the first semester is nearly finished, let us never speak of it again.

BA Cast: The USA: Dan’s Bottom 5 and Fer’s Top 5

3 Dec

BA Cast

This week’s episode of BA Cast is a short featuring Dan’s Bottom 5 things about the United States and Fer’s Top 5 things about the U.S. Since they’re always talking about top and bottom things in Argentina, this week they take a look at it from a difference angle. Listen in to hear what the guys have to say.

Back in DC, Back to Reality

28 Nov

On Saturday morning my Amtrak Acela train pulled into Union Station just a few minutes after it was scheduled to. It was gray and overcast but otherwise pleasant and warm, so I went for a run and then got back to studying. The mini-vacation was over, and it was back to reality. I wasn’t necessarily dreading coming back home to Washington, DC. If anything, I was looking forward to a respite from living out of a suitcase and sleeping on other people’s couches and beds. The familiar allure of my small studio is now my home, and I have traversed the quick trip from corner to corner hundreds of times in an effort to make it seems like a larger space. Yet it’s mine and somehow that’s reassuring, regardless of the fact that I’m in a wide closet.

I feel like my time spent over Thanksgiving break was used well–I not only finished one of my final papers, but it was my biggest final. At 20 pages in length, it was the longest paper I’ve written to date. The research part of it is what took up most of the time, and though I was interested in the topic, I often had to spur myself along and try not to get caught up in what I was reading too much. With so many sources to check, you can get bogged down in the readings. My independent research on U.S. involvement in the 1973 coup against Salvador Allende was thorough, and once I finished I moved on to my next final.

The research on how former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski shaped foreign policy in the Carter administration got off to a sluggish start, but after conferring with multiple primary sources and other books, I’ve gotten a solid idea on what he did. (In my opinion he was very active in shaping foreign policy between 1977-1981). Sorry, Cy Vance.

Back in town for a couple of days, I’m now about 2/3 of the way complete with this essay. There are two weeks of classes left before finals are due/are handed out, and then we’ll have a brief break. I’ll be back in Boston next month for a few days for the holidays, but then it’s back to DC and then on to Cuba for two weeks. Being home in Sharon was an odd experience because for the first time, not a single friend was left in the town. Everyone has moved out and all I could do was focus on my studies and watch a little TV. Aside from the reason of visiting family, the need to come back to Sharon is waning. That’s how it goes though.

BA Cast: Eat the Face and Different Types of “No”

26 Nov

BA Cast

The latest episode of BA Cast from last week’s already been out for a couple of days, but since I was out of town I didn’t have a chance to post it on the blog. This longer episode continues with the theme of the month: bi-national couples. Dan and Fer talk to several couples representing different countries to find out what’s sweet and bitter about having a significant other from a different nationality.