Archive | November, 2011

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.

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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.

An American Thanksgiving

23 Nov

Tomorrow will be the first time in four years that I celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States. The last three were spent in South America–first in 2008 at 16,000 feet above sea level on an extinct volcano in central Ecuador, later in 2009 with some Argentine milanesas at a new friend’s house, and lastly in 2010 at a pot luck dinner filled with expats and a few Argentinians. I remember the first year abroad, winding down the day alone at the hotel and realizing that it was Thanksgiving. At first it hadn’t even dawned on me, and with no media reminding me of the date, and no family or friends around who were also celebrating it, I simply went along as if it was a normal day. Later in the week a few of the volunteers got together and made a dinner, making up for the lack of family.

The next year I was in Argentina as a newbie, and though I’d just met a girl named Tamara, she invited me over to her house with her sister and friends for dinner. They made what they knew best–milanesas, as well as some other vegetables and fixings. We had some wine and because it was a beautiful spring night, we sat outside late into the night, something I’d never thought possible on Thanksgiving. I still had to work that day and it was depressing being on GChat while no one else was, so the day dragged on until the dinner. I still had work in the morning, so I had to bow out of the conversation around 12:30 am, while everyone else was still going strong.

The next year an American friend invited me to a coworker’s apartment for a joint pot luck dinner, where foreigners from all over the world (and even a few Argentinians) were meeting up. Everyone was in their mid-20’s-30’s and it was a refreshing mix of familiar accents and stories. This year I’m finally back in the U.S. and I’m thankful to be with family and old traditions. Like so many Thanksgivings past, we’ll be waking up at the crack of dawn to drive down to Brooklyn, New York and my grandma’s apartment. Later on we’ll probably head in to Manhattan with my dad and cousins to go out in the Village. I hope you have a happy Thanksgiving too.

Back in Boston

21 Nov

I’m back in Boston (Sharon now, but who’s keeping track?) for the Thanksgiving break, getting away from Washington, DC for a week. On Saturday afternoon I took a flight out of Reagan National Airport and was amazed to find that we landed in Boston a half hour early. In all of the flying around the world that I’ve done, I’ve never been on a flight that got in so ahead of schedule. My old friends Dan and Scott picked me up at Logan International and we got ready to head out for the night, meeting up with old friends at a surprise party. Really, the Thanksgiving break doesn’t start for another couple of days, but since all of my classes for this week were canceled, I decided to take the days off of work.

The flight prices vary considerably, and by leaving on Saturday I was set to save about $400. The drastic price difference is the only reason that I’ve been able to come back home, and originally I was just planning on meeting my family in New York at my grandma’s. So instead, I had a good night out with some friends, followed by a brunch in Boston with my parents and sister, and will spend the next couple of days at my parent’s house studying and working on my final papers. On Thursday morning we’ll be leaving early to head down to New York, where we’ll have a feast with the family in Brooklyn. On Friday we’ll head down to New Jersey and I’ll visit my aunt and uncle who I haven’t seen in years, as well as cousins and their children who I’ve never even met. Finally, on Saturday morning I’ll take the Amtrak back to Washington to get ready to start up with school in the final stretch. It’s a real life version of “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.”

BA Cast: Bi-national Relationships

16 Nov

BA Cast

This week’s episode of BA Cast (admittedly late, but hey, it’s tiempo argentino) is a double length show featuring the topic of the month: bi-national couples. The show will be wrapping up Season 2 after this month and we’re happy to say we’ve been continuing to grow and expand as the season has gone on. This episode features some interesting chamullos between English and American expats, and we talk with an expat who lives outside of Buenos Aires in Necochea. Listen in and hear all about it.

Preparing for the Trip to Cuba: Lesson #1

14 Nov

Before our class can take off for Havana, Cuba in early January, we will have two introductory classes to prepare us for the two weeks spent studying and researching at the University of Havana. Tonight was our first meeting, and after quickly introducing ourselves we got down to business. There are a few things to keep in mind when doing research on Cuba, and maybe it’s more important to remember these things than for conducting research on any other state in the region.

First, check multiple sources to make sure the translation is correct and not biased. You might be reading an extremely right-sided version or left-sided version of a story, and though this is inevitable with such a volatile subject, you need to be aware of this as it’s happening. The best way to get a middle-ground viewpoint is to read as many sources as possible and then draw your own conclusions. (For all intents and purposes, we’re talking about culture, economy and contemporary politics.)

Figure out the analytical and critical framing for your sources. If reading about the history of Cuba, who wrote it, what is their background and potential influence? Yes, you may be reading an English version, but it could be coming from a 5th generation Cuban who was forced to leave after Castro took power. Think about how that might affect their view of history, especially the revolutionary history.

In terms of political science, you need to re-conceptualize the idea of civil society. Civil society refers to ways in which a society will gather to discuss and debate, among other things. The United States, for example, is a very open civil society, with book clubs, church groups, softball clubs, etc. You might think that these kinds of activities are banned and non-existent in Cuba, but there are other ways in which a civil society can exist.

Identify the causes of the revolution. Are we looking at only what is presented in an American history book, or a Cuban book, British book, Colombian book, etc? Read the historical evidence but also think of context and other events occurring in the world at the time. We will be looking at multiple viewpoints of Cuba, and though I’ll go into this with an open mind, I will also try to keep clear of accepting everything I hear from my hosts as the absolute truth. Investigation and objective research will be my task.

With less than two months until the trip, the wheels are already in motion. Our visas are being processed and arrangements for hotels and airfare are underway. I might need to check in with a travel clinic to see if I need any booster shots (even though I received a few goodies before Ecuador), and then I’ll get to experience Cuba firsthand.

 

Saturday at the Maryland/Notre Dame Game

13 Nov

The Fall is going by quickly and the semester, strange as it might seem, is quickly winding down. Next week I’ll even be heading home to Boston for a few days for the Thanksgiving break. I’ll be spending a few days at home before heading down to New York to spend the holiday at my grandma’s, followed by a quick stop in New Jersey before heading back down to Washington, DC. It’s a little version of Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Though I’m usually occupied with work and school, this weekend I was able to get out for a bit and see some of the surrounding area.

My friend Fish came down from Boston for the Maryland vs. Notre Dame game, and along with his old friends from the University of Maryland, we went to FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins, to catch the prime time game. Our other friend Ben was also at the game, but with a different group of friends. To get to the game wasn’t easy, and I had to make my way to Rockville, Maryland via bus and Metro. Once we all linked up, we drove around the city to FedEx Field, which isn’t exactly easy to get to. The stadium is massive, and though from the outside I said it didn’t seem much larger than Gillette Stadium in Foxboro (holding about 65,000), once inside we could see how enormous it was. It might have held 90,000 seats at one point, but now they have taken out parts of the Upper Deck to put in some kind of “party section”.

Before heading in, however, we were part of a large tailgate party with tables full of homemade food and drinks. Everything from gourmet pizzas, pulled pork sandwiches, jalapenos stuffed with pork, and homemade pumpkin beer were available for the taking. It was nice with the sun out but since it keeps getting dark earlier, we spent most of the time pretty cold. Once inside the stadium, we found our seats way up in the nosebleeds, just a few rows from the top of the Upper Deck. We were so high we were just underneath the speakers. From that far up the players seems like ants, but it was cool because you could see the whole play develop.

Maryland is having a lousy season and Notre Dame is doing OK, but it was no contest from the very start. This was considered a home game for Notre Dame, and they definitely brought out their fan base, probably making it about 50/50 on supporters, despite the fact that we were in Maryland. The halftime show was the best part of the game, unfortunately, and by the third quarter we’d decided that we’d seen enough. With traffic and driving to the Metro to then wait for the bus, it took me at least two hours to get home, but it was still a fun day out of my Northwest DC bubble. We’ll be heading back to FedEx Field next month for the Army/Navy game and the next day for the Patriots/Redskins game.

BA Cast Short: What NOT to Say

7 Nov

BA Cast

This week’s episode of BA Cast is a short, and a very useful one at that. This episode will teach you all of the standard Spanish words to unlearn when you visit Argentina, as well as the words that you should know if you go to other Spanish-speaking countries. One example of this is the word “carro” which is used in Spain to say car. However, in Argentina it is more common to hear “auto” or even “coche”. Take a few minutes to listen and learn.