Tag Archives: grad school

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.

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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.

I’m 25 and I Have to Learn How to Write Again

28 Oct

If we were looking at a chart or graph of my confidence in graduate school, it would come out like a volcano. I got here and after meeting other students and professors, I felt good about where I was. We’re all intelligent people, and this is a place where I belong and will learn a lot. Then we started to get assignments and papers to write, when the top blew off, and now it’s all been downhill. The confidence is gone. I’ve always considered myself a good writer, but have a completely different style than what International Relations (IR) professors are looking for.

My background in Journalism and History has given me experience in writing articles and analytic pieces. And let’s not forget over three years of blogging, which is a completely laid back and lazy style which I’ve unwittingly adopted. History papers are much different from IR papers, in which you take what you’ve read and studied and demonstrate that you’ve learned it. You cite references, but the bulk of the work is on you to speak for yourself, and not let the quotes do the work. Yet no one told me that upon entering grad school, and so I assumed it was similar. Thus, my first couple of papers have been a bit of a shock. There is a sharp learning curve here, and as today I need to choose classes for the Spring, it’s proof that time flies in grad school.

An IR paper looks for parsimonious and scientific prose. No nonsense, no flowery introductions, no sense of personalization at all. Political scientists want you to get to the point immediately, use a plethora of sources to prove that you’ve done research and someone else agrees, and then wrap it up as quickly as you started. It’s probably because with so many sources that in trying to prove a theory, a paper can often run upwards of 50 pages.

This isn’t my style, and I’m trying to adapt as quickly as possible. Never having taken an IR or political science class in undergrad, I feel unprepared for this change and wish someone had explained what is expected at the start of the semester. It’s disconcerting to go through life thinking you’re talent is writing and then get back a paper marked in red, knowing that you have to split your time between work and other classes which also demand the same amount of work. Now I’m 25 and feel like I need to learn how to write all over again. There’s no way around it and it’s either sink or swim. I just hope I don’t float away downstream unnoticed.

A Golden Age Missed, Perhaps…

8 Sep

I’m kind of being bad right now. I probably shouldn’t be taking time out to write a little blog post, but I figured it’s worth it to clear my head for a few minutes. I’ve just got so much work to do, and it never ends, that it almost seems pointless to try and get it all done in a one day period. Graduate school is no walk in the park when you’re also working. I’m not pulling a full time job, but the 20 hours a week I’m shouldering is enough so that I notice the difference. I head over to work in the morning, leave in the afternoon to come back and study before heading off to the university. Then I come back and study some more, but I never really seem to come close to finishing all of the assignments until they are due. There’s just too much to read.

That’s the way it is though, and I knew I was going to have challenges like this. After all, this isn’t meant for everyone, and if no one can force you to go to college, there is definitely no one who can force you to go for a Masters. Everything has been incredibly interesting so far, and from learning about the Cuban Missile Crisis to strategy on how to combat Al Qaeda, I can honestly say that I’m smarter after just a couple of weeks in the program. That is to say, I never would have just known about this material on my own. On a day like today though, I can feel weighed down by responsibility. Work, meetings, reading, class, and having to scrap together a meal with almost nothing in the fridge at the same time. I haven’t gone food shopping since moving in, but I really have limited time to get down to the store, as working with the buses is a venture in itself.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the last six months or so that I spent in Buenos Aires. Once I moved back into Palermo with my new roommate Tomás, life started to get a lot sweeter. I was on the downward slide, so knowing that I would soon go home made my job less of a chore, and nostalgia started to reign in. I made some great new friends but also solidified my long standing relationships with other Argentinians and a handful of expats. There was one week in February when I was busy every night of the week, running with the Nike team, going to a pub quiz, and other after work outings to keep me busy. I was flying by but enjoying it all, though eating poorly (pasta and pizza for four days) eventually caused me to fall ill.

The weather was beautiful as the summer edged on and eventually slid away, and from the 13th floor apartment I could see the sunsets come around faster and faster, until I was running in the dark after work and complaining about the chill. I would sit in the old green felt chair with character at night, prop my legs up on the wooden table and watch a show on my lap top. I would enjoy leisurely activities like writing and even read a few books, including a book on philosophers and their teachings from the Greeks to the 1800s. That book actually helped me in dealing with stress in some situations, and I’m still grateful to my friend for letting me pick any book I wanted from his pile.

Becoming more familiar with my neighborhood, I could drop down for a $5 ARS ice cream cone, or drop in to the bakery for some fresh bread to match my meal that night. Buenos Aires certainly has some European characteristics, and one thing that I’m missing here in Washington is being able to stop in at a corner market for fresh fruit and bread. But I’m not forgetful, and I have the archives here to show me that it wasn’t always peaches in BA. Did the last six months make up for frustration during the first year and a half? I think the answer is self-evident. Those last six months in Buenos Aires were a precious time in my life, and I think I’ll always be able to look back on them with a tragic romanticism, happily allowing a bit of water to the eyes even while I picture the scene of the old living room with a view of the Botanical Garden, bedroom with a view of the west, and kitchen with a view of the Palermo parks and Rio de la Plata. I can see it now.

The Internet is Back

3 Sep

Washington DC at Night

After moving into my apartment in Glover Park a week and a half ago, cable and Internet were finally installed this morning. It’s a shame that I couldn’t give little updates on the first week or so in Washington, but I’ve actually jumped right into my studies and have been awfully busy. Over the last three years I’ve lived sporadically without Internet or cable, so it wasn’t too painful to go a short period without it, but it did prove difficult when I needed to use the Internet for assignments.

Aside from Journalism, my other major in college was History, so I’m used to having to read large amounts of dense text and churn them into some sort of paper, but grad school is like that x 10. I find my routine has already been solidified, though I began my job with the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce this week, so it’s slightly different as of Thursday. I wake up and go to work, come back and read, maybe go for a run, read, go to class, come back and read until it’s time for bed. No matter how much I read in a day I still have hundreds of pages to go. The level of independence in grad school is high, and apart from a few papers or even the occasional take home mid-term, it’s on you to do the work and learn how to be an effect expert in your chosen field.

I haven’t even seen much outside of my neighborhood so far. I’ve been too holed up with studying to explore DC, and though I’d love to use this long weekend to visit downtown or go to a Smithsonian, I have a ticket to the University of Maryland/University of Miami football game on Monday night and need to get as much work done beforehand as possible. The weather is starting to change, and soon enough it will probably be chilly and undesirable outside, but for the time being the weather is very pleasant and it’s a shame that I can’t use my time at my leisure. That’s a difference I’ve already noticed about working life and student life. After working all day in Buenos Aires, I would come home and have that time on my own. Weekends could be dull if I had no plans, but at least they were mine. Now, all I do is hit the books. There is no such thing as free time, and if there is it’s because I’m wasting time.

At the Nationals Stadium, with the Washington Monument in the Background

Last night I took advantage of a sale at American University for $8 tickets to the Washington Nationals vs the New York Mets in the Navy Yard section of Washington and went with an old friend from UMass. The fairly new stadium was pretty empty, but it was a nice ballpark and is actually one of the only few in the country that I’ve visited outside of Boston. The ticket even came with $10 worth of food, drinks or merchandise, and though the Nationals lost, because it was a Friday night they had fireworks after the game. Since I don’t live near a Metro stop I took a long bus home, but was able to pass through Capitol Hill and take in some of the sights. There is one thing to be said about Washington at night: it’s a very pretty atmosphere with the monuments and federal buildings lit up.

This afternoon I’ve been disturbed by Syrian protestors outside of the Russian Embassy. They are chanting for the Russians to stop selling weapons to Syria, but it sounds like after a couple of hours they have quieted down. On schedule for the rest of the day is, yep, reading and reading. Maybe I’ll throw in a movie at the end of the day. It is Saturday after all.

Is DC For Me?

29 Jul

It wasn’t necessarily today, sitting under the bus stop kiosk with the thermometer reading 99 F, the sweat quickly rolling down my back and into my waist, when I started to have my doubts about Washington DC. It wasn’t yesterday either when I got lost for the umpteenth time in a maze of streets split by numbers and letters, simple enough yet esoteric to a person not from the area. I think it hit me the first day I got to Washington as I went looking for my first apartment viewing. Maybe this place isn’t for me.

Nothing had gone wrong yet, but it just hit me immediately as such a weird city. The Metro was clean, air conditioned and fast. I felt good about that, and the bus system was equally refreshing after my experiences with transit in Buenos Aires. The driver was so helpful and even waived the fare the next time I got on, as I coincidentally got the same driver. But I realized that though I was still in the city, all around me was the quintessential suburbia. Low-rise houses, trees, and a quiet that chilled me as I thought I’d made some grave mistake and gotten off in Maryland.

That’s the way this city is, because law decrees that buildings can’t exceed the height of the Washington Monument. Therefore, outside of the downtown you find what looks exactly like small town suburbia for most of the city. Coming from such a huge city like Buenos Aires, with more experience still in Boston and New York, this image of a city just didn’t make sense to me. It was like a provincial city in Argentina, but not the capital of the United States. Right?

Take a few stops on the Metro in DC and you go from what feels like a small town to a busy city, and the contrast is almost alarming. Where does everyone go at the end of the day? Alexandria, Bethesda, Silver Springs, Arlington, and on and on. Sure, plenty of people live in the city proper–about 500,000 or so by what I’ve heard–but they like to tout that they are taxed without representation. It says so on their license plates, “Taxation Without Representation.” You see, even though they are a part of the United States and are taxed, they have no representation in Congress. Someone told me it’s because the city would likely vote 70% Democratic, so the Republicans always block their right to add more seats.

Let’s just leave politics out of this for now. There are enough people in DC to work on that for now. In fact, one thing that I noticed about the city right off the bat was the sense  of self importance that so many people carry about them. The National Blah of Blah…The Center for Yadda Yadda…Assistant to the Regional Who Gives a Shit…etc. Everyone thinks they are the most important person in the city, making them one of the most important people in the world. It’s a power game and while I’m intrigued to find out how far down the wormhole goes, I’m also less than willing to begin playing along with such well trained monkeys. We’ll just wind up tossing bullshit at each other.

Buenos Aires has a similar reputation, in that other Argentines think the porteños think highly of themselves. No one else matters outside of Buenos Aires, but don’t tell that to someone from Córdoba. Like Buenos Aires, the summer heat of DC is stifling, a suffocation which you either get used to or die. The key is running into an air conditioned building or vehicle as soon as possible, if you can manage. It’s all so modern, it’s all so official. I feel like a relatively laid back guy from the ‘burbs. The city might be my new home for the next two years, but for now I have serious doubts if it will ever be my home. Show me your best, Washington.

I’ve Got a Golden Ticket

7 Apr

Today I finally did the unthinkable, something I’ve kept out of my mind since arriving in Argentina in August, 2009. I bought a plane ticket home. Back to Boston, where family and friends await anxiously, and have been waiting for two and a half years, really. It’s about time I cut them some slack, so without keeping them on their toes any longer, I’ve now got a set date on my return to my home country: July 12th, 2011, D-Day, landing on the shores of East Boston.

I was all set to go to a travel agency near the office and purchase the tickets I had investigated yesterday after Vero passed me a special deal for travel agencies. It was the cheapest deal I was able to find around, though it would only get me in to New York. From there I’d have to either by another flight to Boston or take the bus, an option that wasn’t appealing but cheaper nonetheless. Yet it was a last minute change of plans as my dad emailed me some deal on 60% off airfare from another travel agency in the U.S. I don’t know how he got it but I looked into it and found a flight from Buenos Aires to Miami, Miami to Boston. It worked out to something like $50 more expensive, but gets me right into Boston, which in the end is easier and aside from the bus fare, probably cheaper.

The date wasn’t exactly picked arbitrarily–my birthday is in late July and I want to spend it at home as I’ve missed the last two outside of the country. My parents will be away until July 11th and thus I’m leaving on July 11th, landing on the 12th. The idea was to wait nearly as long as possible in Argentina to make the most of my time here, but I’m leaving my job on June 30th, and I’ve been away long enough. The idea is now to make the most of the time at home as possible. I also need to head down to Washington D.C. earlier on to find an apartment and get settled before starting the challenge of grad school.

It’s still kind of weird to think of it as so official. There was the idea long ago of returning in the winter, but without a notion of exactly when. Having the tickets in hand makes the calendar seem much shorter. A week here melts off the calendar and before I know it I’ll be on vacation for two weeks, returning for a couple of months and then, chau. I told my friends at the office and was mostly met with the “good, get out” response, telling me that I might be missed. But I don’t want to think of it as a goodbye forever. Especially because it’s a round trip ticket. I very arbitrarily picked a date in early September because still in the down season, the ticket would be cheaper.

I need to look into it when I return to the States, but if I can change the ticket for a fairly minimal fee, I’ll push it back as far as I can, either to December or January, Spring Break, or after classes end in May. It’d be nice to come back to Buenos Aires to visit my friends, eat a couple of steaks, and maybe visit a place like Bariloche. Of course, that all depends on how broke I am and if I have an internship lined up. Ideally I’ll get a job in D.C. which will allow me to save a tiny bit of money for something like travel. And maybe I’ll get an internship in Latin America.

For now, you’ve been warned. Posts to come might start to get more reflective or have a “wrapped up” feel to it. It’s only natural, but not entirely intentional. I hope you’ll leave comments on what you think of it all.