Monday, March 23, 2009

Summer Blues

Last Friday was the first day of Spring but I'm already dreading summer. What is it that gets me down (besides my fear of sunburns and sweating while standing still)? The absence of school.

When I was a kid I thought winter break should last three months and that we could continue going to school in the summer. Many a frigid winter morning when I was a kid I would stand in knee-deep Utah snow waiting for the bus and wish I were at home hibernating like the rest of God's creatures. I still love the cold, the snow, and believe that keeping kids off the roads in the winter just makes more sense, but I'm probably in the minority there.

Yes, even today I wish for summer-school. When summer comes it means I have to get a job in retail, let my mind go stagnant, and spend my time wishing I could be in a classroom somewhere. Let's face it, if I'm not hiking or eating icecream I'm dissatisfied with the whole summer experience.

Even more troubling is the fact that once this school semester ends, I will have a 15-month hiatus from school before I can start a Ph.D. program. So I've started weighing my options and I've decided to let friends and family vote on my future. I'll probably make the decision on my own anyway, but this at least will have the trappings of a democracy. Please select one of the following, with an explanation of your choice:

1) Teaching English abroadI've thought about ditching the USA for a year to teach English in Brazil, Mozambique, Angola, Cape Verde, or some other Portuguese-speaking country. (East Timor anyone?!) Not only can you pick this option, but you can weigh in on which country I should go to. I think I might even consider a country whose language I do not know. I loved living in Brazil for two years, love foreign cultures, teaching and learning languages, etc. etc. The down-side is that I've heard it's a very difficult and long process (3-6 months) to get a work visa and usually you need a sponsor employer before going. I could go to Brazil on a tourist visa (renewed every three months) but I don't think it's exactly legal, so due to my moral leanings that's out. I also worry about getting shot, mugged, or abducted but that could happen anywhere, right?

2) Tutoring full-time
I could stay in D.C. (I think I have an apartment lined up in Parkside if I want it) and try my hand at tutoring elementary and high school students. The plus-side is that people are willing to pay exorbitant rates for tutors and I already have a friend involved in it and he said he could find me some work. Moreover, I would still be relatively near my family and I still be in DC 2nd. I also love the idea of the tutor-student system, which is almost totally absent from our public education system. The down-side is that I have little experience, so I can't charge $100/hour, meaning I need to work more hours and I need to buy a car. I'd also be trying to start in the summer, when kids are on break (see my above grumblings) so work would be slow when I need it most. Plus, I won't be living in Brazil.

3) Teaching at a community college
I've already applied to teach at Montgomery Community College in Maryland and I can also apply to Prince George CC. Both are Metro-accessible so I wouldn't need to buy a car or move any farther than next-door to where I live now. Teaching would look great on my resume and it would be the closest thing to what my future career will look like, but for some reason, this option seems the least appealing to me. Maybe it's the thought of standing in front of forty students day after day, week after week knowing that if I assign a five-page paper it amounts to hundreds of pages of student-writing to read at home. *cringe*

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

My "Social Experiment"

I used to think that being social came naturally to some people. You know, the kind of person who has something to do every night of every weekend for as long he/she can remember. I'm trying a little 'social experiment' of my own which I think will turn into a permanent change in lifestyle. Every night that I don't dedicate to studying (and by nightfall I'm usually ready to call it a day) or class, I make at least one concerted effort to hang out with at least one other person. I recently broke up with my girlfriend, and I knew I needed to find something to fill the sudden vacuum that had appeared in my life. In fact, I had so much spare time that I just couldn't healthily fill it with down-time alone. In the words of Bill Cosby, "I'm no good on my own!"

It's a new and uncomfortable way of life and this post is for people who wonder if they can make a similar transition.

First off, it's hard! I'm beginning to suspect that it's hard for everyone and that my natural inclination is quite normal. Sometimes I just want to retreat into my shell, stay in my room, read a good book, be a little self-absorbed. I think that eventually I will need to find a balance between social life and me-time, but I think me-time has won out far too often in my life, so I'm trying this alternative for a while.

Organizing a party or calling up some friends is nerve-wracking and time-consuming. I'm plagued with a thousand little doubts about the quantity and variety of food I should make, if any; the number of people who will actually show up, if any; overshoot and invite the whole ward + grad school program or be more selective (or is that rude?); invite people in person, which I find exhausting and/or implausible, or by some electronic medium? Don't get me wrong, I love people and enjoy company and lots of it, but being proactive in this department challenges me.

Secondly, there have been days where I have felt like I need time to myself. So far, I've been ignoring that impulse usually to discover that I was shying away from the responsibility, not the time spent with friends. Just keeping at it I've discovered that people reciprocate, after a while. I've just had to remember this: people aren't used to this, my being interested in their time and lives, and they need time to get used to this change.

Thirdly, I've found that this new lifestyle, as challenging as it is, is worth every effort. In the past month I have had so many fun times with so many new people that I continue to be astounded at the sheer number of great people that live in this world, former strangers, former names and/or faces.

Gradually, my set of challenges is starting to change. Instead of wondering what I'm going to be doing on weekends, I've started to juggle my options. Now I'm having to deal with making sure I remember to invite everyone who might be interested or they'll call me out on not receiving an invitation. Now I start to crave a variety to social situations (because, honestly, how often can one guy play Settlers of Catan?!). That's not to say that this has become easy. I think I'm still a fairly private person and I'll often take the easy way out in social situations, but I'm progressing and getting closer to the kind of guy I've always wanted to be. Let me just say this in conclusion, it's hard but so totally worth it. If you need practice, just call me and we'll hang out.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

My Oral Exam

Last Wednesday I underwent a rite of passage called orals, which is mandatory in order to graduate from the English M.A. program at Georgetown (though the thesis itself is not actually required). My chosen topic was Late 19th-century Anglo-Brazilian Relations in Literature. That's a long title but I'll try to condense the main idea.

Britain decided that after Brazil became independent in 1822 it needed the equivalent of a mother country to replace Portugal. For about 75 years, Brazil was part of what certain members of English Parliament were calling "Greater Britain." Basically, Britain reserved the right to tell Brazil how to run its government and how to conduct itself as a people. Despite religious, linguistic, and cultural differences (not to mention something called the Atlantic Ocean), Britain became Brazil's "best friend" which Brazil paid for in favors and treaties. Britain dominated Brazil economically but also attempted to impose their moral ideologies by enforcing an abolition of the slave trade. Brazil began to resent long years of unequal international relations while Britain struggled to understand why Brazil was not more cooperative.

In their literature, Brazilian writers often cast Europeans as their villains, usually French or English, but almost never Portuguese. (Americans have often cast their own "mother country" as the villains, a la English accents in Star Wars.) In Brazilian literature, Englishmen are drinkers, subtly aggressive, more interested in trade and inventions than women or friends, and deeply irreligious. English writers describe Brazil as a beautiful and rich landscape almost bereft of people. When English literature depicts Brazilians they are lazy, superstitious, unintelligent, and ignorant or poor, black slaves. One English traveler said that Brazil is a large untended garden overgrown with weeds in need of a more nurturing and careful caretaker.

It makes me wonder how history will represent the dominant powers of our modern world. Are large, powerful nations justified in imposing their ideology? Should they do it all over the world wherever a nation or organization hurts innocents or only against nations that are perceived as a threat to their own people? It makes me wonder why the United States attacks some nations, then leaves others alone that perform the same crimes against humanity or that pose a similar threat. What is the reason and rationale for our biases? What is the rubric for our "most wanted list"?

For my orals I presented my findings for 20 minutes; then my two advisors (Prof. Schwarz from the English department and Prof. Vieira from the Portuguese department) asked questions and bounced ideas off me. I think my presentation was dribble for the first 5 minutes but after the butterflies settled down it went more smoothly. I must say I am really glad that Prof. Vieira was there. Instead of asking questions, she contributed to the arguments I was making and made them that much stronger. After an hour and a half of this they sent me out in the hall so they could deliberate about whether or not I passed....

It's a strange and scary five minutes sitting in the hall waiting to see if what you've been studying for the past 6 months means anything, if it makes any sense. I ran into a friend a month or two ago who looked positively ill while he waited and didn't even notice me until I said hi. Thankfully, when the door opened Profs. Schwarz and Vieira were smiling and immediately congratulated me on passing. I can't tell you how nice it is to have orals out of the way.