March 31, 2010 - 10:44 AM
Friends and readers, this is truly the beginning of the end. Yesterday marked the last time I will walk into the first day of class as an undergraduate. Perhaps this is a little melodramatic, but it's also startling in its inescapable truth. Like it or not, my undergraduate career is coming to an end.
Spring has always been a difficult term for me: the weather is often too beautiful to encourage good study habits, and there is summer looming around the corner. Each year of college has been so wonderful that the approaching end has been a bittersweet experience. This year is even more intense: even though I plan to stay here at the University of Oregon, there is a chapter of my life that is coming to a close. Most of my friends will move away, I will (hopefully) shift to the other side of campus and to a whole new focus, and my normal habits and haunts will change to accommodate all these changes.
On Monday I was walking through campus with my friend Maddy and as we passed a hot dog stand she mentioned that she had always wanted to eat there but never had. We stopped for a hot dog and for some (as I've taken to thinking of it) preemptive nostalgia. With ten weeks to go, you would think that we would feel that there's plenty of time. But days are speeding by, with ever-increasing piles of work, and the end rushes closer and closer.
The good news is that my classes this term are going to be amazing. I'm taking Zumba again, this time with Maddy and Ben. It's going to be so much fun. In academic news, I'm taking a Spanish literature class about the author and activist Jose Marti, which promises to be both challenging and exciting. I'm taking my final math/science requirement in the form of an online Physics class entitled "How physicists view nature." I think it will be incredibly interesting, and will hopefully balance my intense interest in the science behind the natural world and my abysmal math skills.
I've already picked a favorite class, though. My final sociology class is "Nonviolent Social Change" with Micheal Dreiling. It is going to be an amazing term. He came out swinging in the first class: before he even introduced himself he challenged us to provide a definition to the idea of "oppression." We've already talked about the multiple forms of violence, basic theories of social change, and the levels of conflict in society, from roommates to international wars.
It's the perfect class for me: theory mixed with real-world examples, with a professor who's willing to challenge the students to apply their own ideas and experiences to the coursework. Just in that first class, my mind was racing through the many causes I have been involved with in the last years, and how those organizations have struggled to resolve conflict and oppression. This course will provide a new frame for my work for social justice, and for my future studies. It's the perfect introduction to my future studies in conflict resolution: creating a foundation of theories in nonviolent social movements to carry with me into my advanced studies.
With all of this excitement, though, I have to report a conflict growing in my own psyche. The dilemma, of course, is the thesis. With all these fabulous courses, and the excitement of spring growing, I am going to have to seriously discipline myself to work on my thesis. At the beginning of the year, I had done more research and writing than any of my friends. Now I am running at the middle of the pack, perhaps even falling behind as I have dreamed up new projects and passions to fill my time. I now have to sit down and complete this project I have started. My thesis is something I care about deeply, and am so excited about, but it's also just so HUGE. Even twenty-five pages in, I'm intimidated by the scope of what I've set out to do.
One of my advisors has recommended that I simply start working on it every day. So I will. Half an hour, every day. That's seven days a week, without fail. Hopefully I'll be doing much longer stretches than that on most days, but I think a half an hour is the minimum amount of time to sit down and put the words on the pages.
Time is slipping by... I have so little time. Time ticking on my thesis, on the publication project, on my undergraduate career. I've got to make the time count, got to get the work done and count each moment with my friends as a precious chance for connection before we strike out on our adult lives. There is much to be done, readers.
Wish me luck.
March 29, 2010 - 11:49 AM
Well folks, I'm home. Bleary, but home.
It was a fabulous spring break. Really, as good as it could possibly get. It ranged from the heartbreaking to the hilarious, sometimes only moments apart. I have tons of stories, pictures, and even video of my time with No More Deaths this spring break. The overall picture is a week of camping in the Arizona Desert, doing humanitarian aid work on the boarder to end suffering and death of migrants crossing from Mexico. This meant hiking the trail to offer aid to anyone there, from people suffering injuries like sprained ankles and blisters to giving water to people in serious danger of dying of dehydration.
But I'm not quite ready to tell those stories yet. A trip with as much emotional strain as this needs a little digesting before it's ready to be inscribed on the internet. I want to tell you about the people I met, the beautiful landscape I saw (with its heartwrenching reminders of people racing across rugged trails by moonlight alone), the wonderful times I had with friends old and new, and my renewed resolve to continue working for social justice and change.
I am realizing that there is no word for my experience. "Powerful" is the closest I can come, but that doesn't express the reckless joy I experienced, either. The singing as we bounced along in the back of trucks along steep gravel roads. The sunrises in the desert. The nights around the campfire, telling stories of our days. It doesn't quite capture the beauty of our campsite, or the dubious pleasure of the bathroom situation: a beautiful view, but in the end you were still pooping in a bucket. This week was complex, challenging, renewing and demanding.
And on either side of this week was the long, long drive to Tucson. On our way south, my roommates and I headed down Highway 101, taking the scenic route through redwoods and along the coast. It was glorious-so beautiful and so freeing to be on the move right after finals. We stopped to see the beauty, and to visit old friends and family. On the return journey we put speed over beauty and headed up I-5. Parts (Northern California and beyond) are beautiful. But most of I-5 is flat and grim, mostly smelly. I'm writing now as a means of recovery from that journey: that long, long time in the car, heading north. We were in the desert mere hours ago, and now we're in Eugene and it is RAINING. Really, really raining. Needless to say, I'm a bit disoriented.
I hope you will understand me when I plead a couple more days before I begin to spin this tale in earnest. There is much to be said, and much to work out in my own heart before I can share it with you. In the meantime I'll be compiling video, arranging pictures, and trying to decide how best to share my story. It'll be coming soon, I promise.
Off for desert dreaming on this first day of my last term as an undergraduate. Oh goodness, I just wrote that sentence. Before I wrote it I'm not sure I had fully realized: this is my last first day as a college kid.
I'm overwhelmed. Goodbye for now, and keep a lookout for the stories to come!
March 18, 2010 - 8:13 AM
By the time you read this, I'll be on my way south for spring break. I'd estimate I'm somewhere around the Oregon/California border right now, wandering my way through the Redwoods and running along beaches somewhere.
The goal, of course, is the Sonoran Desert south of Tucson, Arizona. I'll be spending the week volunteering with No More Deaths, a humanitarian aid organization that works to end suffering and death of migrants on the US/Mexico border. I'll be spending spring break in a tent with six of my closest personal friends and surrounded by other volunteers beneath a beautiful Arizona sky. My days will be hiking caches of water onto migrant trails and providing emergency food rations and First Aid to anyone we encounter who needs the help. It will be beautiful, sometimes tragic, and always inspiring.
But today's task is the road trip. It's about the journey, not about the destination. Last year our group blasted down I-5, making killer time but feeling the soul-crushing monotony of the flat California highway eating away at our mental state. This year will be different. This year we're making the slower but much more beautiful trip down highway 101, the coastal route. We're talking huge trees, beautiful coastal vistas, high cliffs, and hopefully a few brief beach stops. It adds more than four hours to the drive, but it will be worth it. I love the ocean so dearly, but haven't spent time on the coast since the summer. I can hardly wait.
Other attractions of the coming journey include a night spent with my roommate Lesley's best friend from middle school, a night with roommate Devin's older sister, and a lunch with some Hindu nuns. That's right: we'll be stopping by to visit Lesley's aunt and to meet the nuns in Santa Barbara. I am so excited to meet them, and to see this place that Lesley talks about so often. I am, however, a bit concerned about what one wears to meet the nuns.
The other big event of the trip is a series of birthdays. My friend Olivia and I will both be turning twenty-two in the desert. Last year this included a round of happy birthday singing, plus a trip to the self-proclaimed "oldest continually operated bar in the American Southwest," in a little town named Arivaca. It was the perfect place to turn twenty-one. I think a double birthday of twenty-two should be just as fabulous.
I hope you're picking up on the general excitement of this trip, and the huge potential for photojournalism. Not only will I be taking pictures every chance I get, but I also borrowed a little video camera from the Annual Giving Program to document our trip. If all goes according to plan, the results will be hilarious, educational, heartbreaking, and entertaining.
I'll be absent from the blog for the next week and a half, since there's precious little electricity out in the middle of the desert, and no internet to be found. I'm pretty excited for the opportunity to get back to the basics of life: a tent, food, good friends, and a cause.
I can't wait to tell my stories when I get back. Wish me traveling mercies, as writer Anne Lamott would say: safe travels and a clear road.
You'll hear from me when I get back.
March 14, 2010 - 1:01 PM
Wish me luck! On Tuesday at 2:30 I will be interviewing for the Conflict Resolution Master's Program at the University of Oregon.
The most frequently asked question of a college student's senior year is "what will you be doing once you graduate?" Well, hopefully I'll have the answer any day now. For several years, I would have said that I planned to go abroad after graduation: to do humanitarian aid work or teach English somewhere far away from here, perhaps back in Latin America or in Italy or Spain. I had planned to graduate and spend a couple of years in wild adventuring, pursuing passions and accumulating experiences, knowledge, and connections which would serve me well in the coming years. But I have come to an interesting and exciting new realization: the most perfect place for me to be for the next two years, the place with the most adventure and opportunity, is right here in Eugene.
The Conflict Resolution Program is a perfect match for me. It merges academic study with practical skill acquisition and mandated internship hours in the community, during which I will practice the skills I have gained. I will take classes in mediation and negotiation, in discussion facilitation and in theories of conflict. This is an exciting and dynamic new field, which applies to all kinds of fields, from mediation in the business world to conflict resolution in war zones. It would be relevant to situations from roommate conflicts to national-level diplomacy. The UO CRES (that's Conflict RESolution, if you're confused) program draws from a wide array of faculty and disciplines. It is housed in the Law School, and draws many students working for concurrent degrees, and professors who are primarily invested in the field of Law. However, professors from departments across campus including philosophy and geography are also recruited to teach in the CRES Program.
During the first year of study, CRES students take almost all courses together as a cohort. I am so, so excited about this. I'll be part of a group of approximately twenty-five students who have come together because of a common interest. That is a rare thing: to enter into long-term study with a large group of people with truly similar goals and passions. We will take formal mediation training early in the fall, and will continue through various practical and theoretical courses as the year progresses. Our second year is less structured. We create a focus for our studies and take classes outside the CRES program, as well as fulfilling more than 300 hours of internship work in an organization of our choice.
The CRES program is designed so that, upon completion, students not only have a highly marketable skill set but are also well-connected, experienced, and already deeply involved in their work. I'll leave the program one step closer to an ability to create real change in the world: to ease some of the pain and mitigate some of the inequalities. I do not imagine myself in a business negotiations position, but rather as an advocate and negotiator in areas of human rights and social justice. Imagine if I could take my interests and passions and add some real training and honed skills! This will be the perfect step.
I still plan on living wild and far-flung adventures in my early twenties. Now I imagine that I'll create deeper bonds and connections here with the fabulous faculty and organizations I am already well-acquainted with, and will spend these two years creating a real difference in this community, as well as a network which will serve me well in the future. Then it will be time to go off in search of the larger world: in pursuit of new cities and people and dreams. But for now, I'm preparing for another two years spent here in the city I have come to see as home.
So wish me luck, everyone! Send me some good energy vibes on Tuesday afternoon. I can't wait to spend the next two years blogging about the amazing studies and opportunities I'll be experiencing through my time in the Conflict Resolution Program.
(Plus, after all this big talk it would be excessively embarrassing to have to write the "Not Accepted" blog. We won't even entertain that as an option...right?)
March 13, 2010 - 11:31 AM
Friends and readers, it's been one of those weeks.
It's the last week of classes, so I am again experiencing the bittersweet moment of walking out of a class for the last time, and reflecting on the good things learned and the acquaintances enjoyed within those walls. I always have a hard time with the last day: I want to run from person to person and demand we get together for dinner or drinks to continue discussing the theoretical applications of tolerance as discourse, or the various apparitions of torture in modern society. I want to invite the professor to coffee. Sometimes I even do these things, but not usually on the last day. You leave a classroom and watch that chapter close.
But there's no time for sentimentality. Theoretically, week ten of classes is "Dead Week," a time when nothing is assigned and classes are wrapped up to prepare for finals week. This theory has never proved the case for me: I am always racing from one thing to another in week ten, trying desperately to start essays and finish readings, to visit professors' office hours and spend a little time with friends. Chaos added to the top of my regularly scheduled chaos.
This week has been even more of a doozy than normal. In an unfortunate but not unforeseen twist of fate, one of my roommates has decided to seek housing elsewhere. While he has never quite fit in with my two other fun-loving and outgoing roommates, Curtis was a decent person with whom to share a house. He was not loud (usually) or messy (except the kitchen sink). We all have our flaws, especially when living situations come into play, but Curtis was really a decent kind of guy to live with for these past six months. However, a small confrontation over nighttime noise proved the last straw and he has decided to leave before the end of the month. This created quite the stir around the house: while none of us were angry over the decision, we were a little concerned about the timing, which has placed us in the unfortunate position of seeking a roommate just two weeks before the end of the term. So we've been placing roommate ads, interviewing people, and trying to convince friends to ditch their own leases in favor of our fabulous home.
Sheesh. For someone who truly enjoys communal living, it certainly has been a source of stress and frustration to maintain a household of four for the past two and a half years.
The good news is that we have just found two fabulous candidates for the little room I lived in last year. We haven't made a final decision yet, but the situation is looking good, and hopefully we'll get a better personality match than we did on the last attempt.
But don't think that's the end of the stressors for me this week. On Tuesday I'll be intervewing for a graduate program (more on that in another blog). On Thursday my two roommates and I will be heading to Arizona for a week of volunteering, which definitely means a week without internet, possibly without phones or showers, and certainly without an opportunity to work on the Inside-Out Publication, my internship, or my thesis. While these are all positive things, it puts pressure to put on this next couple of days-I basically need to get my affairs in order before I can go have fun. Our trip also means we need a roommate NOW: in order to have someone lined up the April's rent, we need a selection, a signature, and the passing of the keys before we head off on adventures.
As a final bit of woe, readers, I must sadly report that I have a dreadful cold. It's an upper respiratory thing, and no big deal in the grand scheme of possible illnesses, but it's distracting and distressing. Trying to write a final essay while your nose is running like a faucet is never fun. Even worse are the sneezes. I've never been a big sneezer, but I think I've already sneezed fifty times today. It's painful and distracting. Oh readers, don't give up on me, but I'm having an "I wish I was back at home in Colorado with the TV on and my mother upstairs offering me snacks, conversation, or complete autonomy" kind of day. I wish I was seven. I wish it were any week but week ten.
OK, OK, enough self pity. Back to the books, the roommate interviews, the grad school preparation, the packing lists. Fetch yourself some tea, gargle some hot salt water (I only recently discovered this, and my history of ailments improved drastically). Perhaps I'll even have a nap later today: just get a little bit of work done and thou shalt be rewarded.
Just one week left, and then it's away from here and off on an adventure! My nose will heal, my essays will be written, and things will be aligned for my return to work and normal life on March 30th.
Deep breath. Wish me luck!