Sunday, October 23, 2011

My apologies, I know you've been waiting with bated breath...

Turns out grad school is busy. (No surprises there) We've been writing papers, researching (so so much....two 30-pagers due at the end of the semester), creating surveys, I had a presentation in front of my grammar class, and of course the reading never stops. It's a busy life, but I enjoy what I'm accomplishing and I really already feel slightly more prepared for the real world than I did stepping into this program. The program newsletter is up and running for Fall 2011, if you care to check it out. I'm only mentioned a couple of times (and only once directly), and a lot of it is in French, but there are some interesting English blurbs as well.

 UW Madison football lost their first home game last night. I know this because I live two blocks from the stadium and heard plenty of inappropriate statements being hurled at rival fans. Sore losers I guess. I can understand a little how they feel, as somebody who is fairly dedicated to a certain sports team (RIP Ozzie Sox), but I think there's a difference between college football fans and (real) baseball fans. All I know is that living near Camp Randall was definitely nice for a little while, its close proximity to campus makes things easy for me and I enjoy my walks around the neighborhood, but this will probably be my only (almost a full) year in this apartment. Shoneypants is coming into town next weekend and we're going to look at a couple of places less in the campus area. It's crazy, but a lot of the nicer buildings are already leasing for Fall 2012! I like the idea of this move for many reasons, but one of my favorite reasons is that I will ideally not be around for the actually moving of the stuff! I'll leave for my internship with cat and belongings in one place, and return to have it moved somewhere else. Yaaaaaaaay not doing things.(Less yay to my control-freak nature that will have me moving everything around the apartment the minute I move in.)

This week has been relatively slow, the week before I battled the massive plague given to me by my dear father. (Don't worry, it was actually a good week to have it..not a ton of work..sort of.) I have never seen so many tissues stacked up in one place before, and my apartment is still recovering from the mess of not cleaning for several days. (Also don't worry here, it's mostly clean now) I had some lovely help from my Madison Gang in getting me what I needed, and managed to only miss one class for the whole week, so that was good. Unfortunately, this week both my tutor and my grammar teacher needed to take a day off due to some horrible cold that they both denied having picked up from me. I'm really liking school. It's busy, but it's so much what I want to learn. I've also recently opened my world to the breadth of non-profit organizations based in Madison, and I'm not so scared about finding a job when I graduate anymore. I'm applying for a couple of local internships for next semester, just so I can really have more experience in the field, and then I hopefully will be working somewhere awesome this summer! I have an organization in mind, but I don't want to spill the beans just yet as it's relatively up in the air. I met with the program director on Friday and he really thinks it would be a great place for me to intern, and it's seems hopeful that they would take on an international intern, but in this process they keep reminding us to "be flexible" about things, because there are all sorts of little details that need to get worked out. I'm fine with that, I would really like this internship, but I know that I'll find something else and it least they FINALLY understand what I'm going for. I also picked my classes for next semester, and I'll register November 14th! (Which happens to be a very special day for a very special person)

That's all paper topics are interesting to me, but they're also proving slightly difficult to research. I'm having trouble with something that I feel is sort of a "first year grad student problem", where I come up with original ideas, but then don't know how to prove them without looking at research that's already out there. Since we don't qualify for assistanships and such, there is research I would like to conduct in the field, but don't obviously have the means to do so. For instance, in my concentration area course I'm writing about how tourism and globalization promote language extinction, and my teacher thinks it would be a good idea for me to do a case study on a particular language, but I really have NO idea how I'm supposed to follow a single endangered language without trekking through a forest in South America to interview people in a language I don't even understand, and on the other hand I can't see myself just collecting my own case study by reading other studies conducted by other people. It's hard to explain, but I think I feel more pressure with this paper because we're submitting them to journals at the end of the semester, so I really would like for it to be published. 

My other paper is on humanitarian aid to people who are handicapped in West Africa and in particular whether or not developed countries (specifically their former colonizers) are responsible for providing this aid. It's super interesting, but there isn't a ton of information out there either. These projects are definitely stretching my brain!

I guess that should be it, because this is getting long and people probably won't want to read much more. I was going to put up pictures, but my phone appears to have vanished somewhere under the five blankets I have on my bed, so those may not come until later today.

Stay warm everyone!

Monday, October 10, 2011

How to get the most use out of a tutoring session

One of the parts of my graduate program which made me both terrified and excited at the same time was the tutoring component. I speak French relatively well, and in an average college-level classroom I am far above the rest in terms of my abilities. When I'm talking on the phone or sitting next to a native (Parisian) French-speaker I'm not so great. This wasn't always the case, when I spent my summers around Frenchies I would sometimes get asked what part of France I was from. (The accent was never perfect, so I was always assumed to be from some region with a slightly different accent..but not much.) I often was asked if my parents were French, or if I lived in France as a child. Definitely not. Add to this the fact that I before the program started I hadn't actively been speaking French for months, and you've got an interesting combination of a frustrated person who used to  be able to express herself. This being the case, I was not too keen on the idea of throwing myself into the mix where I would be wrong a lot (heck, when am I ever ok with being wrong?) and where I would have to ask for help because I wasn't the best one in the room.

 I was also scared of embarrassing myself as, I really don't have a lot of experience with French people. There were usually three or four people from France at camp, and then a couple of people from French-speaking Africa. Somehow I always ended up with the French-speaking Americans and Africans. I think I was still afraid of being wrong, of saying the wrong thing, of having to actually work to express myself. I was lazy and I used the vocabulary to express myself with people who understood me, and who could figure out what I was saying if I said something that was very much an anglicism. The West Africans spoke slower, it's a dialect that I can understand very well and I used it to my advantage to form close relationships with those people. The French....terrified me. They were The Fast Speakers, the skinny beautiful people who I felt like I could never relate to. Why would they want to be friends with this loud, large, American girl? So I avoided interaction at all costs. There were a few who slipped through my boundaries and I got to know them fairly well, but we never really stayed in touch after camp. With study abroad, I fully avoided France saying "I've already been there", when it was really a trip to Paris for 3 days with a group of other Americans...not really the France experience.

The point is, speaking to French people scared me. Then I figured it out. Here's what I've learned:

Don't be too quiet to learn
So for the first couple of weeks of tutoring I was quiet. I didn't ask questions, I didn't tell my tutor what I wanted to learn, I gave minimal answers to things that he asked me. "Je ne sais pas" and a shrug of the shoulders was relatively common. I didn't want to sound stupid, so I didn't say anything at all. This made our sessions feel painfully long and I'm sure neither of us were that excited about the weekly meetups.

Find a common interest
We didn't have anything to talk about except me, because he's getting paid to dig, to ask me questions, to figure out what will get me interested in writing and speaking with him. I feel SO awkward having an entire conversation revolving around me. Especially when I'm supposed to be the one doing all the talking. One day, about 2 weeks into tutoring he asked me, "What was your concentration area in undergrad? What did you specifically study about political science?" and I shrugged and said international relations, because that was my minor, but then it hit me. "I did take five courses in constitutional law!" I blurted out. Law, the perfect compromise between a business student and a student in international development. We started talking specifically about the differences between French and American law, hypothetical ethical questions, and discussed articles we found to compare the two. I learned so much vocabulary this way, and it's stuff I'll probably use because it relates to something I like to talk about. This was really the turning point in our relationship, somehow this pushed away my shyness and we started to understand each other a little more, in  the weird language that is constitutional law.

See things from the other side
The biggest thing blocking me from a great tutoring session was my innate fear in being wrong. My dad always makes fun of me for this, because it's so true. I'm afraid to make the wrong decision, whether it be what school I want to go to, or if I want chicken or tofu in my pasta. I was terrified of making a mistake and sounding stupid. Then one day my tutor sent me and e-mail with the subject "Help!!!!". He was trying to write something to a professor and needed help expressing his ideas. Since French-English translation is a no -brainer for me, I quickly threw something together and sent it back to him. Since then I've felt less scared about being wrong, because he showed me that he's on the other side of things sometimes too. I also realized that for me explaining things to him about English helps me understand concepts in French. He seemed more human after that, instead of just The French Tutor, he had a name and a life outside of our tutoring. This facilitated conversation so much easier. We started talking about weird cultural things in America and in France. He thought it was a hilarious that a guy could each chips and a sandwich in class at 11 AM, while I explained the difficulties with understand what our grammar teacher wanted from us.

Think about your tutoring before the session actually starts
As previously mentioned, I'm a bad procrastinator. I can't be bothered to start something until 12 hours before it's due. It's horrible, but that's the way I am and I'm trying to break the habit. Once I started actually thinking about tutoring before it happened, I came up with things I actually needed help with. It really made tutoring feel less like a waste of time, because he explained grammatical concepts to me that I wasn't understanding from class, and we were able to talk about stuff I was confused about in my other classes. Even if it wasn't necessarily language-related, discussing it with him in French helped my mind switch into "French mode", and I learned new vocabulary related to the field I'm studying. If you really put some time into deciding how to best learn, it can create an exponentially better experience for you and your tutor.

Now I find this component of the program so much more helpful! I feel as though I'm actually learning something, and I've also made a new friend in Madison. While I still want to go to France so that I can fully grasp the culture that I've missed out on, this has been a nice little "intro-course" to making friends a la francaise. I want to live the French experience for a few months, and now I've got at least a couple of friends that I can meet up with when I'm there!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The real work has begun!

So much has happened since I last wrote an entry. This is, in fact, why it has been so long since I last wrote an entry. Such things include, having one week to prepare a 30-minute group presentation, getting slightly sick, taking Leopold to the vet, networking events, homework, setting off the smoke alarm in my apartment for legit smoke in my kitchen, and lots of time out with people. The first thing I'd like to say is that things are getting awfully pretty around these parts. The weather has slightly warmed up, and every day as I walk to class I find myself with my dinky phone camera, snapping pictures of pretty trees and such. Note to self: buy a real camera before going abroad. It's going to be cold again soon, I'm sure, but for this week I am very happy with the weather. I've been spending a lot of time studying on campus, embarrassing as it is to admit, as a graduate student I finally understand how awesome the library really is.

When I was in undergrad, I set foot in the library a total of about...5 times. Yep, less than once a semester. This wasn't even to check out books! Usually it was because somebody wanted to meet there, or our teacher told us that we had to have at least 4 sources from books. So...I would take my laptop, skim a couple of books, find a citation, and be done with it. Don't get me wrong, I'm a total bookworm. I have to stop myself from buying books for my Kindle for PC program because it's something that would distract me from my studies. My whole family is this way and I love that about us. The library just wasn't the place for me. Too many people waiting to shush each other...Then I found the business library. It all happened by chance, I had to meet with my tutor on Monday morning, and then we both happened to have class in the business building, so I walked over there with him. It didn't make too much sense for me to go home and come back between my classes, and I had some reading to get done. So...he showed me the library. I sat there and because there was no cat to play with, no other books to read, no kitchen in which to cook things...I got work done.

You have to understand, I am the Queen of Procrastination. Sure, I'll plan what I'm going to do as soon as I get an assignment, but actually doing it? The night before, if not the morning of, is usually my style. Turns out forcing myself to study is the way to get things done! Who would have guessed? So...that's reason number two that I haven't blogged lately. I've been too busy actually getting things done.

After a beautiful day of sun, I walked outside to see sailboats on a stormy lake
The presentation was really the biggest thing though. We had one week to put together a professional presentation about Doctors Without Borders that we were going to present to real live native French speakers. Our teacher called in some of his connections, so strangers that we hadn't met before, to come in and hear what we had to say. I'm really glad we did this project, as stressful as it was at times, it's so different presenting for people who are interested in your presentation than presenting to people who are sitting nervously waiting for their own presentations to begin. Plus, a week is a pretty decent chunk of time to pull together a presentation in most fields. I know my dad does proposals in one or two nights. Overall, it went really well. One of the audience members typed up comments on our individual sections that we presented, and he said that I had a really great style of speaking. It's definitely nice to know that all of those years on the speech team translated over to French. I was worried that my style would get lost in my struggle to say everything correctly. This makes me feel way more ready for my individual 15-minute presentation in a few weeks! Plus, I enjoyed working together with my classmates to compile everything, I really feel like I got to know some of them way better than I had before, and now I can say I definitely have pretty good buddies in the program.

Other things that I enjoyed in the past week or so: the Farmer's Market on Saturday! It was so nice to take some time to walk around downtown, I haven't done much of that since I moved here. Everything for me has really been on the West side, VERY East side, or on Campus. It was cool to just walk around the Capitol and enjoy Madison. I really like this city and I could see myself living here for awhile. (Which is good..since I'm going to be living here for awhile...) In other news, the Poldmeister (that's Leopold, for those of you who don't make ridiculous nicknames for my cat) has to get a tooth pulled. Don't worry everyone, as far as we know, Weird Tooth is safe for right now. (I know you were all very concerned.) It's actually the tooth right above WT that's giving him the trouble, so I took him to his new vet and she said it's probably got to go. He did well, except for when the vet's cat hissed at him (He didn't hiss back. Yay! I can get a dog in the next 15 years!)  and he doesn't seem too traumatized by the situation. Special thanks to Riss, who wrangled him into his carrier, took out my trash, and picked me up from school so that we could make it to the vet in time!

I set off my smoke alarm the other day. Remember that apple pie I baked, about one blog entry ago? Yeah, turns out some of that gooey deliciousness had dripped down to the bottom of the oven, unbeknownst to me as I wasn't the one who put the pie in. (*cough* Sean *cough*) I was pre-heating (PRE-HEATING!) the oven one day last week, went into the living room to do some reading, and heard the smoke detector go off. That's a pretty standard occurrence around these parts. I'd be lying if I said this was the first time it had gone off when pre-heating the oven to anything 400+. So I ran into the kitchen to turn it off and saw...actual smoke. Yep. That leftover pie dripping was now a big, black, charred mess on the bottom of the oven. So I opened the windows, turned off the oven, etc...even though it was still freezing outside and the next morning I scraped the oven floor with a butter knife trying to get everything off of there....I still haven't used it. Mostly because I haven't been home for meals in awhile or they've been stovetop things, but also because I'm not excited for Smoke Fest 2011 part II.

Forgot to mention that last night I went to a forum on the United Nations Millennium Goals. There were two speakers who interested me, one discussed their initiative toward eradicating world hunger, and the other talked about how gender equality can aid in achieving all of these goals. Both presentations were very good, though they each only had about 20 minutes to talk, and you could tell there was a lot more to say about everything. Afterward, I went and introduced myself to the woman who spoke about gender equality. She also specializes in human trafficking (something that I like to research), and she often takes her students to Tanzania to study. She said I could contact her in the future if I was interested in doing research with that's cool. Though Tanzania isn't really in my concentration region, she said she does study West Africa a bit too.

So, that's what's been up around here! I'm looking forward to returning to the land of Not Cheese, Just Smelly Dog Farts this weekend. It will be nice to relax after such a busy week!