Thursday, December 30, 2010

Wrapping Up The Best of 2010 - Happy Happy Happy New Year!

Dear 2010,

You, my dear friend, were a year of changes, life lessons, and great surprises.

I'm eternally grateful for each blessing, each opportunity I've encountered during your 365 day reign. On the eve of December 31, 2009, I had no idea you would be such a significant year, one that would ultimately change my life.

If you asked me where I was, who I was with, what I was wearing, what I was doing, who I texted, who I called, who I hugged first, who I wished first, when I rang you in on the eve of December 31, 2009, I could tell you everything in vivid detail. I'm told I have the memory of an elephant. It was a memorable New Years Eve. And yet, you, the year we rang in, proved to be even more fantastic.

You, 2010, were the year I applied to graduate school. You were the year I decided, with finality, that I would throw caution to the wind and commit 10 months of a life towards a Masters degree before moving on to law school.

You, 2010, were the year I moved away from home. To a strange new city away from my family, my friends, my relatives, away from my cherished city, my comfort zone, away everything I've ever known for most of my life.

You, 2010, were the year I obtained my first full-time job. A job where I learned about the realities and politics of the working world. A job where I met a number of accomplished individuals, where I travelled to places I've rarely visited. A job where I grew up, transitioning from naive student to shrewd employee.

You, 2010, were the year I started this blog.

You, 2010, were the year I discovered law school options beyond the borders of Ontario. The year I discovered that I'm more than capable of attending law school at institutions I wouldn't have previously considered.

You, 2010, were the year I met wonderful, incredible people. Many of whom I trust will be life-long friends. From those in my discussion group, to church, to school, to others I met during my activities over the summer. You, 2010, were a year I met friends I will forever treasure.

You, 2010, were the year I came face to face with the beauty that is Europe. Where I walked the streets of Paris and London, and wandered the piazzas of Rome. You were the year I fell in love with cities I (cross your fingers) hope to live in one day. You, 2010, were the year I discovered my travel bug.

You, 2010, were a year I learned more than I anticipated, academically and personally. You were a year I learned the value of maintaining and solidifying friendships, the year of experiencing the painful loss of losing a close friend.

You, 2010, were also the year I discovered research areas I've never explored, and opened my mind to ideas and perspectives I used to outright reject. 2010, you were the year I realized how narrow my political perspectives were. I was a narrow-minded academic, I hope I never make that mistake again.

And in the world beyond my grad life, the entertainment and sports world imploded with never-ending changes and surprises in 2010.

You, 2010, were the year of the Olympics. Of Sidney Crosby and Canada's memorable hockey win. Of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. And you, 2010, were the year I attended my first Grand Prix event, falling madly in figure skating love with the skating prodigy we call Patrick Chan. You were the year my figure skating fandom reached new heights.

You were the year Taylor Swift began dating Jake Gyllenhal. Let's speak of that no further.

You, 2010, were the year I re-discovered my love for all things Sandra Bullock. You were also the year I took up jujitsu so I could gear up to smack Jesse James in the face. Ha. Just kidding.

You, 2010, were the year I discovered How I Met Your Mother. Three years after everyone I know. Friends, I came to the party late, but I'm here. With bells on!

You, 2010, were the year and the summer of all things World Cup. Where my friends and I planted ourselves at a local pub and watched the Finals in anticipation. You were the year of Iker. And by association, Sara. And by association, the swoon worthy Iker Casillas and Sara Carbonero kiss after Spain won the World Cup. And yet you, 2010, were the year I fell in love with all things Oranje, and sighed dejectedly when the Netherlands lost the World Cup. No worries, I still wear Oranje with sweet memories of what could have been.

You, 2010, were a year of moments I will remember vividly (the memory of an elephant, remember?). The year of memorable family events, weddings, family picnics. The year of endless girly sleepovers, coffee dates, movie dates, dinners, ice cream runs, shopping dates. You, 2010, were a year so fantastic that it would be impossible to profess how remarkable you've been in one mere blog post.

And so, I'll end this here.

You, 2010, were a great year. And I'll remember you as long as I live.

I hope your good friend, 2011, will be just as memorable.

Yours truly,

A Grateful Optimist

P.S. Happy New Year, everyone! One day left in 2010, let's make it count!

"Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each new year find you a better man."
- Benjamin Franklin

"Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right."
- Oprah Winfrey

"For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning."

- T.S. Eliot, "Little Gidding"

"We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We're going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year's Day."
- Edith Lovejoy Pierce

Literacy Awareness In India - The DREAM Project

Tonight I had the pleasure of having a wonderful, girly dinner with my dear friends Lenita and Andrea (Spring Rolls, you never fail us). And towards the end of our dinner, Lenita informed us of the charity that the University of Toronto's Style and Profyle (SAP) student club is supporting this year: DREAM.

For more information about DREAM, please click here.

One of DREAM's objectives this year is to raise enough money to build six libraries in India. Honestly, the way Lenita described this project touched my heart. I remember visiting the Philippines when I was nine years old, and I could not believe how many young children were begging on the streets of Manila, many who have never learned to read and have minimal access to resources that would allow them to do so.

And yet, here we are. We're inundated with books, magazines, and a plethora of resources. We can borrow or purchase books on a whim and have no trouble reading its content. Rarely do we realize how much of a privilege it is to have access to as many books and resources as we do. Yet such privileges aren't always present in other countries. Books are valuable, friends. Let's not forget that.

Lenita, Vice President of the University of Toronto Mississauga's SAP, would like to raise $6,000 by the end of the school year to fund the building of at least one library in India. $6,000 Canadian dollars would be equivalent to a significant amount of Indian rupees, and would be a great contribution towards DREAM's project to establish educational facilities in developing countries.

I really encourage all of you to read up on DREAM and, if you so choose, to make a donation towards this valuable project. Every dollar counts!

For more information or to make a donation, please email lenita.abraham@gmail.com for further details.

Thank you, everyone!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Day 1 - The 30 Day Blog Challenge

I'm too impatient to wait until March to start a 30 Day Blog Challenge. And so, as this month and year draws to a close, I decided to throw common sense to the wind and start a 30 Day Blog challenge on December 29. Rebel without a cause, you know?

THE 30 DAY BLOG CHALLENGE

Day 1 – A PHOTO OF YOURSELF AND A DESCRIPTION OF HOW YOUR DAY WAS

This is a picture of me, ready to take on the world. What, you don't recognize me? It's the only cartoon of a little Asian girl that remotely resembles me online. Okay, I'll admit it. I'm too scared to place my actual picture on this blog, lest my students one day find it. It's all about caution, friends, so let's move on to the second part of this challenge.

I think this break is slowly transforming me into a lazy sloth. Case in point. I woke up at 6:00 am to continue reading Chapter 2 of The People's House of Commons. Because I'm crazy. And yet, after reading two pages, I woke up in confusion at 11:00 am, realizing that I fell asleep right in the middle of my reading. I hang my head in shame. Maybe I shouldn't have chosen to read in bed. Oh, these plans to be productive during the Christmas break. They're all in vain, I tell you.

I suppose the only remotely interesting aspect about my day today relates to my trip to Best Buy. After breakfast (consisting of fried rice and chicken. What? Who says you can't eat rice for breakfast?), my parents and I headed to Best Buy, on the hunt for a new iPod/mp3 for my Dad.

Okay, let me just say that I've never understood why people are so enamoured with Best Buy. I have friends who spend an insane number of hours at this store, staring lovingly at the 42" LCD they have no plans to purchase. So why waste so much time there? Today, I finally understood why. Today was a special day. It was the day I discovered the awesomeness that is Best Buy.

I don't know what it is about electronics that enamours people. But today, I fell under its spell. I spent the next hour fiddling with the iPod Touch that I previously had zero interest in purchasing, while my parents spent the next half hour distracted by the LCDs on sale. It's so funny how quickly these gadgets weave their spells on unsuspecting consumers. Case in point: I think I'm in love. Apple products are just so pretty.

Oh, gadgets. So awesome to live with, yet also potentially easy to live without.

Tonight I'm off for a Starbucks coffee date with Lenita and Andrea, which I'm incredibly excited about. Other than that, I hope to devote the rest of my day to reading the books I should have finished last week, according to my reading schedule. I'm slacking. If I had to rate my productivity during this Christmas break, it would be a -10. Let's cross our fingers that I'm more productive with the rest of my day, shall we? Canadian politics field course readings, I won't fail you.

"If there is any possible consolation in the tragedy of losing someone we love very much, it’s the necessary hope that perhaps it was for the best."
- Paolo Coelho

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas, Dear Readers!

It's Christmas Eve, my friends! It isn't everyday that we get to celebrate Christmas. Of my twenty-three years, I've only experienced the holiday season twenty-three times, and I only remember about fourteen of those times (who really remembers Christmas when they were two? I thought so). We don't get to celebrate the holidays often. Christmas comes once a year, and passes as quickly as the season came.

This may be one of the last Christmas days I'll be spending at home for a long time. Who knows where I'll be next year for law school? Who knows if I'll be able to fly home for the holidays next year? And so, dear friends, as we go through the grad life so laden with unpredictability, I hope we enjoy and appreciate this Christmas with our families and friends: the ones we love and adore. As we grow up, a time may come when opportunities like these don't come as often as we'd like.

And now, I hate to be cliche (actually, who am I kidding? I'm as cliche as they come!), but I'm off to bake gingerbread cookies and figure out the ham and turkey situation with my parents, in preparation for tonight's (and this weekend's) festivities.

Merry Christmas, everyone! May you all have a wonderful, memorable Christmas Eve and Christmas weekend!

"The tragedy of life is not so much what men suffer, but rather what they miss."
- Thomas Carlyle

"It is, indeed, the season of regenerated feeling--the season for kindling, not merely the fire of hospitality in the hall, but the genial flame of charity in the heart."
- Washington Irving

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Home For The Holidays - A Taste of Toronto's Hospitality

Christmas in Toronto

I'll be home for Christmas, you can count on me. Sing it with me! Actually, scratch that. I'm already home! I know, exciting, right? My Coach bus departed from Kingston's bus terminal around 11:00 am this past Thursday, carrying a number of excited students heading home for the holidays. I was so excited, I could hardly contain it.

Except I had a little conundrum. Actually, it was a fantastically terrible dilemma. It's no secret that I'm a chronic overpacker. Case in point. There was nothing more horrifying than packing for my Eurotrip this past summer, where I had to succumb to packing a mere 3 or 4 outfits to accommodate Air Transat's measly luggage weight restriction while leaving (a significant amount) of room for Europe purchases (a topic I've gone into many times, dear readers).

Packing for the holidays was no different. I stood in front of my closet on Wednesday evening, coming to the conclusion that I would be lugging a suitcase, an enormous duffel bag (bigger than my actual suitcase, unfortunately), my laptop bag, and my purse home. That doesn't sound like too much, right? Wrong. Unfortunately, these bags were Huge. Enormous. Astronomically large. And I'd be lugging these monsters from the bus terminal, to Eaton Centre (where I scheduled in lunch with a friend and shopping), on to the subway, to Union Station, up the flight of stairs to the GO train terminal, into the train, and finally, home.

It was quite the trek. You know those people you see on the street, lugging enormous packages? Slipping and panting as they make their way through the crowded streets of Toronto? That was me. You were feeling sorry for me.

I was in quite the bind. And yet... Toronto, oh Toronto, you never failed me. I've never understood people's complaints about Toronto. Accusations about the rudeness of city dwellers, the indifference, avoiding those in need, too engrossed in their own affairs. I've never experienced that. And in my luggage plight, it was no different.

ENCOUNTER 1: As I stood at Bay and Dundas, pausing for breath, lamenting the aches and pains shooting up my arms as I carried my huge Queen's University duffel bag on my shoulder, an older woman paused and asked if I needed help rolling my monstrous suitcase into the mall, down the escalator. Gratefully, I nodded. And together, we wheeled my suitcase into the mall.

ENCOUNTER 2: As I stood in the mall, staring forlornly at the bruises on my arms from the weight of my duffel bag, an elderly gentleman asked if I needed help lugging my suitcase up the flight of escalators. Gratefully, I nodded. And together, we wheeled my suitcase through the mall.

ENCOUNTER 3: As I stood at Dundas Subway Station, fumbling with my change, I got stuck in the turn style. Oh, how embarrassing. That was me. I was the Girl Who Got Stuck In The Turn Style. Face, meet palm. And yet, about 4 or 5 people stopped to push my luggage through the turn style and waited patiently until I was able to break free.

ENCOUNTER 4: And as I fumbled with my change, balancing my duffle bag on my suitcase, my aching fingers slipped, and all the change in my wallet went crashing all over the subway station floor. FACE, MEET PALM. I was so embarrassed. And yet, right in the middle of busy Dundas Station, about 10 people paused to pick up all my money. And as I counted my change later, there wasn't even a dime missing.

More of these acts of courtesy happened all through my trip back to Mississauga. Women and men of all ages stopped to help me carry my luggage up flights of stairs, up escalators, helped me balance my suitcases in the subway, helped me carry my monstrous, weighty packages through the GO train terminal, helped me lug my luggage onto the train. Contrary to what I originally thought, my luggage plight wasn't too much of a dilemma at all. I was so incredibly grateful.

Who says Toronto is a bastion of indifference? A site of city dwellers engrossed in their own affairs, too busy to lend a hand to someone who needs help? From what I've experienced most of my life, it isn't.

I'm home for the holidays, Toronto. And I'm so excited to be back!
Christmas break, here we go!

"The universal joy of Christmas is certainly wonderful. We ring the bells when princes are born, or toll a mournful dirge when great men pass away. Nations have their red-letter days, their carnivals and festivals, but once in the year and only once, the whole world stands still to celebrate the advent of a life."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Organizing My Christmas Break - Grad Student Style

I'M FREE! I'M FREE!

Free from what, you ask? I handed in my LAST essay of the semester today, folks. And to top it off, I'm also done marking student exams! What! I know, what a day, right? Picture sixteen Politics TAs and a professor locked in a room together for about 9 hours straight marking exams. That, my friends, was my day today. It was a marking party that boggled the mind. And as 5:00 pm rolled around, and as I marked that last exam, I felt a huge weight fall off my shoulders. I officially have no other assignments left for the semester, nor do I have any other pending responsibilities. I'm officially... done!

And yet, I still have that nagging feeling. That feeling to do something useful with my time. I don't know if it's because these past three months have been devoted to incessant work, but I do feel the need to be somewhat productive over the holidays. And so, dear friends, as I've begun to organize my Christmas break, I've put together a Christmas reading list for myself. Don't laugh. Who knows how productive I'll actually be when I find my way to Holt Renfrew (after three months of separation), never to be seen again? Behold are the titles I hope to read during the break:

1. The Powers To Lead by Joseph Nye
2. The End of History and the Last Man by Francis Fukuyama
3. Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
4. Towards Juristocracy by Ran Hirschl
5. In Defense of Global Capitalism by Johan Norberg

I have three weeks of holidays. And five book titles. I don't think I'll be adding anymore to the list. Let's not kid ourselves, I think five is enough, yes?

Let's hope I get through most of these! I'll be spending tomorrow packing, running errands, organizing my office, lounging/reading at Starbucks and Common Ground (I can't go a day without loitering in a coffee shop, obviously), and picking some of these books up at the library.

Exciting times, my friends. In addition to creating a reading schedule for these books, I also have to organize my holiday social calendar and list all the places I want to visit when I get home (I miss Square One. And Panera Bakery. And Sherway Gardens. And Holt Renfrew. Too many to list, really).

Two days till I leave Kingston for the holidays, it's almost time! Hurrah!

"Even as an adult, I find it difficult to sleep on Christmas Eve. Yuletide excitement is a potent caffeine, no matter your age."
- Carrie Latet

FLJS Annual Lecture in Law & Society 2010 - Online Podcast

Oxford University

Please bear with me, I'm about to endorse a supplementary academic source in the midst of exam season. But I promise, it's interesting!

I don`t typically post links to podcasts, videos, or other external resources, but for this, I'll make an exception. You've all heard me gush (too much?) about my professors from the University of Toronto. My undergraduate experience was fundamentally shaped by the influence of these individuals. So much that to this day, I still either a) keep in contact with them or b) stalk them online to my heart's content via their online blogs, UofT news sites, etcetera.

A few months ago, I discovered that one of my favourite professors from UofT delivered a prestigious lecture at Oxford University: the Foundation for Law, Justice and Society's Annual Lecture. Ran Hirschl, renowned constitutional scholar, presented a realist approach to the the current trend of constitutional supremacy.

How excited was I that Hirschl was delivering this lecture? I can't even describe the depths of my excitement. Hirschl (along with Peter Solomon) are the reasons I decided to pursue law school. To this day, I still consider Hirschl and Solomon as the best professors I ever encountered as an undergraduate student. They are absolutely phenomenal instructors and academics, and I was lucky to be their student.

So as I was getting ready for the Politics Department`s End-of-Semester party last week, I discovered that an online podcast is now available for Hirschl's lecture. And so as I went through the motions of getting dressed up for the semi-formal last week, I listened to the podcast in its entirety (Because who needs to listen to Katy Perry when you can listen to Ran Hirschl? I know, right?).

CLICK HERE for a link to the lecture's ONLINE PODCAST.
CLICK HERE for Ran Hirschl's biography.

Excerpt from the lecture:
"Why is it that some constitutions live much longer than others? While constitutions are written to last, they vary considerably in terms of their endurance... Sweden`s 1809 Constitution was replaced in 1974, the 1874 const of Switzerland was replaced in 1999. Only half of all constitutions last more than 9 years, with an overall average of 19 years. Thus, the average citizen should expect to see her country go through 3-4 constitutions in her lifetime..."

If you have the time, I really encourage you all to listen to his lecture. It isn't too long! It's enlightening, and can encourage all of us see constitutional development (worldwide) in a new light. It's a fantastic lecture. Looking forward to reading his book over the holidays!

"You can teach a student a lesson for a day. But if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue the learning process as long as he lives."
- Clay P. Bedford

"It is important that students bring a certain ragamuffin, barefoot irreverence to their studies; they are not here to worship what is known, but to question it."
- Jacob Bronowski

Monday, December 13, 2010

Good Luck With Exams!

This blog post has no purpose other than to wish you all well in the midst of exam madness. As I sit here at the Tea Room, chomping on a delicious piece of carrot cake, editing my last essay, I spy a number of students running up and down Union Street, pencil cases in hand, anxious expressions in tow, heading to the PEC for their exam.

But take heart! For those with exams today and this week, don't forget that the holidays are just around the corner. With many of us going home this week, there is so much to look forward to. Good luck with exams, marking, and essays, dear friends! And don't worry, I doubt Assange has made a considerable dent on your chances of getting what you'd like for Christmas!

"Opportunity is missed by most because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work."
- Thomas Edison

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The LikeALittle Phenomenon - A Queen's Student Weighs In

A new "social networking" campus phenomenon has developed very recently, my friends. And it's more entertaining than you can possibly imagine. Until a couple of days ago, I had no idea what LikeALittle was. Apparently, it was just launched at Queen's this past Sunday. And while it's barely a week old, Queen's students have jumped on the LikeALittle bandwagon overnight. It's ridiculously amazing how fast people have started using it! Think Craigslist Missed Connections in real time, within the confines of a university campus.

CLICK HERE to check out LikeALittle and find your university campus.
CLICK HERE to check out Queen's LikeALittle page.
CLICK HERE to read an article about LikeALittle at the University of Toronto.

What is LikeALittle? According to its founders, it's a forum for real-time anonymous flirting on a university campus. Remember my previous post on Craigslist's Missed Connections? LikeALittle is just like that... only in real time. This means that LikeALittle is a website you can go on right away to describe the individual you're presently staring at. If you see someone who catches your eye, you can automatically log onto LikeALittle, type in a quick description of the person you're spying on, offer a compliment, and voila! The person sees the message right away and can begin looking around for you. Missed connections? No more of that!

For example, you could be sitting in the library, checking out that student in a Queen's Law School sweatshirt (What? Don't tell me you haven't done it). And because walking up to a total stranger can potentially be interpreted as a little on the creepy side, you have another option. A more anonymous option to curve potential embarrassment or rejection. An option to test the waters before actually approaching the individual you have your eye on. Behold, shy friends, you have a tool to pre-flirt (is that even an actual term?). You can log onto LikeALittle, write a complimentary description, and pre-flirt with the individual you're currently staring at, wherever you are on campus. I suppose that's the beauty of LikeALittle.

I was walking around the library yesterday and could not believe how many student computers were logged on to LikeALittle. It's exam time, folks. Are we not studying?! Almost every laptop I passed by had a LikeALittle window open. Hordes of students were discreetly typing in descriptions on LikeALittle's "Anonymous Flirting" description box.

Here are a few descriptions I found amusing on the Queen's website:

"At Stauffer Library 4th Floor: Female, Redhead. You are really cute, and your laugh when i embarrassed myself trying to get my friend's attention was adorable. Send a smile in my direction."

"At Stauffer Library 1st Floor: Female, Brunette. We were trading glances at 4am a couple nights ago near the stairwell on the first floor. I wish I had asked you your name :)."

"At Stauffer Library: Female, Brunette. You are sitting in a cubby next to the atrium - you have beautiful brown hair and a pretty completion, are immersed in your macbook with a coffee on your desk. Can I get lost in your eyes?" (Awwww! Corny, but awww!)

"At Tim Hortons: Female, Brunette. We were waiting in line together at Tim Hortons - you were wearing a black coat (lululemon?) - and we smiled at each other. You look really cute! Just thought you should know."

(And my personal favourite): "At Stauffer Library: Female, Brunette. Worst fear: flirting with a girl on LikeALittle, finding out she's the girl of my dreams, and having to make up a story to my kids." (I laughed at this one for ten minutes).

It's all anonymous. And quite honestly, despite how creepy some people may find it, it's also incredibly entertaining. If you spend a few minutes reading some of these descriptions (minus the creepy ones that make you barf), you'll laugh at the entertainingly cute, witty comments some people have posted. I know I'm not the only one who thinks some of these comments (the legitimate ones) are absolutely adorable. These people have the cutest descriptions of their anonymous crushes! LikeALittle isn't a tool for everybody, but it can actually be quite useful for those who are too intimidated to approach a complete stranger at the library, in class, at the coffee shop on campus. A pre-flirt. I guess that's what they call it.

Honestly, I can't help but marvel at the ways in which technology can be manipulated to suit our personal needs. But I suppose if its objective is to help students with their personal lives amidst the bustle and workload of everyday university life, what's the harm in that? I don't know how long LikeALittle will stay a fad at Queen's, or at other university campuses in general. But while it's around, I suppose it's a tool for all of you to use when you're liking... just a little!

"A man travels the world over in search of what he needs, only to return home to find it."
- George Moore


"There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered."
- Nelson Mandela

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The End of My Fall Semester At Queen's: A Sequence of Events

Queen's University, Kingston, ON


Folks, I've reached a milestone. I've officially completed one third of my Master's degree. Hurrah! Actually, let me re-phrase that. Today was the last day of my Fall semester classes, which means that once I hand in my last essay next Tuesday (which, really, is pretty much done. Who knew writing about neoliberalism could be so easy? Double hurrah!), I will be officially done one third (one semester out of three) of this graduate degree. Oh, how time flies.

As Janice just noted, "It was our first and last Fall semester of grad school. We'll never have a Fall semester at Queen's again!" Oh Janice, how wise of you.

So how was my first semester at Queen's as a graduate student? It seems just like yesterday that I was blogging about my first week of classes. And yet here we are, three months later. It's funny how life works out. I like to think about the sequence of events like this....

If my 13-year old self hadn't attended the Gordon Graydon Memorial Secondary School information session ten years ago, I wouldn't have known about the IBT program, applied for the IBT program, was interviewed for the IBT program, and ultimately accepted into the IBT program.

If I hadn't spent four years in the IBT program, I wouldn't have met the three most influential teachers I've ever had in my life. If I hadn't enrolled in the IBT program, I wouldn't have taken an Introduction to Law course with Mr. Mike Ford (RIP), which was one of the defining moments of my high school career.

If I hadn't taken Introduction to Law, I wouldn't have participated in Graydon's provincial mock trials and debates.

If I hadn't been encouraged to participate in mock trials, I wouldn't have realized (so soon) that I had an interest in (logically arguing?) attending law school.

If I didn't have (such an early interest) in attending law school, I wouldn't have started looking into Political Science programs at Ontario universities.

If I wasn't interested in studying Political Science in high school, I would have chosen a Journalism program and would have obtained a (professional) undergraduate degree elsewhere. I wouldn't have attended UofT.

If I hadn't attended UofT, I wouldn't have met the most incredible professors that fundamentally shaped my academic career and research interests. If I hadn't met these incredible professors (read about one here and the other here), I wouldn't have taken the fourth year Constitutional Law course that ended up being the highlight of my undergraduate experience.

If I hadn't studied with these particular professors (who were the most encouraging individuals I have ever met in an academic setting. Who says UofT sucks?), I wouldn't have considered obtaining a Masters degree before law school.

If I hadn't considered obtaining a Master's degree before law school, I wouldn't have taken a look at the program at Queen's University.

If I hadn't researched Masters programs at Queen's (the London School of Economics, Western, etc.), I wouldn't have applied and wouldn't have been eventually accepted at these schools.

If I hadn't accepted my offer from Queen's, I wouldn't have moved to Kingston this past September (and I wouldn't have started this blog! What!).

If I hadn't moved to Kingston, I wouldn't have had the pleasure of taking some awesome courses in the Fall semester of my Master's program. I wouldn't have taken a course that pretty much shifted my research interests away from Comparative Politics towards a more Canadian Politics focus (Oh, Canada). I wouldn't have realized how much I enjoyed reading about and researching the dynamics of political parties. I wouldn't have had the pleasure of realizing how much I enjoy research the politics of multi-level states and the implications of federalism in Canada.

In short? As this Fall semester comes to an end, I can honestly say that I have no regrets, my friends. My first semester here at Queen's was everything I imagined it would be. Actually, it was more. I've taken some wonderful classes, taught a great group of students as a TA, met some incredible friends, and had the pleasure of living in a city that I've grown to love.

One semester down, two to go! Here's hoping next semester is just as great!


“To be yourself, in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else, is the greatest accomplishment.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.”
- Albert Einstein

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Merits of Female Competition - Another Defense

Dear friends, I don't know if it's the stressful exam season triggering an inclination to write another passive aggressive blog post. And yet, here we are. And here I am, about to embark on my first semi-feminist rant. Ready?

On Saturday evening, I went out with several members of my dodgeball team to play laser tag. Fun, right? Actually, overall, playing laser tag was fantastically fun. I hadn't played laser tag in years, and I had a great time (minus the incidents below). Plus, I wanted to pretend I was pseudo-Robin a la How I Met Your Mother the first time she plays laser tag with Barney. What? I love that show.

Anyway, my dodgeball friends had invited a couple of male friends I didn't know. Once we were ready to play, we had to divide ourselves into two teams. But we had a problem. An insurmountable amount of guys showed up, but there were only 3 of us girls. Not a problem right? We didn't have to play guys vs. girls. And so we attempted to divide ourselves up into two teams, regardless of gender. Yet an exchange with one of the guys I didn't know irked me.

I was donning a Blue Team vest, as did the 2 other girls, when the guy noticed the team colour we belonged to. He paused, then hurriedly took off the Blue Team vest he was already wearing. "Why are you switching?" I asked casually. "Oh, I don't want to be on the same team as you guys. I actually want to win, and I won't if I'm on a team with girls in it," he replied with genuine honesty.

What? What now? I realize that it's common to joke about sports that males are potentially "better at" than females. But his statement wasn't a joke. He honestly believed that female team members would bring his team down. Frankly, I was quite ready to throw courtesy to the wind so I could reach over and smack him. That was downright mean.

And so as the night went on, we were shot plenty of times. Female weaklings are targets to gain points, didn't you know? However, in our defense, I doubt our (lack of) laser tag skill was a result of weak physical ability or competitive merit. Perhaps it's because I haven't played laser tag since elementary school? Versus guys who play it all the time? Who says I can't learn how to shoot a gun? I read for a living. But it doesn't mean I don't have the capability to learn or the capacity to be competitive at a particular activity or sport.

I overheard these snide comments throughout the night by the same particular guys. At one point, he asked me what program I was in, laughing that I was "probably in the Arts." Um. What's wrong with the Arts? Or Social Sciences? Are we equating academic disciplines with gender? And no, I'm in Politics. And you? Oh, you're in Engineering? Do me a favour? Could you build a bridge and jump?

The merits of female competition shouldn't be gaged simply by the clothes you wear, and the type of girl you're assessed to be. Nor should your competitive merit be based on your gender or the capabilities (or lack thereof) associated with your gender. Am I overreacting here? Because, dear friends, you have no idea how annoyed I was at those particular comments. Actually, I'm still annoyed. And it saddens me that there are still a number of individuals who inadvertently underestimate how capable women can be at a number of activities. And you wonder why women aren't in politics as much as we hope?

Overall, it was still a fun night. And I will take this opportunity to admit how much I absolutely love my dodgeball team. I'm grateful that my team has never discriminated against female team members, and have always had faith in our capabilities. I absolutely adore every single one of my teammates.

And so, friends, what can we take from this? Women can be just as capable at winning laser tag. Remember that.

"We allow our ignorance to prevail upon us and make us think we can survive alone, alone in patches, alone in groups, alone in races, even alone in genders."
- Maya Angelou

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas!

I have an exam tomorrow. And yet, I am blogging. Because I have my priorities straight.

And so behold, dear readers, is an ode to my excitement about the holiday season.

I can't even convey in words how excited I am about the holidays. Family reunions? Family dinners? Going home to Mississauga/Toronto for three whole weeks? Reuniting with friends? Celebrating in Kingston after exams? I am so, so excited, I can hardly contain it (insert 20 exclamation marks here).

But there's a downside to all this (holiday) excitement. Unfortunately, I have an exam tomorrow. And yet I can't focus. My mind is clearly elsewhere. Dear face, meet my palm.

Tory, Belinda, and I sat at Starbucks for hours this afternoon, attempting to study for our exam (Macro-Political Regulation of Ethnic Conflict. Exciting, right?). And yet our conversations weren't centered on the benefits of consociationalism (yes, I really did just mention Arend Lijphart on my blog. What's up?). Instead, the hours were spent seriously discussing the merits of short sleeve or long sleeve dresses for a Christmas party we're attending. Or the direction we should walk on Princess Street to maximize the number of stores we can visit for our shopping date on Friday.

Really, who could blame us? Santa Baby was blaring in the background at Starbucks all afternoon. (Along with Josh Groban, but that's another story).

This holiday excitement is both a benefit and a detriment. There's just so much to look forward to! And plus, Kingston looks beautiful. Decked out in decorative splendor, the streets are flooded with lights, store windows with absolutely exquisite displays. Kingston's small-town charm is so incredibly picturesque, I can't wait to walk around town to take pictures. Honestly, I love the holiday season, simply for the environment, and the togetherness we experience with those we've grown to know and love.

Oh, this excitement. I'm too excited to do anything productive, and yet I know I have to. Lest I flunk out of grad school. Alright, friends, it's time to buckle down and focus. Let this blog post serve as a motivator to help us realize that working hard will allow us to enjoy the fruits of our labour after - time earned to relax and enjoy the holiday season in Kingston before we all go home for Christmas. There is so much (celebration) to look forward to!

So back to studying I go! I just have to get through the next 24 hours, study for this exam, and write it. Because tomorrow night's post-exam plan involves Christmas movies and dragging our professor out downtown for a ~celebratory drink~ or two (or ten, whatever works). (ETA: I just realized how highly inappropriate that sounds. I promise, it isn't! Let's pause while I giggle for a few minutes. Because I'm twelve).

And I promise, dear readers, after this exam, I will actually blog about something provocative and interesting (can someone say WikiLeaks?) No more grumblings over how much work I have to do (for now), I promise!

"There are many things in life that will catch your eye. But only a few will catch your heart."
- Ben Crenshaw

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Close Encounters of the TA Kind - The Kingston Bubble


Kingston. It's large enough that it still feels like a city, yet small enough so you feel that comfortable community environment Queen's is so proud of. We live in that Kingston Bubble. And so, logically, we run into each other frequently, correct?

Friends, this past weekend was the epitome of everything I've said above. My encounters were, obviously, coincidental. Yet it all happened in sequence, in same weekend. Collectively, these encounters are strangely amusing, yet so strangely seemingly contrived. Eerie, even. My collective sequence of encounters were so strange (yet entertaining) that I've decided to blog about it.

And here, my friends, is my narrative of this past weekend's amusingly strange encounters. More specifically, these close encounters of the TA kind. That's right. TA-ing and students have something to do with it.

ENCOUNTER 1:
I've spent the last two weeks agonizing over marking essays (and, as a side note, if I ever have to read about why torture isn't an appropriate state tool ever again, I will probably throw a tantrum). Yet I set marking aside on Friday morning to spend time with my dodgeball team. We held an end-of-semester sushi lunch, since we won't see each other until January. The reason? Because we didn't make play-offs. Sad. I know. But that's a story for another day.

During lunch, I told Josephine all about my love affair with coffee shops, mentioning that I would be marking essays in a coffee shop that afternoon. And here, Josephine uttered those fateful words: "What if one of your students walked into the coffee shop you were marking in?" And I naively replied with a laugh, "That would never happen!"

Naive, I tell you. Really, I should have known.

And so after sushi, I walked to my usual coffee shop to mark the remainder of my papers. I sat there for several hours, and I went through them pretty quickly. Awesome. Marking was going great. Until I heard someone clearing their throat behind me. Turning around, I gaped in surprise to see one of my students standing behind me to say hello. They had spotted me marking from across the coffee shop.

Josephine's prediction came true. Dun dun dun. Eerie.

ENCOUNTER 2:
After a brief hello, hurriedly, I packed up and decided to walk over to the coffee shop across the street for a slice of cake. I needed a change of scenery, right? And really, I needed to leave. I felt my student's curious gaze burning a hole in the back of my head.

And so I walked to another coffee shop, found a seat, ordered a slice of scrumptious carrot cake, placed the remaining stack of essays on the table, and continued marking. It was going great. And yet half an hour later, it happened again.

Flipping over the title page to begin marking the next essay, I looked up and saw the student of the paper I was marking walk into the coffee shop. Let me say that again. The student of the paper I was marking.

What are the chances of that happening? Seriously, what? Dun dun dun. Eerie.

Meekly, my student paused to wave at me and I waved back, discreetly slipping her paper underneath my pile in the event that she would walk over to say hello.

She didn't.

ENCOUNTER 3:
That evening, some friends and I sat at the Common Ground for another few hours of marking and studying. Because our lives are so exciting, right? After describing Encounter 1 and Encounter 2 to a fellow TA, she laughed. Because beyond the awkward nature of the situation, I suppose it was an entertaining story.

But it wasn't over.

We finished marking pretty late that night, and I decided to take the Walkhome service home (an awesome service where two students walk home with you). Because it's dark. And Vic Park scares me at midnight.

And so as I requested a walk home from the desk at the JDUC, two students emerged to announce that they would be walking me home for the night. Donning their Walkhome walkie-talkies, we set out towards my house. Chatting about our classes, I asked my Walkhome walker what program he was in. His answer? "I'm in first-year Politics."

Oh. Really? Would you, by any chance, be taking the first-year Politics course? Friends, you know the answer. Why, yes he was! Cautiously, I asked him who his TA was. His reply? His TA was the friend I was marking with that evening.

Seriously. Can this town get any smaller? Spoken like a true urbanite.

ENCOUNTER 4:
And so this afternoon, I finished the last paper I had to mark as I sat in Starbucks enjoying the Christmas music and drinking my usual London Fog. Hallelujah, marking was over! Over! And so as I sat, reading blissfully, I looked up. And. You guessed it.

Another one of my students walked in. With other students from our tutorial. (Insert face palm here). They waved uncertainly, and I waved back. Because really, what's the etiquette of approaching TAs or Professors in a non-academic setting? Awkward situations, these.

How much of this could realistically happen in one weekend? It boggles the mind.

ENCOUNTER 5:
Wary of running into any of my students, yet too busy to get up and switch coffee shops, I immersed myself in more work and began to email back and forth with one of my own professors. I had questions regarding the essay due for his class this week.

We emailed back and forth for ten minutes. I had all my questions answered.

Until, of course, I heard someone clear his throat beside me. I looked up. And, wouldn't you know it? My professor had been sitting right across from me at Starbucks the entire time we had been emailing each other. After sending my last email, we finally noticed each other.

I waved meekly and said a brief, yet awkward, hello. He, in turn, waved and stood up to leave.

Oh, Kingston Bubble. Your small-town environment never ceases to amaze me.

LESSONS LEARNED?

This all happened this past weekend, folks. All of it. Lessons learned?

1. Your students are everywhere.
2. Everywhere.
3. In Kingston, you run into at least three person you know, involuntarily, everyday.
4. The Kingston Bubble is small.
4 a). But we love it anyway.

“When we long for life without difficulties, remind us that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure.”
- Peter Marshall (American Game Show Host)

"When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, 'I used everything you gave me.'"
- Erma Bombeck

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Grad Life & Consumer Choices - Ethics and/or Frugality?


So. Here`s my dilemma. (I realized, by the way, that I tend to blog about my dilemmas a lot. I don`t inherently and constantly have problems, folks. I promise). On my way to Coffee & Company for a day of coffee shop marking on Saturday (because, let`s face it, 90% of the work I get done is completed in coffee shops), I stopped by Tara Natural Foods and spent almost an hour browsing the aisles. I couldn't believe how awesome it was. There was organic everything. I was thrilled to come across organic hand cream that I've been searching high and low for ages.

However, on my way home from Coffee & Company later that afternoon, I was struck with a sudden dilemma. I stopped by the trusty Metro to pick up some fruits and vegetables when, upon arrival, I remembered my trip to Tara Natural Foods earlier that day and felt a twinge of uncertainty.

Behold, my friends. Two dilemmas. What would you do in the following situations? Assuming you`re on a grad student budget (which we are), what would you do?

DILEMMA 1: Let`s say you`re at the grocery store. And you`re standing in front of an array of fresh Granny Smith apples (which, let`s face it, are the best ones!!), and you`re stuck. On your right, you have regular apples that are pretty cheap. Super cheap, in fact. Yet as you reach for those, however, your eyes trickle over the organic apples. An option produced with less exposure to synthetic chemicals and other undesirable pesticides. An option that wasn't subjected to chemical fertilizers that potentially reduced nutritional values and harmed the environment.

What do you choose? Is the choice clear-cut? Should we spend more money on food for the sake of the environment? Should we choose the organic option because it's the potentially healthier and environmentally conscious choice? On the flip side, really, what difference can a few chemicals and fertilizers make? Will it really harm us that much? So what about the cheaper option? It may only be a few cents cheaper, but we're on a budget. And so that's a few cents (that matter) cheaper. What do we do?

DILEMMA 2: Let`s say, again, that you`re at the grocery store (I guess you go there a lot?). And you`re standing in front of an array of fresh bananas. Awesome. You can bake some banana bread (with walnuts, obviously)! And regular bananas are a reasonable price, so you reach for those. Until, of course, your eyes flicker to the pile of bananas next to them. Locally grown bananas that are more expensive than imported bananas but are produced by the neighbour-next-door. Why don't we help a brother out, yea?

So what do you buy? Is the choice clear cut? Should you purchase domestic, locally grown products, even though it`s a bit more expensive? Is it the choice we always (and should?) make? Or, in the name of saving a couple of dollars (for lunch money this week, obviously), do we go the frugal route, and purchase other items instead?

How difficult a decision is this? This was my dilemma at Metro on Saturday, by the way. I always struggle with the choice of purchasing locally grown products over much cheaper (even a few cents!) options.

QUESTIONS TO THINK ABOUT:

I know it's easy to say that we should OBVIOUSLY make the ethically, healthy, socially, and environmentally conscious decision. But that's a decision some can make more easily than others. Money is still an issue. A majority still purchase the cheaper over expensive (even in the name of a few cents!), which makes me think these dilemmas and choices aren't as clear-cut as we'd want them to be. Is money (we potentially spend) always the root of the issue?

Are the situations above really dilemmas? Are the choices ever clear-cut? On a graduate student budget, should we choose the more expensive option in the name of social conciousness, ethics? Or are more socially concious, healthy, ethical consumer decisions for those who have a bit more money to spend? And if we do choose the former, does the choice of one person actually make a difference for the causes we support? Can we ever unite the ideas of ethics and frugality?

I don`t have the answers to these questions. If anything, I have more questions to add to the list. I suppose we'll always be faced with similar choices. Pragmatic, frugal decisions versus choices in the name of a cause can be difficult to make. Can the choice of one person really make a difference? I don't know. But I suppose we won't know until we actually try, right?

“In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.”
- Eleanor Roosevelt

“Every human has four endowments- self awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom: the power to choose, to respond, to change.”
- Stephen R. Covey

Monday, November 22, 2010

Bucket Lists - Goals To Accomplish Before We Kick The Bucket


I came across this website today (while procrastinating from marking essays and writing my own essay, obviously), and I probably spent a good half an hour on it. The website essentially takes you through what a Bucket List is and provides you with easy ways to create your own list of goals you`d like to accomplish before, well, you kick the bucket. Or, to put it bluntly, die.

Seriously, I can`t believe there are so many websites dedicated to Bucket Lists. However, going through the list of hundreds of bucket list goals, you tend to wonder whether you could accomplish certain goals yourself. My personal favourite lists include Popular Life Goals and 525 Ideas For Your Bucket List.

Bucket Lists are a funny thing. We never really know what this life will brings us, and I think creating a bucket list is an excellent way to have something to look forward to, something to aspire to. They obviously aren`t for everyone. I`m not trying to impose a prescriptive life lesson. I just think having a vague outline of what you`d potentially like to accomplish down the road provides a sense of meaning, of accountability. These goals are written officially on paper, statements of things you potentially want to acheive. Sure, some goals can be incredibly shallow. But others can also be quite meaningful.

I remember creating my own bucket list when I was 11 years old. Granted, I should probably update it. There are, most likely, some goals I`d like to erase. Like, for example, meeting Nick Carter (actually, on second thought...). And I`m sure there are a number of items I can probably cross out since my initial list in Grade 6.

Yet there are still some life goals I haven`t accomplished yet. And as I continue this grad life (as many of us are), I`m sure we`re all thinking about what we`ll be doing beyond this degree. Beyond the end of this school year. And so, on that note, behold, my potential bucket list items. I have no idea if I`ll ever accomplish any of these, but I can try my best, right? For the purpose of being realistic, I`ve separated these items. First, a list of 5 not-so-realistic items and another list of 8 more realistic items.

MY 5 NOT-SO-REALISTIC BUCKET LIST ITEMS

5. Attend the Oscar Awards
What? Don`t judge me. I think I`ve watched every single Oscar Awards (because I`m a slave to pop culture) since I was in elementary school. Seriously, I remember staying up to watch James Cameron make his epic speech upon his win as Best Director for Titanic. What would I give to attend the Oscar Awards? A lot, friends. A lot.

4. Be a contestant on a game show
Those who know me well are aware of my unexplainable desire to be a contestant on Jeopardy. I know, why Jeopardy? I could have picked a more exciting game show, right? Wrong. Jeopardy is made of win. Nothing beats good old trivia.

3. Be interviewed by Larry King
Which will probably never happen, given the fact that his last show on CNN will be on December 16. But I can dream, right? And plus, this presupposes that I`ll be doing something incredibly substantial with my life, enough to garner media attention, which is entirely contestable and probably not as realistic as I`d want it to be.

2. Shake hands with Aung San Suu Kyi
Don`t know who she is? Here`s an opportunity to read about an amazing woman. Hands down, one of my favourite political figures.

1. Learn to swim
Not. Realistic. At. All. I know this is a necessary life skill, but my fear of water will probably deter me from ever learning how to swim. People have tried, friends. Trust me.

MY 8 REALISTIC BUCKET LIST ITEMS
a.k.a. Goals I can actually accomplish realistically

8. Complete my Master`s degree
8 more months till completion! 8! 8! 8!

7. Read the top 100 novels of all time.
See: Time Magazine`s TOP 100 Novels list.

6. Visit Disney World
I know, right? I have never been to Disney World (or Disneyland for that matter). I remember watching that Full House episode when the Tanner household visits Disney World and wanting desperately to go. One day, I`ll get there. And, I promise you, I will ride that elusive teacup, no matter how old I am.

5. Go on a Global Expeditions international missions trip.
I don`t know when I`ll have time to actually do this, but I hope that, perhaps one summer a couple of years from now, I will.

4. Get into law school
I`m not going to expand on this. I`m sure if you`ve spoken to me lately, the words `law school applications` induce a semi-deranged panic attack.

3. Travel to every continent
I want to travel. Everywhere. And while that may not be feasible right now, I will find a way to make sure I visit the island of Santorini, visit the Grand Canyon, watch a soccer game in Madrid, ride a gondola in Venice, and more than I can probably list on this blog post. EUROTRIP 2011? Here we go!

2. Go on a shopping spree at Harrods
Because I`m shallow like that. Although I don`t know if I`d actually be spending time purchasing actual clothing items. Because I`d be sorely tempted to sit in Harrod`s location of Laduree to eat macaroons all day (which, by the way, are amazing. My parents ate the entire box of Laduree macaroons I brought home from Europe the minute I arrived back in Canada).

1. Write a book
I want to write a book. I don`t know what it`ll be about. I don`t know if it`ll end up on the shelves with fiction novels or if it`ll lean towards non-fiction. I definitely know I won`t write about why America is evil (we`ll leave that to Naomi Klein) or on aspects of political theory I know nothing about. All I know is that one day, I want to write a book. One day.

As I`ve said, we never really know what this life will brings us. Perhaps one day, the not-so-realistic will actually become more realistic than I can currently imagine. Or, perhaps one day, when I kick the bucket, not all my realistic goals were fulfilled. I suppose the main point of creating a Bucket list is to have something to look forward to. And the most important thing is to try our best. At the end of the day, that`s what matters the most, yea?

If you so choose, Happy Bucket List writing, friends!

"When we truly discover love, capitalism won't be possible and communism won't be necessary."

“To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children...to leave the world a better place...to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
- Anne Frank

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Bahamas On A Friday Night


Bahamas? What? No, I didn't go to the Bahamas on Friday. Beaches? Sand? Unfortunately, my life isn't that glamorous. However, I did experience something just as great on Friday night.

This blog post really has no purpose other than to mention (read: rave about) my Friday night at the Grad Club, witnessing the talented Afie Jurvanen put on a pretty fabulous show. Seriously, how is he not more well-known? This guy is going to be a bigger hit in the future, my friends. He has stage presence like no other.

Overall, the indie fan in me had a fabulous night (I just realized how many times I used the word `fabulous` in this blog post. What can I say, I have no excuse. I`m tired and I marked all day). And did it help that a friend of mine totally walked past him by the bar? Where he stood, so casually, like a rock star? No big deal, right?

Actually, after witnessing his guitar skills, it`s a semi-big deal. Excuse me while I sit in a corner to wring my hands fervently like an excited (read: manic) fangirl.

Anyway, I liked Bahamas so much that I've decided to pimp him on my blog. For those who don't know who Bahamas is, check him out! He won't disappoint. The Bahamas MySpace page isn't very user friendly, so if you desire an evening of relaxing (read: awesome) music, here are a few YouTube links to some songs he played on Friday:

Bahamas - Whole Wide World (My favourite, hands down).

Bahamas - Already Yours

Bahamas - Hockey Teeth

Bahamas - Till The Morning (Click on the playlist on the right).

This has to be the shortest blog post I've ever written. But what can I say? Good music speaks for itself. It never ceases to amaze me how Kingston is such a haven for live music. Love it.

"Life can't be all bad when for ten dollars you can buy all the Beethoven sonatas and listen to them for ten years."
- William F. Buckley, Jr.


“I think just working as hard as we possibly can, without dying! And always, always trying to write the best songs we could possibly make. And just to come out of our shell a little bit more.”
- Billy Lunn

Thursday, November 18, 2010

In Appreciation of TAs - Recognizing the Efforts of Teaching

Despite several requests the last couple of months to blog about the topic of TA-ing, I've refrained from blogging about my job as a TA here at Queen's due to contractual issues of professional conduct. And in accordance to those restrictions, this post isn't about the specificities of my TA experience. It's about teaching in general and my appreciation for the career. Because, quite honestly, it wasn't until my time at Queen's that I truly appreciated the work of my TAs in undergrad in addition to my professors who teach alongside their own work and research.

So today was the day. What day, you ask? Today, I realized how much I love being a TA. Or rather, I think I've fallen in love with the idea of teaching in general. And trust me, I've come a long way from my position at the beginning of the year. I know I'm not the only TA who was more than a little nervous about the position back in September. At TA Development Day in September, 85% of the Biosciences auditorium raised their hands admitting their nerves about TA-ing. We all had similar reservations. What if I didn't know the answer to student questions? What if I blank out? What if no one participates and tutorial is dead? Or worse, what if they hate me?

Trust me. That last question is the real kicker.

The keynote speaker went on to talk about her first few years as a TA and a professor. She openly admitted to being so incredibly nervous that she would vomit (excuse me, I'm being graphic) before every class. I don't blame her. It's incredibly nerve-wracking standing in front of a large group of students who expect you to lead tutorial. That's a long 50 minutes in your hands. No matter how much you love the topic (and I love the topic, I really do), nerves can potentially get the best of you. Nerves. That sinking feeling at the pit of your stomach moments before class, encouraging heart palpitations and sweaty palms. That Wow-I-Don't-Know-What-I'm-Talking-About-Therefore-I-Suck moment just before you enter the room.

Trust me. If you're a new TA, nerves are more than mere acquaintances. If you're a (new) TA, you go through a lot. Beyond what your students can see.

A few months ago, I blogged about the types of TAs I had in undergrad. Over the summer, I wondered who I would be myself. The Quirky TA? The Bitter TA? The possibilities were endless. Yet it wasn't until I started TA-ing that I had the following revelation. I've come a long way from writing that blog post.

Let this blog post serve to appreciate the efforts of all TAs: quirky, bitter, obnoxious, regardless of the type. Because quite honestly, being a TA is challenging. Particularly for those who haven't had much experience, it can be hard. Marking under a deadline, hours of tutorial preparation only to find that no one did the readings, the time spent responding to emails, the great (read: draining) appointment blitz when assignments are due, the time spent dealing with challenges to your marking. The list is endless. Honestly, it can be a lot of work.

Yet despite this, I've come to love being a TA. And I'm trying my hardest to be the type of TA that my students can learn from, that my students can approach without nervous reservation. It never ceases to amaze me how awesome it feels to realize that your students are actually learning from you. To watch your students listening intently to your every word, with genuine interest and eagerness to learn. To watch a confused student suddenly understand a concept, finally getting it. It's an awesome feeling. As TAs, we influence these kids more than we realize. It's so important to put an effort into what we do in order to fulfill this responsibility.

I'll stop being absolutely cliche and corny now. But I'll leave you with these thoughts, dear readers. We all have memories of our own TAs from undergrad. And while there are a number we didn't necessarily like, I think appreciating the efforts of these individuals beyond their quirks is still necessary. Teaching (and marking!!) can take a lot of time and a lot of work. And if there's anything I've learned from my time as a TA, I think appreciating the time and the efforts of the individuals that teach us go a long way to understanding them.

“The strongest influences in my life and my work are always whomever I love. Whomever I love or whomever I remember most vividly. I think that's true of everyone, don't you?”
- Tennessee Williams

“What interested me was not news, but appraisal. What I sought was to grasp the flavor of a man, his texture, his impact, what he stood for, what he believed in, what made him what he was and what color he gave to the fabric of his time.”
- John Gunther (American Writer and Journalist)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Thrifty Grad Student Exercise - Vanity On A Budget

I realized over the weekend that I was in dire need of a hair cut. Unbeknown to me, my hair grew far too long since I've lived in Kingston. In the midst of writing essays, marking essays, keeping up with readings, along with daily sleep deprived delirium, I've paid very little attention to physical appearances, much less the state of my hair. Really, I'm surprised. I would have thought I'd pay more attention, in light of my penchant for vanity. (What? I admit it. We all have some vanity in us!).

However, I was in a dilemma. I couldn't bring myself to justify spending my usual amount on a haircut at a strange salon in downtown Kingston. What can I say? I have trust issues when it comes to my hair. Perhaps it has to do with the number of horrifying experiences I've had at different salons over the years. One of which includes a visit to First Choice Haircutters (Never go there. Never) where one "hairstylist" (and I use that term with quotation marks since her work deserved no such title) cut bangs way above my forehead. To the point where I was forced to wear a headband for almost a year until it grew out. Terrible experiences, terrible! Three hours away from Toronto, I sit here in Kingston missing my usual salon haunt. Fiorio's in Yorkville or Square One has been my re-assuring solace in the midst of haircutting dilemmas. But it's three hours away.

In addition to these reservations, I also couldn't justify the cost of a haircut in a strange salon in Kingston. We're grad students on a budget, folks. In addition to issues of trust, I couldn't bring myself to spend $50 to $80 on a mere haircut that had huge potential to go awry. Plus, that's $50 to $80 on potential grocery money. Or Christmas shopping money. Or utility bill money. I couldn't justify the cost, friends. And after a couple of months living as a grad student away from home, I don't know if I can ever justify spending that much on my hair ever again. Is my hair really worth that much? Really? Let's review. It's hair.

And so it dawned on me that for the thrifty, cost-efficient (and suspicious!) grad student, grooming can still occur on a budget. Behold, I came up with my brilliant (or perhaps not-so-brilliant?) idea in a matter of seconds. I decided, dear readers, to cut my own hair.

I did it. I really did it. I chopped three inches off my own hair while standing in front of my bedroom mirror. Classic.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Perhaps this insane idea came in the midst of sleep deprived delirium. And so this past weekend, I opened the drawer that held my kitchen scissors, stood in front of the mirror, held up half my hair, and chopped off three inches in a single snip.

As I continued, I became ruthless. To the point where, dear readers, I had chopped almost 4 inches off my long, waist-length hair. As I held an entire lock of hair in my left hand, my eyes widened when I realized how much I chopped off. That was a lot of hair. I panicked. I had snipped away the source of my vanity in a matter of minutes. What had I done?

A few days later, I'm a tad bit calmer. A tad bit wiser. And a tad more accepting with the current state of my hair. Hair grows, right? Overall, I'm actually rather pleased with myself. My own personal how-to exercise on grad student thriftiness allowed me to do something I would never have imagined doing. More importantly, I'm learning to be cost-efficient to save for activities and items that deserve those funds more (i.e. EUROTRIP 2011 to Madrid and Barcelona. But that's a blog post for another day).

And so what can we learn from this? As grad students, there are a number of ways we can cut costs, if we choose. That coffee we purchase in the mornings can be made at home and placed in a Thermos. That lunch (read: pizza) we purchase in Mac-Corry can be made at home. That water bottle we purchase can alternatively be a refillable water bottle that contains filtered tap water.

And the result? Friends, we can be cost-efficient if we try and if we desire to be. Really, pushing beyond our inner vanities, I think we can do it!

"Don’t let go too soon. But don’t hang on too long."
- Mitch Albom, Tuesdays With Morrie

Monday, November 15, 2010

Beyond Morality - Should Prostitution Be Legalized?


Debates aside for a moment, how many people loved Pretty Woman? I'll admit it. I think I've watched this movie over ten times. I remember sitting in my mother's clinic when I was in middle school, bored and waiting for her to finish her last few appointments, when the TV in the waiting room started to play Pretty Woman. Seriously, Richard Gere? Captivating. It was also the first time I ever saw a Julia Roberts movie, and I remember loving the scene where she owned that catty salesperson on her second shopping trip. Made. Of. Win.

Yet I'm sure we all know that the sex trade is more than Hollywood's glamorized depictions. I attended a discussion panel this evening on campus (presented by the Queen's Law and Public Policy club) regarding the legalization of prostitution in reference to the recent Bedford v. Canada case. On September 28, 2010 Justice Susan Himel of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice gave a verdict that essentially struck down anti-prostitution laws in Canada. A good overview of the case can be found here. Panelists for tonight's discussion included Alan Young who represented the apellants in Bedford v. Canada. I have to say that he presented a pretty compelling case in defense of de-criminalization. It was an such an awesome (and intense) discussion, I'm glad I attended.

From the outset, I'll admit that I really don't know where I stand on this issue. Tonight's panel educated me on the debate, but it left me on the fence. I know, my moderation isn't helping you decide either, is it? After hearing the panelists from tonight's discussion, I'll admit that I sympathize with both sides of the debate. What can I say? I can't make up my mind. Unfortunately, I'm not very familiar with the case, nor have I studied this issue at great lengths. Dear readers, I can only offer you the following brief ideas regarding an issue I don't know too much about.

In the words of organizations (such as the Catholic Civil Rights League and the Christian Legal Fellowship) who challenged the case, does Bedford v. Canada undermine Canada's social and moral fabric? Alan Young doesn't think so. According to Young, the case "didn't aim to solve a moral question." In fact, we need to consider this as a legal issue. By de-criminalizing prostitution, the law is being used to defend women from a profession that undermines their safety. Yet in the words of Natasha Falle (Executive Director of Sex Trade 101), prostitution shouldn't be legalized. We shouldn't de-criminalize a profession that isn't healthy, a profession and business transaction based on violence.

I suppose (actually, I don't doubt) that many consider (the legalization of) prostitution from the perspective of morality. Growing up in a devout Pentecostal household, I completely understand the basis of Christian groups who opposed the Bedford decision. Oh, I completely, absolutely understand. From a personal standpoint, I can see why individuals see the issue from the context of moral and religious inclinations. In fact, my mother is probably appalled that I've written this blog post.

Yet in the context of "rights talk" (Professor Ran Hirschl's influence, what can I say?), perhaps we should consider this issue beyond the context of morality and religiosity. I recognize that we're discussing this in the context of rights, of legal protections (or lack thereof). And here, in brief summary, were the arguments presented tonight:

FOR
Beyond the debate on the morality of the profession (let's set aside whether the sex trade is "wrong" or "right"), we are talking about rights, about the safety of women (many who are underaged) and children engaged in the profession. In the words of Alan Young, constitutional law is about protecting those who are vulnerable, those who actually opt to work in the trade by choice. Young pointed out that some would argue that sex workers don't choose the profession. But as a sex worker in attendance tonight claimed, some women do. Financial and material gain is a large incentive, whether you need the finances or not. Don't women who choose this profession deserve the protection of the law? Without providing these rights, we defeat our social contract to protect, to defend. And in the words of Alan Young, "personal morality should therefore take a backseat."

AGAINST
Beyond the debate on the morality of the profession, can't rights and supports for those engaged in the sex trade be obtained elsewhere? In the words of Natasha Falle, those in the sex trade seek material gain because it's a real job. But it isn't a healthy job. It's a job based on violence and fear, and the legalization of prostitution only legitimizes this violence. Many who enter the sex trade are underaged teens or young mothers who cannot support their children from welfare cheques alone. How, then, is sex trade a choice when it is an arguably appealing financially viable option? Secondly, the de-criminalization of prostitution also de-criminalizes men (read: pimps) who (perhaps violently) reap gains from the trade.

Can we ever unite the idea of morality with legal rights for sex workers? I'm not sure. What I do know is that while I sympathize with the struggle to see the issue beyond the context of moral judgement, I also sympathize with the idea of "rights talk." With the idea of safety and, by association, legal protection. I'm on the fence, folks. And, dear readers, that's all I can give you.

"I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of rights."
- Desmond Tutu

"You can ask the universe for all the signs you want, but ultimately, we see what we want to see when we're ready to see it."
- How I Met Your Mother (Season 5)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

In Defense of the University of Toronto - From Alumni, With Love

I love UofT. No, I don`t think love is the correct adjective here. Let`s rephrase that. I adore UofT to the point of emotional and academic attachment. What can I say? I`m an appreciative (read: loyal) alumna.

I love UofT. There. I said it again. I know I`m not the only one who shares these sentiments, so I take comfort in the fact that I`m not alone in my academic fandom.

What has triggered this sudden blog post in defense of an institution I`ve already graduated from? Don`t get me wrong, I love Queen`s. Actually, let me further re-phrase that statement. I adore Queen`s. It`s everything I would have wanted in a university experience away from home. However, I feel the need to defend the institution I received my undergraduate degree from due to several conversations I`ve had in the Queen`s community. Because really, when you`re as awesome as UofT, there`s a tendency to be misunderstood (read: hated). This blog post aims to convey, dear readers, why I think UofT is awesome. And I`m not just saying this because I`m Asian.

Unfortunately (and I will probably receive some anonymous defensive hate mail for this a statement), I`ve run into far too many people in Kingston who despise UofT. Yes, despise. Utter derision, really. Accusing UofT of elitism? Behold, Exhibit A. A conversation I had with an individual I met at the beginning of the year. Let`s call him Anonymous.

Anonymous: Where did you do your undergraduate degree?
Me: I went to UofT.
Anonymous (completely serious): Oh. I hate UofT. We`ll have to undo the damage it did to you.
Me (taken aback): Excuse me?
Anonymous: I said, I hate UofT. It`s a stuck-up, elitist school who think its ivory tower is better than everybody else. It`s a right-wing machine producing elitist snobs who do nothing but contribute to the world`s unequal distribution of wealth.
Me: Well, I--
Anonymous (interrupts me): God, I hate UofT. It`s the best school if you want to get rich. It`s not the best school to save our planet. UofT thinks its better than everyone else, I hate it.
Me (indignant): I loved my time at UofT.
Anonymous (stands up and walks away): Then there`s no hope for you.

Really? Well, I think you`re a maniac.

It pains me to say that this wasn`t my only encounter of professed spite for UofT. Believe me, I`ve had several of these encounters in Kingston. I don`t fully understand this academic hate-on, but it`s irritating. And I will publically say that for every eye-roll I received, every face that was made when I admitted that I`m UofT alumni, I roll my eyes back. In exasperation. And pity for such blatant disrespect.

Elitism? There were 2000 students in each of my first-year classes. Fostering elitist attitudes and snobbery? I highly doubt that each student who attended UofT has aspirations to take over the corporate world. Assumptions much?

Purely from the context of the life-changing experiences I had at UofT, I (obviously, subjectively) think it`s an incredible school, both in terms of academics and overall environment. I will forever remember my years at UofT as some of the best years of my life. I met unbelievable individuals who have changed the academic world with their ideas, their thoughts. I made lifelong friends who adore this institution as much as I do. I met and befriended renowned professors who challenged me more than I anticipated. I learned so much from these individuals, and I would never regret my choice of attending an institution that provided me with such quality education. Is it really such a crime to be educated by individuals who have taught at and attended Harvard and Yale? And if that`s what makes individuals hate UofT so much, I roll my eyes in exasperation. Learning from these individuals was a challenging experience I`ll never forget. It was a life-changing experience that I`m (humbly) grateful I received. No need to hate (link), really. Shhhh, the Black Eyed Peas wouldn`t approve.

I`m not claiming that UofT is better than other universities. I just (subjectively) claim that (cue Barney Stinson) UofT is awesome. And if you tell me otherwise, just provide me with sufficient (read: respectful) justification. Which I will honestly accept and respect, given that you give me yours. Respect(ful) being the key word. It`s an ingredient missing from these conversations. What`s that, Aretha? Please and thanks.

I love UofT. And if I`m negatively judged for doing so, then so be it. Nothing will change my mind about an institution that will forever have my loyalties. And if that makes me a stuck-up, elitist snob, then we don`t have to be friends. Really, I have no problem with that.

“He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would surely suffice.”
- Albert Einstein