Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Coffee (Dates) - An Awesome Social Bonding Tool

I'll be honest, even though I never drink coffee, I still harbour a soft spot for a cup or two when I'm tired or when I'm, obviously, eating a piece of banana bread. Ever tried having coffee with banana bread? It's heavenly. For some odd reason, when I drink coffee with banana bread, the coffee doesn't taste like dirt. Interesting.

While drinking coffee isn't a particular habit of mine, I do know people who are total, utter slaves to morning coffee. Seriously, I have co-workers who can't function in the morning without that steaming, must-have cup of cream & sugar goodness. They just can't start their day without it.

But as we continue to build and maintain the relationships we have with others, I think an important thing to keep in mind is that coffee can function as way more than a morning pick-me-up. Coffee (or any other type of drink found in our local coffee shops, if we choose) can help us in ways beyond physical satisfaction. The concept of The Coffee Date is so often used as a super effective social bonding tool to catch up with friends, go over the latest study & lecture notes, and of course, it can be the sly opportunity to meet with and get to know your potential crush in a casual, relaxed setting. Romance has been known to brew (get my pun? hah) and develop over coffee, so let this be a little lesson for those hesitant to invite a secret crush to an hour of chatting at your local, trusty Tim Horton's. Wink wink.

Coffee dates serve a variety of purposes. But they all consist of the same important theme of bonding by using coffee (or coffee shop drinks) as the bridge to build and maintain a relationship. Let's take a look...

1) The Coffee Date As A Catch-Up Mechanism

I love coffee catch-up dates with friends. My schedule can get pretty hectic, from a full-time job, volunteering, band practice, tutoring, and other extra-curriculars I'm involved with. And I know many of my friends also juggle a number of priorities every week. That's why I love sitting down over a steaming cup (of coffee, tea, whatever we choose) and talk about what's going on with us, despite how busy we may be. Coffee dates have allowed me to keep in touch with friends from high school, hang out with friends in university despite the lack of having classes together, and its allowed me to catch up with friends who I don't see on a regular basis.

It's also the perfect opportunity to continue getting to know a new friend. Catching up periodically helps to maintain and strengthen a new friendship with people you've recently met at work, at school, or through other friends. And honestly, the bottom line is that "catching up" is so important for our relationships with others, especially when we're all so busy and preoccupied with life in general. Sitting down with a good friend to talk about the life that consumes us is one of the nicest, relaxing things we can do, and doing so maintains or builds a bond with people we've grown to care about very much.

2) The Coffee Date As A Study Session

I love studying and reading in a coffee shop. I don't know why, I just do. Especially during the holiday season when Christmas music is playing and all the lights are up. Oh yes, I do love parking myself in the middle of Starbucks or Tim Horton's while reading a good article or book. Even though the hours I spend there end up leaving a pretty strong scent of coffee beans and biscotti on my hair, clothing, and jackets when I leave (What? Nothing shampoo and a spritz of Febreeze can't get rid of).

But coffee dates with study buddies can actually serve as a perfect opportunity to 1) actually study and learn some pretty good information and more importantly, 2) get to know other classmates. Hanging out beyond the tutorial room or lecture hall setting fosters a more relaxed rapport between classmates. It sets the way for conversation that doesn't have to relate to school, to how much our TA annoys us, and to how much we love (or hate) our professor. And while these types of conversations can still occur in a lecture setting, I don't think it can compare to the atmosphere coffee dates or coffee shops provide. And once you're all done going over lecture notes and study guides, you'll have the opportunity to chat, to bond, and perhaps hang out somewhere else without school priorities hanging over your head. And voila, you've made a new friend. :)

3) The Coffee Date As An Actual Date

Disclaimer: The following comments on the coffee date as An Actual Date with romantic connotations are results of what I've witnessed from reactions and experiences of friends and people I know. They aren't generalizations and don't have to apply to everyone. But let the following briefly serve as an indication of The Coffee Date's casual atmosphere in comparison to the scary, romantic outings that some people may be super scared of!

So here we go. Hello, Boys (Guys, Men, etc.) reading my blog, I'd like to let you know that contrary to any of your fears, from what I've seen, girls don't tend to turn down an invitation for a coffee date. Unless she thinks you're a major creep (or douche, whatever), I actually think you have a pretty good chance. Hey, Girls (Women, Chicks, etc.) reading my blog, I want you to know that it isn't the end of the world to ask a guy out for coffee. You don't have to wait around for days (months, years, if its to your liking) for an invitation to Tim Horton's. Please. It isn't that big a deal to ask him first.

Here's why. I think coffee dates aren't as much a major date setting compared to, say, dinner & a movie. It's a lot more casual, relaxed, and a type of meeting you can run easily away from if the date quickly turns into a hot mess. And if you end up having absolutely zero chemistry and nothing in common, you can both gulp down your coffee/hot chocolate/tea/whatever and hurry out of there with various excuses (I have to go to work, I have to go make dinner, I have to walk the dog, etc.), which is something you can't easily do during a movie or dinner.

Coffee dates can be an awesome time to get to know your potential romantic interest. And you don't even have to dress up! You learn things about them you didn't previously know about, you get to know each other better, and its a casual opportunity to check on your compatibility, chemistry, and potential for a more "major" type of date like dinner & a movie, maybe lunch, or dinner & a museum (Sorry, I'm running out of ideas for type-of-date examples, lol. And if you're wondering who in their right mind would spend a date at a museum, I actually would, my nerdiness takes over everything, I know!)

So for those still contemplating that seemingly life-or-death-decision on whether to ask someone you may be interested in for coffee, I say to go for it. As another plus, coffee dates are so casual that your relationship won't suffer too much awkwardness if you don't progress into something more than friends. Good luck to all. ;)


Overall? Coffee (dates) can help us in a number of ways. They build friendships, maintain friendships, create relationships, among other things. And ultimately, in this busy life of ours, and as we continue to grow up and potentially go our separate ways (to grad school, to a new job, to a new city, to a new country), the concept of coffee as something to bond over is so important in order to keep in touch and maintain the relationships we have with each other, romantic or otherwise.

"Don't be dismayed at goodbyes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends."
- Richard Bach in Illusions

Monday, July 26, 2010

Crimes Against Humanity & The Road To Justice

Scrolling through the week's headlines, its interesting to note that Khmer Rouge prison chief Duch, has officially and finally been convicted of crimes against humanity, almost forty years after the Cambodian genocide.

To read the full article, click here. For plans to appeal his sentence, click here.

I'm not very familiar with the Khmer Rouge reign in Cambodia at all. While I've heard references to the genocide, I haven't studied it nor have I really read up on it. However, at the face of it, what does seem strangely familiar about this recent conviction is the process of convicting the notorious leaders of well-known war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity.

In my fourth year, I was able to take a Holocaust course with an amazing pofessor who opened my eyes to aspects of genocide that never previously crossed my mind. And in this class, I discovered one of the most eye-opening books I've ever read. If you choose to read it (borrow my copy, if you like), I promise you that this book will move you, challenge you, and perhaps even make you tear up just a litle. This book, Gitta Sereny's Into That Darkness: An Examination of Conscience, follows the life of Franz Stangl, commandant of two of Hitler's four mass extermination camps (Treblinka and Sobibor). As a result of Sereny's conversations with Stangl in his prison cell, the book takes us through his early life, his eventual affiliation with the Nazi party, his reign of Sobibor and Treblinka, his escape aftter the war, and eventually his arrest and death.

While there were many aspects of this book that struck me, I was particularly fascinated by how long it took to finally and officially find and convict Stangl of his crimes. The escape of Nazi affiliates, SS guards, and those involved in extermination and concentration camps was well-known in post-war Europe. With the help of friends and associates, Stangl himself was able to escape to Brazil with his family to live a normal life until Simon Weisenthal (Nazi hunter extraordinaire) eventually led his arrest. He was officially convicted in 1970, twenty-five years after the war ended.

Why does it take so long to arrest or convict well-known, infamous leaders for their crimes in history? While we can take into account the priorities and state of post-war Europe, we cannot deny that there were (and are) still many Nazi collaborators and genocide contributors who were not fully convicted or recognized for their part in the Holocaust. Quick convictions and punishments for heinous crimes seems like an obvious priority, but history shows that it isn't. The road to justice is a long one, and while I don't fully know the answer to my question above, I think that the length of time to either arrest or convict wartime criminals can find its roots in the friendships/relationships/affiliations that wartime criminals hold with those still in power. Stangl, as I mentioned, was protected by a number of Nazi supporters in post-war Europe, resulting in his escape to Brazil. I'll re-iterate a quote written on one of my favourite t-shirts: "Everything is political." Politics is a funny thing, friends, and it's everywhere, even in the face of the most tragic circumstances. And despite the deaths of thousands of people, political loyalties can still hold true to protect those who took part in historical crimes, no matter how tragic they were. Loyalties can last for months, for years, until (at least for some wartime leaders) criminals are submitted for trial and conviction.

Side Note: Another interesting aspect of war crime conviction is denial. I mentioned above that Duch plans to appeal his prison sentence... despite his role in the murder and torture of thousands of innnocent people. In Sereny's book, Stangl himself never ever truly admits to his part in the murder of thousands. He admits to feeling a sense of unexplainable sorrow, a sense of regret about the Holocaust, but he never directly addresses the deaths in Treblinka and Sobibor as murders he was involved in, despite the years he spent in his prison cell.

While a number of individuals sit and wait their turn for trials, from those involved in the Rwandan genocide, the murders in Kosovo, those involved with the Khmer Rouge, and a number of others, the obvious goal will always be justice. And despite the problems of bureaucracy, political friendships, and length of procedure, the sense of justice delivered at an eventual conviction will forever be priceless, particularly for the families and friends of those who did not live to see it.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Grad Life & The Meaning of Friendship

So let me share a sweet little story with all of you. In Grade 2, my teacher introduced a new girl to the class. She had just moved to the neighbourhood and knew absolutely no one. Naturally, our tiny heads swivelled to check out the new girl decked out in 90's style floral leggings (don't lie, girls. you know you had a pair), t-shirt, and ponytail. As we headed to recess, I took my snack baggy full of cheezy Doritos outside and I noticed the New Girl sitting by herself. I headed over to offer her some of my Doritos (I was so excited, my mother NEVER bought chips when I was younger, and this was a rare treat!). She seemed relieved that someone was talking to her, and we played on the see-saw the rest of recess. I found out that New Girl liked the same books and TV shows I did, and we quickly bonded over a fervent discussion about DJ's breakup with Steve Hale (See: Full House, Season 7, Episode 19). New Girl quickly became one of my best friends. And to this day, throughout elementary, middle school, high school, and university, she has still remained an incredibly awesome, close friend who I will always treasure and value. Seriously, all because of that bag of Doritos! ;)

These days, we're a little too old to make friends by offering snacks from the baggies our mothers packed for us. As we go through life as 20-somethings, I highly doubt that a mere bag of Doritos will now do the trick to foster a lifelong friendship.

I'm sure all of us in our twenties and late teens have noticed that as we grow older, it gets harder and harder to meet and make close friends, simply because we don't have as much time. If you're in the working world, you work a 9 am - 5:00 pm job, head home, eat dinner, and sleep for 5 days a week. On the weekends and Friday nights, you hang out with the same group of friends who you've known for ages. If you're still in school, your life consists of studying, class, potentially a part-time job, and hanging out with the same group of people you've known since high school or the small clique you formed during your frosh year.

But grad school is full of older students in their early to mid twenties. We aren't frosh anymore. We're older, a tad bit wiser, and have a bit more life experience than we did when we entered university as wide-eyed 18-year olds. I have no idea how the social setting will be in September as I join the ranks of grad students in Kingston. But I do know that while I look forward to making new friends, I also won't forget the ones I have.

Seriously, Barney knew what he was talking about. The lessons that purple dinosaur taught us were true: as we get older, we learn to appreciate the friendships we've made and maintained over the years, from middle school, high school or university. And so wherever we're at in life, I think we should always remember this: cherish, treasure, and keep in touch with the close friends you've made. Wherever you are and wherever you're off to in September, don't forget how valuable these people are to you. They know you inside and out and value you just as you treasure them.

And when we're old and gray, we'll think back and have each other to thank for all the essays we helped each other edit, all the the all-nighters we went through together in high school and university, all the trips we took together (overseas or otherwise. Eurotrip 2010, holler), all the in-depth discussions we had about our potential careers, all the shopping trips we went on where we spent way more than we should have. We'll have each other to thank for the boyfriends we're not married to, all the random road trips we've taken to take a break from school (Buffalo!! Stratford!!), all the impromptu dinners/lunches/coffee dates, and all the moments that, put together, have created a friendship that will last despite distance and changing lifestyles.

We're at an age and point in life where things change ever so quickly. But, if you so choose, there will always be one thing that never changes: your groups of friends who will never fail you, who will always stand with you to celebrate your achievements and successes, and who will always be there, for the rest of your lifetime.

"There is nothing more important than friendships that endure, especially in a world that insists on changing."
- Desperate Housewives

Friday, July 23, 2010

Research Study: "Don't Hate Me Because I'm Beautiful!"

Have you guys seen this article? Published in the Toronto Star, a recent study titled "Don't Hate Me Because I'm Beautiful" found that attractive, good-looking people have lower job and scholarship prospects than others who aren't as attractive, particularly if they're assessed by someone of the same gender. Wow. Whatever happened to assessing someone based on competence and actual ability?

To read the full article, click here.

The first thing that came to mind as a reason behind such results is, obviously, potential jealousy. Although we're often unaware of this habit, people (particularly women) have the tendency to whip out an appraising, judgemental eye whenever we see an attractive person walk by. I'm guilty of it too. We check out their hair, their makeup, their shoes, their purse, or omg, is she dressed better than I am?!?! The article even notes that some women have admitted to disliking the idea of working with someone more attractive than themselves. Because for many in the workforce & in the academic setting, beauty can be perceived as a social threat.

But judging someone at face value is a terrible habit, and its a habit we need to stop excercising if something as important as scholarships & jobs are involved. This is money for someone's education, this is a job a person needs to pay off their mortgage... and you'll pass them over because of their flawless skin tone?!? Perhaps we should stop judging and start exfoliating instead.

We need to get past our initial reaction to someone's attractiveness and remember that judging someone by how they look really isn't fair. Beauty and intelligence are not mutually exclusive. And while we may envy their Chanel flats, Burberry rainboat, and gorgeous MJ purse, we have to go beyond how a person looks and remember that one day, their looks will fade too. But their mind, their intelligence, and their brilliance will always be there. Reward them for that.

"All things splendid have been achieved by those who dared to believe that something inside them was superior to their circumstance."
- Bruce Barton

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

QOTD: Dinner With A Historical Figure

Question Of The Day (QOTD):
If you could have dinner with any historical figure in the past 100 years, who would you have dinner with?

Hmmmm, that's a tough one. Because I'm indecisive (as anyone who has been shopping with me knows), I think I've narrowed it down to three choices: Pierre Trudeau, Princess Diana, or Winston Churchill. There are so many outstanding historical figures who demonstrated qualities I hope I can possess one day. And, quite honestly, if I could have dinner with any of these three people, I'd want to tell them how much their careers have influenced my own aspirations.

I can be a majorly embarrassing fangirl when I want to be (seriously, ask me about my autograph collection!), so I think our dinner conversations would go something like this...

1) Pierre Elliott Trudeau

Pierre, you had awesome fashion sense. I spent ten minutes going through the pictures in your biography just because your suits looked so spiffy. No wonder Liz Taylor fell so in love with you. I think I have too.

I'd also like to let you know how fascinated I am by your incredible charisma and political approach, particularly in the face of a majorly turbulent time in Canadian politics. You managed to keep one hand on maintaining your popularity (at least for the first few years) and another on strongly addressing the key political issues of your time. In your shoes, I wouldn't have known what to do. Years later, I don't think my generation truly comprehends how much of a reality Quebec secession was in the late 60s and early 70's. And yet despite the violence, turmoil, and threats of division, you weren't fazed. You've left quite a legacy on Canadian politics. And if I ever decide to join the ranks of constitutional lawyers one day, I'm sure I'll find that your influence on legal study and practices will last for years to come.

I doubt Canadian politics will see someone of your charisma for a very long time. I have to admit, as I head to grad school in September, I'm a little nervous about all the political big-whigs who may try to dominate over everyone else. But I'll always try to remember your confidence and attempt to emulate it. And perhaps one day, I can make a difference in the legal world just like you.

2) Sir Winston Churchill

Oh, Winston. You were so wise. Out of all political figures in history, you stand out as the one I admire most. In the midst of a violent world war, you were calm and strategic, even at the face of the most intense situations and deliberations. Your country depended on you, and I will forever admire the strength you demonstrated during the most trying times of your political career.

Perhaps the greatest quality I admire most was your ability to be an outstanding orator. Your speeches were, in short, amazing. As I sit here today, terrified beyond belief at the thought of presentations & public speaking in grad school, I think my greatest lessons can be learned from you. Despite your speech impediment, you managed to deliver some of the most memorable speeches in all of world history. And perhaps one day, I'll get over my own public speaking fears, just as you did with yours.

3) Princess Diana

Your Highness! It would be my pleasure to have dinner with you! I'd like to sit down and seriously discuss the possibility of marrying one of your sons. I don't care which one, either would do (although Harry's always been my favourite). Second, I'd also like to know where you purchased your fabulous clothing. And where you donated them (ever heard of Value Village?). Your style was so classic and effortless, and to this day, I still attempt to emulate it. As we grew up, little girls all over the world (myself included) were in awe of your grace, your poise, and your charm.

More importantly, I'd like to let you know that your philanthropic efforts haven't gone to waste. Your calls for attention to serious diseases like AIDS encouraged worldwide awareness of its prevalence in developing nations (along with other serious illnesses). Your attention to the landmines issue also led the way to an international campaign to ban its existence particularly in East Asia. Because of your efforts, I've learned a great deal about this serious problem, and I want to thank you for bringing such an important issue to the attention of thousands around the world.

Despite all the personal turmoil that surrounded your life before, during, and after your death, you will always be remembered as a truly outstanding woman of intelligence, grace, courage, and kindness. And to me, you are and always will be, a princess.

“A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader. A great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves.”

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The (Not So) Political Manifestations of Big Brother - Who Is He Really?

In my lifetime, I've come across the term Big Brother three times:

A) Big Brother: The George Orwell Edition

I first read George Orwell's 1984 in Grade 10. And quite honestly, the book had me hooked on the study of authoritarian politics. The concept of a dominated, controlled state fascinates me even today, and as we flip through our textbooks, history shows that such a reality has often existed. We've all read up on Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini, but is the concept of Big Brother always inherently political?

B) Big Brother: The CBS Edition

Twelve years ago, I started watching the CBS reality show Big Brother and omg, I was hooked. Seriously, I am not ashamed to admit that, to this day, I still follow this show every summer during its live airing. I constantly log on to the 24/7live feeds, checking out what the locked-up houseguests are eating, doing, plotting, and playing. (Oh no, I'm not creepy at all ;). I obviously have no qualms admitting my love for trashy reality television!)

When houseguests do something wrong (such as fiddling with their microphones or talking about production), a voice booms through the loudspeakers that says (I kid you not), "Houseguests, this is Big Brother. Stop playing with your microphone!" As corny as it is, this show is seriously addicting. I still fangirl over last year's winners (Jordan Lloyd and Jeff Schroeder, look them up!)

C) Big Brother: The Jesus Edition

While Big Brother can be the most powerful political figure or a big-shot Hollywood producer, He could also be someone even greater than those two put together. The concept of an Almighty, omnipotent God who has watched every step and move you've made since your birth isn't lost on everyone. And while these thoughts may never have crossed your mind, we're always left with the following choices: to turn away from or faithfully depend on an unseen yet watchful Creator who continues to unconditionally love the world despite its doubts of His existence.

Big Brother - Who Is He? What Is He?

Despite various applications of the term, the idea of Big Brother remains strangely similar in all three of the above contexts. Big Brother can be one person or a group of people who can have different levels of input and influence (from one extreme to another) on your opinions, your lifestyle, and even as far as your hopes and dreams.

One extreme was so awesomely demonstrated by Jim Carey in The Truman Show (love this movie). Truman Burbank lived 30 years of his life blissfully unaware of his controlled existence. Yet Christof watched over his emotions, his habits, what he ate, what he drank, and who he loved (oh-so-similar to the actions of Orwell's dominating Party and CBS producers in every season of Big Brother).

Yet Big Brother isn't always as evil as 1984 or The Truman Show imply. And ultimately, Big Brother can appear in many different forms in our day to day existence. While existentialists scoff and skeptics roll their eyes in dismissal, perhaps I'll leave you with the following thoughts:

Big Brother can be the parents who have watched & disciplined us throughout our lives thus far. Big Brother can be the teacher in elementary school who reprimanded us for running in the hallways or talking in class. Big Brother can be our favourite university professor who skillfully oversaw our lectures. Big Brother can be the security guards who ran that hot mess called the G20 Summit, the test administrator who facilitated my LSAT, the marketing team who convinced you to buy your MacBook Pro, and the politicians who run our province & country. And, if you so choose, Big Brother can be your Creator, your Heavenly Father, your God.

The various manifestations of what Big Brother can be are numerous--and they aren't always political. Big Brother can exist in many different forms, in many different contexts, and with many different levels of control. But ultimately, the overall concept of Big Brother leaves us with the following questions: Are we ever really free of a dominating power structure or watchful figure? Are our choices exclusively the result of our own desires? Or are we always, whether we are aware of it or not, influenced by a bigger unknown plan that we aren't yet aware of?

"Truman: [to an unseen Christof] Who are you?
Christof: [on a speaker] I am the Creator - of a television show that gives hope and joy and inspiration to millions.
Truman: Then who am I?
Christof: You're the star."
- The Truman Show

My Daily Routine... With A Twist

So this morning, I went through my usual routine: got up later than I should have, showered, dressed, ran out the door, and jumped into the car so my Dad could drive me to the GO station. I caught my GO bus, and settled into my amazingly comfortable seat to take a little nap before I had to get off and tackle another 8 hour work day.

Naturally, after 40 minutes napping, you tend to be a little sleepy, perhaps even a little disoriented when get you get off the bus. So I continued my daily routine, walked across the street to trusty Tim Horton's, and ordered my usual Banana Nut muffin (Yummy. Side Note: I love eating the crunchy muffin tops first then leaving the rest of the muffin for later. I'm just not interested in anything that isn't a muffin top, honestly).

However, as I turned to leave Tim Horton's, I got distracted. I was trying to figure out where to strategically place my Banana Nut Muffin in my crowded purse to ensure that it wouldn't be squished during my walk to work (squished muffin tops are seriously the worst). But I got so distracted that as I turned... I, honest to goodness, walked straight into the glass door.

And it wasn't even a mere bump that I could play off & giggle about with my audience before I walked off. Oh no, no, no. I walked into that shiny glass door so hard that it made a banging noise loud enough to cause the entire (massive) Tim Horton's line-up to turn and stare in concern. I was stunned, and my face, arm, and knee started to seriously sting. By the way, my little scene was also witnessed by a group of construction workers, professors, businessmen, and half the people I ride the GO bus with every morning! It was so fantastically embarrassing that even I had to giggle.

As I sit here at lunch, munching on my (un-squished, booyah!) Banana Nut muffin top, I am now sporting an awesomely red tinge on my right cheek, a purple bruise on my right knee and a slightly swollen upper lip. To be honest though, I'm not that embarrassed at all. What's life without a little twist to our daily routines now and then, right? ;)

Hope everyone's having an awesome week!

“For myself, I am always an optimist - it doesn't seem to be much use being anything else.” - Winston Churchill

Monday, July 19, 2010

The 90's: Re-Living and Appreciating Our Awesome Childhood

Yesterday, a whole bunch of family friends were over at our house and I sat down to play Scrabble with their kids. The boy, David, is 8 years old and the girl, Sonia, is 12 years old. They started talking about their favourite TV shows like Hannah Montana, Suite Life on Deck, and Sonny With A Chance (Family Channel, holler!). We then had the following conversation:

8-year old David: I like Suite Life on Deck, Mr. Moseby is so funny.
Me: I know, him and London are my favourite characters.
8-year old David: Heeheeheeheeeee *snorts*
Me: You sound like Steve Urkel.
8-year old David: Huh? Who is that?

Um. Hold on. If there was ever a moment in my life when I realized I was getting older, this was probably it. How in the world do you not know who Steve Urkel is?! I remember spending weekday evenings in elementary school giggling as I watched Steve attempt to win Laura Winslow's heart on Family Matters. Side note: Who else had a crush on Stefan Urkel (Steve's alter ego)? Please, you know those 90's dance moves made you swoon.

I grew up in the 90's. I listened to the Backstreet Boys, fangirled over 98 Degrees and LFO, watched YTV's Hit List, joined a Spice Girls fan club, cried at the series finale of Full House, was fobidden to watch Dawson's Creek (my parents thought it was inappropriate), watched TVO Kids every afternoon with Patty and Joe, saw every single episode of Ghostwriter, witnessed the airing of the very first Arthur episode, gasped in shock when Tommy the Green Ranger transformed into the White Ranger (I was a Tommy & Kimberly shipper, obviously), considered playing basketball after watching Hang Time, accepted the concept of high school on a boat with Breaker High, pretended to morph into a puddle after watching The Secret World of Alex Mack, witnessed the release of Britney Spears' first ever music video (hit me baby, one more time!), swooned with my entire generation as Freddie Prinze Jr. took Rachel Leigh Cook to prom in She's All That, got angry at Cory Matthews for cheating on Topanga in Season 5 of Boy Meets World, danced to every single Aqua & Vanilla Ice music video (ice ice, baby), and sat around with the entire world (clutching our gas lamps & instant noodles) waiting for the universe to end as 1999 drew to a close and the new millennium began.

Its been 10 years since Y2K, 13 years since Princess Diana died, 12 years since the Clinton & Lewinsky scandal, 12 years since Britney Spears released her aforementioned debut music video (schoolgirl outfits sans the shaven head, of course), 20 years since Julia Roberts stole our hearts in Pretty Woman, 11 years since we were introduced to the Taco Bell Chihuahua, and 11 years since we were introduced to memorable movies like The Matrix, There's Something About Mary, The Sixth Sense, and Fight Club (pre-Angelina, of course!). Yes, it's been a long time, my friends.

But 90's pop culture represents something even greater than the washed out has-beens who ocassionally gloss tabloid headlines today. It represents moments in our childhood where we played, laughed, and enjoyed the company of our family and friends. These iconic TV shows and music videos represent times in elementary school where we sat down with our best friends to fawn over the latest Teen Beat magazine or to giggle over the new Jonathan Taylor Thomas poster. These moments with loved ones are memories we fondly remember, leading us to walk the road of 90's nostalgia today.

But we've grown up, we're older now. And as we begin new chapters of our lives in September (in grad school, university, or a new job), we can learn a thing or two from our Tamagotchi-obsessed selves: don't ever forget to treasure each phase of your life.

Our love for the 90's reveals alot more than we realize. This unforgettable era also teaches us to appreciate each phase of life we go through, to unabashedly enjoy and learn from each activity, event, and daily occurrence, just like we did when we were kids. Time goes by so quickly, friends. As we continue to grow older, remember to enjoy each moment of whatever phase of your life you are at. And if you do, I'm sure many years of your life will be filled with 90's moments: they'll be memorable, loveable, and just a very fond memory away.

"Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, and the things you never want to lose." - The Wonder Years

Tiny Toons, anyone?

Friday, July 16, 2010

The TAs We Loved, TAs We Hated

Not surprisingly, the people who had quite a significant impact on my academic experience (and, obvs, on my marks) were my TAs. There were TAs I loved, and there were TAs I didn't like as much. There were also TAs I've forgotten because, seriously, they were too boring to remember.

From my own experiences and stories I've heard from friends (both at UofT and other schools), I've figured out a few "types" of TAs that one may encounter during their university or college experience. Of course, this isn't an exclusive list. I'm sure there are probably many TAs who don't fall under these supposed categories.

Reflecting on your undergrad career, though, you tend to remember the memorable ones such as...

1) The Hot TA

In second year, we had to sign up for tutorials according to our preferred times. When the TAs introduced themselves the first day of class, there was honestly the most audible gasp from all the girls in the room when one tall Abercrombie model-esque TA stood up and introduced himself as *Ben*. Tall Ben with the deep-voice-blonde-hair-perfectly-straight-Crest-white-strips-teeth. After class, you could hear all the girls running toward the tutorial sign-up board, clamoring to get into Ben's tutorial.

Because really, in the dreary world of studying, there isn't anything more entertaining than ogling some good (intelligent) eye candy and giggling about it afterwards.

p.s. I never got into Ben's tutorial. I didn't run fast enough. I ended up with Amy (See: The Bitter TA) who screwed up my GPA with a 79. Like really, you couldn't make it an 80? Thanks, Amy.

2) The Socially Awkward TA

In Political Theory, I was the only one who showed up for tutorial the first day. I'm not kidding. To fill the silence, my TA nervously started the most awkward conversation I've ever encountered. He eagerly began talking about how he was so hungover from the Big Greek Wedding he was at the night before, spilling details about how much he drank, what he likes to drink, etc.

I was speechless, I didn't know what to say! Seriously, the conversation was borderline inappropriate. After 20 minutes, I managed to steer the conversation to Plato's Republic. But for the rest of the semester, I had similar conversations with him. He was so unaware of his inappropriateness; so hilarious yet so awkward!

3) The I'd-Rather-Be-Anywhere-But-Here TA

These ones bored the crap out of me. They either hated what they were doing or had no idea what they were talking about. They constantly checked their watches or cell phones for the time, counting the minutes until tutorial was over. They usually didn't have answers to student questions, and even if they did, their answers were pretty vague.

If you don't want to be there, it shows. And it makes your student not want to be there either. Just saying.

4) The Bitter TA

In second year, I encountered a TA who was angry at life and it showed! Oh sure, she was passionate about the material. She knew what she was talking about, and you could definitely learn from her if you ignored her permanent scowl. But seriously, if you want your students to like you, you probably should smile a little.

Why the bitterness? Bad breakup? Unrequited love? Bad marks? Who knows. But either way, if you give short answers, glare at students if they ask questions or attempt to extend conversation, and leave zero comments on B, C or D-level papers, you probably won't receive great feedback. Just putting it out there.

5) The Funny/Quirky TA

Hee. These were my favourite ones. My second-year POL215 TA spent most of our first tutorial talking about how him and his wife backpacked through China for their honeymoon. He learned to ride a bike in China, had dim sum for the first time in China, and overall had a *great time* in China. He then proceeded to talk about his China trip every tutorial the rest of the semester. It never got old, his stories were so engaging, it makes me me wonder in retrospect whether they were made up. Well, whatever, it was cute.

Then there was that TA I had in fourth year who came to tutorial the first day with (I kid you not) dreadlocks that extended past his waist. Thick, dark brown dreads with pink and lime green hair ties wrapped around the ends. I was fascinated. He then went on to tell us about his adventures in Serbia and Jamaica. The following week, he walked into class sporting the most conservative crew cut (military styles). He sheepishly told us that he was told to get rid of his dreads. Aww.

Quirky TAs can be tagged as adorable. As cute. As funny (in a good way). Just because of their memorable, unique traits that amuse you and make you giggle. These TAs make you smile, and the genuine friendships these TAs build with students (by relating funny stories, giving advice, and getting to know their students) make them so likeable and memorable.

6) The Fashionable TA

The label speaks for itself. I had a TA whose Marc Jacobs bag I wanted to steal. How does a mere TA salary pay for a purse like that, I wonder?

7) The Obnoxious TA

ZOMG. My first POL experience ever, in first year, was tainted by the worst TA I ever had. His name was Mark, and I will forever hold bitter, vicious memories of my time in his class. I don't remember much of his tutorials other than the fact that he bragged about his intelligence for most of the hour, gave zero feedback on papers, picked on people in class, and talked about his degrees all the time. All the time. ALL the time. His ego couldn't fit within the walls of that UC tutorial room. Obviously, we didn't learn much from him.

8) The TA You'll Love Forever

And then, there was that TA I hope I can be. The TA who could provide insights into pretty obscure topics, and responded to your pitiful emails about your soon-to-be-late paper right away. The TA who helped you as much as they could on your assignments and provided constructive criticism when you failed. They didn't pick on you, didn't give you a lower mark without a solid explanation, and were friendly, approachable, and seemed to enjoy talking to their students (compared to others who looked like they were having their tonsils removed everytime they were approached for conversation).

I didn't have as many of these TAs as I would have liked. But the ones I did have truly were unforgettable. Their intelligence and kindness shaped my research interests, essay habits, and my perspectives on a variety of key political and historical issues.

Who knows what kind of TA I will be in September? I could be labelled the Weird TA, the Smelly TA, the Crappy TA, the Boring TA, the possibilities are endless. Or, if I do things right and remember all the things I loved and hated from past TA experiences, I hope to one day be the type of TA that a student will remember positively and fondly.

....and honestly, if all else fails, I can be the Quirky TA who told their students about the time my friends and I almost got kidnapped in Rome. Because really, even if they hate me, it makes a good story. :)

"Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm." - Sir Winston Churchill

Kate Spade's "Book" Bag

The Kate Spade "Book" Bag - Fall 2010 Collection, revealed in a Chelsea showroom earlier this year

I've been trying to figure out how I'll be lugging my stuff around this September. My TAs always had huge backpacks or messenger bags filled with student papers, research essays, readings, etc.

I still have no idea what "TA bag" I'll be using in September, but as I was looking around online, I came across Kate Spade's Book Bag collection. Isn't it awesome? She's designed regular clutches with covers of different literary classics.

The nerd in me wants a clutch for either Jane Austen's Emma or Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest. And how amazing is that Great Expectations clutch?! I want it.

Guess how much they are though? Almost $400. Yep, definitely too much for this student budget. Let's act like sensible TAs and just stare and appreciate for now. ;)

For a brief article on Kate Spade's Book Bag collection, click here.

Pretentious Academics - Dealing With The Know-It-Alls!

Remember that kid in your tutorial who always acted like they knew everything? They dominated tutorial and you could never get a word in edgewise. Or that professor who never had time for you and rolled their eyes in exasperation when you were confused about a certain aspect of their lecture. Listen, I know you have a PhD from Harvard, but couldn't you help me out a little?! :(

If there's one thing that annoys me about the world of academia, its the fact that some people not only think they know it all, but they act that way too. They've received thousands of dollars in research grants, published articles in journals all over the world, and have been recognized as a top academic in their field of research. But seriously? Sometimes I think it all goes to their heads!!!

For example, I recently joined an academic discussion forum to discuss various controversial issues. But there's one guy that annoys the crap out of me (don't worry, I highly doubt he's reading this. LOL). He interrupts people when they express an opinion, boasts about his research papers & his quest to finish his PhD, and mocks people who don't agree with his arguments. It's downright rude, and he is a pretty good example of a Pretentious Academic that exasperates me the most.

Can academic achievements potentially influence someone's personality? After meeting many people at UofT very much like the guy mentioned above, sometimes I think so. Success inflates ego. And if there's one thing thing the world of academia needs sometimes, its a shot of humility.

I'm not downplaying their achievements. In fact, I'm so in awe of them. I'm still on my quest to achieve multiple degrees of my own! (I'm trying to calculate how old I'll be when I'm finally done school. Ahhh, so old!). But I find that academic know-it-alls are not attractive by any means.

Your intelligence & knowledge shouldn't alter your personality. Kindess, generoisity, and a willingness to help those trying to learn from you matters too. Easy-going personalities can still find its way into a lecture hall. In fact, they are more than welcome!

I always appreciated the professors and TAs who patiently helped me me with my papers and gave me advice not only on my research but on my academic plans for the future. (Yes, Professor Hirschl, I'm talking to you!). If there's one lesson I'm going to take with me as I head to Queen's in September, its the fact that your knowledge doesn't have to change your personality. Students appreciate kindness. Always remember that if they try, academics can be likeable too!

"Worry more about your character than your reputation. Character is what you are, reputation is merely what others think you are."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Home Sweet Home in Kingston!

I'm officially not homeless in Kingston next year!!!! And the house I found isn't in the Student Ghetto!! I'm so relieved.

Sooo my parents and I drove over to Kingston a few weeks ago to house-hunt. Honestly, despite all the warnings that house-hunting would be stressful, I didn't find it that difficult at all. I scoured the Queen's Community Housing website, craigslist, Kijiji, etc., and lined up about 9 appointments for that Saturday.

You know how people always say that you know something is meant for you when it *feels* right? Like a wedding dress, a pair of shoes. I think that feeling applies to homes too. The minute I walked into this house, it didn't feel like a dorm. It actually felt like a home. Most importantly, it was very clean. You guys have no idea how many places we saw that were overpriced dumps.

The house is actually very pretty. It's newly renovated, three floors, a ten minute walk from campus, a five minute walk to Princess Street (aka Kingston's "downtown"), and the rent is more than reasonable. Plus, my landlords seem really nice. I googled them and found out they used to own a hotel and restaurant in Kingston, so I know they aren't scam artists. ;) Obviously we have to check on these things!!

My first impressions of Kingston? I loved it. Queen's is the complete opposite of what UofT was. It's small, cozy, and feels exactly like those picturesque university towns that we always see in the movies!

I guess my only concern now is that I have no idea who my housemates are. There will be six of us in the house. Six total strangers living in a new city, attending a new school, knowing absolutely no one. Come to think of it, doesn't this sound like a reality show? Or something that should be on MTV? Heehee.

A month and a half till moving day!

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaiïs Nin

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Office Politics - You Thought High School Was Over?!

I remember a year ago I was at the height of one of the biggest dilemmas of my life: to take a year off after graduation or to stay an extra year of undergrad and extend my major to a specialist. After (an insane amount of) deliberation, I decided to graduate on time last June and ventured uncertainly into a year in The Real World. I was off to work for a whole year before grad school and law school, and I was terrified!! The sinking-not-sure-what-you're-going-to-do-with-your-life feeling was something new to me.

Months later, in retrospect, I am so so glad I took a year off to experience an actual full-time job. There are some things you learn in the working world that you just can't learn in school. Out of all the experiences I've had this year, there's one aspect of The Working World that I'm glad I got to witness: the phenomenon of Office Politics.

I'm so fascinated by some of the things I've witnessed this year: the backroom deals, the brownosing, the firing, the insane obsession over money, the politically charged relationships, the power-play, the constant need to make the company look good, the pushing and shoving to get on the boss' good side, the list goes on!!

Despite the suits, designer bags, fancy language and veneer of professionalism, The Working World is still full of petty high school teenagers vying for popularity, for status, for power. A 58 year old woman can be just as exasperating as the girl who sat next to you in English class pretending to be your friend so she could copy your notes.

As with many things in life, things function around age and seniority. And due to my status as the youngest employee in the company, I wasn't seen as a "threat" to the internal power struggles. To them, I'm still a kid. I therefore got to sit back and watch the grown-ups provide me with some awesome entertainment....

I've watched men and women over the age of 50 spread petty gossip a la Gretchen Wieners in Mean Girls (I shamelessly love this movie lol). I've watched middle-aged grown-ups tattle on other co-workers. I've learned that women over the age of 50 are still capable of trash-talking former bosses in order to get on the new boss' good side. I've witnessed petty tugs of war between highly respected managers over seniority status. But most importantly, I've learned that money is the sole driving force behind everyone's actions. The need & greed for money can drive even the most skilled, most recognized provincial politicians to succumb to petty high school tactics.

Despite their 6 figure salaries, their age, and act of professionalism, some grown-ups have never really... grown up. The way you handle these people is the most important lesson you can learn.

Stay out of the drama, friends. There's nothing more stressful than getting caught in the middle of an office power struggle. Avoid choosing sides. We're talking real life here. You risk more when you choose one side over the other. We can't all have Lindsay Lohan's Mean Girls ending--high school isn't a fairy tale, neither is real life.

Despite the most outrageous (albeit entertaining) incidents I've witnessed this year, I'm still thankful to have had this experience. I've met the most awesome, understanding boss who has taught me more about Real Life than she will ever know. And once you learn these lessons... you'll take them with you to the next chapter of your life, just like I will with mine.

"For the rest of my life, whenever the sky is grey, I'll remember that the blue's still there above the clouds and the sun's still shining." - Pauline Fisk