Thursday, February 24, 2011

Reading Week: A Week of Highlights and Free Stuff (!!)

It's only Thursday and I'm already echoing my sentiments from the end of Christmas break: I really really don't want to leave home. Reading Week has been too short. Too short. Too short. What am I going to do when (or if) I leave the country for law school next year? I won't be coming home for Reading Week. The thought boggles my mind.

After an eventful Coach bus ride to Toronto last Friday, spending much of my time making awkward conversation with my student who boarded the same bus I did (you read the right), I arrived in Toronto, lugging my suitcase (carrying all my students' essays for Reading Week marking) and monstrous backpack off the Coach bus, and happily skipped down Dundas Street towards Eaton Centre. Hey, at least I didn't have as many suitcases as the last time I came home, yea? Oh, the relief. I was so happy to be back in Toronto. Alicia met me by the Pickle Barrel and we happily stuffed ourselves for lunch to celebrate the beginning of Reading Week.

As soon as I got home on Friday night, however, I had to go straight to work. Reading Week hasn't been a walk in the park. I've had to work on a major presentation, work on 2 thirty-page papers, trudge through 300 pages of reading, and sit through marking at least 30 essays.

Boo. Oh well. Not even all that work could sour my mood. I'm just glad to be home.

However, Tuesday was a welcome break from all that work. And it was definitely one of the highlights of the week so far. Not only did I get to wander UofT's campus for the first time in a year, it was also a day of arbitrarily being handed free stuff. And everyone loves free stuff, right? Right??

So. Here's the story.

On Tuesday morning, I hopped on the GO train and headed to the University of Toronto campus to meet my officemate Janice. I had to pass along her 50 student essays ready for marking. I hadn't been on UofT's campus since I graduated a year ago, and I can't express on this blog how excited I was to visit campus. I'm a shameless nerd like that.

Because I'm a cheap grad student, I refused to pay $3.00 for the subway and walked to campus from Union Station instead. Oh, how I've missed walking through the P.A.T.H.! Oh, how I've missed walking down Yonge Street! Oh, how I've missed people-watching oblivious Bay Street workers fumbling away on their Crackberries. Oh, how I've missed walking through the city! Oh, how I've missed it all! (Sorry. It's the excitement. I'm really not this cheesy).

Yet walking to the Starbucks at the corner of St. George and College Street, I was a little taken aback. Ordering my usual tea latte, I was told I didn't have to pay for my drink. Bewildered, I glanced around suspiciusly, wondering if someone was pulling my own Starbucks experiment on me. But no, I received a free drink. For absolutely no reason. Awesome.

And so, I studied at Starbucks for awhile. I didn't have to meet Janice until 11:30 am, you see. But I was a little eager to get downtown, so I had arrived at UofT's campus, um, a little too early. After studying for awhile, I stood up, walked to the Starbucks barista to order a second drink. And yet, after I ordered, the barista refused to take my money. I received a free drink again. For absolutely no reason. I have no idea why or how. I couldn't believe my luck.

Free Starbucks drinks? Two of them? What!

So I skipped happily out of Starbucks, walked up St. George Street, and waited for Janice inside Robarts Library, marvelling at the familiarity. I've missed this campus so much. Yet as I sat by the first floor computers, I noticed a curious slip of paper peeking out from under the couch. Leaning over, I gaped in surprise to find a $10 bill.

Free Starbucks drinks? Free money? What!

So Janice and I spent the day studying, eating at a local Thai restaurant, wandering the halls of the Political Science department at Sidney Smith, stopping by the offices of our former professors. It was fantastic to be back, even if it was just for a few hours. I can't even explain how happy I was to see my old department. I spent four incredible years at UofT, and it was an honour to walk through Sidney Smith's 3rd Floor all over again.

Later that evening, sitting at a local Tim Horton's with Alicia and Mishal, I ordered a medium Hot Chocolate (I only ordered a medium so I could Roll Up The Rim) and one peanut butter cookie. When we reached our table, I opened my cookie package and found that I had been given two large cookies instead. An extra cookie? For free? Why? I never get anything for free!

Free Starbucks drinks? Free money? Free cookies? What!

Okay, so the free stuff was awesome. I'll admit it. Especially the free cookies. But beyond all the free stuff, I'm just so glad I had the chance to see my old department again. To wander the halls of my former buildings. To wander the city I love. To take in the familiarity of places I spent four years of my undergraduate experience in. And last but not least, I'm so glad I had the chance to spend parts of my week with friends. With family. With family friends. To drive around my beloved little suburb.

If there's anything Reading Week has taught me (other than the fact that I really enjoy free stuff! Woot!), it's the realization that wherever I'll be next year for law school, I'll miss home terribly. I'm almost certain that I'll be leaving the country in September, leaving home for three years. The thought boggles my mind.

Home is where your heart will always be, friends. Let's all enjoy and appreciate the time we have at home during our visits. The time flies by too fast.

"Home is a place not only of strong affections, but of entire unreserve; it is life's undress rehearsal, its backroom, its dressing room."- Harriet Beecher Stowe

“Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave,
and grow old wanting to get back to.”

- John Ed Pearce

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Happy Reading Week (or Spring Break), Everyone!

It's finally Reading Week. Finally. Finally. I leave Kingston tomorrow on a bus bound for Toronto, and I can't wait to come home and see everyone. Plus, it's Family Day weekend, so I'm sure my parents have a number of activities planned for us when I get back. And let's not forget the important part: I'll finally have the chance to gobble down some of my mother's cooking. Yum. Home-cooked meals. I've missed you!

Ah, home. I haven't been back since Christmas break, and I have to admit that, as much as I love Kingston, I've had several bouts of homesickness in the last couple of months. I can't wait to come home, I'm so, so excited.

Side Note: The picture above is misleading. No, I'm not going to Cuba. Or Mexico. Or anything quite that exciting. Because for Reading Week, I'll... actually be reading. Friends, I have so much to do over the break. It definitely won't be a holiday, to say the least. For instance, I'm not looking forward to lugging home 50 student essays to mark on top of all my work.

And so, for Reading Week, I foresee myself spending hours at UofT's Robarts Library next week to get some work done and to, let's face it, pretend I'm a UofT student again. Because I'm a nerd like that. And I miss it.

However, despite that miserable stack of work I'll be taking home, I'm still excited. Because I'm coming home! Home! Home for 11 days! No amount of work can take away this excitement!

I wish all of you a safe and wonderful Reading Week! Have lots of fun for me!

"Life is a ticket to the greatest show on earth."
- Martin H. Fischer

"Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity."
- Henry Van Dyke

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Day I Got Into Law School

Yesterday started off like an ordinary day. Our students have a major essay due tomorrow, so I expected a whole slew of students to drop by my office hours yesterday morning. What possessed me to hold office hours at 9:00 am? Really? And indeed, my students did show up at that hour. It was pre-essay deadline mayhem, actually.

I wasn't expecting it to be a remarkable day. I was really tired. Exhausted. Sleep deprived. I had a presentation for Elections that I was writing and, honestly, I was counting down the days until I would leave Kingston for Reading Week. And yet, just like the old saying goes, when you least expect it, something remarkable does happen. Clutching my thermos full of caffeinated Chocolate Chili Chai tea (it sounds gross, but it really isn't), I flipped open my laptop, logged into my email, and paused in stunned silence.

I found an email with the subject line "(University Name) Offer Letter."

What. What. What. What.

I think I actually stopped breathing for a moment.

Cautiously, I opened the email, and the feeling that came after reading the first two paragraphs was indescribable. When you have worked towards something for almost a decade, when you have dreamed of a certain moment since you were twelve years old, when you decisively wrote in your eighth grade yearbook that you wanted to go to law school, the feeling of achieving that goal years and years later is initially one of numbing shock. And then absolute, utter delight. The kind of delight you feel when something so seemingly out of reach suddenly becomes yours. Twenty four hours later, I still can't describe it. All I know is that I was so incredibly happy.

Grabbing my keys, I rushed to Dianne's office, cautiously opened her door, and, stunned, I blurted out the words, "I got into law school." In absolute delight, we jumped up and down in her office for more than a few minutes. I absolutely could not believe it. Side Note: it was, of course, also the moment that my student arrived (very) early for her appointment and witnessed me giggling like a fool. Ah well.

The rest of the day was a blur. And just when I thought the day could not get better, I checked my email again that afternoon. And, lo and behold, I found a second Offer of Admission to yet another school of choice in the United States. I couldn't believe it. Another school I thought was so out of reach for me wasn't as unattainable as I believed it would be.

Twenty four hours later, I'm still in shock. After spending the last five hours at the QP celebrating, I'm now sitting here applying to the last two law schools on my list. I'm so excited that I can't concentrate on anything else. It's been such a fabulous week full of more surprises than I could have imagined.

Good things happen when we least expect it, yea? I began the week exhausted. Really, I was in a crummy crummy crummy mood. I thought Reading Week would never come. And yet, two days later, I'm elated. As grad students, we tend to get into a routine that leaves us exhausted, defeated, uncertain about the work we are doing. Let this blog post serve to encourage all of us that great surprises and opportunities are waiting for us just around the corner. So take heart!

I think we all have dreams of some sort. We may not all know what we want as a career, but I think we would all agree that we want to be happy with whatever we choose to do. As I went through middle school, high school, and university, I always knew what career would make me happy. Lawyers get a bad rep, but I don't have any doubts that this is something I would love to do for the rest of my life. I've watched and volunteered for enough lawyers to know that it's a job I want to have. I love the work, I love the reading, I love everything about it. And yet, the only obstacle always in my way was the extremely competitive process to enter law school. Last year, I'll admit that I was devastated when I wasn't accepted into the school of my choice. And yet, in the last two days, something that seemed so unattainable was suddenly handed to me.

For the rest of my life, I will never forget the day I got into law school. I've always thought about the moment when I would receive an acceptance letter. And it finally happened. I have no doubt that yesterday was a day that changed my life. Law school is still months away and there are still decisions to be made. And yet I can't wait for all of it to start!

And so, learning a lesson from my own uncertainties, I wish you, dear readers, all the best with finding and attaining that career, job, or program that will make you happy. Things may seem uncertain right now, but you never know what surprises are waiting for you around the corner. Let this blog post encourage all of you to pursue the career or program you want to get involved with. You are all capable of greatness. Of doing wonderful things for the country and the world we live in. And I have absolute faith in all of you.

"Some of the world's greatest feats were accomplished by people not smart enough to know they were impossible."
- Doug Larson

"We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love."
- Mother Teresa

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Confessions of a Former History Student: A Lecture By Norm Finklestein

I've been neglecting this blog the last two weeks. And I'm sorry, dear friends. Truthfully, I've been swamped. Ever have those weeks where you feel like you need more hours in the day to complete everything you need to do? That's the thing. I have too much to do. And come this Thursday, I'll have stacks of essays to mark on top of all my work.

Boo. I need sleep. And perhaps a day off.

But, my friends. Despite this bleak introduction to a long-overdue blog post, I have some news that has the history fanatic in me hopping around in excitement.

It all started this morning. I rolled out of bed at 5:30 am, sighing over the fact that I would be in class from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm today. And so, exhausted, I walked to school. And I trudged up the stairs of Mackintosh-Corry Hall, wondering blearily whether I should have eaten more for breakfast. The most important meal of the day, you know? I went through class, walked to my next class, the usual.

Until, of course, I walked down the hall to purchase a snack. And I noticed a poster hanging by the 3rd floor hallway. Walking by, I did a double take.

The poster announced a lecture being given next week, February 15, at an auditorium on campus. The speaker? Norman Finklestein.

Oh. my. gosh. Be still my beating academic heart.

Friends, at that moment, I completely forgot about my exhaustion and stress. Norman Finklestein is coming to Kingston?!? Wow. I cannot believe I get to hear him lecture. I can't even begin to explain my excitement. Really, to put it bluntly, it's that can't-control-my-bladder excitement. You know what I mean.

Now, I know how unpopular Norman Finklestein is. The controversy? It isn't pretty. For a brief overview on who Norm Finklestein is, click here. Essentially, Finklestein is known in most circles as a major critic of what he calls the "Holocaust industry." In his book, he accuses the industry of manipulating the memory of the Holocaust for financial gain. He also believes that constant discussion of the Holocaust does nothing but promote a biased agenda based on Israeli interests.

Now, in my former life as an undergraduate student, my second major (aside from Political Science) was History. And I loved it. A few years ago, while taking Doris Bergen's phenomenal course on the history of the Holocaust at UofT, I decided to write a paper on Holocaust retribution efforts. It was here that I stumbled across Finklestein's well-known book The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering. It's an extremely controversial book and has been the subject of extensive criticism. But it was also an extremely interesting read, and I remember spending months researching that topic, specifically looking at a lot of Finklestein's other work. It's absolutely fascinating from an academic perspective. To this day, that paper is still one of my favourite undergraduate projects.

Since his publication, Finklestein has been denied tenure at DePaul University, criticized extensively, denied entry into Israel, and received numerous death threats. He's an interesting academic. Controversial content but also a great speaker. Ingredients for an interesting lecture, yes?

Despite his controversial work and stance, I'm still pretty excited to see him lecture next week for the sheer interest of watching and listening to an academic I've had to read and study about extensively. As I said, I absolutely loved Doris Bergen's Holocaust course at UofT and, truthfully, I miss taking history courses. This will be such a refreshing change from my usual classes!

Have nothing to do on Tuesday, February 15? Check this event out!

WHO: Dr. Norm Finklestein
PRESENTING ON: Israel and Palestine: Past, Present and Future
WHERE: Queen's University - Etherington Auditorium
WHEN: February 15, 7:30 pm
COST: $10.00 with your Student ID (I can give up my Starbucks fix next week for this)

“In all things it is better to hope than to despair.”
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

"Life can be wildly tragic at times, and I've had my share. But whatever happens to you, you have to keep a slightly comic attitude. In the final analysis, you must not forget to laugh."
- Katharine Hepburn