30 April 2009

Dear parents, friends, and assorted family members (as well as anyone else who actually happens to read this),

Do refrain from catching the swine flu, please. Not only would it be most inconvenient to you, but it would prove to be a bit worrisome for me, and, quite frankly, I do not needed the added stress at exam-time.

Looking out for your (and her) best interests,


29 April 2009

As usual, the past few days have been filled with revisions, running, attempting to start grad school applications, and avoiding Tristan's phone calls. (As for this last point, I am eager to see how long it takes him to figure out a new way to get a hold of me.) It was quite nice out today, so I got dressed up (which is something I rarely do here in Edinburgh due to the wind) and ran some errands in and around George Square. This mainly consisted of returning books to the library, getting out new books for more revising, picking up my honours essays from the History undergraduate office at WRB, and getting information on the MPhil International Relations from the postgrad office at the Chrystal MacMillan building. My essay grades were a bit disappointing, especially for me, and so I returned back to Warrender Park Road in relatively low spirits. (Don't fear: the grades were not bad. The British grading system is much harder than the US's and, as they freely admit, A's are not handed out on a frequent basis. Had I been in the US, these papers would have been A quality work. In the UK, they are B's and, therefore, most disappointing. :( )

In order to boost my spirits, Kelly (who lives in the flat underneath mine) and I bought a 4-pack of Strongbow and sat in the Meadows drinking and talking. In the end, it was a nice afternoon.

Plan for the rest of the week:'
Thurs: Revisions for Blessed Union, last training run for 10k, Beltane Fire Festival at Calton Hill!
Fri: Revisions, walk course for 10k
Sat: Revisions, stretching, light jog
Sun: Great Run Edinburgh 10k race (and then post-race recovery)

26 April 2009

Pleasant Things in Life:
1. The weather is absolutely lovely.
2. The climb up to Arthur's Seat yesterday was dry and relatively uncrowded, meaning that I could be alone with my thoughts. Exactly what I wanted.
3. Getting high marks on my workshop assignment for Intro to Medieval Europe and overall for my tutorial for the same class.
4. Running

Annoying Things in Life:
1. The fresher boys in flat 25 (the basement) who play their music during the day at levels that would make dance clubs jealous. Unfortunately, this makes it hard for the rest of us who happen to live at WPR to engage in such important activities as revising, sleeping, or even thinking.
2. The fact that at 9:30AM (one hour after the main library has opened), there are hardly any single desks available anywhere in the library. My beloved second floor reference section (I tend to sit next to the 'Popular Slang' and Catalan dictionaries) is almost always completely full at this point, meaning that I have to trek up to the fourth floor. (I don't really believe that there is a fifth or sixth floor despite the fact that I have been told that they do exist.)
3. The 10-book limit for undergraduates at the library. What if I have to take out more than 10 (as I currently need to do)? It's not as if I am going to be able to read my books in the library, as there are no seats. Ugh.
4. The hospital in Edinburgh, which told me today that my chest pains are being caused by stress. I was aware of this, but I had hoped that by actually seeking medical attention I would, well, get it. They weren't having this, though, and so I left empty-handed save for the instructions to 'de-stress, have some fun, and sleep'. As I made perfectly clear to them, it is exam time. De-stressing is not an option. Fun...a bit more viable. Sleep...not at all (save for the three hours that I get each night).

Contrary to what this seems to suggest, I am not unhappy. Just currently very annoyed. The fact that the music has reached a bed-thumping level makes it rather hard to study (which my mother and father would be most happy to hear considering than I am supposed to be relaxing), but also to read my international relations book (which is what I was going to read in order to relax!) So, I shall attempt to read a bit more about the relations between gender and Lollardy, perhaps read a few pages of the Malleus Malificarum, and then go to bed.

22 April 2009

And so it begins...

Today, I went on my grad school visit to the University of St. Andrews and had the first of my grad school interviews. It was a lovely trip, the only downside of which being the fact that it was also an undergraduate visiting day and I had to contend with masses of 16 and 17 year-olds anxiously trying to figure out if this was 'the one'. Equally anxious were their parents, who had no idea what to expect from the university and kept asking annoying questions about laundry services on campus. I wanted to tell everyone to relax, that it didn't have to be as hard/daunting as they made it out to be. On the other hand, I remember what it was like when I did my undergraduate visits to St. Mary's, UMCP, and Arcadia. It is a ritual that every prospective college student has to go through. I hate to admit it, but as a third year student (so painfully close to being done), I am jaded.

I remember that when I visited St. Mary's it was exceedingly humid and I fell ill less than an hour into the pointless admissions presentations. All I cared was that the dorms were close to the campus center and that there was a movie theatre. Having spent less than three hours on campus, I assured my mother that I would apply and we left (stopping at Al's Gator Shack on the way, which is another story entirely and probably should have been an early indicator as to what my undergraduate career was to become). My requirements in life have changed a bit since then, I'm afraid. Dining hall? Don't care. Housing? Whatever. It doesn't apply when you are a postgraduate, since they can offer you neither. What mattered to me today was: 1) How strongly was St. Andrews' International Relations program ranked?, 2) How did I feel talking to the IR faculty?, 3) How close was the library to the IR building(and what were loan services like)?, 4) Do they have any financial aid at all?, 5) Would I be able to survive in this town for another year (or four, depending on which program I am offered). Sure, I listened to the bit about student societies, but considered it unimportant in the grand scheme of things as I am under the distinct impression that when you enter into postgraduate work any social life ends.

As for my impressions of the town: it is small. Students and staff make up 1/3rd of the 15,000-person population. Still, it is incredibly larger than St. Mary's, which is what I need. Of course, it pales in comparison to Oxford...but as my mother has told me, I need to get over my NEED to get to Oxford and consider the possibility that I might not (probably won't) get in. In answer to the above questions:

1) The International Relations program is ranked relatively highly in the UK. It is not the best, but it certainly isn't the worst either.
2) I met with two members of the IR faculty. Both individuals were immensely helpful, made me feel immediately comfortable within the environment, and actually got me quite excited considering the future. Listening to them describe the field and the various programs offered reinforced my belief that I am making the right decision for my future. I haven't been this excited over school-work in quite some time, so this was a bit of an exhilerating experience for me.
3) The library, despite looking almost exactly like Edinburgh's (which I dislike), is centrally located to the IR building. The IR building itself was opened in 2008 and is purpose-built. I tend to be a bit put-off by modern architecture, but I quite liked this building.
4) Financial aid is...eh. I'd have to search extensively for external scholarships to help fund my studies (and take the rest out in loans...gah). In addition, due to the incredibly poor economic climate, the university is in a financial freeze for the next 2 years, which means that there is little to no chance of an unexpected scholarship coming my way (because, you know, I'm so brilliant).
5) Whether or not I would be able to survive in this town for a year (or four) was one of the most important considerations for me. In truth, it is fairly isolated in that one must take a bus or train to get anywhere. Edinburgh and Glasgow are each an hour away by train. Still, it looks like they have an incredibly active student body. And when I was walking around, I felt...at ease. Not entirely comfortable as I do in Oxford (and increasingly Edinburgh), but content. I think that I could grow to quite like St. Andrews.

I suppose that I will wander over to the Chrystal MacMillan building tomorrow in George Square and schedule a meeting with the Politics & IR department's postgraduate office. They don't do interviews here at Edinburgh, but I would like to discuss the merits of the MSc (research) versus the MPhil (taught) degrees here. I should have gone to Cambridge whilst I had the chance but, unfortunately, did not do so, for obvious reasons. (This reason being that its Cambridge. So what if it has a better IR program than Oxford...I am allowed to be biased!)

Other than that, life is back to normal here. Tomorrow will be divided between the main library and the one at New College. Still, I am quite excited for the Retrospect Launch party tomorrow night.

21 April 2009

So what have I been doing since returning from Oxford? Living in the library. Now, don't laugh! I really have been spending all of my time in the library! Surprising, I know.

Exam time is rapidly approaching. I sit Popular Religion on 13 May and Blessed Union on 14 May, both of which are honours exams and therefore require massive amounts of preparation (or so I keep telling myself). Both classes have 11 weeks of material, of which 8 topics will be on the test. I have to choose 2 essays to answer during the three hour period. Not too tough, but I am determined to get all A's this semester and am going to work my ass off. So far, this has meant spending three or four hours at the library each day. Today was day 4 of revisions for Popular Religion, which meant that I spent four hours reading about the role of churchwardens' and their accounts within the parish community. Absolutely riveting stuff, to be sure. I get a bit of a break tomorrow as I am off to St. Andrews to have my grad school interviews with the International Relations and the Sustainable Development departments at the University.

I received my race number and timing chip for the Bupa Great Run Edinburgh on 3 May. It is going to be intense. I am looking forward to it.

A few pictures for your viewing pleasure:

I learned relatively quickly in Dublin that I would make neither a great viking nor medieval warrior.Karen, Veronica, and I at Far From the Madding Crowd for my 'good riddance' party.

19 April 2009

"Oxford is insidious; it works itself into your heart so subtly that you do not realize what is happening until it is too late, by which time you love the place so much that you do not care that it has managed to entrap you." - Me

Yes, I just quoted myself.

17 April 2009

A horrible thing happened to me today. I am fine; it could have been much worse. However, I think that next year I am going to teach karate classes at St. Mary's to those who want to learn. Self-defense so that others can protect themselves as I did myself today.

That is all I am going to say on that matter. If you want the details, you can email me or ask my parents.

10 April 2009

((Posted on Facebook so that all of my friends now know my intentions for the coming years. This is a big deal to me, as having close friends know my goals ultimately forces me to work harder for fear of failing.))

After much consideration over the past year, I have come up with my final list of graduate schools to which I will be applying. I am a goal-oriented person; without something to work towards, I become listless and frustrated with life. As some of you may have witnessed firsthand in the year or so preceding my application to CMRS Oxford, I tend to become rather fixated on achieving my goals. Therefore, I have decided to make my graduate school intentions public so that everyone will know exactly what I am hoping to achieve and why I am no longer able to carry on a viable social life in the coming months. If I suddenly drop out of contact for a few weeks or fail to emerge from my room for days at a time, this is why.

Perhaps I am setting my sights too high, but I do not care. I have been told repeatedly that I should stop trying, that someone such as myself is not of the caliber required by such institutions. I am aware that I will need to maintain almost perfect grades for the next year in order to push myself from meeting the requirements into the realm of possible acceptance. I am willing to work for this. I will push myself to the limits for this. All I am asking for is your support and understanding when I inevitably have a breakdown sometime in November and try to quit school. (As usual, I will not actually quit school, but I will probably refuse to do any work at all for an entire week and then spend the rest of the semester in various stages of stress-induced panic as I realize exactly how foolish I have been.)

This is where I want to be in two years time. This is my public declaration of intent (if anyone cares). That is all.

1. University of Oxford
Course: MPhil in International Relations (2 years) (or) MSc in Global Governance and Diplomacy (9 months with the expectation of continuing towards DPhil in Development Studies)

2. University of Cambridge
Course: MPhil in International Relations (2 years with the expectation of continuing towards 2 year PhD

3. London School of Economics
Course: MSc in International Relations (11 months)

4. University of St. Andrews
Course: MRes in International Relations (1 year followed by 3 year PhD)

5. John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies
Course: Masters in International Relations, Conflict Resolution concentration (2 years)

6. University of Edinburgh (I apparently get a 10% discount for having studied here...sweet)
Course: MSc in Politics & International Relations (1 year)

(Side note: I am taking both the Foreign Service Officer Test and the GRE in October. Is anyone else taking either test at the same time?)

08 April 2009

Chasing the Years of My Life

1. Classes
2. Pub quiz
3. Bath
4. Dublin
5. Interview

Here is the promised, more extensive update. Really, I hope there is at least one person out there who appreciates this blog, because otherwise I just feel like an egotistical prat writing in it. Oh well.

I registered for my fall 2009 classes last Thursday. I will register once more in my undergraduate career. If I don't manage to make it into graduate school, than this will be the last time in my life. A bit scary, to be honest. Anyways, my schedule is as follows:

1. HIST493: St. Mary's Project (My supervisor is Gail Savage. I suppose that I will meet with her once a week at a time to be determined later. For those who do not know, the St. Mary's Project (SMP) is the senior thesis and the capstone of the undergraduate experience at St. Mary's. It consists of a paper (usually around 60-80 pages) and a public presentation in April.)
2. POSC315: Politics of the Middle East (Bilgin. Monday-Wednesday-Friday 10:40-11:50)
3. POSC318: Politics of Terrorism (Suleiman. Monday-Wednesday-Friday 1:20-2:30)
4. HIST395: Theories and Uses of History (Hall. Monday-Wednesday 2:40-4:30)
5. ANTH357: Archaeological Analysis/Curation (Hurry. Tuesday-Thursday 2:00-3:50. This class promises to be especially interesting, since most of the time I will be working in the archaeological laboratory processing artifacts from Historic. I really hope that we get to wear lab coats.)

Yes, I am overloading in my fall semester. I have to make up for the fact that I could only take three classes at Univ. Edinburgh. Also, I am trying to get into the politics honor society, so I have to take two poli sci classes. Luckily, they seem like they will be useful in my future career. There is a method to my madness, believe me. In the spring, I will have a slightly easier schedule: SMP Semester 2, Biology, and then 8 credits of a Museum Studies internship. Ah...relief.

The day of the boat race (March 29) marked the last time that I will ever attend pub quiz at Far From the Madding Crowd. I was in Dublin last Sunday and, of course, there will be no quiz this Sunday as it is Easter. As a result, we made up for this horrible fact by attending quiz at The Royal Oak last Monday. The Royal Oak is located in North Oxford and has a reputation for being slightly pretentious. Unfortunately, its pub quiz did not live up to my expectations and consisted of more 'pop culture' references than I am used to. Not being familiar with British pop culture outside of the late 70s and 80s (what I had seen on those slightly-dated British comedies shown on PBS), we failed miserably. Indeed, we did not even stay to hear the quiz results announced. It is never a good sign when we have to resort to putting 'Michael Phelps' for more than half the questions.

Last Wednesday, I joined the CMRSers on their trip to Bath. The town was first populated by the Romans, who founded their bathing areas for which the town is so well-known. More recently, it was made famous in the novels of Jane Austen. We enjoyed a brief tour by the venerable Alun Thorton Jones and then were left to our own devices. A few of us went to lunch and then went into a few of the quaint shops situated around the town. At 3, we met up with the rest of the group to take a tour of the Roman Baths, which were quite impressive, considering that they are over 2000 years old. Afterwards, we got tea and scones at a small cafe. The ride home was quite...interesting. There was a major accident on one of the roads leading to Oxford and, as a result, the coach bus had to off-road it on small country roads. On several occasions, the driver had to let the air out of the tires and squeeze past large lorries (trucks). For Karen and I sitting in the very back, it was terrifying to see these large trucks pass centimeters away from us. Indeed, it provided such a spectacle that a few people took pictures and the locals had stepped outside their houses to watch the long stream of cars attempt to make their way past each other on the narrow roads. It was a harrowing experience.

On Friday, I left for Dublin with Veronica. Despite leaving Oxford at 2pm, we didn't actually arrive in Dublin until half 11 due to flight delays. We arrived at the hotel around 1am and were both thoroughly exhausted. The next day (or, rather, the same day), we woke at 8:30 and caught the bus to the city centre. After grabbing a quick lunch and an ample supply of fruit so that we wouldn't have to spend loads of money, Dublin is incredibly expensive, we walked across the city from O'Connell street to St. James' Gate, home of the Guinness Brewery. Now, I love Guinness. I used to hate it, but it has grown on me since coming to the UK. The tour was quite extensive and, at the end of it, we got a free pint. Delicious. We then backtracked and went to Dublinia, an exhibit detailing both the viking and medieval history of Dublin. Since there was a deal if you went to Dublinia and then to Christchurch Cathedral, we went there next. It is quite a small cathedral compared to the ones I've seen in England, but still quite beautiful. Afterwards, we walked around the perimeters of St. Patrick's Cathedral before heading to Anne St to Kehoe's pub, famously frequented by James Joyce. We got a pint of Bulmer's Cider, relaxed, and got dinner at nearby restaurant (13 euro for a salad is ridiculous!) We were absolutely exhausted by this point, so we returned to the hotel and collapsed.

Sunday morning started off early as we checked out of the hotel, caught the bus to O'Connell street and then walked to the Dublin Writer's museum. Unfortunately, it opened at 11 and we arrived at 10, so we sat in the Garden of Remembrance (for the Easter rising of 1916) for an hour watching the ducks and the people. The Writer's museum was interesting but a bit claustrophobic as it was two exhibit rooms with loads of text and an audio tour to listen to. As a result, everyone ended up piling up in front of the display cases. Poor traffic control. Afterwards, we walked down past Trinity College, saw the outside of Oscar Wilde's house, and then went into the National Gallery. Then it was off to Dublin Castle, which actually proved to be my favourite part of the trip. The tour was 50 minutes long and quite interesting. By this time, both Veronica and I were exhausted (and tired of spending money) so we caught the bus to the airport and sat at Starbuck's waiting for our flight to be called. (Note: I don't think that I will ever be able to fly RyanAir ever again. We had terrible landings both in Dublin and at Stansted; so bad, in fact, that I almost had a panic attack during the Stansted landing. It was horrible.)

Overall, Dublin did not live up to my expectations. I have wanted to go to Ireland since I was a small child. As a result, I feel that I thought it would be more...Irish. It was much more European than I thought it would be, which is not necessarily a bad thing, just not what I was expecting. I feel that if I ever go back to Ireland, I will have to go to either a smaller city, or just travel around in order to find what I am looking for. Perhaps I will go back one day. Perhaps not. Such is life.

07 April 2009

A Teaser

I want to be a viking when I grow up.

In my next (real) post, you can look forward to:
1. Pub Quiz at The Royal Oak
2. Trip to Bath
3. Pubbing
4. Dublin
5. News about my internships/interviews