Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Prozor-Rama Jezero

A couple of weeks ago I went with Hilary and Isabelle to a monastery about 80 kilometers from here. A day out of town...$0. A few hours in a springtime paradise...priceless.




Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Whole New Written World

Although it's been temporarily put on hold due to exams, I've officially begun studying Arabic. I don't want to repeat the experience of living in a country without a functional knowledge of its local language, and I know my procrastinating self well enough to force myself not to waste time! In fact, my only purchase during the Candidate Weekend in Abu Dhabi was an instruction book; Doug from Yuma and I spent a few minutes looking at them in the bookshop at Marina Mall and then, very optimistically, bought them in an "I will if you do" kind of agreement. I figured I should make a start now while I'm near some native speakers who can correct me, and it's fun but challenging. I can already glimpse the beauty and subtlety possible in the Arabic language, and its a bit sad to know that I will never be able to grasp the language in all its complexity.

But the boundaries of my knowledge are still light-years away. At this point, the letters still look like smiley faces and my handwriting like a kindergartner's. Several weeks ago, I Stumbled Upon a site giving instructions for writing one's name in Elvish, and in a burst of dorkiness decided to write my sister a whole letter in LOTR language. At least writing the characters is good practice for Arabic, right?

Hilary and I made rice for dinner and somehow started trying to manipulate our chopsticks with our left hands. Call me crazy, but throughout this year I've resorted to taking notes with my left hand in lessons I find boring so that I have to concentrate more...and focus on the long-term goal of becoming ambidextrous. It's said that left-handed people pick up skills such as artistic techniques more easily than their right-handed counterparts due to the fact that the left side of the body is controlled by the right brain, which controls more creative creative functions than the logical left hemisphere. I think there's something to that, because a greater than expected proportion of people in most art classes I've seen as well as in UWC are left-handed. Two tests I've taken have told me that I'm naturally a left-handed person who was just instructed to use the right hand and adapted. That may be true, but I can feel the creativity I had as a child seeping away. The processes of seed germination do not inspire any poetry in me, and lately even my dreams have moved away from mythical towns to very logical, banal sequences of conversations and exams. And by this, I am completely convinced that it's time for IB and even UWC to be over...it can take my sleep, my health, even my sanity, but my subconscious?! That's over the line.

Monday, April 26, 2010

IB Alternatives

Like many IB students, thoughts of impending exams have made me consider what I might do with my life in the eventuality that...well, that my brain goes flying out the window of the exam room and my diploma with it. Cooking school has been one alternative since after two years in student residences I can make a wicked cake with nearly any ingredients and any cooking contraption known to man. I may have to knock "psychiatrist on the first mission to Mars" off the list, but I'm keeping the childhood fantasies of bookseller and zookeeper just in case. And, today, I had some affirmation that there's one eventual career I seem made for...teaching. Barbara agreed to let me take over first year English for the day so I could give them my perspective and review myself for the exams I'll sit next week. According to my firsties, it was a great success, and according to our two professional professors, I'm destined to end up teaching at some point although I should do it periodically throughout my life so as not to lose the initial enthusiasm. To be honest, I've suspected that for a while and am just trying to avoid academia as long as possible.
It's true, I enjoy being in authoritative positions immensely...maybe too much judging by the memories of playing "school" with Becca as a child but always being the teacher and always giving her real lessons and homework! It could be a good career for me...I get to tell people what to do, be recognized as intelligent, possibly travel if I'd stay with the global IB network and possibility of sabbaticals in the equation...all in all good for my ego and my imagination, if not for my wallet. Oh, yeah, and hopefully practice my patience, be innovative, and contribute something to society. In any case, it's back to the real of lowly unqualified student for now...no more power trips until I pass my math exam!!!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Surreal

Today was like a Salvador Dali painting...breaks in the routine, strange conversations, dead silence where there's usually chaos, the hint of a storm, and a headache. Last night, Ingrid and I were walking back from a concert at Pink and in a fit of spontaneity walked down 2 streets we'd never explored and sampled 2 new bakeries. My first year has a very elaborate plan for a utopian society, and we spent the better part of an hour tossing it around and thinking about possible pitfalls and eventualities. It was fun, and it makes me wonder what people with much greater intelligence than ours toss about amongst themselves. Since that concert I think everyone's been a bit off somehow. But sometimes you just have to have those days.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Life is "Beautiful"


May 2009
April 2010
Okay, okay...so some things never change, namely the wackiness of UWC students. And yet, despite the fact that I told Andy something to the contrary, I got a little nostalgic today planning our thank-you desert social for the faculty, studying Biology over drinks at the same cafe where I spent exam time with my second year Georg last April, and watching Shaked celebrate her birthday and be amazed by all that has happened in the past year...Sometimes it seems like enough for a lifetime. For myself, these two years have brought a countless number of experiences for which I am more deeply grateful than my over-worked mind can express in words. I didn't do very many things I regret, but there are too many people I wish I'd spent more time having serious relationships with and some assignments I wish I'd ignored. This evening, Yuly and Niv staged a cozy surprise party in the basement complete with food and a movie projector. Since we've long since worked through all of the comedies we own, we settled on watching La Vita E Bella. I never though I'd see a "comedy" about a concentration camp, but then again, life is often bittersweet. In any case, on days like this it's easy to believe...life is beautiful.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Sustainable Sustainability

There are lots of names in the news, but this week one has a personal connection to UWCiM. Thuli Makama, the sister of my coyear Mfundi from Swaziland, was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in San Francisco this week. It's the equivalent of a Nobel Prize in the environmental world, and after several years of work even under personal and political threat she deserves recognition! For several years now, game parks in Swaziland have been responsible for enforcing laws against poaching and have been accused of doing so by brutally executing suspected poachers who may be innocent or be local people hunting only for survival. In an age of growing environmentalism, it's essential to look for comprehensive measures rather than simple or biased solutions. Although her work is not directly environmental, she has encouraged African policymakers to consider the needs and safety of local people when making enforcing environmental laws, and that will hopefully go a long way toward making sustainability efforts more...well, sustainable! Check out BBC's coverage of the award and watch a short video about Thuli's work to learn more.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sex in THAT City?

If you've been to the movies recently, you may have seen the trailer for the Sex and the City sequel to be released next month and noticed that Carrie and the gang are making the Middle East their getaway! An interesting choice considering the reputation the region has for dealing with the raunchy, but then again, it's only Hollywood. Although the fashionistas are supposedly vacationing in Abu Dhabi, from everything I've read the set was located in Morocco. And although I doubt I'll convince any die-hard fans, after seeing the trailer I can tell you NO, Abu Dhabi doesn't look like that...it's way more real and waaay better.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

UWCiM Take 5

Last week, our headmaster formally announced that we will have a fifth, albeit even smaller, generation of UWCiM students. This comes after another long and somewhat hidden debate over what the purpose of the school is, how it should be run, and who does/should benefit from it. As anyone who knows a UWCer can tell you, the program is by its nature demanding in every possible sense of the word, and that makes it difficult to build and maintain connections outside of the UWC "bubble." In more practical terms, although we're located in the middle of a town, it's difficult to learn the language, learn local customs, make an unbiased judgment about that wet-hair superstition, etc. While I'm of course thrilled that my firsties won't be walking the halls alone next year, I also see the perpetual struggles for existence that we seem to face as a challenge to think about what we could be doing better. With a new headteacher (congratulations physics professor Valentina Mindolevic!) and many new teachers as well as students, there will be changes. Here's hoping that they are positive and lead to an even more effective, more purposeful, wiser UWCiM than ever before!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

New York University Abu Dhabi

It's been in the news and in the making for nearly 5 years...is it a depository for oil money, a government pawn, a trophy for NYU's Manhattan campus, a Middle Eastern travel sponsor targeting unsuspecting students? I was prepared to believe any of the above, so it was a surprise akin to (if you'll allow me to be a bit irreverent) something between religious conversion and falling in love when I went to the March Candidate Weekend and was completely converted to a cause I see as anything but pointless and pretentious.

In astonishing ways, things fell into place. I expected to feel bribed during the elaborate and all-expenses paid selection weekend, but bizarre as it sounds, it was more like a courtship through a series of conversations. But first the basics: NYUAD is created to be a relatively small research university offering the same top-tier liberal arts and sciences degree as their Manhattan campus. More than that, it's toting itself "the world's Honors College," pulling the best students and faculty from many dozens of countries and nearly every continent. And even more than that, it has a vision of examining what the world will look like in the next couple of centuries in the context of various theories of cosmopolitanism, globalization, and cultural identity in hopes that students will be non-traditional leaders carrying civilization into the most ideal and sustainable future possible. And that's just innately exciting. This inaugural class consists of just over 100 students and about 40 faculty on a temporary downtown campus (permanent facilities are scheduled to open on Saadiyat Island in 2014, so you can imagine what a close-knit community it will be. It was glimpses of this network which blew me away, and what impresses me most is the extent to which personal sacrifices have already been made for this project. I didn't expect President John Sexton's legendary charisma and enthusiasm, nor the potential professors' candor in describing why they've decided to leave jobs at the world's top universities for this crazy endeavor, nor that chatting with Dean of Students Jim Larimore and other staff about living in Abu Dhabi would be so cathartic. From what I have seen, they certainly have the means to turn their idealism into reality.

It's also interesting to note that such enthusiasm hasn't always been present. There has been a fascinating evolution of opinion about the project as evidenced articles from several years ago full of cynicism and doubt to applause from organizations like the Human Rights Watch and an academic world which is supposedly calling involvement in this first generation a "less than a once in a lifetime experience." It's true, there is an undeniable aura of possibility pervading Abu Dhabi. For one thing, unlike in Dubai, the government prides itself upon it's long-term plans for economic and environmental sustainability, and with projects like the Cleveland Clinic's new facilities and the zero carbon emissions city of Masdar in the making, the future looks promising. It's an exciting time to be in such a truly cosmopolitan city where something unique is always happening (camel races, concerts on the Corniche, or sandboarding, anyone?), and the people are so diverse that on the beach I saw abayas, bikinis, and everything in between.

I am by nature I person who overanalyzes every aspect of every experience, struggles with decisions, and always second guesses even the ones I'm satisfied with. And yet, here I have no doubts. I have rarely been as sure of anything as I am that becoming part of NYUAD  is worthwhile. It was not even on my radar until recently, and the option sort of fell into my arms since I only applied after being nominated here at UWCiM. But it fits on so many levels that I can't deny the connection...not to mention that it gives me a chance to make use of the fact that UWC is such a similar community by drawing upon my experiences here. And then there are the full scholarship, study abroad, research, and other intrinsic benefits of being at a university like NYU!  It is a sacrifice in some ways, since I won't be serving with City Year in Cleveland as planned and will be away from my family for much of these four years, but I can't think of a better place to add another dimension to my identity. There are many more aspects of the city, the university, and the decision that promise to keep me on an intellectual and emotional high for quite a while...ask me and you'll have real difficulty getting me to shut up! I figured I'd start with this post in order to fill in those of you back in the States who haven't had more than pieces of the story until now and to hopefully start some conversations about what promises to be historic and, for the vast majority of people involved, life-changing.

By the time I got the offer of admission (and finished leaping around in circles and screaming in the park with Shaked), I was already at peace with the decision. About the only thing that would have changed my mind would have been getting struck by lightening on the way to the post office. I wasn't, so as of today the card is signed, sealed, and sent off. The commitment is made. I'm moving to the Middle East and couldn't be more thrilled...but I'm gonna need a new name for the blog.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Scrabble FAIL

Mattel has officially announced that proper nouns will be allowed in its new version of Scrabble. As a lover of change, I would say that the game's 60-year sameness streak calls for a little variety, but I would be thinking more of a 21st century color scheme or maybe some fun foam letter tiles. You can call it intellectual arrogance, but I pride myself on the ability to distinguish a common nouns from proper ones and to let Scrabble showcase an understanding of the breadth and nuances of the English language. Letting "Beyonce" and "Shakira" onto the board may boost Mattel's profits and bring a wider range of players onto the Scrabble scene, but I can see it having one of the following personal consequences. 1) It's an embarrassing showcase of my occasional apathy towards pop culture. or 2) It fosters a generational gap in which a competition between my mother and I becomes a contest determined by whether the names of the Monkees or the Backstreet Boys will wrack up more points. Either way, I think I'm gonna have to go with the traditionalists in condemning this one.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Pop Culture Paranoia

Today I went to Tuš, Mostar's largest supermarket, and as I did my shopping I realized with some consternation that I have every last song they played over the intercom on my iPod. Now I'm not sure whether this indicates that Tuš has an impressively appealing repertoire, or that my tastes have been relegated to the elevator and grocery store variety. I'm hoping for the former, because although the eclectic environment of a UWC provides a great excuse for being slightly out of tune with pop culture, I don't think I'm THAT far out of touch!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Međugorje

Inspired by the nice weather and Easter holiday, Tobi, Evers, and I decided to take go to Međugorje for the day. The town might have a claim as the most famous in BiH...it certainly is among Catholics, who claim it as a holy site where the Holy Mother has repeatedly appeared. There isn't a great deal to be sign aside from this, the tourists, and the vineyards, but the Herzegovinan countryside is a lovely place to soak in the Spring. In English class, we've been studying Flannery O'Conner's portrayal of the grotesque in her short stories, and although I wouldn't describe this day quite so strongly, it was full of the unexpected.
Evers and I first struck out to catch the bus at the Cathedral, but it turns out we were waiting at the monastery, so after I bought a couple of postcards, the shop-owner in the background of this picture gave us a ride. Tobi had caught the earlier bus, which it turns out made him about 12 hours early for Mass.













Leaving Mostar behind....

...the last signs of winter and the first signs of spring
















In Medugorje, we had lunch with our friend Luka's family and to make sure we keep our intellectual skills up during the break we played a little MarioKart. It was Evers' first time playing a video game but I think she still hit me with more mushrooms than I threw. After a walk up to the family vineyard...













...we decided to pay our professor, who lives in a room rented from our librarian's mother, an unannounced visit. He was just arriving home, but in true Bosnian fashion we were still introduced to his neighbors and offered the customary homemade orah rakija, made from walnuts. (As a side note, it was only about 3pm but according to the local timetable, anywhere closer to dinner time than to sunrise seems a perfectly acceptable hour for a drink. When Tobi and I had both had a shot of the whiskey and a bit of white wine, we declined refills and were met with, "Hah. I win, then." And thus, we lost a drinking contest we didn't know we'd entered. How's that for grotesque?) Professor Boulting's neighbors are friendly couple with a sweet dog and a lovely garden! She moved from London two years ago, and he makes rosaries and jewellrey out of stone from the apparition hill. I'm still a bit in awe of these little international connections that keep popping up, but it gives the wide world a much more comfortable feeling. As further evidence, more than one person has already promised to try to put me in touch with  former students and friends in Abu Dhabi! After the Mass, he met us at the bus stop to send us on our way.  Maybe we're extrapolating too much, but Tobi pointed out that that sort of beyond-the-call of duty hospitality seems to be more characteristic of his generation (the ones that were coming down from Oxford and Cambridge in the early '60s). One of my favorite things about this region is that even towards the foreigners who can't pronounce "hvala" to save their lives, it's still very much a way of life. And that's no April Fool's joke.