In the swing of things

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything, but I wanted to get back in the swing of things.

Part of me views the past year almost as a break from the academic life because I was very much removed from it – living in Vietnam and working at SRD gave me the opportunity to take a step back and evaluate where I was and where I want to be and I found that I’m very happy with where I am and how things are going.  Vietnam has also taught me to learn how to go with the flow and take things as they come rather than try to control my surroundings which has proven quite useful.

Last week I made the big move to Toronto and started getting everything together for my Masters program and to work as a Teaching Assistant. So far I’ve found that the University of Toronto and the University of Waterloo are quite different (at least in my experience), my undergraduate degree offered the benefit of really small classes and I found that I was part of an absolutely incredible group of classmates and friends. Arriving at UofT, I’ve found that a lot of the class sizes are larger, the interests of people within my program are quite varied as are everyone’s backgrounds, so its become interesting to get to know my classmates and to see where I fit in within the group.

I came into the MA program wanting to do a thesis project rather than a research paper, but following conversations with my advisor, it seems that the research paper option is more highly recommended as it provides more experience and exposure with different professors. So it looks like that is what I will be doing. I’m still in the middle of choosing courses as it’s really difficult to get into courses from other faculties so I still have some hoops to jump through.

I’ve also found that my knowledge in certain areas seems to be lacking, so I’m trying to put together a reading list of different books and articles related to my interests and to research methods in general that will help me better understand navigate through the assigned readings for class.

Anyway, in the next while you can expect me to continue to comment on current events and news that I find fascinating and relevant as well as for me to brainstorm on some of the information and readings that I come across as I continue my studies.

If you have any suggestions for readings please feel free to mention them in the comments section, I’d love to discuss them with you.

 

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September

I’m the midst of applying for Teacher’s Assistant positions for next year, which I find really exciting. 

But how do you pick which ones you would be a good match for? I’ve had some great TAs throughout my undergraduate degree, and some not so great ones. I want to be a great TA – I want to connect with students and be approachable, I want to know enough about the subject to be able to give good advice. How do I pick a class and professor that will help me accomplish this? It’s pretty intimidating to write down this list of potential courses that I’d love to work with and hope to hear back from some of them. 

Any advice? On picking courses, choosing hours, and managing all of it?

Finding routine

I’ve been back in Timmins, Ontario for exactly six weeks now. I’ve visited family, enjoyed the great outdoors (including an unexpected snowstorm), spent many more hours than I’d hope on buses, and got back in the swing of a new job. I’ve graduated, said hello and goodbye to a great number of friends, begun an apartment hunt, and started to reflect on what the next year (or more) will bring.

The one thing about travelling that I think I had forgotten is how much it makes you appreciate home, makes you appreciate the familiar. And my familiar is different from that of many people. My familiar is hours on a highway surrounded by nothing but trees and the occasional lake or moose. There’s something beautiful and calming about forests, something I had forgotten or pushed from memory while living in the bustling craziness of Hanoi. I love the North, it’s beautiful, its refreshing – its home.

Despite all this, I’m still excited for another change – to experience Toronto, to begin writing and researching and to get back into the swing of academic life. I’m excited to be physically closer to a lot of my friends (as not many live in or return to the North anymore), and I’m excited to be challenged again.

My work has definitely kept me busy and as it’s a new position, it has also enabled me to learn a lot more about finances, credit, and access to funds. This summer has been like a waiting period – a time in between. I’m done a degree but not yet done being a student, I’m home, but not really home. I feel like I’m on the precipice of change when most of the people around me are finding some degree of permanence and I’m still surrounded by uncertainty. I guess that it would be uncomfortable to many people to have so much uncertainty in their lives, but I almost find it soothing. It’s soothing to know that my life is still changing, its soothing to know that things will continue to change as long as I like, and its soothing to know that challenge and adventure are still (and will continue to be) a major part of my life.

Over the next few weeks, I’m hoping to share some preliminary research and readings that I want to incorporate into my studies for next year as well as any preparatory work I do for the University of Toronto. I’m  looking to access as much information as possible about Belgium as a colonial power and Rwanda, Burundi, and DRC pre and during colonial time.  I’d also like to access any legitimate information regarding current laws and attitudes on domestic abuse.

I’m finding my routine and seeing where I fit in for the next few months – then the cycle will start all over again.

Observations from Toronto

I spent this past weekend in Toronto and I had a few observations that I thought might be interesting to share..

Observation 1

One of the first places I went to was the World’s Biggest Bookstore; I love it there, I would go there everyday if it was feasible and wouldn’t destroy my bank account. I’ve been going there at least once a year for a pretty long time, at least 5 years now and my favourite section has undergone a few changes. If you go upstairs and head to the side wall there used to be a tiny section on international politics and international relations. You used to be able to hunt through a few books to try to find one that you hopefully hadn’t already read. Everything in that section used to be fairly similar, my bookcase at home can attest to that.. There would mainly be some books on HIV/AIDS, a few on democracy, maybe one or two on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Now when you walk up those stairs and head to the side of the room there is an entire wall dedicated to international politics, the books fall into a wide range of topics, and new books are brought in weekly. I find it incredible how much interest and expertise has expanded on these topics, but I also find it disheartening how so many of the books are written too quickly to include the necessary background research to get a full grasp and thorough perspective on the topic of choice. What is also interesting is how the topics have expanded, the books have moved beyond looking at the western world as the ‘ideal model of development’ and have started to look for a wide variety of definitions of development and methods of achieving it. It’s moved past what we used to view development as and has almost made it undefinable. It’s looking at food politics, international governance, equality, access, education, health, and assessing each topic as an equal aspect. It’s brought ‘development’ into a multi-disciplinary, interwoven topic, which is where I think it should have been from the beginning..

Observation 2

In the past few years I’ve started to frequent the cultural studies section on the upper floor of the World’s Biggest Bookstore as well. This section includes anthropology, gender issues, aboriginal authors, and numerous other interesting topics, just last year each of these topics had their own mini section in the larger cultural studies section. This year gender studies had somehow disappeared from its home in cultural studies and has moved into a new section on ‘controversial knowledge’. What does that even mean? I view it as a smaller statement that gender issues isn’t considered common knowledge or always appropriate for ‘polite conversation’ as people have told me.. This scares me. It scares me that ideas that over half our population are influenced by, or experience can be considered controversial. Is it controversial that women have different experiences than men? No. Is it controversial that female authors share those experiences? Maybe, but it depends on who you ask.

Observation 3

For supper on Saturday night we decided to go to O’Noir, a restaurant where you eat in the dark. This experience is meant to demonstrate a very small part of how life is different for the blind. I simultaneously loved and was terrified by the experience. As most of you know, I’m a bit of a control freak. I like to control every aspect of my own life and know everything I’m doing well in advance. So this was difficult for me. It was hard to be in a room where I don’t know where I am, who else is in the room, where I’m sitting relative to others, or to guess that I’ve successfully put food on my fork. And to be honest, I probably had at least 20 forkfuls of air.

But, this really made me think about how much I take being able to see for granted. Everything that I experience is based on a combination of my sense and without access to one, everything changes. Many people in the room were talking much louder than normal to overcompensate for not being able to see (which scared me too). But I could smell my food more, smaller portions felt larger, it was delicious.

It was also a great experience to put myself out of my comfort zone again, like a test run for next year, and it was interesting to see how I adapted. As a people watcher, I couldn’t observe those around me, but instead I could listen and focus on the meaning of their words, I could imagine what people were doing. As someone who loves to cook, I couldn’t focus on the presentation or look at what I was eating, but I could really taste it and experience it in a different way.