Saturday, September 15, 2007

My Blog 2.0: Blogs up till now in 2007

As promised, here's the second batch of blogs I've moved. From now on, there'll be original postings.

Till next blog,

Raul A. (El Patron)

August 20, 2007

Greetings fellow readers and fans in the blogosphere. For the last three years, I've worked every end of the summer with the International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) at the ever-glorious University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (hail to the orange, hail to the blue!!!!). In that time, I've met students from all over the world, while learning about visas, paperwork, etc. Although I could probably parlay this experience into an alternate career in overseas counseling, I love teacher education too much to do so. However, some of what I've learned may be beneficial to others.

So, without further ado, here's some of what I've learned:

1. Your documents:
  • The entry Visa (the document on your passport) is overrated, so don't obsess so much about it. That's only useful to enter the US. Once you've crossed immigration, other documents kick in. One that's really important once you're in the US is your I-94 - you know, that little piece of paper that they give you while on the airplane that you're trying to fill out in the middle of that turbulence of while watching the awful in-flight movie. Losing that one will screw you up royally, so don't lose track of it. I've seen all the hassles new students have when they lose it. One suggestion is to staple it right next to your entry visa on your passport.
  • When you're at the port of entry, take some time to look carefully at what the immigration officer writes on your I-94. I know it's hard when you're in the middle of the fracas, but those two seconds may come in handy. Make sure those scribblings on your I-94 match what's on your visa and that they don't forget to write anything. Take a few seconds to read it before you leave and if necessary, ask the officer to make all corrections on the spot. That might save you an unnecessary trip to a nearby international airport.
  • If you're single, choosing an F-1 or J-1 visa may not make that much of a difference. If you're married, applying for an F-1 or J-1 visa may make A WHOLE WORLD of difference, not for you, but for YOUR SPOUSE. I can't say much right now, but if you're married, you may want to look into that before applying for school. Your spouse might thank you later.
  • More on the visa type: Think carefully about your needs and future travel plans before applying for an F or J visa. There are some benefits to having either, as well as disadvantages. If possible, check with an overseas studies advisor or consult the international student office at the university you're applying for about what the best one for you would be.
  • If you're planning to be in the US for more than six months, do consider taking up a driver's license from the state you'll be residing in. Yes, some states will allow you to drive with your own, but sometimes that won't be accepted as a valid form of ID. Plus, you don't want to drink and carry your passport... bad idea! What if you can't drive? Well, most states also have a State ID card that resembles a driver's license. It's not that expensive to get, you can use even at airports if you're flying within the continental US and again, if you lose that one, it's only 5-10 dollars to get a duplicate. Getting a new passport, visa and I-94? A little more than that
2. Learning about the environment:
Arriving in a new country is always tough. The US has its very own intricacies and many college campuses are ginormous. Some tips to survive these educational juggernauts:
  • Learn to read maps. US culture is map-oriented (they'll even draw you a map to go to the restroom!), and reading maps is a skill that will serve you well. Get a campus map as soon as you arrive on campus, and make sure to know which way is North (this sounds silly, but going up is not necessarily heading north!). Also, get used to using north, south, east, and west as much as you would use up, down, left, and right. It's not unusual to get directions and folks will tell you, "go north on X street..."
  • Embrace it: You WILL get lost at some point. Just relax and enjoy getting lost on your campus. That's just as inevitable as getting the Ph.D. bug as a master's student or succumbing to the "freshman 15." That will always makes up for crazy anecdotes when you get back home.
  • It's not better or worse, just DIFFERENT. As obvious as it may seem, some people can't get detached of everything they had at home and expect to find equivalents in the US. The sooner you rid yourself of such a notion, the easier it'll be to adapt. Meat cuts won't be the same here as in you country, fruits will look and taste different, just deal with it!
  • Contact your compatriots. It's not uncommon for large universities to have international student associations. Get in touch with them, and do hang out with them. It's actually (in my not-so-humble-after-all opinion) kind of rude not to try to reach out to them at least a few times while you're in school. You'd rather be with other people, fine! But don't be a stranger. Your compatriots are the first line of defense and many are seasoned residents who can give you some nice tips about surviving. Having said that...
  • Don't narrow yourself down. US universities, particularly at the graduate level, are oases of cultural diversity. Never in your life will you meet so many people from so many countries, unless you end up in foreign relations or the U.N. So, enjoy it. and don't spend every second of your day with people too similar to you. You'd be suprised how similar we can be across nationality lines. Have a little bit of fun too. Learn to say "hello" in different languages, even if that's all you know about the language. Greet your Muslim friends wih "Asalaam Alaikum" and you'll find out how much you may understand them when they reply "Alaikum Salaam." Don't just say "cheers" when you can toast by saying, "sante," "saude," "slainte," "prost," etc. Kiss your Argentine friends on the cheek and give two kisses to the Spanish, Austrian, or Lebanese girls. As I said, you'll never meet so many people from so many countries in one place. Don't put it to waste.
  • Go to some of the local events near campus. In fact, try not to spend a lot of time on the campus districts! You'd be surprised how different life looks through the lense of the local folks. Go to local festivals or events on the streets in the downtown areas. Enjoy a free concert by a local band and interact with the townies, they're not bad people!
3. Your English:
  • Try to learn as much as you can before you come here. Don't take for granted that being here alone will improve it. Take courses, read in English, practice, practice, practice before you come here! Although that holds true especially for people in the humanities, folks in engineering can benefit from all the practice.
  • Learn about events for international students. There are conversation tables and groups sponsored by groups and organizations. That's a way to practice in a more relaxed environment.
  • Don't be afraid to speak and use your English. Take risks and talk. Also, don't EVER apologize for your accent or lack of "American" pronunciation. Be proud of your heritage, even when you speak English!
  • No matter how good your English is, get ready to learn all over again. Developing an academic register when you speak and write is a whole different animal and it'll take you time to learn it. Ask your adviser and other professors for help (hint: They too HAD TO LEARN to write and speak academically... remember this, NONE OF YOUR PROFESSORS WAS BORN WITH A PHD. THEY ALL HAD TO GO TO GRAD SCHOOL JUST LIKE YOU, so don't hesitate to ask for help. Unless they're certified jerks, they'll help you get better), as well as more advanced graduate students.
4. Brush up on some skills:
  • Google will be your best buddy ever, so learn to use it effectively.
  • Take some time to learn some typing skills. They'll come in handy when you're writing reports.
  • If you're going to do some social science research, take a listening comprehension course before coming here. Practice transcribing tapes in English. You'll need that skill throughout your degree work.
  • Learn to read on your computer screen. You might get tired at first, but many professors now give you the readings in .pdf format. Plus, that saves trees :).
  • Learn to use Office applications (powerpoint, word, excel). You have no idea how much those skills will come in handy.
That's some of my advice for now. I'll get back to writing more tips as my quest to finish my dissertation continues.
Till my next blog,
Raul A. (El Patron)

The Return of the Blog

Greetings to all my friends and fans on the blogosphere and Facebook. After a long absence from writing, I've decided to reactivate my blog. It's been a while since I've written some lines so I'll indulge for a little bit...

But before I go any further... oh yes, you know what's coming, don't you? It's time for an enhanced...
Gratuitous Update on Isabella & Manuela (well, because they're Isa and Manu, and you're not!)
So my lovely, adorable, and gorgeous nieces turned ONE a month ago (yes, they're 13 months old!) and the family had a nice little shindig for them at my aunt's farm. Pictures galore from the event have flooded my e-mail and I've tried to post them up on Facebook as fast as I can. Progress reports indicate that they're already giving little strides here and there, they can say a few words (notably an obsession with saying hi to everybody they run into!) and they recognize their oddball Tio Raul in pictures. Unfortunately, it seems they have some respiratory problems, and that's freaked me out a little freaked out (God forbid they have their uncle's nose!), so we'll see what happens.
Ok, now that I got that out of my system, on with the blog...
Random thoughts before the end of the summer....
1. "I'll get by with a little help from my friends." - Joe Cocker
Anyone who ever watched "The Wonder Years" probably remembers that song by Joe Cocker. I wanted to start my blog with that line to give a bunch of my close friends a HUGE THANK YOU for your support over the past few months (you know damn well who you are!). I've finally gotten over a huge funk that went on and off all of last year. I won't discuss the causes, but its aftermath has included some time off from the dating game to collect my thoughts together and get all of my life back on track. I got two years left to graduate, so the stakes are increasingly higher. But, make no mistake, if it hadn't been for that "little help from my friends," in the form of friendly advice (Sandra), listening to my rants on facebook and AIM (An, Scott, Aubrey, Yupin), or simply just being there (Aragon, Yovani, Ricardo). it's very unlikely I'd have reached the peace of mind I seem to have found as of late. To all of them, you know damn well that EL PATRON may be down, but never out., and rest assured that when you need me, ANYTIME, ANYWHERE, I'll answer the call when you need me!
2. My thoughts for Peru
A few days ago, a devastating earthquake destroyed parts of Peru to points that seem to be mind-blowing. I was told that one of my cousins' husband is covering the news from Lima and that the scene brings you to tears. My condolences and prayers to any and all Peruvians around the world. I have seen first-hand what the wrath of nature can do to a city/country, and I know how much you must be suffering. From this blog, all I can do is offer my unwavering support and any possible help.
3. Damn, it's Fall already!
I can't believe it's almost the end of the summer. This one went by so fast, and I really didn't have much of a break, with the exception of a weekend trip to Springfield, IL. But, at least I had enough money to eat decently and go out on occasion, and the rent was paid on time. Now, fall's here. What's in store for me: Well, preparing everything for my dissertation proposal defense in December, teaching 2 courses, and of course playing one more season with the best broomball team on earth, THE FAMOUS ST. FUNS (you know, B-Hernz, Da Schaf, Homie, Wags, and Harold the pope... King Doug, we'll miss you!!!! Oh, and check out our St. Funs broomball videos on youtube!) That should keep me entertained. But, I'm really looking forward to this fall... at least it had a much better kickoff than last year's!!!!! Also, old friends are back and new friends were met, so that's always good. To my old friends back in town (Igor, Rebecca, Maryline, etc), welcome back home. It's good to have you around. To my new friends (Carlo, Xioda, Mirona, etc...) welcome to Chambana... a place you may too call home soon enough.
4. The countdown to 2009 begins
I have two years left in Chambana, so let's start the countdown to 2009. I promised a few friends (Bongani, Issam, etc.) that I'm going to get this done no matter what. I came here on a mission, and yes I've met wonderful people along the way. I'm really excited about this and I can't wait to take on the challenges for the next two years. Just tag along for the ride. It'll be pretty awesome!!!!!!
Till my next blog...
Raul A. (El Patron)

April 18, 2007

Greetings to all my fellow bloggers and friends around the world. As you can tell, I've chosen Maroon and Orange for this blog. This entire blog is dedicated to the 32 victims of the Virginia Tech shootings this past Monday. However, a special dedication to the memories of two of the victims: Professor Liviu Librescu, who showed us the ultimate sacrifice a teacher can (and when need may be, must) make, and Professor James Bishop, a "brother" of mine, if you will, since he (just as I am now) was a Fulbright Alum in Germany. Peace to all of them in their resting places and my prayers to all of them, friends, and families.
On my with blog:
Thoughts in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech Tragedy: Some of my reflections and cathartic thoughts
Before I start, a caveat: I assume sole responsibility of these thoughts. They are my catharsis. I've been choking tears for the last three days and I need this to clear my mind. They represent my uncertainty, my sadness, and even my anger. However, I'm trying to be fair and honest.
We're all Hokies... because we all could've been Illini.
It has been a sad week for anyone who attends a university anywhere in the world. In the morning of April 16, 2007, 32 students and faculty died in the hands of another student, who was disenchanted with life and decided to make them (and us at large) the recipients of his unjustified nemesis (more on that later). It is an unfortunate day because this could really have happened anywhere else. For all we know, it could've been in Champaign, Illinois, and now I'd have to be calling everybody else to tell them I am alive and safe. I prayed to God on Tuesday morning when all I had to talk to my mom was about my sister's broken ankle. When that's the topic of conversation compared to what could've been about, as Friar Lawrence would say, "Therefore thou art happy."
Why did this happen, we all wonder? Part of it is the very nature of these universities. In terms of safety, these are monolithic constructions in the middle of small towns. I mean, how would you feel if someone tried to place the Eiffel Tower in your backyard? Overwhelmed? Mad as hell? Some folks here might if you think about the social imbalances on both sides of the invisible fence that college campuses have created. True, this time it was a student himself who perpetrated such atrocities, but what might preclude someone unaffiliated with the university to try to teach us a lesson in inequality and injustice? Then, there's the very nature of the academic life at these universities. Virginia Tech, just as Illinois, is a Research University. The demands are high and the pressure sometimes even higher. It is not hard to crack under pressure, believe me. We all feel the weight under our shoulders, and anyone who says otherwise is full of it, I promise. The thing is, some of us have other outlets to relieve the pressure, some of us have close and good friends who rescue us day in and day out. That Korean kid had none of them. I'm neither defending nor justifying his actions. Let me get this straight: No matter how much pressure you live under, there's no excuse to punish others for it, especially if the punishment is death. You can always seek other outlets, seek counseling, talk to someone.
However, this is a cautionary tale for all of us. How many people do we know that never talk to anyone? We have seen them at lecture halls, we have seen them at coffee shops, we have seen them at the libraries, yet we hide under the shield of our papers, research, and dissertations to avoid them. We classify them as "weird" or "creepy" when maybe there's someone worth talking to. There are 45,000 students at the U of I. How many loners are there roaming our campus? I think we need to be more careful and try to find ways to help them if we know a case. They might not go ballistic on anyone, but they might hurt themselves. That we cannot allow it either.
I am trying to make sense of these events using the University as a field, devoid of the "It's in the USA" discussion. Contextualizing this in the "those gringos brought it to themselves" cloud is not my point (and I know for a fact that some folks around the world - as I noticed in a forum I read in a Colombian newspaper - are actually celebrating this... probably not in South Korea, though). I still think something like this, or along these lines, could happen elsewhere. We have universities all over the world, and they are a microcosm of our societies. Am I advocating for lessening the demands so that our students don't go bananas someday? No. It's not my style to call for mediocrity. I wasn't raised to be mediocre, and I thank my parents for that. I am advocating for present and future faculty to be less of a Professor and more of a Teacher. I mentioned in a past blog how I saw myself as a teacher. That's what we need: More professors and teaching assistants who care more for their students or at least as much as they do for their research. We need faculty who can give students what Wikipedia will never be able to: a comforting hand in the times of need, a voice of support when we're down, to show that we care for the scholars they can be but even more so for the person they are. And for that, we don't need a goddamn Ph.D. We just need a heart.
The Ultimate Sacrifice
Here I want to stop and pay tribute to Professor Liviu Librescu, one of the true HEROES of A-16. For those who haven't heard yet. Prof. Librescu, a former Holocaust survivor, gave his life away to save his students. He blocked his classroom door with HIS OWN BODY to allow his students to escape. In the process, the bullets hit him and his life was over. Sometimes people question teachers too lightly and claim they're not doing their job right. I get teary-eyed when I think of this. The reason: I know I would've done EXACTLY THE SAME under those circumstances. NO BULLSHIT THERE. It is not our job to put our lives in the line of fire, as police or firefighters do every day, but we know there are risks. Sometimes I think about that scene and what if I had been there. I teach a class, and I care for my students' safety. So, to those of you who dare criticize teachers, let me look at you straight in the eye, and let me ask you: Would you be willing to care for and protect a group of kids to the point of giving your life to save theirs? Ok... so pretty please, with sugar on top, GET OFF MY TEACHERS' BACKS!!!!! Thank you.
Here I'd also take a moment to thank a teacher who showed me 18 years ago what teaching is about. The year: 1989. The place: My high school, French class. The scenario: A group of thieves broke into our campus to avoid the police. The police entered the campus in pursuit of the criminals. Gunshots galore followed. It was about 11 am. Our French teacher, after hearing the gunfire, yelled at us all, "everybody down, hide under the seats!" and immediately asked us to barricade the door with desks. True, he was a little agitated at the time and we all took it as a joke of an overreacting teacher back them. But, in hindsight, it was the right thing to do: Make sure the thieves wouldn't have a chance to enter the room. After reading what some students at VT did to prevent the killer to break into their rooms, throw desks against the door, I cannot help but say: THANKS, LEON, wherever you are. Be as it may, you cared so much for our lives and you weren't overreacting after all. You were just being a concerned teacher.
I'm not playing the blame game
Right now, it's very easy to start blaming everybody for what happened at Blacksburg. Some will go on and blame video games. Others will blame hip-hop or rap or heavy metal, etc. For all we know, someone will blame Barack Obama and others will blame Hillary Rodham Clinton. And many will blame Hollywood. Finally, some will just blame the United States at large. I'm still trying to make sense of this tragedy; as I said, it could've been Champaign-Urbana just the same. Blaming video games is pointless. True, some of them depict violence, but for all I know a U of Illinois alumnus created Mortal Kombat and you don't see people here trying to rip each other's hearts off in the Quad. Blame it on TV? Too easy. Blame it on the permissive gun culture in the U.S.? It's plausible but others are debating now as we speak. True, getting access to guns here is easier than it is in Colombia for instance (9mm pistols, for example, are restricted by law for exclusive use by members of the armed forces) but instances of violence can outburst anywhere. And, unfortunately, where there is an evil will there is an evil way. Whose fault is it then? Everybody's and nobody's. It's nobody's fault because sometimes we cannot control what goes on in other people's minds. But it's out fault because sometimes we ourselves, as I mentioned above, are fostering the existence of social outcasts due to the very circles we create.
I also said that I wasn't going to go down the easy road and blame tne U. S. of A. for all of this. That's too simplistic and misses the point. True, there are some things that the government has done which have begotten more violence elsewhere. That's just one side of this country, which a lot of folks here don't agree with either and are just as disgusted by. I have lived and felt another side of this society. That of people who are willing to lend you a hand when nobody else would. I've had people offer me help, emotional, economic, and otherwise, in times of need. I have people here offer me their undivided friendship and care. I have cared for and loved people in this country, so I can't just go and say, "They deserve it". Trust me:
Nobody deserves to see their friends or compatriots die, NOBODY!!!!
I've seen people from all over the country show their support for those who died on Monday, and I can assure you that if some of these people weren't blindfolded by their own goverment as many are would care for other people's deaths also. Saying that everybody in the U.S. are inconsiderate and don't care about the world is as pointless as now thinking that all Koreans are one massacre waiting to happen (Which is utterly false. I have GREAT, AMAZING friends from Korea, and I can assure you they're terrified by all this) or calling us all Colombians Mules or Cokeheads just because you think we are all ready to pull a "Maria Full of Grace" at the next U.S. Airport. Just as I don't think all Arabs are walking suicide bomb either (I cried for my Lebanese friends last year when I heard about the bombings in the summer). This is a sad day for all of us. As is every day that soldiers and civilians alike die in Iraq, or as people die in Darfur for ethnic purposes, and I could go on and on. It's a sad day because someone else decided that his life was so worthless that it was worth taking 32 others along with his. That's what makes it sad. It is sad to think that life means so little for others when there are couples out there crying night in and night out trying to bring a life here. It is sad to think that life means so little for someone when there are thousands breathing through machines who would've traded places with that Korean kid and have the new lease on life they don't have right now.
My Tears Tonight, My Challenge Tomorrow...
That's why I cry. Because deep inside me, I know although I have made something to make other people's lives worthwhile, I still haven't made enough and need to do more. I cry for those 32, along with all the thousands that died today and no one talked about on Facebook or wrote a tribute to on a blog, because they all missed the chance to make a difference. I cry because there are children who died in Iraq and elsewhere today whom I won't be able to call brothers and sisters when they would've been bestowed the honor to be Fulbright students or come to the University of Illinois. I cry for them because they don't have anymore the chance that I still have: The chance to still make a difference for someone. Why me and not them? I'll leave it up to God himslef to explain that to me one day, not that he needs to justify his choosing me over all of them. It is up to me to honor that decision. And I'll cry for them because I mean it, not to make a spectacle of it all. And I know some of these tears are for my grandmother, whom I kindly ask to take care of those who died at Blacksburg and other parts of the world, as she did for me and my cousins at some point in time. I'm not afraid to admit that I've cried while writing this blog. Because I'm human and I care for other people's suffering, even if I don't know them. It's because I never will that I care and even cry in the end.
Tonight, I'll pray for all of them. What will I do tomorrow? Very simple: I'll get up early and go to work. And I'll continue fulfilling the mission that I set for myself when I left home 5 years ago. And I will give my friendship and love to those near me and, if possible, those far away from me. In the end, the best tribute we can pay to those Hokies and others is not just to keep living, but to keep living with intensity. It's about making every day worthwhile. As cliche as it seems, we never know when it'll be the last. And, as my mom always keeps telling my sister and me, "EN VIDA, HERMANO, EN VIDA." That is, while living, my brother, while living. Why wait to tell someone how awesome they are during an eulogy. Tell them in every which way you can. Heck, even Facebook poking may do that! You can read a poke as "here he goes again annoying me" or "damn, someone took two seconds of their busy time to look for me and annoy me with a poke... that's kinda cool!"
In the end, we can't replace anyone who's died, but we may as well try to make up for their absence by giving it all every day of the rest of our lives. That is the challenge for us all. Let's remember them all by living life at its fullest and taking advantage of those little luxuries they no longer have, such as breathing the air and feeling the sun in our heads. It's about giving other people the luxury that Korean kid didn't have: To have someone call him "Friend" or "Brother". We sometimes underestimate the power they have. But what difference can they make in one person's life. They can be the difference between spending $570 on a gun or $570 on a home theater to invite their friends over for movies and popcorn. Ridiculous? Try asking those 32+ 1 who died on Monday.
That's it for now. I'll be back soon with, I hope, a more uplifting blog. Take care of yourselves, my friends and brothers/sisters out there. I'd hate to hear I won't be able to know you're alive tomorrow... and by the way, all of you...
ARE AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!
Raul A. (El Patron)
February 14

Greetings to all my fellow bloggers and readers around the world. Today's blog is a very special one. Before I go into details, some acknowledgments are de rigueur: First, to my fellas at St. Funz: Big Bryan, the Schaf, Doug, and of course my White Street Loco partner, Harry - It was awesome to get back together at Broomball, and I can't wait for intramurals to start so we can kick some H-Core ass!!!!! To my friends at the snow fight (Steffen, Scott, Brian, Kelsey, Julie, Jonas, Dominik, Jim, Michelle, Jared... remind me if I forgot someone!), it was awesome to be with y'all at the Quad! To my good friend Katie, great seeing you and I hope Obama makes it to the White House! To Rebecca, I guess I'll see you in a while.
Of course, how can I go on without...,
The gratuitous twin nieces update! (Because they don't need no Valentine... they're my family's Valentine!)
So I got more pictures of them, and it seems that I finally learned the code to distinguish them faster. You see, I learned from my mom yesterday that Isabella usually wears pink and Manuela usually wears blue. So that's how I can recognize them in pictures! Isabella does look like my sister; whether Manuela looks like me is beyond my scope. Big tip of the hat for my sister for teaching them some discipline early on. HUGE wag of the finger to my dad: Dad, the last thing I want is a couple of spoiled brats as nieces, so quit it! Stop spoiling them, especially Manuela... don't make me go back and take you to school, dude!
Now, on with the blog...
Snow Day at U of I: A once-in-a-lifetime event and the best time on the snow ever!
The Midwest, and Illinois in particular, are pretty unpredictable when it comes to the weather. A common saying here is, "If you don't like the weather... just wait 15 more minutes!" Up until last week, we had a very mild winter, almost no snow and all. In the last two weeks, however, we had an arctic freeze swing by Chambana, with temperatures close to -20 F (about -30-some degrees Celsius). Last week, onTuesday, we had about 4 inches of snow. And on Monday, we had a winter storm alert that became blizzard alert within the hours. It started snowing around 10:00 P.M. People went to the grocery stores in flocks to get supplies for the next two days. Schools closed for the day. By Tuesday morning, some of the smaller colleges closed. But by 8 A.M., our flagship University was still operating. You see, the U of I never closes, unless we're talking about some tsunami coming from Lake Michigan, an asteroid shower hitting campus, or an alien invasion. So we all expected business as usual on Campustown.
And then, the unthinkable just happened. Around 9 A.M., U of I Chancellor Richard Herman sent us all a massmail announcing that CLASSES HAD BEEN CANCELED DUE TO SNOW! You have to understand the ramifications of this: The U of I hadn't closed for classes since 1979. Yes, Illini students are expected to perform regardless of the weather, so for us to hear this news was huge. And what did most of us do given the hard weather conditions? Well, what anyone would do given the magnitude of the event: We went out and played in the snow! The Quad became the stage for the biggest snow extravaganza in the 140-year glorious history of the Orange and Blue. Someone even pulled out his skis and walked on the quad! People playing snow football, picking snow fights, tackling each other to the ground was all you saw for several hours. Oh, and then Snow Day took even more historical significance when the Chancellor announced that today, Wednesday 14, 2007, WE WOULDN'T HAVE CLASSES EITHER! For the first time EVER, the U of I had closed for 2 days in a row! This is unprecedented and all of us are glad to be part of history! I am glad to be part of yet another historical moment in my grad school tenure. The highlight of my Snow Day was climbing the famed monument of the Alma Mater and, atop the chair, sing our famous "Hail to the Orange," one of our most traditional fight songs. In case you've never heard it, it goes like this:
It was an uber-cool moment, let me tell you, the kind you tell friends and your children about forever and ever. Those of us who played together this cold afternoon will neer forget this, and if you missed it... shame on you! Snow Day I and II will never return, it'll never be the same after this, we saw history in the making!
However, I know that there's a flip side to all the frolicking in the snow. When the snow settled, we had somewhere around 10 inches to 3 or 4 feet of snow in some areas. People have their cars buried in the snow, and very likely some folks are still locked in their homes because of the snow piled up. Chambana is white all over, the snow will need weeks to finally melt. I imagine lots of businesses lost money because of closing and maybe damages. In fact, one of our basketball players was a victim of the blizzard, and God knows how many more injuries and casualties there may be. My thoughts and prayers go with all those who may have suffered the consequences of the hardest blizzard in decades in Central Illinois.
Champaign-Urbana is getting back to normal around the snow. Be as it may, all of us who lived it and enjoyed will always have these moments etched in our memories. True, we're here for our education, but there are things that define each generation of Illini Alumni. For us, Snow Day I & II will always be one of those. After all, how many of you before us or after us can say that you had a ginormous snow fight on the quad? And you don't know what Hail to the Orange means until you've climbed the Alma Mater in the midst of a blizzard. Snow Day I & II, the two days when U of I closed, will be in our memories and hearts forever.
Good luck to all, enjoy the weather you get right now, and talk to you soon!
Till my next blog...
Raul (El Patron)

February 06

Paraphrasing James Brown: "Say it loud... I'M GEEK AND I'M PROUD!!!!!"

Greetings to all my fellow bloggers and siblings in arms around the world... I'm back with the blog. First, some acknowledgments and news. So last week, there was a huge forum at the U of I about race, racism, and privilege. If you go to the U of I, regardless of nationality and missed this, big SHAME ON YOU!!!!! It was very interesting and enlightening. I made some comments in regards to what I wrote in my last blog. To those of you who heard me and gave me props, thanks! I'm truly humbled that you liked what I said. In all honesty, I just had to speak because some change has to take place here before things escalate. Now, onto less transcendental issues, Broomball season is under way, and I can't wait to play with my brothers in arms Bryan and the Schaf! And this time, we're going intramural baby!!!!! I'll keep you posted. To my friend John Garlisch, thanks for a nice Super Bowl shindig. It was fun, and it was good to see some friends there...
So DA BEARS lost. Yes, I'm still a 49ers fan at heart, but I remember the SUPERBOWL SHUFFLE... Heck, I saw it WHEN IT HAPPENED, not the yearly reruns!!!!!! And I heard about Jim McMahon, Walter Payton, and the Fridge long before many of you... plus I LOVE CHI-TOWN... That's my claim to being a BEARS FAN as well... It was sad to see Da Bears lose yesterday... but we'll get back...
Oh, and now... yes you know it... it's time for...
The Gratuitous Twin Nieces Update (Because even though my sister doesn't know it... they're geekettes in training!): So I saw the girls on webcam on Saturday! They looked absolutely gorgeous, sporting their ILLINI T-SHIRTS!!!!!! Oh they were adorable... I hope to get more pictures coming soon!
And now, it's time for our feature presentation:
As I said above, I'm proud to be a Geek. I can't deny it, I'm doing a PhD, that automatically places me there. No shame in that! You see, these days, being a Geek, as opposed to the Nerd stereotypes of the 70's and 80's, is not such a bad thing after all. You can be a geek and have a sense of fashion. Long gone are the days where Urkel was the quintessential geek. We've now got better symbols to look up to. This beginning of the century has two common denominators: An utter disgust for the lack of brains of the average celebrities and the rise of people who don't look "Perfect" but are actually cool and successful, albeit a bit aloof at times. You don't believe me? Well, here's my evidence:
1. Biggest grossing movies of the last 5 years (some, at least): Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Harry Potter, X-Men, The Matrix Trilogy
2. Some of the most popular books in the last 5 years: Harry Potter (come on, Harry, Ron, and Hermione are pretty geeky... but cool!)
3. Some of the most popular TV shows in the last 5 years: CSI (Grisham is a certified Geek, Ph.D. and all!), Law and Order (all variations), Monk (Sherlock Holmes with OCD anyone?), Lost (it takes a lot of thinking to follow on the subplots), Heroes.
4. Weird Al Yankovic's "WHITE AND NERDY" actually outranked the original (Chamillionnaire's Ridin' Dirty) in the Top 40 lists! You know you're legit when Ice-T introduces you on TV as a Hip-hop legend!
5. The Transformers Movie is coming in 2007.
6. Google and YouTube, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs... all geek-related.
7. Some of the most popular cartoons around: Get Fuzzy (come on, Bucky, Rob, and Satchel are all pretty geeky) and PhD, Piled Higher and Deeper (about, you guessed it, Grad Students).
8. Time magazine declared all of "us" (as in all of us who blog, Facebook, and go to YouTube and Wikipedia) as the Person of the Year.
9. Coolest comedians/satirists: Steve Carrell (we all loved the 40-year-old virgin), Steven Colbert, Jon Stewart, Ben Stiller, The Wilson Brothers, even Will Ferrell has some quirky geekiness to himself... all making geek pretty chic!
and La Piece de Resistance... as much as it pains us Bears fans...
10. Peyton Manning, the Anti-Tom Brady and probably the geekiest quarterback of all time, is the SuperBowl MVP. Heck, even Tony Dungy looks geeky... but he's respected now as a football genius!
I could think of more examples, but that's beside the point. Being a GEEK is actually pretty cool these days. We've come a long way since "Revenge of the Nerds." Stereotypes are being broken yet again, and hopefully these signs will help children around the world, whom I know from experience as a student and teacher, in high schools and colleges around the world, not to be shameful because they're laborious, like to study hard, and get good grades. I'm fine with it, after all, being a geek has taken me far and wide... as has many of my friends here at Illinois and elsewhere. So, again, to paraphrase good ole James Brown,
Till my next blog!
Raul A. (El Patron)