Saturday, September 15, 2007

My Blog 2.0: Blogs for 2006

Greetings to all my "fans" on the Blogosphere. I've decided to relocate my blog since I don't see the point in keeping that space on msn. I'll soon have a website and I have my Facebook profile. However, here are my blogs from last year. Soon I'll post up my blogs up to this month.
Talk to you soon!
Raul A. (El Patron)

December 25

El Patron's got a brand new blog!

"I feel good... I knew that I would... So good, so good, I got a blog!"
Greetings to all my friends and bloggers around the world. I hope you're all having a good Holiday season and that you managed to have a good time with friends and family. So far, my Chambana holiday has been pretty decent. I've had some good times and making mucho dinero manning the front desk at the S-Hall.
Of course, Xmas acknowledgements: First, to my posse at S-Hall: Nate The Great, Rossen, Johnny "Bravo" Tenegra, it was fun having dinner with y'all last night. Alejandro, Maryline, Jeremy, how nice that you made it and joined us. Diana S., nice meeting you last night. Claudia, thanks for the call and I hope you and your family had a good time last night. Bryan, my man, James Bond rocks and I'll hopefully see you, Doug, and the Schaf for yet another season of Broomball! Finally, to The Brar... Bro, it was great talking to you over the weekend. You know damn well that as long as we're here, you have a place to stay in Chambana, and we can't wait to get together again!
Oh yes, you don't have to say "Please, please, please..." as here's another installment of...
The Gratuitous Twin Nieces Update! (Because they're the gift that keeps on giving!)
So I called my family on Xmas Eve, and I talked to mom, dad, my sister, my granda... and Manuela? Oh yes, my family put her through, and as silly as it may, it was cute to hear her coo on the phone. Whatever she said is still beyond my understanding, but learning that they're developing their powers of speech is always a blessing. Isabella didn't say much, it seems that she's still trying to figure out where that voice is coming from so they tell me all she does is listen in awe. I should be getting pictures. I also asked for pictures of mine as a baby to finally confirm if it's so true that she looks like me.
And now, back to the blog...
Cause I feel like a blog machine man... Get up, get on down, like a blog machine...
I wasn't planning on using James Brown as a topic for any blogs, until I read about his death today. I love music and I love dancing, that's a no-brainer. What some of you may not know is that I've been a fan of James Brown since childhood. When did this happen? Probably after watching "The Blues Brothers" and that scene where he plays a preacher that helps Elwood and Jake discover the way to get the money (if you haven't seen that movie, what are you waiting for?). Then I guess I kept watching James Brown stuff over the years. One I remember in particular was a rare performance on Cinemax, with Aretha Franklin, their first-ever duet singing "Please Please Please," one of JB's landmarks. There I witnessed that amazing act of his when he gets on his knees in mid-song, someone puts a CAPE on him, walks him through the stage, and then he comes back... that's heaven right there ladies and gents. A year ago, I think, I actually did that with a friend here at school. She did the JB part and I put an imaginary cape and we did the whole thing... comedy gold right there! I have tried (successfully on a few times) to do JB's slide dance to the tune of "I feel good"...
James Brown is one of my favorites, and his memory will remain in the hearts of anyone who likes Motown, R&B, Soul, even Hip-Hop and Rap... Rest in Peace JAMES BROWN, and dammit are folks in heaven ready for a party... This year everyone in heaven will "Get on the good foot" with The Godfather of Soul!
Merry Christmas to those who CAN'T be home
Being away from those whom I love during the holidays gives you plenty of time to think. Speaking to all my family, they all told me how much they missed me and even declared how brave I kind of was for being here and taking it with a smile. Granted, I'm the only one in my family who would do this (my sister would never dare to be away from my folks for the holidays), but my situation is a bit different. After all, I, as well as a few more who stayed in town, made this our choice. Sometimes it's lack of money or too much work, or both, what makes you be away from your relatives, but being here gave me time to think of others who really have little choice but to be away from home and can't even wish their loved ones a Merry Christmas.
One group I'm thinking about now is all those Soldiers around the world. Whether you agree with war or not, that's beside the point. My dad was in the Colombian Army, and yet me and my sister were lucky enough not to have to worry for his safety come Christmas. That was a luxury we had. Right now, many children couldn't open their presents sitting on their fathers' laps because their parents are in uniform defending the very freedom we have to dine in relative peace with our friends. Whether they have to fight a foreign or domestic enemy, and regardless of our positions on war, we cannot forget these are human beings making a sacrifice, whether by choice or necessity, and they're paying too high a price. I know that, right now, at home, many soldiers are in the middle of a jungle, or in the mountains, trying to make a difference for my country; it's thanks to them that people like me can devote their time and effort to write a dissertation or a blog, knowing that they're working for a better country so that maybe when I'm back in 2008, or 9, I can find an even better country. So, to all of them, MERRY CHRISTMAS and THANKS. As I said, I don't have to agree with war but I can respect their sacrifice. Those are not mutually exclusive.
I also want to send my best wishes to anyone in a hospital at this time. I may be far from home, but at least I can walk, and when I go to bed, it's my choice as to when I lay down and when I get up. Some folks had to stay away from their living and dining rooms and had little choice as to what was for dinner. If that was not one of you, count your blessings and wish them all a Merry Christmas.
Some people are born on December 25th... it's hard to think of a better gift for their families! True, you may get a bit ripped off come Birthday time, but hey that comes with the territory. Plus, think of this: Some people have to actually MOURN their loved ones during Christmas. I guess that puts getting 1 present for the price of 2 holidays under a new perspective. If you, or anyone you know happen to have such bittersweet moments during Christmas, my thoughts and prayers are also with you. It's hard to think of the lost relatives this time of the year anyways, I can't imagine how hard it must be if their anniversaries coincide with the holidays.
Finally, I cannot help but think of my nieces. They have a pretty nice safety blanket, with two grandparents who are crazy about them and two loving parents... and yes a pretty eccentric, geeky, and pretty odd uncle (hey, every family has one of those, and I fit the bill better than my sister does). Unfortunately, that's not the case all the time. There were a lot of kids this Christmas that had to celebrate their holidays sans that safety blanket. Whatever the reason, whether death or someone's ill thinking (it's not up to me to play judge and jury on anyone), these kids couldn't enjoy what many of us could: Happy Childhood Christmas memories that'll last us a lifetime. To them, MERRY CHRISTMAS and my hopes that one day the tables will turn around.
There are many more that I haven't mentioned... for all of those, MERRY CHRISTMAS also.
These thoughts have been on my mind as of late, when I embraced the fact that I was staying here all winter break. I realized that it doesn't really suck (as many would frame it) not to leave campus for the holidays. Even if I were the only one here, it wouldn't suck either. After all, my being here is just the result of many blessings. When it comes to my family, we've all learned that love is not a matter of geography but of feelings. Sometimes you have a neighbor (or a relative, for that matter) right next door all your life, and you never spend one minute together, or you can't stand each other. And, when you're away from your biological family, if you're fortunate enough, you may end up spending Christmas Eve in the middle of a graduate dorm lobby with a made-up "family" of your own, a group of people from all over the world, just like you, who get together to celebrate the holidays. Because sometimes that's what being ANY family is all about... trying as hard as you can not to let your "siblings" spend those times by themselves.
So, once again, MERRY CHRISTMAS and HAPPY HOLIDAYS to you all... and I can definitely say, as good 'ole JB would:
Till my next blog...
Raul A. (El Patron)

December 03

Christmas Blog Numero Uno

On the first blog of Christmas, El Patron gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree :)!!!!
Greetings to all my fellow bloggers and readers around the world. So it's December and Christmas is here! Some acknowledgments, as always: First, to my friend Kelsey, thanks for the invite for coffee last night, I haven't forgotten about your invite for Xmas. Also, to my Broomball gang (Big Bryan, the Schaf, etc.), it was a very fun "season," I can't wait to go back and play during the spring semester. If you're game for going intramural, let me know. I think we can pull it off. I know some of my friends might stay in town for the Holidays (Aragon, Andy...), we should try and get together sometime during the break.
What can a blog of mine without...
Another gratuitous twin nieces update (because my sister has two babies to spare for the role of Baby Jesus at any school Xmas play!) Well, I talked to a childhood friend and neighbor back home, and she told me that they're getting bigger and cuter by the minute. She also told me that Manuela seems to have quite the temper. Not surprising, knowing how "peaches and cream" her mom is, and by "peaches" I mean overripe ones and by "cream" I mean a month-old sour cream... so you get the picture. I should be getting pics and videos of them in January.
Now on to the blog...
The Isolation of the Dissertation
A few weeks ago, around Thanksgiving, I got an e-mail from my adviser (God bless her soul!), expressing serious worries about my well-being. It turns out her concern was not a figment of her imagination. This semester has turned out to be tougher than I initially thought. I've had to readapt my existing schemata to include teaching as another duty in addition to two research projects and my dissy. That has somewhat shrunk my time, and it's taken a toll on me throughout the semester. I've had to learn to accept that progress is sometimes much slower than what you'd wish, and I'm learning to deal with that frustration... which more often than not is a very lonesome road. That has been the hardest adjustment: Learning to cope with even more isolation.
It seems ironic that most reserach I've done is as part of a team, but the biggest moment of my studies is all by myself. Add to that a series of personal issues that I've shared with you all in previous blogs, and sometimes the trek seems insurmountable. That message from my advisor was an interesting wake-up call. I'm aware that I'm a bit behind, but I've also realized that it's something one has to include in one's budget as a possibility. Not everything will be clockwork, there will be lots of roadblocks. I've also reminded myself that sometimes it's okay to seek help. I'll probably seek some counseling to help me manage the high levels of stress that are part of my everyday life, and I will take the winter break to get my act together.
Those who can, DO TEACH... those who can't, there are plenty of other options out there!
It's the end of my first semester back to teaching. As I shared in a previous blog, I've been very excited to be back. In fact, having worked with early childhood and elementary education prospective teachers has been very enlightening. I've learned so much about that, and I think I've been able to teach those kids a thing or two. I think probably the hardest thing for my students has been getting used to my grading, but they're hard-working individuals and have realized that I grade hard because I care. Yes, reading 80 papers carefully enough is a tough task, but as I keep telling my students, "If a teacher has the AUDACITY to assign homework, s/he had better have the DECENCY to ready it carefully and give some feedback." Whether this has rubbed off on them, only time will tell. All I know is that they've worked even harder this time around... after all, they know I take my craft seriously.
This idea leads me into a popular proverb by George Bernard Shaw, "Those who can't, do; those who can't, teach." With all due respect to Mr. Shaw, and with apologies to the audience, that's just a sack of bullshit! I can assure you, people like him wouldn't have the cojones to stand in front of a classroom, dealing with 30-some clients at a time, and provide the best quality service. After all, teachers are the only people expected to serve multiple clients simultaneously. Bank tellers don't have to do that, they have everybody stand in line and take care of one customer. Same goes with cashiers. You don't see a cashier at Wal-Mart jumping from machine to machine, helping several customers move their items through the registers. No! They sit in ONE and help one customer at a time. Medical doctors (by the way, any jokes about how I won't be a real doctor... and I'll go freaking Albert Pujols or Big Papi on your butts! I'm thinking of getting one of them Louisville bats just in case!) usually help one patient at a time. On, and add to the equation that NOBODY thinks they can do it better than they can. That's what teachers have to deal with every day: 30 "customers" they have to attend to at the same time, while also taking care of their parents, excessive amounts of paperwork (no architect has to take the building home with him/her, right?), etc, etc, etc.
So I say, the hell with that phrase. I think those who CAN and CARE, do TEACH. Those who can't... please let us do our job. Otherwise, don't be surprised if I show up with a scalpel and scrubs to perform that surgery at the hospital, with a hard helmet and blueprints to build your homes, or wearing a suit to defend you in court. Scared? Just as I would if I saw any of you non-teachers messing with my classrooms!
I'm kind of like the Grinch... or am I?
As I said above, Xmas is here. Historically, I've never been gung-ho for Xmas. That's probably my sister. I imagine her condo must be fully decorated with the "holy trinity" of decorations: tree, lights, nativity scene. I assume even my folks' home is. My apartment, however, not so much. Until last week, I was pretty bummed out about Xmas. But something changed on Friday. As I woke up and noticed the snow on the driveway (I was house-sitting for some professors) my first thought was, "Damn! Now I have to shovel the driveway to get the car out! (I didn't have to). As I went out to walk the dog, something dawned on me. I started remembering my first Xmas in the US, which I actually spent here in Champaign-Urbana: The excitement of the first snowfall, how much fun I had on Xmas Eve, even though I was home alone, playing with the snow and a bucket, making snowballs and throwing them against a tree, taking pictures in the snow, even how I had to walk 10 blocks in the middle of the snow to attend a Xmas dinner I was invited.
Those thoughts, as well as frolicking in the snow with Howie (the dog) have made me change my mind a little. I'm starting to look forward to this Xmas, I think I might not be superexciting, but at least I'll be making some cash and I can still have some fun while here. I would really like to get out of town for a day or so, maybe go to Chi-town, but I'll try to make do with what I've got. After all, I've realized that even if I feel isolated because of my dissertation, I'm not alone here at all. I don't want to screw up my family's Xmas after all, or my friends' for that matter. Heck, I think I'll put up some lights in my aparment tonight, and will try to buy a small tree sometime next week.
Maybe, after all, I'm not the poor man's Ebeneezer Scrooge, or the Latino Grinch for that matter. I'm ready for Christmas. I'll figure out a way to have fun this winter break, while I also write that proposal I'm long overdue to write!
That's all for now, folks. Till my next blog...
Raul A. (El Patron)

November 22

Blogged Potatoes and Gravy: The Blog, Turkey Day Edition

Greetings to all my friends, readers, and fellow bloggers around the world. It seems that it's been a while since my last blog (Rebecca, my apologies), so it's time for some Black Wednesday blogging. Yes, it's true. I'm not hitting the bars going for a beer on the eve of Thanksgiving. I'll be instead working at one of the grad dorms at the U of I (Sherman Hall) from 11 pm to 3 am. Hey, I can always use an extra buck or two for Christmas. As always, my acknowledgments: Rebecca, thanks again for the letter, I hope to hear from you soon. To my Broomball gang (Bryan, Tom, Schaf, etc.), you'd better show your sorry behinds next week for the last night of the Fall season... we're gonna wreak havok at the ice arena, take no prisoners... As I always say when I play defense at the beginning of every game, quoting good 'ole Mr. Montana, "You think you can take me? You gonna need a f***ing army you gonna take me!" See you at the rink next week my fellow warriors! To the Sherman Hall gang (Rosska, Ivan, Nate, et al), it's always fun to see you at the SHall... And I'll be back for an encore in two weeks!

As always, it's now time for...
Another gratuitous Twin Nieces update (because that's yet another reason for me to say thanks tomorrow night)... Well, the girls seem to be doing well. I spoke to my sister last night, but she had a lot of reports to write for school. But, mom tells me that there will be no need for a star in the Christmas tree, since the real stars will be at my sister's apartment. As soon as I have more pictures, I'll post them for your viewing pleasure.

And now, have some pecan pie and grab that turkey leg... because it's time for the Blog!
Thanksgiving: Turkey, pumpkin pie... and homework?
Thanksgiving is perhaps the most important holiday in the US, even larger than Christmas to many. By this time, most people on campus are back home, either relaxing with their families or maybe meeting friends at bars for Black Wednesday. Tomorrow, it's all about having lots of food, watching some American football on TV, and spending time with friends and family. Being at a Thanksgiving dinner is the chance to enjoy a large piece of Americana (no pun intended). I've had a few dinners here and there, so I can't complain. However, if you're in grad school (and most particularly if you're an international student), Thanksgiving usually means one thing: It's the week of the year when you can actually try and catch up on some of the work you still need to do before the end of the semester. In fact, for many of us grad students, this is a blessing in disguise: We have a little more time to write those papers, analyze those data, or get some paperwork together. When you have to attend or teach classes, go to meetings, and so forth, time can be scarce. In addition, campus is pretty calm and quiet, and that's always refreshing after 4 months of non-stop action around Chambana.

Although the campus is pretty deserted during this week, there are still plenty of us who need to get work done. That is part of the reason why graduate students tend to remain on campus, at least till Wednesday. The other reason is that since we are both students and employees, some holiday rules don't apply to us due to the dual functions. Thanksgiving is one of those. As students, we get the week off; as employees, we're still expected to be around for work (especially when we do research). That doesn't mean that everybody who leaves campus gets a whole week off, however. Many people still have to get homework ready for the week after Thanskgiving, so it's not uncommon that students take some work home. But, they still have the luxury to go home and meet their families.

As I've said, I've been invited to dinners before, at least my first two years. After that, invitations are scarce, if non-existant. I want to thank someone, though, for an impromptu invitation to a dinner: To my friend Kelsey, gracias. I would've loved to go, but I already have a full schedule. Just have a big piece of turkey for me. However, if you read this (and I don't say it for me, by any means) and know of someone who'll be all by him/herself on Thanksgiving Day, do wish them a Happy Thanksgiving. There are lots of international students here with very few friends, who haven't seen friends and family for years, and who'll be wondering what to do that day. Just remember the luxury of seeing your family when they're hours away from you and remember those who can't do as you can. And if you can, do invite them. When you're new to this country, that's something you appreciate and cherish for the rest of your life.

As I mentioned earlier, Thanksgiving is about being thankful. So here are a few things that I have to be thankful for on this holiday:
- I'm thankful for all the work I have to do (really)... after all, I chose to be here, and with all this work I have to do come lots of opportunities to grow and learn. After all, those of you helping write a book and a series of future articles for journals raise your hand... just as I imagined!
- I'm thankful for Illinois weather... after all, if I hadn't experienced this, I wouldn't have realized that I have no reason to whine about the weather in Colombia... and neither should all of you down there!
- I'm thankful for my worn-out, Slowpoke Rodriguez-like office computer... after all, it's helping me navigate my dissertation, research, and writing, while allowing me to go to coffee shops and communicate with my friends and family.
- I'm thankful for the 80 papers I graded and another 80 coming next week... after all, I would never have realized how much I've learned to write in the past 4 years. Also, it gives me a chance to be a true mentor to those future teachers and help them improve on their mistakes, which in turn will benefit their students.
- I'm thankful for some of my money struggles... after all, that's taught me to enjoy things I wouldn't if I were always buoyant, like the pleasure of going grocery shopping and seeing a full fridge, the taste of a beer after weeks of just drinking water at a bar, or learning to enjoy those things that money cannot really buy.
- I'm thankful for my friends... after all, if they've put up with me for so long, they've got to be very special people.
- I'm thankful for my family... after all, they're a never-ending supply of fuel for my soul, and always give me a reason not to give up.
So, as you can see, there's plenty to appreciate this season. So I'll have to make instant mashed potatoes and have some slices of turkey breast for my Thanksgiving lunch tomorrow... it's cool. After all, there's more to share in life than food, and all my friends are in my thoughts this holiday.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO ALL... and see you soon!!!!

Raul (El Patron)

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October 23

The Dissertation Saga: A series of "sports events"?

Greetings to all my friends around the world. I'm taking a break from work and my dissy, so what better way to do so than by blogging once again. It's a way to keep my mind rolling and my writing active. I talked to my dad over the weekend, and hopefully he should be out of the hospital by tomorrow. Yay!!!! Especially for my mom, she misses dad at home!!!! Of course, quick holla to my broomball pals (Bryan, Tom, et al...) I'll see you at the rink tonight for more hardcore broomball action!!!!!

It's getting colder as the days go by. Now I got my hat, gloves, and a really snuggly sweater I bought last weekend at this vintage store here in Champaign. I love my sweater!!!! Well, I love fall, as you well know. In fact, I kind of like the change of seasons, it's a nice variation in the scenery and wardrobe that's pretty refreshing.

And now... it's time for...
The gratuitous twin nieces update (what can I say... they're too cute not to be in the blog!): Well my friends, Isabella and Manuela have officially joined the FOOTBALLUCION (Those on Facebook know very well what I'm talking about... for the others, just remember: IT'S NOT SOCCER, YOU DUMMIES... IT'S FOOTBALL!!!!!!!!) courtesy of their dad. I got a picture yesterday of the twins donning River Plate outfits their dad had brought directly from Argentina... I can't really say they looked cute with such an outfit (had they worn Independiente gear... now that's a whole different story!!!!), but I'm glad they can tell the world that Futbol rules!!!!!!!

And now, ladies and gents... on with the blog!
Dissertations and Sports: A metaphor to beat the anxiety and insanity of it all
Those who know me well know that I love sports. Football (the Beatiful Game, that is) and Basketball (as well as Wrestling, but that's another story) are two sports that get my full attention all the time. I'm a connoisseur of basketball history, and football, as a South American, is pretty much in my blood. As I write this blog, I'm also working on (and sometimes struggling with) my dissertation. There are multiple ways to cope with the pressure of this stage of the Ph.D., and well I've chosen sports metaphors for that purpose. I would like to explain my metaphors, and hopefully this can inspire other fellow doc students to find their own ways to alleviate the pressure of dealing with this. You see, it all goes back to what my advisor told me when I picked up the questions for my Quals, "Have fun." She wasn't sarcastic with that, and I keep bringing those words back to my mind throughout this entire process. My use of sports analogies is a way to "have fun" with this process... I have even use mountain climbing before (May 23 blog) to explain this whole deal.

This time I'd like to explain the metaphors I'm using to make sense and actually enjoy this whole process. After all, if I make it something tedious I won't really appreciate the learning experience this entails:

1. Quals Madness. This one is inspired by the best month in sports: March Madness. For those who don't know, this is the time when the NCAA College Basketball Tournament takes place. It's a month where basketball is frantic, exciting, electric... and anything can happen. Basketball fans are glued to the TV during this time, and every game goes down to the wire. Being a basketball fan, I went for that metaphor to describe my Quals. First of all, my quals began on the Monday when the Championship game was played. Second, taking the quals has the same frantic pace, where all you think about is quals, quals, quals. Third, the excitement of handing in the questions and then passing makes you feel like a champion!

2. The Dissy World Series: Well it's late October and November... it's time for baseball to rule all things sports. And the main event in the Major Leagues, the World Series, takes place in November. What better way to pay homage to the [USA] National Pastime than by calling my preparation for the preliminary examination (prelims) after this event? Unlike March Madness, the World Series has a slower pace, best of 7 series... so there's always time to make up for your mistakes and redirect your game if you failed on your first game. And, you know the best series are the ones that go to a game 7... just as you know you'll be making the final adjustments to your proposal the night before you hand it in!

3. The Prelim Bowl: Well, in case you haven't figured this one out yet, it's named after the biggest event in American Football, the Super Bowl. Plus, my prelims will probably be at the end of January, very close to the actual date of the Super Bowl. Like the Super Bowl, it all gets decided in a few hours of full-frontal confrontation between two teams; in my case it will be Team Raul vs. Team Dissertation Committee... hopefully my team will reign supreme at the end of that one!

After that, I'll officially be a PhD candidate, or as it's commonly known, ABD (All But Dissertation)... and then we'll get on with the next event...

4. The ABD Qualifiying Tournament: This one is obviously inspired by the World Football Cup. It will take place all through 2007, kind of in a similar fashion to how the Qualifying rounds for the World Cup happen... over almost two years. Again, this will be a long process, in which you have to do small things over an extended period of time, as is the case in football, where you play one game at a time, sometimes per week or even month. So the final results are the product of a process. This process, in football or the dissy, should get you to the ultimate goal... which in my case is...

5. The Defense Championship Game: Again, I went with the Beautiful Game for this one. American Football fans may wonder why I chose the World Cup over the Super Bowl for this one. The reason is simple: As is the case with the World Cup, more people actually care about it and there's a whole lot more at stake in the defense than it is in the prelims: The prelims are the requirement to work on the dissertation, whereas the final defense is what separates you from the "Dr." title that will be attached to your name. Again, this game will face Team Raul vs. Team Committee... but this time the game will be tougher! This is the one "game" you prepare yourself four from the minute you enter the program, the one game that will change your life forever. Of course, the biggest difference is that the awards ceremony for the Defense Championship Game has to wait till May... but that's just a small detail!

One last thing: All these events will be broadcast, in High Definition, on ESPN 8, The Ocho (You need to see the movie "Dodgeball" to understand this one... sorry just rent the movie!!!)

Well, I hope you've enjoyed my blog. As I said, you learn to find multiple ways to cope with the anxiety and frustration of it all, and actually try to find some entertainment value to the whole experience. When you're in the program, it's up to you how you face it: As a cross to bear, or a one of the most interesting learning experiences you'll ever face. After all, we all have different ways to play the game... but if you're thinking about doing this, my advisor's suggestion makes a lot of sense, "have fun"... otherwise you're going to be a very bitter grad student... and that's not fun!

Till my next blog.

Raul A. (El Patron)

October 19

Back to the Classroom: Blog in Fall

Greetings to all my friends in the Blogosphere and the other realms of existence I dwell in. The blog is back, because sometimes I need to take a break from the anxiety of working on my dissertation. As always, first the acknowledgements: I'd like to report that my 3 ex's have read my blog... and they're still talking to me! So I guess that's good stuff. Props to my fellow Broomball pals, Hernie and Tom, broomball is a nice way to forget about the world for a couple of hours, get hurt (my students keep looking at me funny every time I come to class with another hurt limb...), and still feel happy about life! 

Well, after the acknowledgments... oh yes... get ready for...
Gratuitous Nieces Update (because my sister doesn't have a blog of her own to update you!!!!) Well, last time I checked, they're doing okay, a bit spoiled by the ridiculous amounts of love they're getting from everybody and their mother (literally!). They'll be three months old tomorrow, but they're counted as much younger than that due to something called "adjusted time", which I think means for medical purposes they treat them based on the day they were supposed to be born, not the actual day they popped in... just as long as I don't have to buy them presents for their official and adjusted birthdays... which I fear will happen sometime!
Also, I'd like to ask all my friends for their thoughts and/or prayers (whichever you choose works for me) for the speedy recovery of my dad. You see, he has a skin condition known as psoriasis, that causes him severe lacerations and wounds all over his entire body. I've seen him deal with it all my life (which made me freak out like crazy when I was 26 in fear of suffering that myself... until dad reassured me that at 26 he started with the outbreaks, and that I was fine), along with the occasional ignorance of stupid sons of b****es who ask him stupid questions or make derogatory comments. This past week his outbreak got worse than usual and he's been at the hospital for a week under observation and care. These are complicated times for my family at home, so more than your thoughts and prayers for me (which I do appreciate, make no mistake about it!) ... please extend them for my mom and my sister, who are dealing with this first-hand.
OK... now back with the blog:
Back to Teaching: The end (finally!) after a 4-year hiatus.
I've been at the U of I for over 4 years, and until now I have done research as a job here. I've loved the experience so far and I know that this will make a huge difference in my career. However, particularly after I began the Ph.D., I felt like I was missing the classroom. Granted, I've had stints in front of audiences in classroom-like situations through my work with the International Student Office and my research seminars, but it's not the same. Finally this year I had the chance to serve as TA for a course in Early Childhood. It was quite the challenge for two reasons: One, I don't have extended experience working with little children; two, the students in the education program are pretty smart, and I mean the undergrads. So working with them has been an interesting learning experience.
Have you ever heard that expression, "it's like riding a bicycle, once you learn you never forget"? Well going back to teaching does feel like it. What the expression forgets to tell you is that the first time you ride the bike after a long time, you tend to swing your bike like crazy, you have a hard time keeping balance, and sometimes you end up riding where you're not supposed to while you get the feel of the handle bar! My first class felt like that: I stuck my foot in mouth a couple of times, some of my instructions and procedures were not too clear, and I hadn't figured out some of the basics of working with my students yet. I've taught two more sessions, and I'm feeling obstensibly better. My teacher voice is coming back (for those foreign to the profession, there's such a thing as a "teacher voice", usually characterized by a slower pace in speech and sometimes slightly exaggerated pronunciation [especially when you're teaching foreign languages]), I'm feeling better in front of the class, and yes, I'm refining my ways to handle issues with my papers.
I've also gotten a hang back of grading papers. Some of my students are surprised at how much I write on their papers. The reason is simple: It is my belief that if I assign a piece of work, I'd better read it and show evidence that I did. That in part is about RESPECTING your students. My students are very (some extremely) punctual, so that's an invitation for me to work hard and give them the best feedback I can. Plus, as I said before, these girls in my class are talented, so the least I can do is help them fine-tune their writing so they can even better. Doing less would be a DISSERVICE to them!
Teaching this course has been a learning experience twofold: On the one hand, I've learned a lot of about child development, which will come in handy as an uncle (hey, I know that my Ph.D. might come in handy when they girls are in school!) and teacher educator. Second, my students have reminded me of everything a teacher is supposed to do. For that, and even though we've got a long way to go, big THANK YOU to all of you (in that Early Childhood cohort) for your patience and insights, and even those "have a good weekend" wishes I get when they send me their assignments!
One more thing, some folks have wondered why I wear a tie to teach, being a TA and all, when sometimes their TA's and professors barely wear shoes instead of sandals. Well, you see, I'm at the College of EDUCATION. Our professors don't go to class as slackers, and neither do any of the TA's. It's a matter of moral authority and leading by example. Also, with all due respect, there's one thing that separates students in Education from everybody else: You have TA"s and Professors who happen to be (more often than not) basically INSTRUCTORS, that is they know their subject... We, on the other hand, have TA's and Professors who happen to actually be TEACHERS... and that my friends, makes a HUGE difference... Now, I'm not saying that there aren't instructors in other departments who are true teachers. The difference is, many of them become teachers by proxy.... for us this has been our life for so long that it's beyond simply a job... it's a way of life that we're proud of.
I'll end this blog with a brief story: The other night I was out with my friends Alejandro and Maryline, when Alejandro actually called me "Teacher!" My reply was simple: He couldn't have called me anything better in life! You see, sometimes I'm addresed as "Professor" and soon enough they will as "Dr." in virtue of my degrees... I just hope that in that future, they'll also call me "TEACHER" in virtue of the passion, dedication, and excellence with which I've always intended to behave in every classroom I've stepped foot on... after all, I cannot let all my students down... they wouldn't expect anything else!
Until my next blog,
Raul A. (El Patron and a dedicated Teacher)

September 05

Snakes on a Dissertation: Random thoughts at the end of summer!

Hello again to all my fellow bloggers and readers on Facebook and around the world. Now my blog can be read by my friends at the U of I much more easily thanks to Facebook. That's cool! Before I go on with this blog's ramblings, some acknowledgements: First, to my Venezuelan friend Daniel Orellana. Thanks for your kind words on Facebook about my blog. I hope you enjoy future entries :). Finally, to my Aussie friends Down Under and all over the world, my condolences on the passing away of Steve Irwin, aka the Crocodile Hunter. I happened to watch his shows on occasion, and he was an interesting mate to watch. I can assure you, this time the crocodiles' tears are real and he will be missed! R.I.P Steve Irwin.
And now...
Yet another gratuitous twin nieces update (just because they're 1000 times cuter and more charming than I'll ever be!)
So my twin nieces are finally home with their parents. After a month of going from the hospital to my parents' home and back, there's finally some order and peace in the Yepes-Mora household, and they can call themselves a family after so long. I was told their baptism is this coming Saturday. I'll be thinking a lot about them, particuarly this time about Isabella, my goddaughter. It's a beautiful time for my sister, and I'm really happy for her and her husband, not to mention my parents.
Now, on to my blog!
Snakes on a Dissertation, or random thoughts about school and the media!
I'd like to start by talking about the AWESOMEST movie ever: SNAKES ON A PLANE. I admit it isn't the best movie ever, but having seen the movie was one of the best cinematic experiences I've ever had. I followed the saga of SoaP and how the Internet catapulted this movie into a pop culture phenomenon. You have to realize that this is the first time that the audience has pressured a movie production company to change the script: Samuel L. Jackson was called back after production had ended to film additional footage, including the uber-famous line, "Enough is enough! I've had it with these motherf&*$ing snakes on this motherf#&ing plane!!!" The audience just went bananas when we heard it! That alone was worth the admission. From a research perspective, it was evidence that the audiences are no longer passive, and that we can create a real media revolution. We can decide what we'll watch and if we decide to watch a crappy movie, at least we'll decide what kind of crappy movie we'll watch! Eventually, this will lead to demanding more quality and better movies that really appeal to us. I'm just glad to have been part of movie history with the SoaP revolution. This, believe it or not, is the beginning of greater things... or so I think.
And here is where I pay homage to comedian Dennis Miller, and I go off on a rant about TV. Particularly about (e)M(p)T(y)V. It is a fact that MTV has long gone the ways of a guilty pleasure (that's what WWE wrestling shows are still for me) and it has regressed into the ways of what I like to call a "why the f%&* am I even watching this?" moment. Granted, there are some guilty pleasure shows, like "Pimp my Ride," but for the most part MTV shows fall withing the "why... I described earlier. Particularly their "dating" shows. There are quite a few of those, in which MTV seems to have found out the true X-factors that lead to durable, steady relationships: how clean your room is, how you get along with your date's mom on a date (I can see it now, U of I style: Take your date's mom to Kam's... if she can handle a Jager bomb, the girl is definitely a keeper!), and of course, finding your dream beau or belle as she gets off a bus! MTV has is pinned when it comes to everlasting love... Dr. Phil, you're truly a moron and Oprah should just kick you to the curb!
But today I just found the Holy Grail of dating shows. It's called "My One." The plot, very simple: Some dude (or babe, I guess) with a pathological obsession for a celebrity, decides to avoid the almost sure restraining order a judge is already preparing for them by, well attempting to find the next best thing: A girl (or guy) who shares the same pathological obsession for said celebrity and agrees to be this celebrity's doppelganger (or clone, if you will) to be in a very steady and should I add very healthy relationship (sure, and Charlie Manson was a pretty normal guy too!).
I agree that dating, at least in college/grad school, may be tough, but COME ON! I can't buy the idea that someone has so little to offer that they're willing to pretend to be someone else to find a guy/girl. I just got two words for those who participate on this show: COUNSELING SESSIONS!!!!!!! And massive amounts of self-esteem might not hurt.
That was my rant of the week, and paraphrasing Dennis Miller: That's my opinion, and I can't be wrong!
On a completely different subject, school is finally in motion. The coffee shops and libraries are again teeming with the excitement of reading sessions and conversations of different kinds. I am excited to be back in the classroom. I met my students last week, and they're already e-mailing me with questions. This weekend I'll return to that ancient ritual called grading. After a four-year hiatus from the action of the classroooms, I'm excited to get my teaching muscle back into shape. This class has to do with early childhood development. I'm not very knowledgeable of the subject, but with two nieces day care-bound in a few months, these lessons I'll learn might come in handy. So, to me, welcome back to the classroom, Raul. You were badly missed and you missed the classroom as well :)
I've also set in motion the writing of my early drafts of my dissy proposal. In 10 days I'll let you know how that's shaping up. I'm excited about this. This whole year looks to be a great learning experience, and I can't wait to see what comes out of all this :)
Well, take care and I'll be back with more of my blog soon. Till next time,
Raul A. (El Patron)

August 13

Back in the Cornfields: The blog returns with a vengeance!

Greetings to all my fellow readers and friends all over the world. After a very refreshing summer vacation, I'm back in lovely Chambana to continue my doctoral studies and start to work on my "dissy" (aka my dissertation)... but not full throttle yet. I've first got to do my two-week tour of duty with the International Student office during check-in period. You see, every international student that makes it to the U of I has to have a mandatory check-in session. I lead some of those and according to everybody, I'm pretty good at it... I guess that's what it means to be called "the man" or "the guru" (hey, at least this time someone else said it, unlike the time when I proclaimed myself the "grammar guru of the Colombo" in Medellin)... it's a very intense gig but I love it. It reminds me of my teaching days and it allows me to meet a lot of fellow international students.
*Gratuitous twin nieces update* I just spoke to my sister. The twins have to go back to the hospital due to a sudden setback. However, my sister reported they're gaining weight and looking very pretty (of course they do, they take after their mother and not their uncle... but that little fact also makes me fear that they may have a massive temper!). Once I hear more from Colombia, I'll keep the crowd posted
Since we're talking about international students, I imagine you've all read the news about the terrorist plot in the UK and how that has affected travelers to the U.S. I think that's horrible and it's sad to know that they have limitations on carry-on luggage. I think of all travelers, students are the most benefited by carry-on luggage. After all, who wants to send their books and laptops with everything else? Unfortunately, that's the way of the world now. I hope any of you fellas coming here won't have too much of a hard time on your trip, and that all of you coming to schools here have a very safe trip. My prayers go with anyone traveling by plane these days, regardless of the destination.
My prayers and thoughts are also with those innocent casualties of the situation in Israel and Lebanon. I have friends from both countries, in particular some very good friends from Lebanon. I haven't stopped thinking about them and their families, hoping they're safe from harm, or any other civilian in these countries for that matter. Unfortunately, history has taught us one thing: Governments are the ones waging the wars and the people they're supposed to stand for are the ones paying the bill at a very expensive price: Their own lives. At least back in the day when there was a battle the kings were front and center in the battlefield. These modern-day "kings" we call presidents are the first to flee the battlefield! So, regardless of religion or beliefs, my thoughts, prayers, and even tears go with the civilian lives we're losing in Israel and Lebanon. ANY human life we lose is priceless, and God and Allah would probably agree with that! Too bad those who use their names to justify their causes don't seem to see it that way.
Now that I got that off my chest, on to a lighter topic. As I said, this blog wishes to document different aspects of life in graduate school. Tonight I'd like to retake an issue I touched on my May 1 entry. So without any further ado (not adieu please!!!!!!), yet another entry about my take on graduate school...
Graduate School: The other half of the "real world"?
Before I start my discussion, here's a list of antonyms of the word "real":
dreamed(prenominal); fabled; fabricated, fancied, fictional, fictitious, invented, made-up; mythic, mythical, mythologic, mythological; fanciful, imaginary, imagined, notional; fantastic, fantastical; hallucinatory; illusional, illusionary; make-believe, play(prenominal), pretend (Source:
As Chris Rock said in one of his comedy shows, "I'm tired, tired, tired..." of this idea that you finish grad school and return to "the Real World." Quite frankly, that's offensive at worst, patronizing at best. That has been a historical view of graduate school, where students are detached from reality or go to school to escape facing the reality of having a "real" job. Granted, these days it's better seen to be in graduate school (that I'll deal with in another entry), but the idea of the "real world" as being "out there" and off campus still permeates the psyches of master's and doctoral students alike. I would like to propose a different view, though: That grad school (and college at large) is an actual part of the world, and it's as real as having a 9-to-5 job. In fact, I would argue that there are parts of it that make grad school even more difficult than that "real world."
What folks sometimes don't understand is the fact that we made a CHOICE to be here. Nobody forced us to pursue a Ph.D. Granted we may have been lured (the Ph.D. bug, remember?), but ultimately it was our decision to stay here. Since it was our choice, we are aware of the actual sacrifices we're making. I talked about a few of those when I discussed the intangibles of the program (May 3 blog). There's also the fact that we're willingly taking a pay cut from our original jobs when we took this new job of being a student/teacher/researcher/etc. in hope of some kind of retribution once we graduate. In fact, I know that many people don't consider going to grad school because they don't want to take that pay cut. I don't see anything imaginary, hallucinatory, fictitious, etc. about these decisions, do you?
In addition, we're enrolled as full-time students with a part-time job, and that's just those of us who are single. How about those master's and doc students who are also parents? There's a lifetime job for you right there! Last time I checked, their kids were real... no imaginary friends here! On top of this, our job has a curious detail: It basically has no schedule! You see, since we can study whenever we want, that means that we're usually studying most of the day and night. Those who have other lines of work (with the exception of teachers, maybe physicians and law enforcement people) know that once you punch the clock you forget about your work for the day. An open schedule means you usually end up working all the time. And believe me, I see people whose "office" is a coffee shop coming very punctual at 9 am and leaving at 11 pm every day. That was my case during Quals, for instance, and will most likely be during dissy writing.
Granted, we don't have to worry about the daily commute to work or rush hour and the heavy traffic, but our line of work includes meetings, and different tasks to complete (with dire consequences should we neglect them). It's also true that our "dress code" is pretty much nonexistent (sometimes I think the only rule at the university for students is "don't show up to class or work naked"), but I can assure you that we make a ginormous (ginormous = gigantic + enormous) contribution to the coffee industry... man does Juan Valdez love college and graduate students, I'm surprised he's never been invited as a guest speaker at a commencement (U of Illinois President Joe White, I kindly offer Juan Valdez as my proposed speaker for the Class of 2008 Commencement, in case you ever read my blog, Sir!). We also have to write reports for work in which we discuss the progress of the projects and duties we're involved in, we just call them papers! And on top of that, we need to read a whole lot more in this job than we maybe had to in our previous jobs. Further, we also have to pay taxes as everybody else does (sorry, no make-believe taxes for students here) and everything we buy we need to use actual dollars. Sorry, Andrew Jackson, not Uncle Scrooge McDuck, appears on my 20-dollar bills too!
The point is, graduate school is a smaller portion of the world, as real as having a regular job. We also face regular dilemmas as everybody else, and we need to work very hard to earn our pay and our degrees. I tried to show some similarities and even some of the disadvantages we might face when compared to those with a 9-to-5 job. So, next time you think we're not part of the "real world," think again: Our life here is very real and so are our problems... as are yours.
Until my next blog... Peace to you all around the globe, and may you be kept safe from harm, wherever you are.
Raul A. (El Patron)

July 02

Back in Colombia I: It's good to be here!

Greetings to all my fellow bloggers around the world. My apologies for the lack of updates, but it's been hard to write lately. I've finally got some time to sit down and blog, so here it goes!
My thanks to all my friends for their prayers and support during last week. For those who don't know, my sister gave us a scare with the twins. It seems that they were ready for arrival long before expected, and my sister didn't feel well at all. She was at the hospital till Friday afternoon. However, there's a chance that I'll see the girls born while I'm here. I'll keep you all posted.
Now, on to my blog!
1. Back home: Mixed emotions
I arrived in Medellin on the evening of June 14. It was pretty awesome to see my folks and my rather big sister. It's been two years and I've missed them a lot. So seeing their faces when I was walking to baggage claim is always a refreshing sight. It reminds me that it's good to be home. I've spent a lot of time with my parents especially, and I've had plenty of conversations with them about life at large and where I stand in this city.
You see, a lot of my friends here are already married or have moved on elsewhere, so it's hard to keep track of them, let alone hang out with them. I've also had mixed feelings trying to do exactly the same things I used to do circa 2000. It's been tough to realize the city has changed at a pace I didn't notice, and that the city might not be the same familiar place it used to be. That, I believe, is yet another intangible of doing my Ph.D. - The city and I have changed at different rates. I guess that's something else Fulbright didn't prepare me for. I hope someone can take notes and help other international students face re-entry. That's an area where noone gets you totally ready for.
Things have been fine, nonetheless. A lot of my old friends are happy to see me again, and many rejoice at my success. It's good to know that some places still accept me as one of them, and for that I thank all the folks there.
2. Embracing the scholar I'm about to become.
Grad school teaches you to think scholarly, to write scholarly, to speak scholarly. However, sometimes that preparation falls short when it comes to learning to be scholarly outside of the university. For international students. that's a reality we have to embrace. This trip has been a turning point in that scholarship process. It's been a source of mixed feelings. In the words of Jakob Dylan, "Man I ain't changed, but I know I ain't the same." That's what this feels like sometimes. I've learned, however, that I don't need to be any different to people who know me. People will respect what you've done and you don't have to toot your own horn.
This trip has brought some interesting surprises in that regard: In addition to the two seminars I'll teach in Bogota (the one here in Medellin got cancelled due to low registration) and some workshops at this place I used to work for, my first Alma Mater (U of I being the 2nd) invited me to be the keynote speaker at their inaugural lecture for the 2nd semester of 2006. I was also invited as a guest for a radio show for outstanding alumni (me? that was my reaction) to be broadcast on July 23. Finally, I was invited as guest speaker for some conversations with students and faculty at my alma mater and a college I used to teach. It's quite the honor, but quite frankly I haven't let it get over my head... after all when I get back I still need to work on my dissertation and that alone (if not my advisor and faculty) will bring me back to earth. I feel happy that what I've done so far is recognized, but I also know that more might be expected of me after graduation, so that makes things even more challenging and gives me plenty of things to look forward to for the next two years and beyond!
3. The tastes and colors of Medellin
I haven't had much of a chance to go out around town with my sister's stuff and some errands I've had to run. But I plan to do something about it in the next two weeks. However, today, out of sheer serendipity, I had an interesting experience. I was at my sister's apartment and I went out to buy some mangoes for my mom at the corner. Yes, you heard it right, the corner! Here you can buy fruit on a street corner. On my way out, I remembered my sister had a craving for something we call "obleas," kind of a round wafer, pretty thin. You eat two of those with jelly, condensed milk, and other sweet stuff. Anyway, I decided to go to the neighborhood square to find the aforementioned obleas. It was a nice experience to sit down for a few minutes while this old man prepared three obleas to take back and watch the people have fun and walk around the square. There were folks selling fruit, hot dogs, hamburgers, arepas, etc. I guess that's one of the beauties of this place: being able to sit down on this neighborhood square and have a meal. It was refreshing and I think I'll go out and sit down in some of these places around Medellin to relax. That, my friends, will be the subject of future blogs!
Till next time. Have a good summer and a Happy Fourth of July to my U.S. friends.
Raul A. (El Patrón)

May 23

Blog: Birthday Edition

Greetings to all my friends and fellow bloggers. Since today's my birthday, I decided to blog as part of the celebration. Day's gone well so far, I've had presents, cake, and calls and messages from friends and family, so that's cool. I also passed my quals (yay!) so there's plenty to celebrate about tonight! For my friends in Colombia, mark your calendars, I'll be there on June 14. Hope to be able to see a lot of you on my visit.
Now, on to my blog!
If 30 is the new 20, and 50 the new 30, I guess turning 32 ain't that bad!
So I turn 32 today... I guess if I were an athlete I'd be near the end of my career or thinking about putting massive amounts of chemicals in my body so I could hit 715 home runs... or something along those lines. But I'm in the academia, and it seems that being in one's 30s is a pretty good age. Heck, it seems that 30s is a good age to be these days. I'm having a good time, and my life seems to be finally having a sense of direction. I have a lot to look forward to at this point in my life and plenty of things to do.
Of course, there's the flip side: There is so much I still have to figure out. I mean, most of my friends are already married and some with children, even my sister is. But as I mentioned in my intangibles blog, that comes with the territory. There's one interesting thing about grad school, it gives you a different sense of timing and what it takes to get it all done. But, I feel like I've accomplihed enough by 32 and I feel that the challenges ahead of me will keep me active and energized for the next 30 years... something else to look forward to!
The process of climbing my own "Everest": The path towards graduation
If you read enough about my quals saga, you must imagine that I'm very excited about reaching this milestone. And if you plan to be a grad student in the future, know this: Every step you reach is to be celebrated, but the aftermath is always this "oh, crap!" feeling tied to it. You see, when I finished my master's, I was excited on graduation day... the next day it dawned on me, "oh, crap! Now I'm a doctoral student!" Now that I passed my quals, the elation of it all also brings the "oh, crap! Now I have to start to work on my dissertation!" It's because of these mixed emotions that I came up with the "Everest" metaphor. So, bear with me as I explain it:
In the academic world, getting a Ph.D. is the highest you can reach as far as titles are concerned. In this mountainous metaphor, getting your bachelor's is like climbing the Kilimanjaro or Mt. McKinley... a tough climb within reach of most. A master's would be like the Aconcagua... a bit tougher and a great accomplishment for those who are not so crazy or extreme. The Ph.D. would actually be like climbing the Everest: It's the highest and only a very [crazy] few are willing to take their chances. Now, I know that people may die climibing the Everest, but to some, failure in the PhD may be close to academic death, especially for international students.
There are other similarities that this metaphor provides: Like climbing the Everest, one cannot reach the summit in one day. There are steps to follow, in a similar way as a climber progresses through the camps and takes some time in each of them to rest, regroup, and move on. Fulfilling the basic requirements (courses, research evidence, etc) is like going through the first camps in your climb. The quals would be like making it to Camp III, and the Prelims, that would be Camp IV. The process of collecting data and writing, well that's like getting ready to reach the summit, which would be the defense. Once you defend, well, you've reached the summit and it's time to get ready for the "descent," which means getting ready to leave the mountain and on to other things.
Of course, no climber would try to reach Mt. Everest as their first mountain. That's where the smaller mountains come in handy. They prepare you for what lies ahead. Same goes with the Ph.D. No one would expect you to go for a Ph.D. right after high school! Bachelor's and Master's degrees are good tests of whether it is the right thing for you. Trust me, some people can be very successful and happy without going all the way. But if you are planning to climb the "academic Everest", be aware that it will be long, full of challenges, and every step you reach only means that there's another ahead. It also means you're closer to your prize, so rejoice with every single accomplishment. Trust me, I'm happy as hell for passing my quals. Now I'm looking forward to the rest of my "climb".
Till next time, enjoy your summer!
Raul A. (El Patron)

May 16

Summer's Here: Welcome to Campus Ghost Town

Once again, hello to all my friends in the Blogosphere. First, some announcements: I already bought my plane tickets and I'll be going to Colombia in less than a month!!!! It is official, I'll be in Medellin on June 14 in the evening! I'm excited about that, and I'm looking forward to seeing my folks, my sister, and all my friends once again. I'm also looking forward to teaching the seminars in Medellin and Bogota. I'll keep you posted on how that works out. [The umbrella is to keep me dry, it's been raining like crazy in Illinois. The weather has been more erratic than usual, which for Illinois' case, it's pretty scary!]
There are some changes for next year. After four years of working as a research assistant (RA), I'll get to be a Teaching Assistant (TA) next year. I'm very excited about this opportunity to work with preservice teachers. I haven't been in a classroom since I left Colombia, and I'm missing the action in the classroom. Of course, my blog will also report on my experiences as a TA. Also, for those who don't know yet, I have a new girlfriend! She lives in Champaign, so that's a nice change of pace. Things are looking good between us, and she's really nice also. I guess I'll have a lot of explaining to do when I'm in Medellin so bring it on!
And now, on to the blog!
Summer: Campus Gone Mild!
As I've reported on previous blogs, life on a college campus can be anything but simple or quiet. There's always motion, energy, excitement, and lots of coffee/energy drinks to sustain the intensity of work during the semesters. From the first day of class till the last final, you'll find coffee shops and bars alike full of people. There are always people walking all over campus, and you can tell there's something going on all over the place... and then there's Summer. You see, most undergrads pretty much leave campus the weekend after finals and many don't come back until the weekend before classes begin. All the exchange students return to their home countries and a few graduate students can afford to go home. That leaves a very few that have to stay on campus for the summer. If fall and spring semesters are life on 5th gear, summer is definitely life on 1st gear. You can tell summer's here the morning after graduation. Bus routes are reduced (here at the U of I, for instance, all campus routes shut down for the summer), library hours are shortened, and even coffee shops close earlier. Some businesses close down for the summer to save money, and those who open are well aware that things will be slow. Even night time is slower: Bars aren't crowded during the summer. Also, finding what courses to take may be tough: There aren't that many choices available for you so be prepared.
Now, staying on campus for the summer is not necessarily a bad thing. Many people like to enjoy the slower pace of campus to get some of their work done. After all, access to computer labs and libraries is easier and you'll always find a spot to work at your favorite coffee shop. Also, night life may be less crowded, but sometimes it's cheaper. Some bars like to offer special deals for the summer, like happy hours. In addition, by now all bars have opened their beer gardens, so provided it's not raining, you can always sit outside and enjoy the long, sunny summer afternoons and have a drink with a friend at a cheaper price than it would cost during the school year.
Also, you can take a summer job. If you're an international student, there's a provision in your visa that allows you to work anywhere on campus full time (up to 40 hours a week), as opposed to the school year, when you can only work 20 hours a week. In fact, whether you have summer funding or not, some people like to take summer jobs to help pay their bills and even save some for a small vacation. That's an option that you should consider. Summer jobs have an advantage over your academic jobs in the school year: They're easier and sometimes can be pretty fun. However, be aware that pay might be less than what you make as a TA or research assistant. But, unlike some of your research jobs, some of them involve working with people on a regular basis and they can be fun. Last summer, for instance, I worked as a desk clerk at a graduate student dorm (Sherman Hall) and it was entertaining. I got to meet a lot of people and made friends, although working from 11 pm to 7 am (the Vampire Shift as I like to call it) can be exhausting.
Well, this is all for now. I'll see some of you within a month when I visit Medellin (I'll also blog from there so stick around) and for the others, Have a great summer, no matter where you'll be!
Raul A. (El Patron)

May 10

Grad School and the Eternal Quest for Free Food!

Greetings to all my fellow readers. The sun is just a reminder that spring is finally in Illinois, which can only mean one thing: We're still not sure what the weather is going to be like tomorrow. As always, time for the acknowledgements: To my friends from the Class of 2006, Congratulations and carry on in your endeavors, be it the doctoral program, work, or leaving Chambana, best of luck. Also, remember to share your feedback with me, and future topics are always welcome.
As I've said before, this blog covers aspects of my life in Champaign-Urbana as a doctoral student; some rather serious, some more trivial, but all of them make part of grad school life. So, without any further ado... this week's blog:
Grad School: The Eternal Quest for Free Food!
There are many similarities among graduate students, whether they go to Research I universities or not. One is that graduate students are usually very talented and driven to succeed, they are usually some of the best and brightest in their fields, and all want to graduate sometime in the future, hopefully while they can still walk without a cane! There's another trait that unites us all: Most of us make enough money not so much to live but to survive... no joke there. You can live decently with the stipends, but you won't be buying that BMW anytime soon or eating lobster every Sunday. So, under these circumstances, seasoned graduate students develop one of the main survival skills they'll need during their tenure: Securing Free Food!!!!!!
Now, it is a fact that grad students like free food. And pretty much everybody on campus is in the loop. Your advisor knows that, and so do the other faculty. In fact, you'd be surprised to find that some of them encourage you to take the food home with you (Dr. Harris, it's you I'm talking about... and the shrimp was delicious!!!!). If they like you enough, they'll make sure you can take it, even leave it somewhere for you. The bottom line is, they also know what it's like to be a grad student and they want you to feed... so you won't faint while working on your quals (I said they were nice, not that they didn't have ulterior motives!)
Now, the issue is, where can I find that food? Here's two places where you can start:
1. Professional seminars in your department/college: Usually colleges host research or professional seminars, where guest speakers or faculty share their research. Aside from the food, this is a very important opportunity to find out what your professors are up to. If you remember my previous blogs, I've said that in Research I universities you can find top-notch scholars. You may want to meet them and these are good opportunities. Also, there's always refreshments! In the case of a guest speaker, sometimes they also have a reception that attendants to the session are welcome to attend. Ergo... more food for you! And you network. Show them that you're hungry for knowledge, not just for food!
In fact, any professional event hosted by the university or any college is always a good catch. Remember: Sometimes you also want to learn what those folks all over campus are up to while you have a snack.
2. Potlucks: If you're in a nice department or college (like Education), they hold potlucks from time to time. The nice thing about potlucks is that there is plenty of food. You may have to bring something, but it's worth it. You see, faculty attend them, and that only means good food. Also, those married doc students always cook something good. So, do buy that bucket of chicken, you'll be having a lot of food to go with that wing.
Sometimes you might be lucky enough that you can take stuff home with you. If you can, go for it. The bottom line is, if you don't take it home, they'll throw it away anyways. So better in your fridge than in the trash can, right? Don't be afraid to ask, and if you feel a little embarrassed, then have a professor hook you up... you get less funny looks if a Full Professor asks for you. I've done it before, and as I said above, those shrimp were delicious... those who've had a bagful of shrimp for dinner lately raise your hand... just what I thought, I rest my case!
So, what have we learned today about finding free food: (a) Everybody knows that you're there for it. (b) Just make sure that's not the only reason why you're there; get to meet people, mingle, meet the faculty or guest speaker. You might get something more useful than tonight's dinner in the long run. (c) Use free food to learn about your university and educate yourself while securing lunch.
That's all for now. I'll be back with more blogs soon.
Raul A. (El Patron)

May 03

PhD's: Inevitable and expensive?

Greetings once again to all those who've been kind enough to read the blog. As always, acknowledgments: Thanks to my friend, colleague, and former boss Lai Yin Shem in Medellin. I appreciate your comments and yes, surviving and thriving can be tough but interesting. Also, thanks to Marco in Medellin, I hope I didn't scare the bejesus out of you with the reading thing. I'll return to the reading issue and other academic stuff in future blogs.
So I got an e-mail today from one journal that I serve as Editorial Board Member for. Aside from the excitement that this journal (PROFILE) is now indexed, the message made me smile yet again, as does any message addressed to "Dr." Raul A. Mora. I guess it gives me something to look forward to... being a real Dr. someday (by the way - rant alert - PhD's are REAL doctors too... we may not be physicians but we also have to bust our chops for several years!!!!!)
Now on to the blog: This week's blog, let me warn you, is both very funny and kind of serious, so handle with care.
1. "Resistance [will be] futile!" Or what to do when the Ph.D. bug bites.
Those who know my trajectory well enough know that I arrived in Illinois in 2002, as a Fulbright student, to pursue a master's in education and "maybe" find academic training or "maybe" do my Ph.D. One of the unmentioned shenanigans of Research I universities (see May 1 blog) is the existence of this bug called the "Ph.D. bug." And unless you have vaccinated yourself against it (i.e. convinced yourself that there is no chance in hell I'll do one of those, or be in Law school or an MBA program), it WILL bite you. It's futile, don't say that you won't, that a Ph.D. is not for you. If you're in a Research I, it will bite you. And, if you're a Fulbrighter, you're doomed. Fulbright master's students are the biggest targets of the bug... ask me and a lot of my friends at the U of I. I think the score so far is: U of I Ph.D.: 150 Fulbright MA Students: 0!
But how does the bug work? You see, one of the interesting facts about Research I universities is that in some classes, master's and doctoral students can be together. There are classes restricted to master's, and restricted doctoral seminars, but you can find either in those. When you enroll in one of these (let's call them for now) "mixed" seminars, master's and doctoral students are faced with the same amounts of reading and expected to participate equally in the discussions and conversations. It is right there that the bug hits you: You start wondering, "If I can be with doctoral students in a seminar, and do just as well or better, am I Ph.D. material?" And trust me, doc students and faculty are like sharks: They can smell blood in the water, or in this case a master's student's indecision. And we'll... er... they'll do whatever it takes to have you join the ranks of the doc students. I have personally helped several Fullies make up their mind, and I had to go through that too. I admit, the pressure to go all the way is high, and as an international student, you have this "now or never" mentality [not too farfetched, though], which adds up to the pressure. Doubt, fear, uncertainty, become part of the problem... and that's just wondering whether you should apply online or use the paper forms.
Now, understand that if you're being told you're ripe for a doctorate that's a compliment. People here (as I said in a previous blog) like to praise talent only if they see it. We're not cheerleaders, we're not Paula Abdul in American Idol (i.e. we won't say nice things just because that's what you want to hear), but we're not Simon Cowell either (although some committees can have a professor who makes Simon look like Santa Claus!). If you feel that you can go all the way, or if you feel that your adviser cannot wait for you to be a doc student, there might be something about you that might help you succeed. However, you should be true to your heart. This is a decision that will primarily shape the next 3, 4, 5 years of your life and most likely the rest of your career. Make a sound decision. Here are some suggestions:
- Talk to people. Other graduate students (in and out of your department), your advisor, other professors you've taken classes with. Ask for an honest opinion. It's better to be told you're not ready for it before you start applying than when you're starting to write your dissertation! Also, universities have career services offices and counselors. Ask for an appointment and bring your concerns. It's not an easy decision, but don't corner yourself.
- Look at what you want out of your career. Does a Ph.D. fit what I want to do? That's a big question you must ask yourself. That might finally decide what gown you'll wear on graduation day.
- Again, be true to yourself. Whatever you decide, make sure you know well why you did it. Whether you stay or leave, do it the right way. Again, remember that those close to you might not understand at first (it took my folks some time to assimilate my decision, but they -as they've done so many times before- supported me and gave me all their energy and love), but eventually they'll understand that it's for your best.
2. The Intangible Costs of Graduate School.
There's a famous saying in the U.S., "There's no such thing as a free meal." It kind of applies the same to (especially) a doctorate. True, some graduate students need to take up thousands of dollars on loans to get their MBAs or go to Law school, but many are also blessed with scholarships, fellowships, or assistantships to pursue their degrees. Many international students manage to pursue their degrees that way. But it is not the economic costs of a Ph.D., for instance, that I'm concerned about. It's the other costs of a Ph.D. for thousands of international students all over the U.S.
I mentioned in my previous blog that your life goes on once you're in grad school. However, everybody else's lives do too. And there's where the intangibles begin. I'll speak for myself. So far doing my master's and working on my Ph.D. has cost me: Missing 3 weddings, including my sister's; not being the best man in 2 of those weddings; the birth of some of my cousin's and close friends' babies; lots of birthdays in my family; and very likely the birth of my twin nieces. And at least I can see my family every couple of years. There are international students who must leave their wives and children behind, and not see them again until they finish their degrees. In some cases, even find out about their newborn babies on webcam! There are some fortunate enough to have their families visit several times, others only once, and many never get to host their families or celebrate their graduations with them (In 2004, I witnessed one Ph.D. graduate that had no one join him at the ceremony, in one of the happiest days of his life!). In addition, the pressure is always there, if you're not careful enough you can get sick or even worse.
I hope I'm not making the doctoral program sound as if it were a battlefield. I just wanted to point out that sometimes people outside of the program might pass judgment on us, or even think that we just want things to be this way, and that we don't try hard enough to go back home and that we'd rather be piled up in snow up here than having a nice meal in warm weather. However, we know that it's bigger than that: Not all of us come from super-wealthy families and sometimes travel is expensive. Our funding is enough to have a good life here, but not one of luxury. It is hard enough for us to deal with those intangibles and we know that those memories can never be recovered, no matter how many dvd's and mementos they send you, those of us who are here pursuing and working hard for our dreams know that all that comes with the territory. Deciding to pack your bags and go to graduate school means that you will miss some highlights of those you love back home. As I said, they'll offer you a cheaper ride, not a free one.
However, there is a silver lining: You are also living great memories no one else is. I've visited great cities in the U.S. and met amazing people from all over the world. Ask yourself a question: How many people in the world do you know that gets to hang out (and party) with people from over 60 countries on a regular basis, some of the brightest in their fields no less? True, a weekend barbecue with my folks is pretty awesome and super fun (almost priceless), but an afternoon on my own at the Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco is a decent consolation prize. It's gonna suck not taking my nieces for a stroll at a shopping mall in Medellin, but I know a long walk down the Magnficent Mile in Chicago will cheer me up. Plus, I don't have my family in the U.S., but one thing we international students learn is that you can make up a "family" of your own. I cannot do as much as I wish for my little sister, but I have a bunch of younger "siblings" that I take care of day in and day out - and they take care of me, in their own bizarre ways. I have a "family" in C&I, where my advisor and the faculty sometimes are sometimes like surrogate parents and uncles/aunts, and my classmates are another form of family - and like my cousins in Colombia, they like me even though I'm one of the loudest and most eccentric people they've ever met.
One nice thing of the "family" grad students start becoming is that what happens to you, good or bad, becomes a big deal for those close to you. There's a sense of camaraderie that comes with being "on the same boat." So, my advice to those of you that might be considering graduate school as your new life: Be aware of those intangibles. You'll miss some of the best things that will happen to everyone else, but you will also live some of the best (and craziest) moments in your life, and I can assure you you'll have a lot of stories to tell... like that time when you climbed up the Alma Mater all dressed in orange that day of the NCAA championship game... on, you weren't in Champaign that day? Well, you'll tell me all about what the wedding was like and how tasty the cake was and I'll tell you what it's like to walk around in a city where 30,000 people are dressed in orange and blue!
Until my next blog.
Raul (El Patron)
May 01

The shenanigans of Research I Universities

Greetings to all my increasing fellow bloggers. As always, I like to say thanks for all the feedback I receive from friends and family. This time huge thanks to my friend and work mentor Norah Yepes in New York. I appreciate that you want to share my blog with other future Fulbrighters around the world. As a Fulbright Alumnus, it's a reason to be happy.
There has been one topic I've kind of wanted to talk about, since from my own experience at Illinois it's worth being told about when you're choosing schools for a master's or a doctorate. When I chose Illinois, I was well aware of its reputation and the fact that I was a top-notch school. What I didn't know was the existence of the term "Research I University" and the consequences for students enrolled in such universities. So here's the scoop on what that's all about and what it means for you:
The term "Research I" is actually coined by the Carnegie Foundation, and it refers to schools that offer more than (I think) 150 doctoral programs. The ones offering less than 150 are called Research II. Then there are those that only offer Master's degrees. Although I recently read that Carnegie had come up with another, more comprehensive, classification, this one is highly popular and sooner or later it becomes part of the everyday lingo, especially in fields like the humanities.
Now, being a bit sarcastic, sometimes I wonder if "Research I" is a term professors use to justify those 3 books you have to read for the following class plus the subsequent report about it and the fact that you'll have to spend a whole afternoon in the library [By the way, I said I was being sarcastic, not that I was joking!] or lots of time sitting at a coffee shop (refer to my April 4 blog). The bottom line is, the expectations for graduate students at Research I unversities are very high and faculty here are very straightforward about it, and that brings about the constant bump-and-grind atmosphere that surrounds you as a student. One of the first things I had to learn to live with was the high amounts of reading. In fact, learning to skim and scan reading materials become very important skills to develop, so please when they talk to you in reading comprehension classes about skimming and scanning, pay attention. That will be the difference in terms of how long it will take you to finish your readings, and remember to multiply any numbers I provide about pages to read by at least 3, again not kidding.
I don't bring up these numbers to scare people away. You just need to know that Research I universities are mostly concerned in, yes, research. For some folks (like me), that's perfect. You get the chance to work with some of the best in their fields and get your feet wet. But some people have more practical goals for their degrees. Let's say, for example, that you do want to get a doctorate in education, but you're not so crazy about research or being a university professor. Knowing what kind of institution you're applying to is important. Do your homework and ask around A LOT. And, if you decide to enroll in a Research I university, know this: You'll probably come out well prepared, but the faculty are gonna beat you up (intellectually speaking, of course) in the process. And trust me: They know that they're beating you up day in and day out... but then again that's for your own good.
So, what do you need to know in order not only to survive but thrive in a Research I environment? Here are some tips:
1. Get involved. U.S. universities in general, and Research I in particular, provide students with lots of chances to partake in the academic and reserach community. If you can get involved in research, do it as soon as you can, even if for free at first. Try to get your work known. Submit papers for conferences. Some universities have Graduate Student Symposia [I have presented at 2 of those], and that's a good chance to learn the tricks of presenting.
2. Get to know the faculty. Research I faculty are awfully busy, but if you request for an appointment to discuss a particular issue of your interest, they will open a space for you. However, be careful. Faculty here have a very low tolerance for brown-nosing, so be respectful without being overly flattery. They already know they're "big names," they don't need you to remind them. But they will demand respect. So, it's always customary to e-mail them and ask for a meeting. Do refer to them as "Dr. so-and-so" or "Professor so-and-so," especially when you introduce yourself for the first time. Some are very laid-back and don't mind if you call them by first name eventually; some won't say a word but it's well-known that graduate students don't call them by their first names. Relationships with faculty can range from very respectful professional courtesy to strong friendships. Faculty refer to you as "graduate students," but many of them know they are breeding their future colleagues, so any form of camaraderie is simply their way to welcome you to the academic circle.
3. Be always ready to go the extra mile. Most doctoral students (especially) have to work while they pursue their degrees. Going the extra mile means be ready to work overtime if necessary or to do more than you might be supposed to. A strong work ethic and that trooper spirit that comes with going the extra mile are highly appreciated by faculty and that will in turn help your reputation as a grad student and might help you find more funding in the future.
4. The race is only with yourself. One huge difference between undegraduate programs and graduate programs is how one conceives competition. At the undergraduate level, there is more competition in terms of GPA or ranking, and students might make a bigger fuss about an A or an A minus, for instance. At the graduate level, although you are still competing for scholarships or funding, there is that feeling that you're working to improve yourself, not to prove you're better than the others. After all, if you made it to grad school, you've already proven you're academically successful. You get those A's for your satisfaction and sometimes even bragging rights [An A-plus will always be something to crow about!], but that won't be the measure of your success.
5. Network, network, network. Probably one of the biggest lessons about grad school I have learned so far has been the importance of networking and making strong relationships with your classmates. Although in graduate school the concept of a cohort is almost non-existant [unless you're in law school, med school, or the MBA], you take classes with a lot of people from all walks of life. Remember what I said about what you look like in the eyes of the faculty? That applies to your classmates. They, too, will defend their dissertations and find jobs. Make sure you maintain those contacts. That might come in handy in the future.
6. Life happens in grad school too! One of the biggest mistakes one can make is to think that their life is on hold or stand-by while in graduate school. Nothing could be farther than the truth. What you just did is leave your country and resume your life elsewhere, at a very different pace from those in what we call "the real world." Newsflash: Grad school is part of the real world, and those things that happen to folks out of grad school happen to us too! I still have to pay rent and my phone, I've had a girlfriend, and I have to go grocery shopping in between my thesis, classes, and my quals. Friends of mine in school have gotten married and had babies, others become uncles, aunts, and even grandparents. A beer tastes the same here than elsewhere (although they won't charge you 7 bucks for a Corona on campus as they would in Chicago!). My point is, graduate students can have fulfilling lives and fun from time to time. We're busy in our own terms and sometimes work 9-to-5 too... although in our case it might very well be 9 PM to 5 AM!
7. Have friends everywhere, on and off campus. One big mistake people make is to stick to their small circles of friends and never leave them. A secret to my success (survival?) in grad school has been having friends who are not in education. People outside your department keep you with your feet on earth. Plus, it is exciting to hear what others do and to have someone enjoy hearing about your work with a sense of novelty. In the same token, meet people from other cities/countries. My circle of friends includes people from Argentina, Venezuela, Turkey, the Netherlands, Russia, Puerto Rico, Korea, Taiwan, Lebanon, and so on. Remember that you might NEVER have the opportunity to learn so much about the world as you will in graduate school. Seize that opportunity. In that same token...
8. Think outside the box. Aside from meeting people in other departments or from other countries, enjoy the diversity and chances for creativity campuses offer. Go to a library that's not in your field, go to cultural events, get to know what other areas are up to. Two of my papers have been in communications (at Kentucky) and Latina/Latino studies (at Illinois), and I treasure the experience of learning about what those fields are doing.
One final thing you should know about your survival:
9. Your friends and family might NEVER understand what it is that you do, but they'll love you regardless! Trust me, the most dreaded questions your folks can ask you (and they will) is, "So what's your research about?" "What's your thesis/dissertation topic?" and the heavyweight champion, "What is it exactly what you're doing in graduate school?" It might take people forever to understand why a Ph.D. might take 6 or 7 years... add to that the fact that for international students that might imply explaning it in your native language, and that thickens the plot dramatically. But remember, your friends and family are proud of you anyways. Plus, that also keeps you down to earth, because you'll always be the person they knew before you became "Dr so-and-so"... and that's cool too!
Anyway, I wanted to share these ideas with you. To all my friends and readers, my best wishes. As always, let me know what you think of my blogs and if there's any part of my life in school that you'd like me to discuss in future blogs.
Take care and good luck.
Raul A. (El Patron)

April 25

Random thoughts in the aftermath of my quals

The blog is here! The blog is here! The blog is here!
(Note: That was inspired by the great Muhammed Ali's "The Champ is Here")
Greetings to all my friends in the blogosphere. So I'm finally back to writing after my last week and a half of Quals... it was a very intense experience, especially the last few days. I had to pull an all-nighter. For those out of the college/grad school experience, an all-nighter is one of those oftentimes necessary evils of grad school and it takes a serious toll on your body, especially because most of the time all nighters require high amounts of coffee or energy drinks (in fact, stick to Red Bull... others can be lethal believe me!) to sustain the high-octane levels that all nighters require. I want to thank everyone for their support over these last few months, be it by praying for me or putting up with my hissy fits or mood swings. Those who have to go through this know how taxing it is. I'm feeling much more relaxed today since I got a 600-lb gorilla off my back (yes quals can feel that heavy!). I mean, literally, my back is less tense! Now, I think I might be scaring away a few people from the ranks of the doc students. This kind of reminds of what my advisor said to me when I picked up the questions, "Have fun... and I don't mean it in a sarcastic way." I did have fun with my quals. After all, as an intellectual exercise, it's very interesting. It pushed me to read things I hadn't thought about before and it gave me lots of ideas for future research beyond my dissertation.
All in all, I'm excited to be done with quals, and soon I'll be able to start to work on the piece-de-resistance of grad school: The Dissertation (or as I like to call it for pizzazz value, the "dissy"). Everyone in the doctoral program knows that this is what all those classes, research credits, and quals are getting you ready for. In two weeks I'll know if I need to revise my quals or start to work on the dissy right away.
Now, I'd like to actually thank those who have actually read my blogs. I've heard from Carlos Rico, my friend and brother in Bogota, and I apologize for not telling you about my seminar. I've heard from some friends in Champaign, like Rebecca - merci beaucoup, toi si jolie! - and finally I heard from my sister via my mom... Damn sis! Of all people, I thought you'd be the first to figure out I was talking about Isabella & Manuela! Trust me sis, if I were dating someone, let alone two, you'd have been the first to know and not through a blog. You should know me better than that, oh the humanity! Now that I made some fun of my sister, I'd like to report that she's doing well while getting heavier. Thanks too to all those who have asked me about her and made comments about their names, either to compliment them (that would be you, Manuela Jandl in Austria) or to complain about them (that would be you, Jose Luis in Medellin). I appreciate your interest.
On a personal note, I want to congratulate some of my friends from the upcoming Class of 2006: Drs. Sara Salloum, Mustafa Yunus Eryaman, and Dom (my goodfella) Ricci. You're earned it and I know how hard you worked to get your degrees. And personally, I can tell you all that you will be missed next year. Please don't be strangers and keep in touch. I also want to congratulate my friend Issam for losing lots of sleep lately because of a new addition to his family: his new-born child. Have fun and try to sleep a little... you know, the College of Ed couches are pretty comfy for a nap! Finally, congrats to my [ex-girl]friend Meaghan in Oregon for her new house. I know how exciting that is and best of luck in your new place.
I've said it once and I'll say it again: Damn Illinois weather! While I was working on my quals, we have 3 weeks of wonderful sunny skies. I'm done with my quals, looking forward to a sunny day... BOOM! Rainy day today, what's up with that? I hope the weekend will be better, I'd really like to hang out at the quad and chill for a while. But then again, this gave me time to blog, so it's not all bad in the end. But I stil lwant to chill at the Quad on a sunny afternoon!!!!
Well, that's all for now, but I'll be back with more blogs really soon.
Till next blog,
Raul A. (El Patron)
April 13

My trip to San Francisco (III) - The rest of the trip

Hello again fellas. I'm back in Chambana after a long week in San Fran. Boy, was I glad to be back! The weather was awesome here, 78 degrees, sunny skies, and girls in skimpy outfits... but I digressed. Thing is, San Fran was rainy most of the time, and I was getting tired of sleeping in a bunk bed with very uncomfy pillows. Plus, I need to keep working on my quals. But, there's room for another long blog, so here it goes:
1. Sunday: The Wharf and more party crashing.
I attended the morning sessions and then I took the afternoon off. I took a cable car and went to the Fisherman's Wharf. Riding the cable car, I came across some Paisas, we're all over the world it seems. Once at the Wharf, I walked all over it and saw the old ships at the piers, Ghirardelli Square, piers 39 and 45, and I even took a boat tour around the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. That was very exciting. I didn't buy anything there other than postcards, but the funny thing is, when I went to a souvenir shop, all I could think of was finding something for my nieces. I'm telling you, I'm starting to get a kick out of this uncle business (see previous blog for more about that). After that, it was dinner time, so let's crash some parties! Here's the review:
- UMass: Decent food and at least I got a free drink out of it. I also met some students from Colombia, so that's always good.
-Texan Colleges: So much for "Texan Hospitality"... B-O-R-I-N-G!
-Wisconsin: It was alright, not much going on really.
-Teachers College: Great food and since I met two TC cats at the hostel, that was cool. There was free booze too, so that's always cool.
-Stanford: For a school that has such a big reputation, they could throw better parties!
-Journal of Latinos in Education: That Latinos know how to party is a FACT. And these guys were off the hook. I got there and they gave us a bag, I mean one big enough to fit sports gear and go to the gym. They had a live Latin band, lots of dancing and good food. By far the best reception of all. Told you, Latinos Rule!
After that we went to a bar downtown where two Canadian universities were hosting a party. Cool place, nice band, and lots of free booze... it was fun, eh? Nothing to complain "aboot" them Canadians.
2. Monday and Tuesday
Monday was pretty uneventful, just going to sessions and then two receptions at night. First was hosted by the Self-Study of Teacher Education Practices (S-STEP) SIG at AERA. I know some of those folks through my advisor, and they're pretty cool. Again, free drinks and lots of food (To the envy of those Engineering folks, in education there's always lots of food flowing!). I also made very important contacts and I can't wait to go to their conference in a few years. You see, these cats hold their biannual conference at a CASTLE in ENGLAND... now that's a pimpin' conference, don't you think? Then it was the Illinois reception and obviously, there was very good food. The U of I didn't disappoint in terms of food and being a Monday the expectations for entertainment were low; plus I had 2 presentations the next day.
Tuesday was interesting: I chaired a session in the morning and ended up also playing the role of discussant. For those who don't know how this works, AERA has a kind of sessions called paper sessions (some also call them symposia). They usually have a chair, who introduces the session and presenters and keeps time and leads the Q&A session, and a discussant, who reads the papers beforehand and offers general and individual comments. My discusssant couldn't make it, but I felt like giving some comments. People liked my intervention, so much so that one of the presenters asked me if I was on FACULTY already! That was super flattering. Later in the afternoon, I had a very interesting chat with the other presenter in our afternoon session, some good stuff may come out of that for the future. We only had 2 people for our session, but it's okay, you don't have to explain how many attended your session on your C.V. Plus, it was the very last session on the last day of the conference, so that was to be expected. After that, I just stayed in the hotel and relaxed. I had to get up at 3:30 to go to the airport so it made sense.
3. The culture of conferences
Those who know me know about my experiences as presenter at the ELT Conference in Medellin and the ASOCOPI conferences. I also had the chance to present in the US for the first time in February, 2003 at the University of Kentucky and later in April of that year I attended my first AERA Conference in Chicago. I have to admit that there was a lot of culture shock, especially at AERA. You see, there are some major differences between how these conferences work and those in Colombia:
- In Colombia you usually have between 60 and 90 minutes to present your research. In some of these conferences, they give you between 12 and 20 minutes to do that. Although for one of them I had a whole 40 minutes to present my reserach, which was cool.
- In Colombia you usually present your work alone. Here it's common to be part of a symposium with 3 or 4 more papers, a chair and a discussant (see above what that's about).
There are things about both styles that I really like. I love the latitude you have when you have 40, 60, or 90 minutes to present your work. However, it's not uncommon to leave the session without getting any feedback for your paper. That's why I like the idea of the discussant as part of the symposium. A good discussant can really give you amazing ideas to push your research forward. Plus, when you're part of the symposium, you also meet other folks doing similar work to yours, so you can network, and you get to hear what others are doing.
What would I suggest anyone in graduate school? Try to get your papers accepted in both kinds of conferences. Most research universities have graduate student symposia (I've presented at two of those, in Kentucky and Illinois), which are very friendly enviroments and the faculty who act as discussants are really friendly. The academic demands are high, but at least it's not as intimidating as the biggies. Also, sometimes divisions within the major associations (such as the American Educational Research Association [AERA] or the National Council of Teachers of English [NCTE]) host smaller conferences. Those can be very nice events to attend. You still get to see the big-time scholars presenting their work, but the atmosphere is more laid-back. I attended one, for the Assembly for Research at NCTE (NCTEAR) at UC-Berkeley in 2004 and it was really cool. It kind of reminded me of the ELT Conferences in Medellin. These kinds of conferences are useful as training grounds for the larger ones. Also, it's sometimes easier for graduate students to be accepted. The advantage of the biggies is, of course, name recognition. That AERA session on my resume looks pretty darn good, and I'm glad I made it there.
Well, that's all for now. Now, back to my quals.
Take care and until next blog.
Raul A. (El Patron)

April 9

My trip to San Francisco (II) - Saturday's thoughts

Hello again my friends. It’s about 12:15 Pacific Standard Time as I write this blog. I’m starting to like this idea of sharing my thoughts in a blog. I’m sitting in my room at the hostel writing these thoughts. This blog has actually sections, so bear with me:
1. Saturday, daytime: Success and networking
So I had my solo presentation at AERA in the morning. It was a roundtable (although they now call it something else), so as the name says I was sitting with some folks presenting my work for 40 minutes. I brought 12 papers to give; I’m going back with 4, unless I can give those away before Tuesday, which I’ll try to do. The audience really liked my paper and they also gave me wonderful feedback for future work. I can sense that I could pull a publication out of this one and I may push my work with racial comedy even further for AERA 2007 in Chicago. Later, I attended some really good sessions and met some great folks over the afternoon. I also reconnected with a colleague at UMass-Amherst, with whom I kinda talked about for possibilities for a post-doc (hey, I need to weigh ALL my post-dissertation options) and I’ll talk to her again and other folks at Uass on Monday morning… we’ll see what happens.
I love coming to conferences. Not only do I get to do some traveling, but I also find more reasons to keep doing what I do. After hearing what’s happening in education and sharing what we can call “cutting-edge” research (including my own work, which is super-flattering), I see there’s plenty of opportunities to get stuff done. I’m very much looking forward to picking up my quals again and finish the questions. I feel that I’m on the right track to some good stuff for my dissertation!
2. The Party Crashers… or the Eternal Quest for Free Food!
It is partly a joke partly a fact… Grad students thrive on free food, and advanced grad students develop an art out of finding free food. That’s what I did tonight: I decided to get free food courtesy of the rival universities (Hey, it was time Stanford and Michigan State did something for me besides giving me headaches and rejection letters!). Now, here’s my review of the receptions I crashed:
- Arizona: Those folks at Tucson are nice hosts. They asked me to wear a sticker on my coat, which I did for a bit. I’m so glad this is not last year, otherwise I don’t think those Arizona people would’ve been so nice to an Illinois student (last season Illinois beat Arizona to go to the Final Four in one of the most dramatic comebacks ever). This year, well March Madness is over. The cool thing was that the cook was from El Salvador and he has friends in Bogotá… boy did he hook me up with some beef… yummy!
- Louisville: Dude, it looked like a funeral instead of a reception. As soon as I came in, I started looking for rosary beads to start praying for the deceased! I was about to say, “In nomini Patri, et Filis, et Spiritu Sanctus…” D-E-A-D reception!!!
- UCLA: It was okay, but didn’t stay too long.
- Maryland: Boy, that was really cool! I got free Hagen Dazs and lots of desserts, even free water.
- WestEd: I don’t know who they are or what they do, but dude they ROCK! They held their reception at the Museum of Modern Art… Fancy baby!!! And they had OPEN BAR… Free Heineken, now that’s STYLE fellas!
- Stanford: With apologies to my adviser, it was B-O-R-I-N-G
- Michigan State: History tells us that the Spartans were good at war… but these modern Spartans are good at partying too. They had a live band, and even the Dean and the other big cats actually sang for the entertainment of the audience. Very fun times there, and I saw a friend I hadn’t talked to in ages, so even better.
- UC Santa Cruz: See Louisville above.
- Indiana: Same as UC Santa Cruz.
More party crashing Sunday night. Stay tuned!
3. Youth Hostels: A Cheap, Colorful Travel Alternative
For me and some of my Colombian friends (Andres, Davila, Carlos R, Sergio B., etc., it’s you I’m talking about), Youth Hostels will always bring back wonderful memories of moments (100% Cotton, guys?), people (El AIWA), and adventures. I hadn’t stayed in one of these since 1998. This time around (third overall) I looked at a youth hostel as my choice for my trip to San Fran. I’m staying at Globetrotters Inn. It’s on Ellis and Mason streets, in Downtown SF… less than 10 blocks from the AERA site (Moscone Center), and very close to the Cable Car stop, so it’s well located. The place is not 5-star by any means, but for 20.00 a night I’ve never expected the Hilton (which, by the way, is just ACROSS THE STREET!). So it’s fine for a few days in town.
It’s pretty colorful if you also consider the kind of people you can get to share the room with. Tonight we have in a six-bed room: Two Swedish girls, an English dude and his girlfriend, a Kiwi (i.e. New Zealander), an American, and me, the Colombian Illini! Quite the variety, don’t you think? Of course, in my case, hanging out with folks from all over the world is already commonplace living at the U of I. Still, it’s nice to see that there are places to stay that lend themselves to such diversity. One thing is for sure, I don’t think I’ll pay for a hotel if I travel on my own so long as I can find a youth hostel to stay in.
4. Love at first hear
I’ve been meaning to write about this for quite a while. You see, I’m a believer (although not much lately) of love at first sight… well now I also believe in love at first hear. Last Tuesday, I fell in love with these 2 girls that I know will be just gorgeous! I know their mom very well and she’s very pretty, so I’m certain they’ll follow suit. The fact is, it might take me a while to meet them in person, but I can’t wait to hug them and kiss them like crazy; seriously, I’m already madly in love with them…
Now folks (especially you Davila and Acevedo, among others…), get your minds out of the gutter. I’m talking about my twin nieces J My sister told me they’ll be girls. Sister, I am super excited, even if I didn’t seem like on MSN. And I can’t wait to spoil them from time to time and help in their education (one thing is for sure, those girls won’t go to Michigan EVER) in any way I can. You know, this uncle business sounds very promising.
That’s all for now, folks. More blogs coming soon.
Till next time,
Raul A. (El Patron)
April 07

My trip to San Francisco (I)

Greetings to all my blog readers. I want first to thank my friend and brother Carlos R. for his wonderful feedback on my previous blog about coffee shops and libraries. I’m glad you liked it and it was great to hear from you.
Now on to business. So I’m still in the middle of Quals Madness but my adviser thought it would be a good idea to schedule them in the middle of my trip to San Francisco… well she’s the boss and since she’ll help me get out of here by 2008, I’ll go along with whatever ideas she has in store for me. I arrived in San Francisco yesterday afternoon. This was my first time in SF and so far it’s been pretty fun. I’ve spent most of my time in the downtown area, where the conference is taking place. I spent some time yesterday at the Yerba Buena Gardens, nice place. They even have a carousel for kids ages 8-95. I hadn’t ridden the carousel in ages, and it felt nice to forget about life and quals and everything else for a change (See picture). Then it was back to business and start choosing the sessions I’ll attend. I needed to be very choosy since I am supposed to include these as references for my quals. And of course, I’ll have my “shining moments” over this week. I have 2 presentations, one solo by the way, and I’ll chair one session.
Now, let me explain to you something about this conference. This is the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Annual Conference. Thousands of people from all over the world come to this conference every April. One can say this is the “Super Bowl” of Educational Conferences. Pretty much anybody who’s anybody in the business shows up, although getting to meet the “big names” can be pretty difficult given the size of this event. However, getting your work accepted here, especially if you’re a graduate student, is a pretty big milestone. Instant respect comes with that and that looks pretty neat on your vita. And this year, as Kanye West would say, “I’ma touch the sky.”
However, I’ve been pretty much on my own this last day. I haven’t seen anybody from the U of I, let alone any of my friends. It’s not so fun at times to have to be all by yourself in a big city, but I’ll survive. Plus, I’ll be looking pretty snazzy all weekend long. Business casual most days (FYI, that means sport coat and tie), and I’ll bring my A-game for my 3 sessions. Believe me, even my adviser has been impressed by how I get ready for a presentation (and she’s a pretty big name herself so that’s a huge compliment), so I won’t let any of my friends and former students down this time around.
Later this weekend I’ll let you know more about my weekend in San Fran. I plan to visit the Fisherman’s Wharf on Sunday and Chinatown on Tuesday. And of course, I’ll share how my sessions went. Please keep your fingers crossed so that someone shows up to all of them (I once had to give a talk to two people… my record of 120 in Cartagena in 2000 still remains and it will for quite a while).
Till next blog

aúl A. (EL Patron)

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