Picture this: a picturesque, snow-blanketed small town. It is a college town. The older stone buildings stand like castles, stretching their spires to the blue-grey sky, trying to pierce the clouds before night falls entirely. The new science center shines like a lamp in the dusk, light spilling from its large glass walls, warm and welcoming. From somewhere, the strains of a organ are heard. All is calm and peaceful.
Deceptive, isn't it?
This is Oberlin at crunch time. Crunch time is different for different people: for some, it's just finals week; for others, it's the week before finals week, when they inexplicably have three projects and a paper due; for others, it's the whole homestretch of December. There's enough overlap that the past two or three weeks are pretty rough on pretty much everybody.
That quiet snowy landscape? Aside from some students walking across Tappan Square, everyone's inside working (and avoiding the cold). The majestic stone buildings? Full of students at office hours, review sessions, in-class presentations. The Science Center? Study groups in the atrium, in the science library, in the computer labs. The organ? Everyone has final performances in this three-week stretch too.
It's not that we're not having fun. We're all just really, really busy.
As an example, let me give you an overview of what I've been doing. Hopefully it will serve as an excuse for my not having updated in almost four weeks.
THANKSGIVING BREAK: Visited Emma. Both of us had lots of homework, so in addition to getting to know her family and going to my first-ever real concert (I'm going to write a blog about that weekend, too, as soon as I get the time), I spent a lot of time in Emma's room on my computer. I read and summarized psychological articles, began a novel in French, and read a few chapters for Linguistic Anthropology. None of it was that difficult, but it took longer than I had anticipated. We were both doing work in the car all the way back to Oberlin.
FRENCH PRESENTATION: In every upper-division French class, you have to meet in a "discussion group" with a French exchange student once a week to learn about French culture. It's fun and you learn a bit about common idiomatic expressions, differences in culture, and so on. Every student also has to give a presentation in this class. I had signed up to give mine on December 2nd, and I had chosen as my subject the recent French strikes and the subsequent reorganization of the French government--kinda sorta. (The word gouvernement actually means something akin to our "Cabinet.") This is a very interesting topic--the problem is, it's also rather complicated, and I had to talk about it for eight to ten minutes!
Long story short, I managed.
UN ALLER SIMPLE: I also managed to finish the novel on time, although that also took longer than I'd anticipated. Un Aller Simple (A One-Way [Ticket]) starts out funny, gets serious, and ends on a bittersweet yet hopeful note. It's about immigration and guilt and coming of age, as told by this guy who . . . Well, he's quite a character. Let's see if I can set this up briefly: he was raised by gypsies because one of them rescued him from the car crash in which his parents died. They call him Ami Six (the name of the model of car they found him in), and this gets shortened to Aziz. When he gets his fake ID--he can't have a real one, since no one knows who he really is--it says he's an immigrant, because that name sounds like he's from Algeria or Morocco. (He's actually Franco-français--white--but the name has to fit.) The police arrest Aziz, because the man who makes the fake IDs, who is also a jeweler, said Aziz stole something from him; he's lying; Aziz steals car radios for a living, sure, but this was an engagement ring and he's an honorable man so he paid cash for that. When the police come after him, they see that he's in the country on an expired visa. So they decide to extradite him "back" to a country he's never been in. They send a humanitarian aide with him, Jean-Paul, who is far more concerned about his own impending divorce than Aziz's story. Then Jean-Paul asks Aziz to tell him about his country, and Aziz takes a story of a hidden kingdom in the Atlas mountains that he'd read once and convinces this poor young man that he's from a hidden city and was sent to get help before the mountains cave in and destroy it. He later attempts to explain that he was making it all up, but the humanitarian aide just nods sagely and says, "Oh yes, I know, 'it doesn't exist.'" So Aziz, who was thinking of giving him the slip, decides to stay with him, because Jean-Paul clearly needs him.
Hmm. Failed at brevity. Oh well. It's a good story, and Aziz is a pretty humorous narrator--all this stuff happens to him and he just rolls with it. He does grow up a bit eventually, but he still takes things as they come.
PAPER FOR LINGUISTIC ANTHROPOLOGY: While it wasn't as much fun as the transcription project we did in the first quarter, this quarter's project was interesting. I wrote a paper on linguistic social indexicality and perceptions of the American redneck.
FINAL SCOUTS SHOW: The last Sunshine Scouts show of the semester was December 10th. Shows are always fun.
CULTURAL PSYCHOLOGY PAPER: I'd known all semester that I'd have a ten-to-fifteen page research paper on a topic of my choice due on December 14th, and I fully intended to have it done well ahead of time. But the beginning of December just ended up being a lot busier than I'd intended (see above) and I ended up having to do the research about six days out from the deadline. Fortunately, I write papers fast once I get started. I wrapped the whole thing up, references included, in three days and turned it in the night before it was due.
Writing that paper was probably my favorite part of the class--with the possible exception of Killing Us Softly and the ensuing discussion. I chose to write about differences in ethical choices and views of dishonesty between individualistic and collectivistic cultures (individualism/collectivism being the most researched dimension of cross-cultural studies). A lot of the existing research had been done with employees at international companies, which makes sense: companies want to know that their ethics policies are being implemented equally everywhere. However, the studies found that collectivist people are more likely to condone dishonesty if it benefits the company, because the in-group is what matters. Collectivists are also more likely to find academic cheating socially acceptable. (However, too much "vertical" individualism--standing out by out-competing everyone else--leads to just as much dishonesty.) Most interestingly, collectivist children find lying acceptable, or rather praiseworthy, in pro-social situations, such as denying having cleaned up a classroom when they actually did it. Admitting to a good deed is seen as tantamount to bragging, which is very unacceptable in a collectivist culture. Lying about a misdeed is unacceptable in both cultures.
I could go on about this for quite a while. That paper was interesting. Also, I have decided that JSTOR--an online repository of journal articles that, since I'm an Oberlin student, I have access to--is my new favorite thing.
FRENCH PAPER: Yet another French assignment! Originally, we were going to write six papers for the class, the final one of which would be worth 15% of our overall grade, and we were also going to have a final exam. However, enough people told Professor Murphy that they were stressing out over finals that he gave us another option and had us vote. The result? No final test, but the final paper was going to be worth 25% of our grade.
So I spent a good deal of the past week writing, revising, swapping papers, editing, and re-editing my own three-page essay on xenophobia and racism in France and the United States. (A lot of the class readings and discussions were about immigration, you see, and the assignment was to write about some aspect of immigration.) I finished with a sense of relief and accomplishment. That is the most looking-up, synonym-hunting, multiple-dictionary-utilizing French paper I've ever written, and while I'm sure there are still some mistakes, I'm also sure it's pretty damn solid.
RESEARCH METHODS SIMULATION PROJECT: I also had a project in lieu of a final in my Research Methods in Psychology class. We had to summarize articles about a subject and then carry out a simulation of a study, using a statistical program we've been learning all semester, with numbers drawn from the literature. That was moderately time-consuming, and getting the details of the simulation right was tricky, at least for me. But I got it figured out in the end and handed the paper in on Friday.
SQUIDMAS: Sci-Fi Hall has a "Secret Squid" gift exchange. I got my person peanut butter and I received really delicious chocolate from my secret squid. These were among the more mundane presents. There were also: anime prints, a steampunk pipe (no one could identify the crazy spare-parts-and-duct-tape object, but that's what it ended up being labeled), giant plush frogs, five hundred Magic: The Gathering cards, and about six zillion scarves.
FRIENDS: I've also been relaxing, don't worry. I saw Harry Potter and went to a taiko show. I've been going for walks pretty frequently. I had dinner with the Sunshine Scouts at the Mandarin and had sushi for the first time in my life (I know, shame on me, bad west-coast-er!).
I've had several very pleasant evenings with friends, talking, watching TV shows, and teasing each other. I got Christmas (Christmas/Hanukah/Kwanzaa/Solstice/Holiday/what-have-you) presents for some people; some of them got presents for me; Emma is knitting me a ". . . let's call it a New Year's present." I have wonderful friends, and I appreciate them, though I may give them a hard time a lot in person.
See, it isn't just gifts that people are giving me now. Throughout the semester, people have been telling me about things that I then turn out to love. Let's break it down.
Guy, of course, has gotten me hooked on three main things: Homestuck, New York City, and Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. The first two I have written about before, but the last deserves some explanation. It is a Nintendo DS video game in which you are a defense lawyer. The game was apparently based on the idea of finding contradictions. You have to talk to people to collect evidence and then present it in court to support your defense. You also get to cross-examine witnesses and find the contradictions in their statements. It's a lot of fun, and the characters are wonderful. Some are silly, some are poignant, a few of them you love to hate, and all of them are memorable. (Their names are usually puns, too.) You even get to yell "OBJECTION!" at the screen when you find a contradiction. What's not to love? Of course, Guy told me all this in the first place. But let me add that it's even more fun to play it when you can discuss it with someone who already loves the game and knows the characters, plot twists, and world it's set in inside-out.
Emma has introduced me to lots of music--electronica in general, actually, but also certain particular bands (remember, she's responsible for getting me to a Real Live Concert). But also, she's responsible for getting me started knitting again! She is constantly knitting-- you might even call her a knitting superhero -- and has inspired me to start again; I'd kind of let the habit lapse. I am much indebted to her for that, and for rescuing me when I (inevitably) screw up, lose my place, or panic about dropping a stitch.
I was also introduced to the Mercy Thompson books, a series of werewolf romance novels set in eastern Washington. That sounds like a horrible Twilight spin-off, but trust me: they are NOT like that at all. Stephanie Meyer could learn a lot from Patricia Briggs, such as how to write a story in which a human loves a sexy non-human--and has to choose between two such people--but is not rendered totally stupid thereby. Mercy's tough, clever, and memorable. I really enjoy several of the other characters, too, and I'd honestly recommend the books to anyone looking for action-and-werewolves-and-actual-character-development stories. They're fluff, sure, but they're fun and exciting, and the werewolf psychology--dominance, charisma, challenging authority and how to not get killed when doing so--is a lot of fun. So is the mental image of a 250-pound wolf riding shotgun and sticking his head out the passenger window like a dog.
And Emma hasn't been the only influence on my musical tastes. I've found out about a folk musician named Laura Cortese and I've asked for some of her CDs for Christmas. There's also been an infinite increase in the number of Billy Joel songs in my iTunes library (from zero to three).
So, that's what I've been up to. You can expect regular blogging to begin again over Winter Term--I'll be on campus this year, doing one official project, psychological research, lifeguard work, lots of reading, and maybe even learning to sing! (Emma and Guy will keep me from trying to do too much.)
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