Archive for November, 2009

Goodbye November, Hello December.

November is coming to a close, which means that December is now on the horizon. Although December is normally one of my favorite months of the year (Christmastime is second to none!), this year December also comes with the promise of mock exams and a family-less holiday. I’ve been working to deck my flat out in holiday spirit, complete with twinkle lights, an advent calendar, clove and cinnamon scented room spray and an overt Merry Christmas sign hanging on my door. Additionally, I have done the service of annoying my flatmates with the looping of Christina Aguilera’s, Mariah Carey’s and Nat King Cole’s Christmas albums. Christmas is, without a doubt, my favorite time of year. For me, it’s the one thing that justifies the cold weather. I deal with frostbitten ear lobes and fingertips because I know that it’s an indicator of holidays approaching, and I love holidays: gift giving, the scent of Christmas in the air and roasting marshmallows by the fireplace. Sadly, the reality has hit me pretty hard today now that I’ve realized that Christmas without my family is not much of a Christmas at all. If I’m being intellectually honest with myself, staying in Europe for the holidays is a bittersweet decision: the chance to experience Christmas on my own and learn to construct my own version of the holidays will inevitably be a new an interesting experience. In contrast, family is ultimately what makes Christmas for me. Though I may be fortunate enough to wake up in London or Paris on Christmas morning, nothing is quite the same as waking up in your home and having Christmas breakfast with the clan.

Despite the bit of sadness I’m feeling on that front, there’s something else that’s looming as December gets closer: mock exams. I’ve already finishing my formative essays for my classes which is quite a relief, but a couple of my classes also offer mock exams during the last week of Michaelmas Term. We are given one question and one hour in which to write an essay response, a task that is intended to simulate the actual three-hour, three-question exam at the end of Summer Term in 2010. I’ve found myself looking through seven years of old exams in an effort to find trends in question topics and create a better understanding of the questions that might be on the exam. The idea that my entire grade for a course can be based on three hours  and three questions is a bit insane to me. Additionally, LSE doesn’t offer re-sits on exams, so if you’re a bad test-taker or things don’t go your way during those three hours of your life, you are effectively screwed. Fortunately, I’m a pretty good test-taker, but I think I may have forgotten the physical pain involved in writing for three straight hours. Even if I come prepared, I can foresee my handwriting fading into oblivion as the two-hour mark approaches. That being said, this mock exam will be a good indicator of how quickly I can get my thoughts down on paper and will be part one of my exam prep process. I’m planning to set aside a few hours a couple of times a month to pull three random questions out of a hat in a timed situation. I think understanding the length (in terms of having to keep your hand physically moving) as we well as the relative brevity (three hours to write three substantial essays) will be a good concept to grasp to prepare myself for Summer Term.

That being said, I’m off to get a start on my day and my school week.

Here’s to Week 9, penultimate week of Michaelmas!


To PhD or Not to PhD? That is the question.

Deciding to get a Masters was somewhat of a no-brainer for me. I’ve always been a huge proponent of higher education and I find being in a university environment incredibly stimulating (lots of very active brain waves floating around). The fact that I am getting my Masters in the UK, where the program is only a year and the fees are relatively comparable to a US Masters (even including the costs of London living!) is icing on the proverbial cake. Getting a PhD (or DrPH) though… well, that’s not quite as simple. As I look to the end of this year and try to figure out what I where I want to be after graduating, the picture in my head begins to get a bit fuzzy. Although I love development studies and the idea of working in the field, I don’t know that I can temper development work with family life. In fact, I am almost positive that the concept of normal life is the antithesis to that of international development (think: being stationed in Yemen for a two-year stint, followed by a few months in DC, followed by a 6 month consultation in Bolivia, etc.). That being said, I’m signing up to take the Foreign Service exam in the spring to hopefully open up some options (fortunately I don’t have to fly to the US to take the exam — American citizens can take it at the embassy). Plus, I have been looking at other institutions to move towards a PhD.

Now, here’s the thing with a PhD (this is partly me thinking via blog and partially wanting feedback from anyone who’s been in this position or has any brilliant insight): PhD’s are intense. In many ways, actually.

They’re time-intensive. Typically 3- 5 years; 2 years of coursework + 1 – 3 years of field work to put together a 75,000 – 100,000 word dissertation to submit and orally defend.

They’re expensive. I think that might go without saying, but expenses incurred through higher education are not for the faint of heart. Grad school is expensive. Fortunately, in the PhD world there are a number of schools that have really great financial aid packages for research students (full coverage of tuition + stipends, etc.) if you’re qualified. I have a friend working on a PhD who is teaching undergrad courses at the university in exchange for full tuition + a $26,000 stipend. Depending on your research proposal, some organizations will even step in to subsidize or cover educational expenses.

The application process is rigorous. I’m at the point where getting in isn’t the part that scares me (although that is scary, of course); the application alone is frightening. I don’t know if you have seen the process for applying for a doctoral program but it goes something like this: standard application packet (name + stats), CV including work experience, education and publications, three (3) letters of recommendations from professors that are familiar with your ability to be a quality researcher, a research proposal, wherein your dissertation topic is generally outlined including the research question and methodology and identification of an academic at the institution that would act as your tutor/advisor. Honestly, getting everything together to apply would probably take me a year! Plus, the part about publications? Can you say intimidating?!

PhD + Family? Not so likely. Not sure that you can actually work on a PhD and be a normal human being. And by that, I mean, I’m not sure that you can be 100% committed to your research work if you have a family, housework, normal real-life responsibilities looming. Dose of reality: Inevitably, one has to take precedence and if you’re paying loads of money and spending tons of time working on a doctorate, that will likely come first. If it doesn’t, your PhD will probably not get done in 4 -5 years. A book on my reading list? Mama, PhD, a piece about juggling motherhood with academia.

Long-term Relocation. PhD programmes don’t take many students, typically. Some schools take 2-4 for a given program, some take 15, but normally there aren’t a load of kids working on a doctoral degree in any given year since there is such a strong bond between advisor and advisee. This is very different from a taught Masters programme, where MSc candidates run wild. It would be ludicrous to think an advisor could work with 20 PhD students and help them in the way that they needed. That being said, for me to say that I wanted to get my doctorate in California and that I would only apply to California programs would be incredibly limiting. It is more advantageous to look across the nation (and the world, for that matter) and see what institutions have strong programs in the discipline and apply to programs where you feel a connection with the school, the potential advisor and the general campus and city life (since you’d be living there for a while!) If I got into a school in New York, I would probably go there, despite the fact that it’s not close to my family… makes for some interesting decisions when the discussion of being away from your family, relationships and friends involves talking about long-term versus one year.

Despite all the cons, I’ve always loved school (a fact to which my first-grade teachers can attest) and I can’t really see myself being done after this year. I will definitely need to take a break for a couple of years to put my Masters to work (to gain some more relevant/international experience) and to make sure that four more years of school is what I really want, but I definitely see a PhD (or DrPH) in my future.

Sending brainwaves your way,

Happy Thanksgiving!

Yesterday marked the first Thanksgiving that I have ever had to spend without my family. Despite missing my family like crazy, I think our expat celebration in the UK turned out quite well! It definitely brought a bit of home across the pond.

We made it a potluck celebration, so everyone brought their favorite Thanksgiving dish. I was slightly worried that we wouldn’t have enough food, but we actually ended up having leftovers, which was pretty amazing! Check out some of our goodies (wish I would have taken more pictures!) :

Lindsay’s Pumpkin Pie! Note to those celebrating in the UK: stores don’t sell canned pumpkin here. You have to buy a whole pumpkin and actually mash it and make a real pumpkin pie… a bit intense. Fortunately for Lindsay (and for everyone involved in the eating process), her lovely mom shipped a can + evaporated milk + crusts across the pond. Mmmmm!

Here’s Aaron cutting into his fierce Turbaducken, which was essentially a turducken (duck inside of a chicken inside of a turkey) with layers of bacon, andouille sausage, spinach and stuffing inside. It was definitely a feat (12 hours of roasting + ridiculous prep), but I think Aaron definitely ran away with MVP. His turkey looked great plus it fed EVERYONE there!

I made a vat of candied yams since sweet potatoes are my most favorite food in the world! Unfortunately, the bag of marshmallows were a mix of pink and white (the only ones I could find in the store!) and I had to use the pink ones because there weren’t enough white to cover everything. Thus, my potatoes look like a Valentine’s Day dish instead of a traditional Thanksgiving fare. Still quite good!

With Sean & Wen, a couple of our guests! :)

This picture of Ronan & Pooja is probably my favorite of the night! Love these two <3.

I’m so thankful for everyone that came and celebrated, it definitely felt a bit like celebrating with the fam. To everyone back in California: miss you, love you and hope you had an amazing Thanksgiving!


Thanksgiving 2009!

I dealt with my first bout of homesickness this past weekend. I haven’t really felt incredibly homesick since my arrival in London, but this past weekend I was Skyping with my mom, dad and sister as they were preparing some Thanksgiving deliciousness in the kitchen. My mom was dressed in full Betty Crocker garb, food processor whirring, showing me her homemade dough for pie making… for the first time, I felt really homesick. I have never spent the holidays (Thanksgiving or Christmas) apart from my family and this year will mark the first time in my entire 23 years of existence that I have to be without them. Normally, I head over to my parents first thing in the morning on Thanksgiving day to begin food prep with the ladies while the guys chit chat, set the table and prepare for football (stereotypical… I know!) This year, I’ll be living in a community that doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving so I, of course, have decided to bring Thanksgiving to the UK! My friend Aaron and I have organized a Thanksgiving event involving loads of Americans (and some Europeans) who want to get together to celebrate the holidays!

{This totally captures our Thanksgiving mornings: PJs in the kitchen preparing deliciousness!}

We have reserved our dining hall and are planning on decorating a bit to get everyone in the Thanksgiving spirit! Since there are quite a few of us (30 – 40 possibly), we’re making it a potluck wherein everyone gets to bring their most favorite Thanksgiving dish to share! I’m bringing sweet potatoes – my favorite food in the world! – and Aaron is going to be attempting a Turbaducken (duck inside of a chicken inside of a turkey with bacon between each layer… clearly anti-vegetarian.) Although I don’t get to see my family, it should be a blast having everyone get together, bringing their favorite homemade dishes plus introducing a bunch of internationals (we have people from Germany, Thailand, China, France, Italy, etc.) to a bit of American culture!

We’ve requested that our bar be open for the evening, but we can’t bring our own drinks to the actual dining hall, so I’m thinking about bringing a vat of spiced cider to get everyone into the holiday spirit. I love the holidays!!

Here are some delicious Thanksgiving recipes for anyone looking for some new deliciousness this year:

Hot Spiced Cider: Mmmmm…. such a delicious holiday drink!

Turducken: A cool endeavor for a chef that needs a challenge! Not for the faint of heart!

Pumpkin Cheesecake: If pumpkin pie didn’t have enough calories for you in the first place, why not make it a cheesecake? I made mini pumpkin cheesecakes for Chris’ birthday last year and they were a hit! Really delish!

Candied Yams: I don’t think sweet potatoes need any dressing up, but if you like marshmallows and butter, this is ahh-mazing!

Is anyone else excited for Thanksgiving?!

PS. Miss you mom, dad, nana, punk & Tiffy!

US vs. UK (or Card vs. Cash)

I have noticed as of late that I often find myself in the queue at a coffee shop/grocery store/corner market waiting to pay for my goodies, frantically pulling out cash & coinage to pay the attendant. It’s a bit funny to me, because the ‘Life takes Visa‘ commercial frequently runs through my head during this scenario [watch it here]. In the US, cards are commonplace; you use them everywhere, and if you happen to be the token individual that still uses cash (what’s wrong with you?), you throw off everyone’s pattern. No one wants cash anymore, people don’t like to make change (not actually sure if they know how to make change anymore), and cards are quick and easy. In the UK, however, cash is ridiculously common… cards, not so much. The process of using a card here is actually a bit cumbersome as compared to the US. You can’t just swipe, PIN and go; here, you have to insert the card (with the ‘chip’), enter your PIN and wait a good 20 – 30 seconds before anything is actually approved. I swear there’s a little person inside the machine that has to call the bank and get approval before you can walk away with your morning latte. It’s a bit asinine. On top of that, loads of places are cash only [is it still 1995?] and if I do use my card, I feel like everyone behind me is scowling… how dare I use a card instead of good old cash?! Don’t I know that cash is soooo much easier?

I’ve actually become quite accustomed to using cash now. So much so that I can almost count the number of times that I’ve actually used my debit card in store. Most of the time, I use it at the cash machine or for making online purchases in pounds sterling. Definitely an oddity for me… still learning to acclimate, I guess :)

Also weird — 1p & 2p coins. I understand having a £1 and £2 coin, but 1 pence versus 2 pence?? What is the point of a 2p? Long ago, we discovered the uselessness of $2 bills… I can’t imagine a place where we would use a coin that was the equivalent of 2 pennies! I’m sure that material could better be used elsewhere. Jewelry, perhaps.

Around the World Party

I have been absolutely worthless today. It’s true. Aside from hitting up campus this morning to turn in a paper, I have been holed up in my room for the entirety of the day, napping and generally being worthless. I have never (I repeat, never) had a hangover this bad in my life. Like I mentioned, I’ve never been much of a wine drinker, but I had entirely too much wine last night which left me feeling like absolute sh*t today! After falling asleep at around 230A, I (for some reason unbeknownst to me), got up a 7:20A wanting to die. After about an hour of tossing and turning, I decided it would be better to use the time productively and head to campus where I could a) turn in a paper, and b) get a breakfast sandwich at the Garrick. I thought a few liters of water and a decent breakfast would cure this awfulness. Silly me. Silly novice-wine-drinker-me. Didn’t help. Came home and passed out for three hours. You would think that with the entire day at my disposal, I would have finished my readings and write-ups for two measly papers, right? Nope. I’m on paragraph #2 of the first article and have made zero progress.

Worthless. I think I’m gonna go back to not liking wine <3.

Here are some snapshots from last night… hanging out with my lovely flatmates prior to our party:

[California, Thailand, Georgia (the country, not the state)]

Keti & I; check out our sweet kitchen lights!

With Aaron — an honorary flatmate.

Fon took this picture — adult prom photo gone wrong. Hahaha. Cracks me up.


Done and… DONE!

I am exceedingly excited at this point in the day. It’s 2:21P and I have finished my formative essay due tomorrow along with my formative due on Monday for my core course. It feels so good to not have to worry about essay writing this weekend! I’m going to take a moment tomorrow to re-read through them (to make sure they’re as coherent as I think they are), but other than that, I can go out and explore London now that it’s decked out for Christmas!

In other news, I started Project: Getting Groove Back on Monday, wherein I am endeavoring to regain said groove. From getting off the plane in London to present day, I lost it somewhere (probably somewhere between the Digestive cookies and the formative essays), and I am attempting to find it once more. This groove regaining entails: normal gym sessions (5- 6 days per week, like the good old days!), tanning (sunless or otherwise), getting my hair cut and highlighted next Wednesday and overall re-beautification of self. It feels good to feel good about yourself, so I am on the road to recovery. Hopefully I’ll be there by December — wish me luck!

Also, a few realizations as of late:

1) I like wine. I prefer white because I’m rather wimpy, but I have developed a taste for red. As anyone who has known me will tell you, this is quite a feat. I have always wanted to like wine (for purposes of looking classy whilst out and about… currently I resort to sugar-laden Cosmos, but I digress), but I’ve never really had a taste for it. In the last few weeks, I have developed a bit of a liking for it!

2) Dissertation is approaching. Well, not really approaching that quickly, I suppose, but considering I am already done with Week #7 (of 20) in graduate school, I guess it will be here before we know it! That being said, I should probably figure out what I actually want to write my dissertation on, and start doing some research!

That’s all for today! I’m going to prepare for this evening — our floor is hosting an “Around the World” party, wherein each flat is given a country and provides drinks from the region. Fittingly, we were given Italy, so we’re going to grab bottles of wine and put out some delicious Italian fare for passersby. Other countries & drinks? Mexico’s upside down margaritas, US’s jello shots, Japan’s sake bombs, UK’s pimms (not sure what that is!), and then a mystery flat that’s suprising us! Should be fun!