Thursday, July 1, 2010

A Year in Review: Part 1 August – December 2009

My adventure begins restless, anxious and apprehensive that my ambition may eventually get the best of me.  Regardless, I push forward: through piles of paperwork, medical testing, physicals, x-rays, inoculations, more paperwork, and finally hit the road with a truck full of my material life, a few dollars and a great credit score.  In one weekend I move most of my belongings into 108 ‘the crack den’ Parker Street*.  I also help move my brother out of eclectic Ithaca and back home to good old Kingsbury.  A fresh new chapter begins in my life.  The pages unwritten, lay before me with the ink fresh and new I begin to write a new adventure in my preposterous pursuit of place. 
*The reason my roomies and I nicknamed our apartment the crack den was because it was very dilapidated on the outside (we determined this to be an excellent security system), but beautifully refinished on the inside.  Among the other houses of our neighborhood, it really did illustrate the stereotypical picture of a crack den in the ghetto. 

I arrive a week early to Cornell because I am obligated to spend the time training for a great fellowship/job that I acquired with the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs in the Dean of Students Office for the university.  The week of training comes and goes.  As a Greek Community Council Fellow for the Sororities on campus will certainly keep me working the 20 hours per week for which I will be paid.  I am excited to start planning some great programs with both the Panhellenic and Multicultural Greek Letter Councils.  And since my little little little Alison is the Panhel President… there should be at least 1 part fun mixed with 2 parts work.

I am able to fully clean my apartment and nestle into my apartment/room and help my AMAZING roommates move in as well (Bethany and Cheni).  This year looks to be one full of adventure and underlying responsibility as well as some spontaneous debauchery!

Course enroll.  If you go to Cornell, you know what a PROCESS this is and as a graduate student it doesn’t get any better, sadly.  :o(
What to take… what to take…. So many classes, so little time!!! 
So after some serious course shopping (and a trip to the mall to “treat myself” for such excellent work) I found some solid courses to take for the semester:

CRP 5076: Planning and Development Workshop
A course in city and regional planning that in actuality is filled with CIPA students (Cornell Institute for Public Affairs).  The course involves a group of students who act as a consulting firm (CGS – Cornell Global Solutions and are hired by a client (Catholic University of Sudan, Africa) to work on a real project.  The project assigned to our team of experts in all areas of development was to create a comprehensive Agriculture Research and Extension Programme for the new faculty of Agricultural Sciences in Wau, Sudan.  Well, I could go on and on about this phenomenal project, but I will let you peruse our website (see above link) instead.  This course was taught by Dr. David Lewis, the founder and director of Cornell’s Institute of Public Affairs, learning under Dr. Lewis was probably one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my Cornell career.

AEM 4420: Emerging Markets
This course can be found within the undergraduate business program at Cornell, Applied Economics and Management.  On Wednesday evenings from 19:00 – 23:00 my time was spent first in lecture (filled with both graduate and undergraduate students from across the university) learning the concepts of emerging markets and the economics of developing nations on a theoretical and holistic basis.  A graduate student discussion section in which we reviewed one case study per week, which illustrated the larger concepts using very specific examples and details, subsequently followed this.  Our weekly assignments included essays analyzing the problem of the company trying to function in an emerging market, followed by a PEST or SWOT analysis (or some hybrid thereof), as well as a list of three potential solution, and concluding with our suggested answer.  Our provided solutions needed to be effective within the market and we had to provide the efficiencies of our proposed solutions.  Dr. Ralph Christy along with his excellent teaching assistants and guest lecturers provided our expanding minds with an interesting approach to the markets in the world that surrounds us.  Several of the students were also able to participate in the SMART Program trips affiliated with the course (the reason I did not participate will be explained below). 

IARD 4010/6010: Rural and Urban Realities – Chiapas, Mexico Edition!
So, as a student at Cornell it is close to impossible NOT to find a course that travels over winter break.  I don’t think that I have ever spent a winter on campus or at home, due to trips through clubs and/or courses at school.  How many students at other universities can say that?  Anyway, IARD (International Agriculture and Rural Development) is one the coolest majors at Cornell and in CALS (College of Agriculture and Life Science).  During the fall semester the class of both undergraduates and graduates listened to guest lecturers from across the university including topics in: anthropology, theatre and dance, agricultural extension, information communication technology, nutritional sciences and environmental sciences.  After listening, learning and writing a hefty paper, our group prepares for an exciting trip over winter break to the state of Chiapas, Mexico (more to come on this later).  This course was also taught via videoconference with students and professors from Michigan State University who also joined us south of the border. If you Google: “IARD 4010 Cornell” you will find the course website.  Enjoy your browsing!!!

IARD 7830: Farmer-to-Farmer Participatory Extension and Research
This course taught by Terry Tucker and Lucy Fisher is an excellent discussion session for graduate students interested in the study of local vs. scientific knowledge in development.  The readings provided insight into the innovative projects in development and the guest lectures both in the classroom and over video provided major food for thought especially for those of us in the Master’s International Program (1 year of school + 2 years of Peace Corps service/research).  The different viewpoints and experiences of the students in the class were insightful (we had students from Japan, Brazil, United States of America, India, etc. and several returned Peace Corps Volunteers or with other experience abroad).  Their experiences brought depth to our discussions and helped to shape my understanding of the capacity for projects in development today.  I know that this course will aid in my ability to teach in development and to think outside the box. 

I also had a seminar and took a few other independent studies this semester… but for the most part my time was spent in the courses above as they had the largest workload and the most thought provoking topics for debate/discussion.

Once the semester had blossomed, Ithaca began to fill with students from both Cornell and Ithaca College.  Annually the city puts on its BEERFEST to celebrate many of the microbreweries in the Finger Lakes and larger northeast area.  My friend Torrey came up to enjoy the tasting the beers with me and to jam to the local bands.  It was a wonderful summer day and surprisingly it did not rain (as it usually does in Ithaca).  I took Torrey on a short tour of the Ithaca area including the falls and Cayuga Lake and ate fun food from the worldly cuisine of this small city in upstate New York.  

October came and the countdown to FALL BREAK began with enthusiasm. Why? Well, because I planned a spontaneous trip to visit a really good friend from Germany who lives and works for Google in DUBLIN!!!  If you have never been to Ireland, you need to go.  It is beautiful!  Similar to Washington County, New York… rolling hills, stone walls separating fields, cows, horses and green pastures.  There is no color green, like the green of Ireland.  I arrive and my bag doesn’t (story of my life).  No worries, I am flexible… I meet Nicolas at work and we walk to his apartment where I sleep all day (stupid, I know but I was deliriously tired).  I wash my clothes, hang them to dry outside and fall asleep, only to wake up and go to an Oktoberfest sponsored by Paulener (a delicious German beer) in Dublin!  Nicolas and all of his colleagues meet us and we walk over to the beer tent and drinking out of the largest glass I have ever held, I drink more beer than I have ever drank.  I meet people from all over the world, chat about life, love and the troubles of the world and continue to drink and dance long into the evening.  The next day I sleep off my hangover and go to meet a few friends including Claudia (who I met in the states) to take a tour of Dublin on a double-decker bus.  Nicolas and I then took a short weekend trip to Galway and spent some time touring the town, walking, talking and seeing the sites.  Ireland is beautiful and Galway is gorgeous.  I really enjoyed what little time I spent in the land of leprechauns.  Much to my dismay, after visiting this island my relationships with those living there have deteriorated.  I hope to return and see more of what this beautiful country full of hospitable and warm people has to offer.

The end of October/beginning of November was a very sad time for my close group of friends and I.  A dear friend and fellow graduate student committed suicide in the early hours of November 1.  Lucas was an amazing friend, comrade and witty jokester.  The entire graduate student community felt his death; especially those involved in GRASHPR the graduate student community outreach program for teaching youth in the Ithaca community.  His passing brought my small group of friends a lot closer and we continued to have weekly bbqs and dinners throughout the rest of the academic year.  His mischievous smile and quick humor will surely be missed but most of all his good heart and love for academia and active work in in the Ithaca community.  We love you and miss you Lucas.

Thanksgiving was spent in good fellowship with family and friends.  I was especially thankful this year to be surrounded with such love and support.  As always, my family had an incredible spread of food and an even more delectable table FULL of desserts.  If there is one thing that my family does well, it is: eat, drink and be merry.  With laughter and love spilling over the seams of my family’s farmhouse, I was able to announce my Peace Corps Placement from June 2010 – August 2012 in the Republic of Moldova.   Once we finally located it on Google maps, they began to discuss vacation options in Eastern Europe.  And, this is why I love my family… they are always ready to support me in my endeavors and to jump on any adventure that crosses their paths.  Carpe diem!

The semester rounded out with a high GPA and a plethora of final projects completed.  Christmas came a little early in my house as I was leaving for Chiapas, Mexico shortly after the 25th.  We exchanged gifts and had a big party with my father’s extended family.  Big families have their problems and annoyances but I wouldn’t want it any other way.  Boisterous holidays are full of happiness; stories and great discussions/debates, with people that I don’t get to see everyday… not to forget the amazing food and German Christmas breads that my family makes so well (even though we are Scottish, Irish and English). 

I then spent Christmas eve and day with my adopted “Ithaca Family” the Farkles… no just kidding, the Filios’.  Greek Orthodox Christmas Eve was interesting (and long) but it was a new experience and therefore worth every minute of chanting and incense.  I then went with Cheni (my roommate at 108) and her family to a wonderful Italian Restaurant and ate a ridiculous amount of food and drank too much wine and sang Christmas songs the whole way back to their house. 

The next day I packed and prepared for my trip to Mexico.   The night before we were to leave (at 2:00 in the morning) my friends Jessica and John came over.  We made guacamole, watched weird youtube videos, talked, laughed and finished the wine/beer in my apartment.  We arrived a little tipsy to the chartered bus to NYC but I’m quite sure we provided much needed entertainment the whole 4-hour trip there. 

We arrived in the Mexico airport and were immediately hit with hot, humid air.  Ohhhh…. Mexico!!!  I had arrived home again.  Ever since my semester abroad in Monterey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico at the university, there is no other place that I feel as comfortable in my skin as I do in Mexico.  I’m not quite sure I ever fully readjusted to life in the states after my semester in Monterey or maybe my heart just thumps to a Latin beat… I’m not quite sure.  Anyway, we arrive and head directly to the hotel… and guess what?  The airline lost my bag … again.  This time I was not as prepared as before.   We were headed to the beach and I had no bathing suit, no shorts, only the jeans, work boots and t-shirt I was wearing and the sweatpants I brought to wear on the airplane.  Our group began touring the mangroves and fishing villages of southern Chiapas and visited environmental institutions as well as academic and research institutions.   The beer was cold, the sun and sand were hot and the seafood was some of the spiciest and freshest I have ever had!!!  MMMexico you taste and smell so good!  We had a beautiful bonfire on the beach complete with local guitarists and even John played and sang.  We then left the water highways of southern Chiapas and drove north to the high coffee terrain of the northern region and towards the dawn of a new year.

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