Thursday, July 1, 2010

A Year in Review: Part 2 January – May 2010

I rang in the New Year at a beautiful coffee plantation and eco-tourism spot called Finca Argovia in Chiapas, Mexico.  The celebration was complete with fireworks, the tradition of eating 12 grapes and a lot of delicious Chilean wine.  Every time I travel to Mexico, I meet so many new and beautiful people… including the stories of those that participated in the class and those that we met through our travels.  It is amazing the stories that you learn about life, love and the rhythm and balance of surviving in another culture.  We met fishermen who could not account for the low fish population this year and did not know how they were going to continue to pay for their children’s schooling.  I met a woman who with a group of her friends starter their own beachside restaurant and hotel business of whom are widowed or left in Mexico to fend for themselves while their husbands work in the USA (and support their girlfriends in the USA instead of their families in Mexico).  I met a corn farmer who wants nothing more than to continue to farm corn, even though his crop (due to NAFTA and genetically modified seed) does not make him enough money to survive.  I met people who resist the government and their hold on the many aspects of their lives, the Zapatistas.  I met a German coffee farmer who has maintained the vision of his ancestors and is continuing to diversify in order to minimize risk and continue to live in the hills of Chiapas.  It is the people (not the places) that I meet that add color to my life.  Listening to their stories and bringing a smile to their face is all that it takes to warm my heart.  I carry with me little pieces of each person I meet in my travels and when I think of the people of Mexico, it warms my soul.

So after my amazing travels in Mexico… it was time to put my big, puffy winter coat on and return back to the routine of life in Ithaca/at Cornell in January.  I love winter.  I love the chill of the cold around me while I’m snuggled deep under layers of blankets.  I love sipping cocoa on a park bench while snowflakes quietly settle all around me.  To be honest after my first few years living at my university… I fell in love with Ithaca.  It’s quirky people, the fun festivals, countless outdoor activities available, its diversity in people and cuisine, and the loveliness of a community full of academics all ready for some witty banter at the coffee shop or local pub.  This semester was going to be my last in Ithaca for well… probably forever.  I know that my void will be replaced by a bright-eyed freshman in the fall, but nothing will replace my connection to this community.  Dear Ithaca, ending our relationship will be harder on me than you (I know) but I will miss you and your GIMME! Coffee shops around every corner, I will ache for picnics in the beautiful and blossoming plantations, coconutty spring thaw ice creams from the dairy bar on a 90-degree day with 80% humidity will be severely missed and quirky concerts with jovial Ithacans on the commons will be yearned for.   In short, Ithaca, I will miss you and your community of free and loving people. 

Spring semester (my very last one) brought with it some interesting courses.  I mean this was my last chance to gobble up all the academia I could possibly consume before setting sail on my new adventure in Moldova!  So I took some interesting courses, overindulged in independent studies and tried to fully enjoy my last days on the big red hill. 

IARD 4010/6010: Rural and Urban Realities – Chiapas, Mexico Edition!
So after my travels in Mexico it was time to get down to creating a project worth presenting.  So a classmate and I decided to write a sort of case study.  Due to our limited time in Mexico and our neglect to gather enough financial data, we opted for more of an integrated SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis within a PEST (political, economic, social, technological) analysis.  Basically we analyzed a business that we thought was very interesting and worth looking at on a deeper level based on the context of working within an emerging market.  We learned a lot in the process about each other, the business and the historical context of where Mexico’s markets have come from and their future potential within specific industries.  I know most people would find this boring… but to me, it’s fascinating.  How to make every dollar count, where to create more efficiencies in the business, where to focus in order to minimize risk, which industry trends to seek out and hope to make a profit from…  I wish the participant in our project much success in the future.

COMM 6500: Communication and Technology
I took this course hoping to blend in with the undergraduates and fly through the course while getting back to the basics of communication theory. However, my professor Dr. Jeffrey Hancock had another idea for me.  The course is set up with a really interesting structure.  The professor has a small group of graduate students who “manage” a group of undergraduates in a research project.  The project topic is either identified by the graduate student or collaboratively as a group.  The benefit for graduate students is that they can utilize these students to complete a large chunk of research for their thesis.  I came in with an open slate and the group of undergraduates that I worked with became my research family for the semester.  After studying theory and reading a lot of journal articles and previous papers from the course my group began to brainstorm topics for our research.  Our final project was about Facebook and Digital Bereavement.  Let me explain further the reasoning behind this research topic.  Cornell University received a lot of publicity over the past year regarding student suicides.  Any life lost from any community (especially a tight knit college community) is a tragedy.  Cornell is actually below average in student suicides when compared on a national level.   The glorification of Cornell suicides is primarily due to the many gorges (which are beautiful, but also dangerous) on and around campus.  During the last academic year the number of student deaths (including suicides, accidents, chronic illnesses, etc.) was quite high.  The deaths of these members of the Cornell community left a deeply cut wound in our community. Both the undergraduate and the graduate communities were affected.  The university responded appropriately and immediately offering psychological services, memorial services, and community meals and opportunities for sharing.  Due to the impact on the community and the relevance of bereavement as a topic in class, my group decided that they wanted to pursue a linguistic study of the wall posts on deceased facebook profiles.  Our research findings unveiled some very interesting findings.  To read more about our research and our continued efforts please visit our blog:

I also took on a couple courses as independent studies.  One involved an ongoing research project on the evolution of Mobile Technology use in Emerging Markets and another was a job with CALS Communications as a contributing writer, editor of the CALSconnect and website updates. 

I spent the rest of my semester preparing mentally and physically for Peace Corps.  I spent a lot of time thinking about purpose, life and buying goods online to be later packed and shipped.  :o)

 March came in like a lamb and as it started to go out like a lion, I took off for my last SPRING BREAK in ARUBA!!!  I am very blessed to have a wonderful and giving family that has an amazing timeshare in beautiful, breezy Aruba.  I spent a week with my mother, cousins, aunts, and grandmother… soaking up the sun, reading amazing books, riding horses on the beach, driving a jeep through the national park, swimming in pools, running on the beach and doing everything that Americans at resorts do.  It was a much-needed trip full of fun, love and some R&R.

My last few months at Big Red were full of excitement, nature and the stress of final projects and exams.  The course from the fall semester in which we worked on a project for Southern Sudan, we were able to have a follow-up visit with our client and offer our advice and inputs for the up and running project (exciting!).  Another final fun part of the spring semester is SLOPE DAY. “Getting slopey” as we call it is a Cornell tradition and a day full of no classes, debauchery and socializing with friends, students and returned alumni!  I had a blast volunteering as a staff member and seeing everyone at the concert on the slope (Drake was our main act) and met up with all of my friends afterwards.  We drank sangria at CTB and danced the night away in collegetown.  This was an amazing end to my time in Ithaca… and slowly but surely I moved out of my apartment and made my way back home to Kingsbury.  For the remainder of the month of May and beginning of June I will be able to spend time with family, take a few trips to NYC, and to see friends, but mostly mentally prepare for Peace Corps and the fact that I will be missing my brother’s wedding in September.  More to come soon…

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