Finishing Well

It’s been somewhat of a pattern in my life to tire of projects before they’re finished.  This was first evidenced by the mountain of unfinished stories I have in notebooks under my childhood bed.  I would get a great idea, start writing, and then run out of ideas and peter off, until my next great idea.  This bell curve of interest bleeds over into other areas of my life, too.  When I’m at the beginning or middle of a project, I’m ready to do hard work.  I know what it will take to get to the end, and I’m prepared for that.  I am able to focus on work and get things done.  But when I get close to end, I start to get antsy.  I just want the thing to be over already.  I start rushing, or even half-assing work, sometimes at the expense of quality.  I get so close to being done that I lose interest.  I do this with papers, group projects, and even job interviews.

I attribute this tendency to my impatience.  I don’t know why I’m an impatient person.  I think part of it is that I like to be productive.  When I’m in the middle of a project, I can see things taking shape.  I can spend a few hours working and have something to show for it.  The bulk of the work is done in the middle of projects, and I like that.  I like seeing the results of my actions.  I even like editing — the big editing that comes after the word-vomit stage.  But when projects start to come to an end, a lot of the work to be done is just tweaking, perfecting.  And I know this is important, sometimes more important than the production of the project.  But to me, it feels less productive than sheer content creation because there is less to show when I’m done.  The words or results are already there; I’m just changing them to look or sound better.  It feels like busy work.

My mom noticed this about me early on.  At the end of a school year, or at the final level of a competition, I would lose interest in my work and start complaining about how I just wanted to be done.  And she would remind me to finish well.  “I know you’re tired of this,” she’d acknowledge, “but you need to finish well.  You’re almost done, and you need to keep doing your best until the end.”

Those words came to mind this week as I was going from class to class.  At this point in my life, I’ve been in school for 17 years.  I enjoy learning, but I am so tired of sitting in class.  I cannot describe how pointless it feels at this stage.  I am now what most people would call an adult, and I’m ready to live the adult life.  I’m ready to officially have my own home that is not a college apartment.  I’m ready to spend my days working for pay (and learning on the job!) rather than paying to learn.  I’m ready to be financially independent; I’m ready to make decisions; I’m ready to contribute to society in a way I haven’t been able to yet.

But like it or not, I still have 5 weeks till graduation.  I know it’ll go by fast, but it’s felt slow.  I still have two group projects and a capstone paper to finish, not to mention finals in my other two classes.  I still have meetings to go to.  I still have events to work.  As ready as I am to just be done, it’s not going to go any faster because I’m sitting here wishing it will.

That’s why I’m going to try to take “finish well” as my motto for the rest of the semester.  If I can remember that, I’ll be able to enjoy these last 5 weeks instead of wishing them away.

Writing in a Foreign Language

 

I’ve always loved writing.  At my parents’ house, there are still boxes under my bed, full of notebooks I filled with half-written stories and ideas.  I have tons of files on my old computers and on my flash drive with more stories and essays.  I’ve changed my mind several times on what I like to write most, but I’ve never fallen out of love with writing.  I’ve done it my whole life, and I’m not planning on stopping anytime soon.

Since I’ve had so much practice with writing, especially for school, I like to think I’m fairly good at it.  Since I learned to write a five-paragraph essay, structured, written thought has come fairly easily for me.  When I first began writing serious papers, it took me awhile to get to the point I wanted to make.  I would have to go through several rounds of edits to shorten and clarify my thoughts.  But as I did it more and more often, it got easier.  Now, if an assignment requires an essay, I can crank out a pretty good paper within a few hours to a day.  While I might make a few changes afterward, I typically say all I need to say with relative ease.  (Of course, every piece of writing could use some editing.  But when I also have to block out time for other things, a few hours to a day for a fairly high-quality essay is pretty good.)

But that’s all for essays I write in English.  With Spanish, I’m finding it’s a different story.  Throughout my Spanish classes, I’ve had to write a ton of papers.  They started out short and simple, as ways to practice vocabulary, sentence structure, and specific grammar rules.  As I got farther along, they began to get more complex.  They became less about practicing the language and more about engaging with the culture.  I learned more vocabulary, and essays in Spanish started to get almost as easy as essays in English.

Almost is the key word here, though.  I got fooled into thinking I knew Spanish well enough to use the same one-day process I use for English papers.  So last weekend, that’s how I wrote two papers for my capstone — one Saturday, one Sunday, and done.  Then a few days later, I got them back from my faculty adviser, and while overall the papers were okay, my grammar was all over the place.  I figured out very quickly that I need to take a few steps back in my writing process for Spanish papers.  Ideally, here’s how it should go:

  1. I need to make a list of grammar mistakes I make often, using already-graded papers as a reference.
  2. Start the paper at least a week before the due date.  (This means I need to be diligent about finishing the books I’m supposed to be writing about on time, too.)
  3. Take one or two days to write it, and then let it sit for a day or two.
  4. Read back through the paper, fixing any glaring mistakes, and polishing it if need be.  Make sure I’ve put everything in the paper that is required.
  5. Go over it again, this time with my list of common mistakes, and fix those.
  6. Finally, either run through a grammar checker or have someone else look over it.  Or maybe even both.

It’s a much longer process than my one-and-done style.  But it will help me write better quality papers.  And I think that the more Spanish I read, the better my writing skills will get.  That’s a big part of how I learned to write well in English, after all.  It makes sense that it would work that way in Spanish.

Spring Goals Update: March 2017

It’s the beginning of March, so it’s time for a goals update!

Life Goals

  1. Be intentional about communicating with others, especially roommates.  As far as roommates go, this is going fine.  We don’t talk much, but we get the important things done.  Family and boyfriends are a different matter — my boyfriend and I are quickly realizing that life happens all at once.  He got an internship, so we are planning to move cities and get an apartment together.  Neither of our parents like that very much, especially my mom.  It’s been difficult to figure out how to maintain respect while still defending my own decisions.  I’m guessing there will be some conversations this week, since it’s spring break and I’m home.  As for the boyfriend, I’m usually okay at telling him how I feel, except when I start to get overwhelmed and have to deal with PMS hormones at the same time and end up getting really mad over little things that others do and it’s all because I do feel ready to be an adult, but at the same time I don’t…this is all hypothetically speaking, of course.  I haven’t yelled at anyone, at least, and when I get upset he knows exactly what to do.  I don’t know how he stays so calm when I am so not, but he does.  And he even makes me dinner.  I’m really glad I am writing this update now, though, because it’s reminding me to take a deep breath and communicate rather than holding stuff in.
  2. Get physically stronger.  With all the studying I’m having to do this semester, it’s a struggle just to get enough body movement in so that I don’t feel like a blob.  I think this goal is going to have to be scrapped in favor of just move your body sometimes!
  3. Find ways to support causes I believe in.  This has also fallen by the wayside in favor of reading for my capstone and studying for exams.  I will keep it on here, however, because I know that this can be done anytime, and it’s good to be reminded so that I can be on the lookout for opportunities.  I suppose working as a COB Ambassador could be considered a way to do this somewhat, since I believe the COB here does an incredible job of supporting its students.
  4. Read more non-white authors.  Capstone project — check.  Once I graduate, I’ve got a lot of books on TBR that I put on there especially for this, so I’ll be trying to find them then.
  5. Food: continue cooking at least once a week; stick to ~$15 a month on coffee.  Cooking has slacked off a bit lately, but that’s also because spring break is about to be here and I’m trying to avoid buying groceries until I get back.  As for coffee, I’ve still stuck to my goal!  Go me!

Education/Career Goals

  1. COB Ambassadors: Try to help project manage an event.  I keep having opportunities to project manage, and I keep not speaking up to claim them.  We only have four meetings left, and I’m afraid I may have missed all my chances. So here’s my goal for the next two months: if another opportunity comes up, I WILL SPEAK UP.  I don’t care what, where, or when the event is, I will put my name in to project manage an event.  I will not keep quiet for fear of people thinking, her? She can’t project manage an event.  And if I don’t get another chance to, I will learn from these horrible missed opportunities and say yes to the next one that comes my way, even if it scares me.
  2. Apply to ~5 jobs a month.  I have completely redone my resume, and have been applying to internships and jobs like crazy.  I’m guessing if I hear back about any of them, it won’t be until the end of March or beginning of April.  It’s a little frustrating, because my boyfriend and I can’t really plan very well until I know how much I’m going to be making.  But I know this is how job searches go, and I’m trying to be patient.

So, I’m doing okay on some, and not so great on others.  I wish I could be doing a bit better, but no one can be perfect all the time.  I’m hoping I’ll have more positive things to say in April.

Spanish: More Than a Language

Since I first mentioned my Spanish capstone project on this blog, it’s changed a bit.  Not drastically — my overall focus is still immigration, and I’m still reading a lot of books.  But even though I’m still fine-tuning my thesis statement, I’ve already learned something valuable.

For background: I’m white.  I grew up in a two-parent home.  Both my parents are college-educated, and they have always earned sufficient income to give me and my two siblings everything we need, plus extracurriculars such as 4H, music lessons, and summer camps.  Spanish language and culture has been an interest of mine since I was 8, and my parents had the means to allow me to learn.  Now, I’m about to graduate college with a Spanish degree, with a highly commendable command of the language.  I’m proud of this.  And I’m grateful.

More background: for my capstone, I’m mostly focusing on the work of Esmeralda Santiago.  Santiago, if you don’t know, is a Puerto Rican woman who moved with her family to the US when she was 13.  She did not speak much English when she arrived.  It was not her choice to move here, so unlike me, learning English wasn’t something she did for fun, or because it was interesting, or because she had dreams of being able to speak other languages.  Santiago learned English because she couldn’t have survived here without it.

It hit me, as I was reading Santiago’s two memoirs, that for me, Spanish is a luxury.

I have worked hard at learning Spanish.  I’ve worked hard for confidence and accuracy.  Languages come fairly naturally to me, but it hasn’t all been easy or fun.  I’ve continued my study of Spanish just as much to gain an advantage in the job market as I have because I enjoyed it.  But that is the difference between Santiago, and every other Spanish-speaking immigrant, and I — I had a choice.  I chose to study Spanish because I could, not because I had to.  And I was not thrown into the Spanish-speaking world before I was ready.

One of my old roommates was also a Spanish major.  She now works at a refugee resettlement organization, and teaches Spanish to kids after school.  She uses Spanish all day, every day.  Spanish, for her, is a talent and a passion, but also a way to do what she really wants to do, which is care for people.  While Spanish may have started as an interest for her, now it is entwined with her purpose.

Honestly, that is my goal too.  I want to be able to use Spanish in my daily life.  One, because I enjoy it, and I’ve spent a lot of time learning it, but also because it enables me to expand the circle of people to whom I can be useful.  Being able to speak Spanish opens me up to other parts of the world, and by extension those I’m connected with.

A few posts ago, I put up a graph of the results from a personality test I took.  I scored very high on the “dutiful” aspect, which makes sense.  When I realized that Spanish began as a luxury for me, I felt kind of spoiled.  But then I thought about Bill Gates — his asset, now, is that he is very wealthy, and he puts his money to good use through philanthropy.  While being able to speak a second language is a little different than being worth millions, I can try to turn my own luxury into something that is useful to the world as a whole.

What I’m Reading: Spanish Capstone Project

I have about 12 weeks until I graduate.  Which means I have about 12 weeks to finish 3 big projects and pass 2 other classes before I can walk across the stage in my cap and gown.  It seems like a ton of time and also like not much at all, especially when I think about the fact that for my Spanish capstone, I’m planning on reading 7 books (at least) and have so far finished 1.  But honestly, I’m not too stressed.  I’m making progress, and I’m on the right track, and I’m excited to begin really diving into this project.

The overall theme for my capstone is the immigration of Spanish-speakers into the US.  I don’t have a definite thesis yet, because I’ve only read one of my sources.  Also, this what-I’m-reading post will be a little different from the others because I haven’t read most of these books yet.  But I figured it would be a fun idea to briefly introduce my books here, and then once I’ve finished my project, I’ll do a reprise post on what I thought about them and how useful they were to me for my project.


Books I’m Definitely Reading

Cuando era puertorriqueñaThis book is the one I’ve finished, and it’s a memoir about growing up in Puerto Rico and then having to move to New York.  Santiago is the child of parents who fight more often than not, and who must provide for eight children.  Family stress and the stress of growing up are magnified by having to move to New York just when she feels she’s beginning to get a hold on life in Puerto Rico.  But interspersed in these struggles are the stories of a mother who would do anything for her children, and a girl who got herself out of Brooklyn all on her own.

Resultado de imagen para casi una mujerThis is the sequel to Cuando era puertorriquena, and it details Santiago’s life from her teenage years to adulthood.  During her struggle to figure out who she is — Puerto Rican? American? both? — Santiago helps translate her mother through the welfare offices and takes on prestigious roles at her performing arts high school.

Resultado de imagen para la otra cara de americaRamos, an executive at Univision, has written essays and collected interviews from immigrants to the US.  Told in an editorial, persuasive style, Ramos sheds light on the reality of those “living in the shadows” and reveals just how vital they are to US society.

Resultado de imagen para vivir en dos idiomas

 

Alma Flor Ada is a renowned Cuban-American author and professor who writes children’s books, poetry, and novels.  Vivir en dos idiomas is her memoir, detailing her life, which has been spent mostly not in Cuba.

 

AResultado de imagen para la casa en mango streetlmost everyone has heard of The House on Mango Street.  It is one of the most famous coming-of-age novels there is.  I’ve skimmed the book a few times, and honestly, have not loved it.  But I feel I might appreciate it more within the context of this project.  It’s not quite a memoir, like the others, but Cisneros did draw heavily on her growing-up years to craft this novel, so it’s still a good candidate for my project.

Resultado de imagen para a cup of water under my bed

 

Another memoir about growing up Latina in America, this book adds a new dimension in that Hernandez is also bisexual.  It details her growing up years and her struggle not only to find the balance between two cultures, but also to maintain family ties while not hiding all of who she is.

 

WResultado de imagen para the distance between us reyna grandehen she was little, and living in Mexico, Grande’s father left for the US without her, her siblings, or her mother.  Her memoir tells the story of virtually losing one parent, and then regaining him, and a new home, when her father finally sends for her.

 

 

Once I have read these books and have a better idea of what they are about, I’ll link back to this post and review them again.  I’ll be honest; judging by the one I have read and the others I’ve flipped through, I have high expectations for all of them.


Books I Probably Won’t Use for My Capstone but Want to Read Anyway

Resultado de imagen para atravesando fronterasThis is Ramos’ own memoir about moving from Mexico to the US.  I know I like his writing style, and admire him as a person.  But there are several reasons I probably won’t use it.  For one, I already have seven books to read, and for two, this book is quite a bit longer than most of my others.  Finally, I realized that all the rest of my books are by women (besides the other one by Ramos, but in that he interviews men and women), and given the difference in countries of origin I already have, I’d rather keep my mostly-female-author pattern going.

Resultado de imagen para morir en el intentoWhen I initially picked this, I thought it was going to be more like academic nonfiction.  Instead, it’s the story of 19 immigrants who died on their way to the US in 2003.  I’m sure it’s a tragic story, and definitely one that should be spread.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t fit with the other books I’ve chosen.  But that’s not going to stop me from reading it when I finish my project.

Resultado de imagen para sonar en cubano

 

This is another coming-of-age novel, and honestly, I don’t know much about it.  I didn’t look into it as much as the others, because I changed my focus from novels to memoirs.  But I like coming-of-age stories, so this will be going on the TBR as well.

What I’ve Learned From Working in IT

As a freshman, I received a university scholarship that requires me to volunteer 75 hours each semester to the university.  A lot of students get similar scholarships, and thus it seems like half the university is staffed by students.  At the beginning of every year, we all have to go pick up our volunteer assignments and report for duty.  Most of us monitor computer labs or do basic clerical work.  Many “jobs” involve sitting at a desk and doing homework.  But not mine.  I got stuck in an IT office.

When I started working for Bill (name changed), I was declared as a basic business student.  To this day, I have no idea how they decided to put me in Bill’s office.  Bill is the head of all technology in his building, which happens to house one entire college of our university.  This means he buys, installs, maintains, and tracks every single piece of hardware and software for every single teacher and classroom in the entire college.  He’s the one teachers call when they can’t get their email to work, and he’s the one who implements new systems with heads of technology for other colleges.  He does a ton, and when I started, all of it was over my head.

When I started as a brand-new freshman, I was the first girl and the first business major that had been assigned to his office in years.  All his other student workers were guys majoring in computer science, computer engineering, business information technology, or mechanical or electrical engineering.  They all had an interest in how things work and a propensity for fixing.  And then there was me.

I had no idea what I was doing.  As student workers, we were responsible for documenting complaints and problems and then going out to fix them.  We also had to update and deliver “mobile labs” — huge carts full of 40 laptops each that professors could request for classes.  They weigh more than I do, I’m pretty sure.  I managed to push them around when I needed to, though, and I was good at documenting.  Often I would document calls that other students went out on — they could do the work, but didn’t want to document it, so I made myself useful that way.  But I spent the majority of freshman year following Bill around as he went to fix stuff that we students couldn’t handle.  I met a lot of professors that way, which was really helpful when I started having them for classes.

Gradually, I learned.  I kind of figured out how networks function.  I learned several ways to wipe a hard drive.  I figured out how to explain things I didn’t fully grasp to professors (who often didn’t fully grasp them, either).  I learned to be polite and sympathize when I couldn’t fix something, because I knew how frustrating it was when technology didn’t work.  I learned to work with people I didn’t particularly like.  Mostly, I learned to listen, because I learned that people don’t always communicate the way I want them to.

Disagreeing respectfully with a superior was a big thing to learn.  Bill is very conservative, and though he says he dislikes discussing politics, what he really dislikes is when people disagree.  He has a habit of taking a break and coming into the student side of the office to discuss current events or politics.  Usually, I just nod my head and listen, because (as I discussed some in my last post) I don’t like discussing controversial issues, especially with someone whose views are so different from mine.  But occasionally I do speak up.  Take this morning, for instance.  Bill was reading something about a Title VI document, and got hung up on the words “English is not the official or native language” (or something along those lines).  He started making comments about how English is the official language here in the U.S., and it irks him when concessions have to be made for non-English speakers.  He said he doesn’t think it’s fair for taxpayers to have to pay for everything to be written in more than one language.

Being a Spanish major, I couldn’t let that one go by.  I mentioned that we have a lot of taxpayers in this country whose first language isn’t English.  This was one of those times I wish I knew exact stats, but I don’t.  I tried to talk about how many Spanish-speaking citizens we have here (stressing the legal part, because I know how Bill feels about undocumented immigrants).  Bill did listen to me.  I didn’t expect him to agree or change his mind.  But by speaking up I at least attempted to stand up for my beliefs and worldview.  And though I know Bill doesn’t agree, I think demonstrating a different viewpoint does gain me some respect in his eyes.  He likes people who can think for themselves.  (And it reminds him not to put his foot in his mouth.)

Now, in my last semester here, Bill has gotten a lot more student workers and had to expand his office.  Having more of us means that there are fewer calls to go out on.  Not to mention the fact that the university really amped up its overall help desk, which reduced our workload a ton.  This was nice, because now professors and students can call the help desk for mundane tasks like resetting email passwords, and we can focus on bigger issues like smart boards that don’t work.  The problem for me, though, is that I was good at the mundane tasks.  I have enough computer knowledge that I can figure out which settings to change and which problems I can rule out.  But while I can fix relatively simple problems (and gain good rapport with professors in the process), I can’t fix the big ones.  When a projector malfunctions in the middle of a class and I’m the only one in the office, I leave professors feeling frustrated rather than thankful.  It doesn’t reflect well on me or the university.

But I’m going to leave this job on my resume, because it shows a lot of things.  For one, this job has taught me to work effectively with a team.  It’s heightened my communication skills.  And it’s allowed me to better understand what the crap people are talking about when they tell me to map to a certain drive or boot a machine to the BIOS menu.  It shows that while I may not have a natural affinity for technology, I can learn.  I’ve been very frustrated these past four years, because it takes up a lot of time and is difficult.  But ultimately, I’m thankful I got stuck here, because it has helped shaped me into who I am today.  It’ll be a sweet goodbye when I leave.  But there will be a tiny bit of bitter in there, too.

archivo_000
Our super-official password generator (not — it’s actually to scare new students)

 

Spring Goals Update: February 2017

So, we’re about a month into the year.  How have I done so far on my goals for this semester?

Life Goals

  1. Be intentional about communicating with others, especially roommates.  Well, so far my roommates and I have had zero problems — mainly because none of us are ever around.  We pass each other like ships in the night and when we happen to be home at the same time we do our own thing.  Honestly, that’s how I like it.  In my experience being friends with your roommates just creates more problems than it’s worth.
  2. Get physically stronger.  I worked out a few times the very first week of school, but I underestimated how packed my weeks would  be.  I don’t have Friday classes, so all my classes are squeezed into Monday-Thursday, and Friday I have meetings and also try to knock out as much homework as possible.  So this is not going great.  However, a couple friends and I went to a beginner ballet class on Monday night, and we might try to continue, because it was fun and a great workout.
  3. Find ways to support causes I believe in.  Well, due to time constraints, I haven’t looked at this at all.  However, my capstone project for my Spanish degree has to do with immigration, and that’s something I care about, so that kind of counts.
  4. Read more non-white authors.  Because of the nature of my capstone project, I’ll be reading a lot of Latino authors.  Check out my Goodreads shelf to see what exactly I’ll be reading.  I may not be able to get to all of these for my project, but I do hope to read all of them eventually whether or not I use them.
  5. Food: continue cooking at least once a week; stick to ~$15 a month on coffee.  The boyfriend and I have cooked a ton, it feels like.  There have only been a couple nights so far where I’ve grabbed a single-serve microwave meal from the freezer.  Otherwise, we’ve made a couple simple ready-to-cook Asian meals, and I’ve home-cooked chicken fettucine Alfredo, Costa Rican-esque rice and beans, banana bread, Red Lobster bread (like the rolls, but in bread form), and simple spaghetti and meat sauce.  (See very professional iPhone photos below!)  It’s all simple food, but it’s always a victory to cook instead of warming something up, and then I have leftovers to eat for lunch.  As for coffee, I only spent $11.17 this month (not including creamer and coffee I keep at home, of course — those are grocery purchases).  Go me!

Education/Career Goals

  1. COB Ambassadors: Try to help project manage an event.  I think this is definitely going to be possible this semester.  We have a new organization president this semester, and during our first meeting she had us all fill out an anonymous survey about what is and isn’t working in the program.  From that, she specifically wants project managers who have never project managed before, which I haven’t.  Last semester, everyone who had done it before would immediately volunteer for the positions, but now more preference will be given to those who haven’t done it yet, so I should get a chance to.  Yay!
  2. Apply to ~5 jobs a month.  Well, I applied to several all at once last weekend, but I’m not really expecting any responses.  I decided to see what Career Services had to say about my resume before I apply to any more, so I’ll be giving that an overhaul.  I love and hate resumes, y’all.  They’re so beautiful and neat and organized, but it’s so hard to get them to where they really show off your relevant skills and interests.  I know I would be a good candidate for many jobs, but a lot of the things that make me a good worker are soft skills.  I really have to work to show how my class projects and previous work experience will translate into me being an asset for a company.

I have these goals written on my desk calendar, and I didn’t think I was doing quite as well as I am on them.  So this has been a bit of a mood boost and motivator all at once.  And that’s exactly what goal setting is supposed to do in the first place.  Here’s to February.

History: Best Learned in a Classroom?

If you’ve read my about page, you know that I’m currently majoring in Marketing and Spanish.  I didn’t add my Spanish degree until second semester of sophomore year, though (before it had been a minor), so this year, I got stuck doing some required gen eds I normally would’ve taken as a freshman.  I had to take a second literature class last semester, and also European Civilization 1.

The lit class was a breeze.  The professor was finishing up her doctoral thesis, so we had hardly any homework.  (Also, the level of analysis she gave was really more suited to a high school class, in my opinion, but I wasn’t complaining.)  But the history class was another story.  A lot of majors have to take Euro Civ 1 and 2, so it was a big lecture.  And the professor was one of those who likes to scare freshman.  She was personable, but she didn’t put up with people not taking notes or having their phones out.  And she wasn’t one to give students material, either.  She walked in every day and started talking, and we were expected to figure out what was important and what wasn’t.  There was no outline or study guide, or even a PowerPoint.  She showed photos of artifacts she’d seen and trips she had taken, and that was all.  She was your typical freshman professor — like hey kids, it’s time to get serious.

A lot of kids need that.  College really is tougher than high school, and it pays to learn how to study early.  But I’m a senior.  I do feel young and unequipped at times (especially dealing with apartment stuff and other legal matters), but I’m disciplined, and I know how to succeed at school.  Going from intense, focused group projects in Marketing and Spanish — things I’m interested in and may actually use — to a history class was not very fun at all.

I get that history is important.  But I’ve never really enjoyed it.  Which is a little weird — normally students who like English and writing also enjoy history.  It makes sense — history is essentially a collection of stories.  And it’s stuff that actually happened.  They say the truth is stranger than fiction, and I fully believe that.  Some of the stuff we’ve done as humans you just can’t make up.

But I just can’t get into history when it’s taught in a class.  For one, I have an awful memory.  I grasp conceptual stuff fairly easily, and I’m good at learning processes, but please don’t ask me who it was that signed this or that treaty, because I won’t be able to tell you.  I’m not good at remembering dates, and while I have a vague timeline of world events in my head, I usually have to look up the details.

The other thing is that in class, there’s too much to cover to be able to get into the interesting stuff.  Unless it’s a very specialized class, you can’t get into the personal lives of important people, or how the culture affected certain groups — there is just not enough time.  When I was younger, I read a lot of historical fiction, and that’s where any interest I have had in history comes from.  I liked learning about how ordinary people lived in certain time periods and how major world events affected their lives.  I care about history on the small scale.  I want to know how I might have felt if I had lived during colonial America, or during World War II.  I read stuff like Soldier in Blue (which I can’t find on Goodreads), Copper Sun, all the American Girl historical novels, and the Dear America and Royal Diaries series.  Books like those, more than anything, are where I learned the things I remember about history.  It has to be relate-able.

Sometimes I wonder if more of history should be taught like that.  It’s probably not very practical, because I know not everyone loves reading like I do.  Some people are interested in big picture history, and some people learn best when listening to someone else.  But there’s a lot to be said for looking at the details and making it interesting.  History is easier to remember when you can imagine it happening to you.

I spent a lot of my Christmas break studying for the Euro Civ II CLEP test, so I could test out of the second half of the class.  There were no other options than the same professor I had last semester, and I didn’t really want to waste 3 hours a week on a history class when I’ll also be doing senior projects.  History, for me, is one thing that’s best learned on my own.

What has your experience with learning history been like?

 

What I Realized About Christianity My Freshman Year of College

Over Christmas break, I met with one of the few friends from high school I still talk to.  It had been over a year since I’d seen her, we figured out, and it was nice to catch up.  While we sat drinking coffee, we started discussing how each of us had changed since high school.  As it turns out, neither of us are all that enamored with Christianity anymore.  As we talked, I put something into words that I didn’t quite realize had occurred until that moment.  I mentioned that one of the reasons I grew disenchanted with Christianity was honestly because college was the first time I realized that non-Christians can be good people.  Imagine that, right?  I know it sounds stupid (because it is), but that’s honestly what I thought.  It wasn’t a conscious thing; it was just a very black and white worldview. 

 If you’ve followed my blog for awhile, you might remember that I was homeschooled.  Homeschooling is becoming more prolific these days, but there are still stereotypes — homeschoolers are all prudish, strict Christians who don’t trust the government with their kids, and all their kids are naive and sheltered, and none of them know what birth control is — okay, so it’s not that bad (at all — I’ll give you the side-eye if you actually believe that about homeschoolers).  But I know it is easy to assume that we are more sheltered than kids who went to “real” school.

We can get into my thoughts on all that another time.  But for me, the accurate description is not that I was sheltered, but that I was ignorant and self-absorbed (more so than now, anyway).  Yes, the homeschooling community where I’m from is made up of a lot of Christians, but there were plenty of other religions and non-religious people in the mix as well, and there was never any hate against those who weren’t Christians.  The large Christian presence had more to do with the fact that I live in the Bible belt than that I associated with other homeschoolers.  Also, being a Christian does not mean adherence to one exact set of beliefs — some are more liberal and some are more conservative, like with any belief system.  But in high school, I was more worried about my appearance and fitting in than I was about finding nuance in my community.  It just wasn’t on my radar.

When I started college, I quickly met a core group of friends that I hung out with all the time, plus random acquaintances from classes.  Again, because I live in the South, a lot of people do claim Christianity as their religion, but I quickly realized that not all of them really practiced.  I joined the Baptist student ministry, where 90% of the students claim Christianity, and ended up not really liking a lot of them.  Then I would meet other people in different settings, decide I liked them, and then realize they did not claim Christianity in any way, shape, or form.  I also watched one of my friends from my core group kind of have her own falling out with religion, and didn’t appreciate her any less as a friend.  I didn’t realize what was happening at the time, but it was sort of a wake-up call.

I had a few issues with Christianity before college even started, too.  In high school, I kept an on-again, off-again pattern of reading my Bible every day and keeping a prayer journal.  It was more of a discipline than an enjoyment, but that was okay because everything good in life takes work.  My main problem was that I never felt good enough.  I know that by traditional Christian belief, Jesus died for me, and nothing that I could ever do or fail to do could change that.  But still, there are a set of moral principles that Christians are expected to live by, and I’m not perfect.  I knew what I was supposed to do and not do, and I kept doing the wrong thing for one reason or the other.  I was probably too hard on myself.  But then I didn’t think I was hard enough.  This led to feelings of guilt whenever I thought about my spiritual life, and that added on to insecurities about acne and my desirability to males and all those other things that characterize high school was not good.  So when I started college with an already-fading desire to continue with Christianity, and then realized that there are a lot of types of people in the world, I kind of dropped it.

That I thought Christianity was the only “right,” “good” religion wasn’t an attempt to turn me against others. I assume I would have been the same way if I had grown up Jewish or Muslim or anything else. And I don’t regret or resent being raised the way I was at all — on the contrary, I respect my parents for instilling in me the set of morals that they thought would turn me into the best person I can be. Really, my regret is that I was actually naive enough to think that to be Christian equals everything good in the world, and everything else must be bad or wrong. I know now there’s much more nuance. I feel silly not to have known that then. 

Spring 2017 Goals

Well, it’s that time of year.  I started doing seasonal goals in the summer, and really have seen a difference in how deliberate I am about doing or not doing certain things.  So it definitely makes sense for me to continue that.  My dilemma now is that I don’t really like New Years’ Resolutions, per se, because I never keep them.  I think it’s better for me to create seasonal goals, and update them until I either achieve them or they become a habit.  So these are my goals for my final semester of college — January through May.

Life Goals

  1. Be intentional about communicating with others, especially roommates.  I really hate confrontation, and I want people to like me, so I tend to just shut up and tolerate it when someone does something that makes me uncomfortable.  While the roommates I had last year were really awesome, there were a few things that did bother me, and I bottled it up and let it get to me rather than just talking to my roommate about it.  This semester, I have two new roommates, and while I’m not going to be unreasonable, I am going to voice concerns if I have them, and I’m going to try to prevent problems rather than solve them.
  2. Get physically stronger.  When I was in high school, I had a routine I did almost every day, and I had great muscle tone and concentration.  College changed that — my schedule changed and I didn’t really have the room to do my routine in the dorm.  Now, I walk to campus every day, so I normally count that as exercise, since it’s at least movement.  But I need to be doing something more, and I definitely need to be in the habit of exercising once I graduate, because it’s likely I’ll be driving to a job — goodbye, built-in exercise.  Since I’m bad at exercising for the heck of it, and I’ve noticed how much weaker I’ve gotten since having to carry heavy cameras and tripods around all the time, getting stronger is my goal to reach for.
  3. Find ways to support causes I believe in.  Since I’ve been in college, I’ve really come to solidify what I believe in, and I’m to the point where I want to be more active than just talking about an issue or sharing a video on Facebook.  This might be a little tricky, because I can’t contribute to anything financially right now.  But I may be able to volunteer a little, or something like that — I just need to research.
  4. Read more non-white authors.  I mentioned a couple posts ago that I’ve noticed how few non-white authors I read, so I’ve been trying to add new authors to my TBR.  I’ve already marked a couple off my list (I highly recommend Diane Guerrero’s In the Country We Love), and plan to continue this.  I may not have a ton of time to devote to pleasure reading, though, so we’ll see how this goes.
  5. Food: Continue cooking at least once a week; stick to ~$15/month on coffee purchases.  I do cook fairly regularly, but I also end up eating frozen microwave meals or fast food quite a bit too.  I actually kind of enjoy cooking, and I eat a lot healthier when I cook.  I just need a reminder to continue doing it.  Also, this is my continuing experiment on how much I really spend on coffee.  During cold months, I like brewing my own coffee at home, but I like cold coffee when it’s warm.  Lucky me got a French press for Christmas, so I’m planning on using it to make cold brew when it gets warm to cut down on iced coffee purchases.

Education/Career Goals

  1. COB Ambassadors:  Try to help project manage an event.  This is a continuation of one of my fall goals.  I don’t know if this will be possible, because I’m not sure how crazy the semester is going to be.  But I’ll keep my eyes open.
  2. Apply to ~5 jobs a month at least.  This is going to be an -ish goal.  Normally when I sit down to apply for jobs, I do 3 or 4 at a time and then don’t look again for awhile, because it takes a few weeks for new jobs to be posted.  Regardless, I don’t need to be neglecting this.  It won’t be the end of the world if I don’t, but I’d really like to have a job lined up before I graduate.  How’s that for a goal?

I may end up adding to this list as the semester really gets under way, but those are the main things I want to focus on in the coming months.  This is already quite a lot, so I don’t want to overload myself.

Finally, here’s a random life update: my aunt, who helps manage a new-ish church in Alabama, contacted me recently to be the church’s webmaster of sorts.  I’ll be updating the site and content every so often, and I’m really excited about that!