Wednesday, February 22, 2017


Hey guys!

So I've realized that somehow, as crazy as it seems, I haven't written an actual post about my own life and the happenings therein since LAST AUGUST when I had just returned from Iceland.

Needless to say, it's been a minute. A lot of great stuff has happened in my life since then that I'd like to share with you guys, so let's go for it.

1) Last semester
The day after my return from Iceland to Beloit's campus, I arose for 8:45 am Intermediate Russian 115 to commence my sophomore year of college in all my emotional, jetlagged glory. It by far proved to be my most intense and challenging semester of college yet academically. I credit this partially to being in several higher level classes relevant to my fields, plus one introductory level class in a subject area that has always been a challenge to me. I was enrolled in the aforementioned Russian 115 class, a 240-level Hispanic literature class (in Spanish), a political science class called "nationalism and ethnic conflict," and an introductory zoology class to fulfill my last general requirement, for the sciences (we call gen-ed requirements "domains" at Beloit). Additionally, I continued my job at Beloit's Phonathon, calling alumni to request donations, which I have held since my first semester freshman year, took on a position as a representative for Beloit's Russian special interest House, where I live, on the Residential Life committee, and continued my guitar lessons which I have been doing since second semester my freshman year. I also took on a second job tutoring Russian 100 students.
With such a busy schedule, unfortunately my participation in some of the clubs in which I am a mere member, namely SAGA, Beloit's queer alliance group, suffered significantly towards the end of the semester. As too did my ability to partake in certain activities which I love that mean a lot to me, such as practicing languages, journaling, blogging, writing poetry, reading for pleasure, and the like. I struggled to find a balance between finding time to partake in such activities, fulfill all of my academic and extracurricular duties in an effective and dedicated manner, have a social life, and also find time to relax and devote to bettering my mental health. I think I did a fairly good job of it, certainly more so than I have in past semesters, but I think that it's something I'm still very much working on, and will likely continue to for a while.
In terms of the academics, I had a good time. Russian 115 was honestly kind of frustrating in some aspects of how the class was run and set up, but my knowledge of the grammar and my vocabulary have at least stayed stable, if not increased, so I will leave it at that.
Hispanic lit was interesting, and it was nice to take a Spanish class at the collegiate level, as that was something I'd wanted to do for a while. But it was a very intense course taught by a particularly demanding professor whose margins for how she wanted us to express our work were quite limited, and I felt at times like I was busting my ass to learn stuff that I'm not especially passionate about just to stay afloat. Though in general I would definitely not consider it a negative experience, there were aspects of its intensity and the disorganized nature of Beloit's Spanish department which it exposed me to which prompted me to drop my Spanish minor that I had previously held. At this point I believe that I've reached a point in my Spanish education in which the only thing that would significantly heighten my fluency would be to have an immersive experience a Spanish-speaking country. Nonetheless, I did learn quite a bit, revitalize my Spanish, and was able to straighten out some of my major/minor concerns.
Zoology was honestly hell. It was the first STEM class I'd taken since high school, and I was not a happy camper in that first-floor classroom of the Science Center, constantly dominated by the harsh acidic scent of dissection fluid, when it's no secret that I would rather have been in "Language and Culture," "History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict," or first-year Japanese. The course was academically demanding, and as I mentioned, the dissection aspect was heavy. Nonetheless, I did experience some positive aspects as a result of being there, such as making some good freshman friends that I likely would not have otherwise (I was the only non-freshman), getting a little over my fear of bugs by holding a cockroach during a group experiment I did with them, and the satisfaction I got when I learned I'd secured a B grade in that class.
Nationalism and ethnic conflict was by far my favorite class last semester, and one of my favorites I've taken in college so far. We learned about a number of specific case studies, such as Turkey and its Kurdish population, the falling apart of the former Yugoslavia and the resulting war, Kosovo's independence and contemporary political status, Israel/Palestine, and so on. We also had to do a couple of papers on individual case studies - I did mine on the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland, in preparation for my study abroad next year (more on that in a bit!). But yeah, it was amazing. I was basically nerding out hardcore every single class, every reading outside of class, and even researching/writing my papers. I find myself fascinated by the relations between groups of people, the intersections between different national identities, and communities of people in other places (one can see why I'm an international relations major), and so I was at home in that class. It was also taught by my international relations advisor, who is an incredible woman that I deeply admire. Taking this class and learning from her inspired me a lot, reinforced my passion for the aforementioned subject areas, and provided excellent context for the sort of stuff I want to learn about in the rest of my academic career and perhaps even dedicate my life's work to. 10/10.
Socially it was also pretty good. I grew closer to most of my friends I'd met freshman year, and also met and made some lovely new freshman friends. Unfortunately one of my best friends transferred, and a few more went abroad, who I will sadly not see again (at least on campus) because they will graduate when I am abroad next year. Due to this, I took the chance to hang out with them as much as possible, especially towards the end, to take advantage of their presences before we'd have to say goodbye.
So overall, a tough semester for sure, but also one that helped me learn and grow and become, and I will look back on it quite fondly for the most part.

I spent a weekend in Madison with my parents a few weeks after returning to campus, which was a great escape and bit of quality time with them.
Also I got to meet my friend Paula, who I had known from the NSLI-Y Facebook groups for years, for the first time! She's from the suburbs of Chicago, which is an hour from Beloit, so I came over for a little overnight trip. We stayed up and watched TV together, went out for brunch and then explored a Turkish festival in Chicago, all the while talking about our respective NSLI-Y experiences in Korea and Turkey, and how they've been formative and treasured experiences for us. It felt like having a reunion with an old friend much more than meeting someone for the first time, and suffice it to say I hope it is the first of many. :)

One of the sororities reaching out in solidarity after the election.
One of the dirty chai lattes that are my daily life blood.

A beautiful cat named Benny who belongs to Sarah, one of our on-campus hall directors.

With my friends Alby and Evan before we got on the bus to O'Hare at the end of the semester on our way home.

Me and my friend Nate

My housemate Noel has a cat named Tabitha who occasionally wanders into my room and I love it

Madison mural

Back when it was snowy (I miss it)

I took a selfie while I played in the snow

Celebrating the end of zoology with a delicious sushi meal with my friends Kathleen, Kat, and Devon (left to right)

Me and my friend Leslea

Someone decorated the Russian House sign with little matryoshka snowmen

One of the abandoned factories near campus with on-fleek sunset lighting

Me and my friend Sofiko, an international student from the Republic of Georgia

One of the tables in the library with little arts and crafts activities 

Biker squirrel

Fall colors

Multilingual musings on the activities table in the library

Our World Affairs Center, where my languages classes are

2) Fall break
My fall break in mid-October provided a much-needed reprieve from the academic intensity which characterized last semester for me, and came in two main parts. The first consisted of a weekend spent visiting my dear friend Gianna, who I met during my NSLI-Y program in Bursa, Turkey, nearly three years ago (!!), at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, where she started studying last fall.
It was an interesting experience on a number of different levels. Macalester was actually my first choice college throughout my entire college search process, but I did not get in (which I'm still kind of salty about, to be honest). Visiting proved to me that it is indeed a very nice school, where I'm sure that I would have succeeded and had a positive experience, but I'm honestly past the point where I would ever consider transferring, for various reasons. I've enjoyed my time at Beloit far too much to justify going through the physical, logistical, and financial exhaustion that would come with trying to transfer, and I have a community of friends, academic and study abroad plans, and a general sense of belonging at Beloit that I would not be willing to leave behind at this point.
Regardless of that aspect of it, I had a lovely time together with Gianna, as we always do. We explored a bit of the Twin Cities' culinary scene, most notably Babani's Kurdish Restaurant and the Finnish Bistro, both delicious. She also introduced me to some great new friends that she's already made in her time at college, we went to a concert of her favorite Colombian band, Herencia de Timbiqui, which was, for sheer lack of any better terminology, lit af, and just spent some amazing quality time catching up, exploring, and having the amazing, thought provoking conversations that we always do. It was an awesome weekend.
I spent the rest of the weeklong break "home" in St Louis, where my family moved last summer during my time in Iceland. It was a pretty good time, for the most part. I chilled at home with my family and my cat, did a bit of exploring around the city, got to read a bit more for pleasure than I normally do, and just generally continued my enjoyment of a much-needed break in all senses. I also got coffee with my friend Nicky, who I met at my AFS Returnee Leadership Summit in 2015 and is from/currently is going to grad school in St Louis (she spent a year in French-speaking Belgium with AFS).
A good time, but one that also came with a number of reflections on the concept of home and homesickness as a whole, and how they manifest themselves in my own life specifically, that I plan to share in another post with y'all very soon.
A shot of Macalester's campus.

Some of the study abroad posters in the language faculty.

Gianna at Babani's

The beautiful stained glass

Decor on point

The city

Stone Arch Bridge

Best buds take on the Twin Cities

Me at Minnehaha

Me and Nicky

Ranoush, my favorite Syrian restaurant in St Louis

A candid of my mom at the Missouri Botanical Garden

The Arch

Thai ice cream

3) Reunion 2 with Gianna - Wisconsin edition 
About a week or so after I returned to campus at Beloit from my fall break, Gianna embarked on a reciprocal visit to come see me on my campus during her own fall break! It was very fun, as aside from the fact that she's a dear friend of mine who I always enjoy spending time with, it was the first time I've ever hosted anyone at Beloit, so showing her around was interesting. We hung out a bit on campus and in town with some good friends of mine from campus, and then spent a day in Madison, wandering through the Capitol Building and some of the lakeside waterfronts, before returning to Beloit, all the while catching each other up on our lives, reflecting on stuff, laughing, and nerding out about Central Asian cultures and languages, because we are who we are.
A+ extended weekend.
We edited each other's study abroad applications at a coffee shop called Michelangelo's

The Capitol

The lakefront


A seagull that posed for me by the lake

4) Study abroad stuff
Already in my first days back on campus from Iceland, I began meticulously planning my next escapes abroad. I applied to the Critical Language Scholarship's Turkish program for the second year in a row, and for my next academic year. I will definitely be spending my first semester studying at the Russian State University for the Humanities in Moscow, with which Beloit has a direct exchange program. The second semester I am planning to spend in Finland with International Student Exchange Programs (ISEP), hopefully in Helsinki (I recently applied with Helsinki, Tampere and Turku as my top three choices, and have yet to hear back). I have looked forward to studying abroad for an extended period of time as an integral part of my college experience since before I even began planning my college search, and to feel it so close at hand is tantalizing and exhilarating. Both semesters in both places will represent important culminating moments. In Russia I will be able to culturally contextualize and deepen my fluency in a language which I have made a major out of in college and have come to love a great deal. In Finland, I will be fulfilling a dream I have had to live in Finland for an extended period of time and learn its beautiful, mysterious language which I have carried with me everywhere I've gone since the age of eleven. I cannot wait for everything that next year will hold in store. Rest assured that you all will be kept updated and taken along for the ride.

5) Thanksgiving break
My Thanksgiving break was a fairly relaxed and non-descript affair. I rode down to St Louis with my good friend Abby, who is from the St Louis area, and got to spend a few days at home with my family, eating delicious food and gearing up for the final weeks of a difficult semester. My family hosted a good friend of my parents at our place during the holiday itself, who I had not seen since I was a very young child, so it was good to catch up. We also all went to the Cahokia Burial Mounds together, the ruins of an ancient Native American city located outside of East St. Louis across the border in Illinois, which was great as well. I also got to see two very different, but also equally amazing films in theaters: one was The Eagle Huntress, which was about a Mongolian girl of Kazakh ethnicity defying millennia of tradition to become her community's first female eagle hunter, and the other was Disney's newest animated flick Moana (alternatively known as Vaiana or Oceania in some of the dubs in other languages), which, as you can probably tell from my multiple posts on different versions of its songs, I am a big fan.
Overall, a fairly uneventful, but fun, Thanksgiving.
A candid of my sister Carson and our beloved cat, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The Cahokia Mounds.

A view from the tallest mound.

6) This new semester 
Skipping over my trip to Italy for the entirety of winter break, to which I will dedicate an entirely separate post, this semester has been...decent so far, I daresay. Unfortunately, as many of you may know, American politics have dissolved into deplorable chaos, and this has had some tragic consequences that I have seen even on my own campus, most prominently in the form of anonymous, hateful threats made against Jewish and Muslim friends and classmates of mine. On the flip side, however, this has also motivated me to be more politically active. I've gone to multiple protests in both Chicago and Janesville (about a half hour north of Beloit), and done my best to attend and contribute to different events made by and for students of marginalized identities on campus spreading awareness of their experiences and the hurt/danger they are currently facing.
For me as an individual, I've been alright. I'm taking some pretty great classes. My favorite by far is called "German migrations," in which I am learning about immigrant communities in Germany and German diaspora communities in other parts of the world. I find myself nerding out constantly in ways similar to how I did in "nationalism and ethnic conflict" last semester, as we're talking about a lot of the same things that I love to learn about most: relations between people groups, intersections of national identity, how those are formed and defined, and so forth. I've reflected a great deal about even my own intersectional national identity as a dual Italian and American citizen that I will share with you later when I write about my latest trip to Italy. We're in the midst of a segment on Germany's well-established and large Turkish community, which of course is a joy for me. And we have to compile either a research paper or podcast about another individual case study; I will likely be doing mine on Trentino Alto-Adige/Südtirol/South Tyrol, due to my great experience visiting it over the break (again, more coming
My next favorite class is probably democracy in East Asia, in which I am learning about political systems and democracy in different East Asian nations. It's pretty political, but we do have some focus on the ways in which these political and democratic systems affect and are affected by local culture. I'll have to write an individual paper, and I'm thinking about doing it on democracy in either Cambodia or Thailand.
Russian is...just the same, really. The class feels almost exactly the same as it did last semester, in all the good and bad ways that I described above. To be blatantly honest, it gets kind of annoying at times, but as I need it for my major and to study abroad in Moscow, I'm just going to grit my teeth and power through.
And probably my least favorite class is intro to economy. I kind of panicked at the beginning, as this class definitely involves more mathematical thinking than any I have been exposed to since senior year of high school, and as someone who has the mathematical learning disability dyscalculia, I was initially quite scared, flashing back to the torturous drudgery of the endless extra tutoring and after-school help I had to get in order to secure even passing grades in math all throughout my K-12 education. I'm happy to say, however, that it seems like I may have overreacted a tad, as I scored a high B on my first exam, which I would daresay bodes well. It's not my favorite by any stretch of the imagination, and it's no secret I would rather be in "beyond machos and Marias," a class about portrayals of sexuality, particularly of women and queer people, in Spanish and Latino literature, but I think we can roll with it.
And I'm also continuing guitar, getting one last push of practice and expanding my abilities before I go abroad for a year (and almost certainly will not be able to take my guitar with me).
So far, so good. I'm hanging out a lot with good friends, strengthening many of my friendships and even making some new ones here and there. I spent another weekend in Chicago with my parents. I got to spend part of the first weekend back at Paula's house in Chicago again, having another lovely weekend of catching up with one of my besties. We also celebrated our collective success in achieving semifinalist status for the Critical Language Scholarship (basically college NSLI-Y with more languages) for Turkish and Korean, which we received a day before seeing each other. I screamed when I got my notification, and spent a great afternoon calling people on the phone in celebration. Regardless of whether I make it to finals or not, I'm proud to have gotten further this time.
I went to MBLGTACC, a conference of Midwestern collegiate queer alliances, in Chicago over last weekend, in which I was able to chill in Chicago with some of my favorite Beloiters and attend cool workshops to boot, such as faith and queer identity forums, "Uncovering Pakistan's Gay Scene," and "Beyond Bisexuality 101," in which I got to meet Robyn Ochs, a bisexual activist who curated two anthologies that I read during my coming out process and were instrumental for me in understanding my own queerness and queerness as an identity/community. It was so cool, I felt like I was meeting a celebrity. :)

A picture my friend Cruz drew of me

Me with a sign I made saying "no hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here" from an anti-Muslim ban protest in Janesville, Wisconsin

A hanging birdhouse thing I found on campus

From a delicious brunch with Paula

Dylan's Candy Shop in Chicago 

View from Navy Pier during MBLGTACC

And in general, I feel like I'm finding the balance I was mentioning before a bit more, ever more effectively. And I'm continuing to live, grow, and learn.

That's about all for now. I will be back soon with some more posts - I've got to update you all on my amazing trip to Italy, and there's a couple of other cool surprises in store, so stay tuned!

In the meantime, enjoy another original song by the girl who inspired me to learn guitar.
Be back soon!

No comments:

Post a Comment