Thursday, July 31, 2014

Moving on...

As I came to the end of my time in Bangladesh, my personal and professional feelings were conflicted. On the one hand, living in Bangladesh was one of the most difficult experiences I have ever had to endure in my life. On the other hand, it was also one of the most personally rewarding and eye-opening. If living in Russia loosened my blinders on the world, then Bangladesh stripped them away completely. The question that has often been raised within my heart is, what can I do with this new found knowledge about how people live and how our very small actions can impact them so greatly?

This, I think is the ultimate question in education, especially in the field of international education. How can I, a single, white, woman from Utah (ooh-tah? Where's that?) make any difference whatsoever in the course of world politics? Where do I fit in?

When I was a kid*, one of my favorite comebacks was "What does that have to do with the price of rice in China?" Well, actually, the price of rice in China has a lot to do with everything. In 2008, fear drove the price of rice up to a point where many poorer people couldn't afford it. Since half the world depends on rice as a staple of their diet, it obviously caused huge problems. And it all came back to a simple decision made by a few people in power.

And that, my friends, is where we fit in. The world will probably not be changed by one person acting in isolation. But the world can be changed by one person educating themselves and then passing that education on. I know that sounds idealized and a bit pie-in-the-sky, but we have a choice in this world. We can either choose to be selfish, isolating ourselves from uncomfortable truths, and perpetuate the inequalities we see; or we can choose to open our eyes and look at what we can do to make the Earth a better place for everyone. /idealistic.rant

 A couple of links to projects/ideas that helped open my eyes recently. We are all cousins! This is an awesome project and idea. Trying to help people realize how closely connected we are. There was also an interesting write-up about it on Mental Floss.

 At yoga last week the instructor shared this poem by Tara Mohr. There are several lines that resonate, but the one I felt most drawn to was "you are galaxy with skin". You are infinite in your potential, but limited by your body. Does that change your perspective at all?

Yesterday, I moved to China. More on that in upcoming posts. We all know that I tend to ignore the blog for a while and then dump a whole bunch of posts at once.

*Let's be honest, I still use this comeback on a regular basis. Kid at heart.

Monday, May 19, 2014


I kept thinking I should update the blog, but as I got further and further from my once a week goal, it got harder and harder and then, well, now it's been 2 months. Sorry.

Life has been largely uneventful, save for small spots of excitement. It's the time of the year where everyone is exhausted, just trying to make a push to the end. I have a flight home booked, and I have a whole plan for the summer.

So, a few updates about the exciting bits.

I went to the Philippines for spring break, it happened like this:

On the plane. Note to self Tiger airways red eye flights are never, ever fun.

On Panglao island

On a scooter!

On a boat

I went snorkeling

I got an ice cream sundae to celebrate my snorkeling

At Dumaguete, getting ready to take a ferry to Siquijor island.

My scooter on Siquijor island

A terrible picture at our deserted hotel on Siquijor. 

beautiful deserted beach. Not good for swimming, super rocky.

Part of going to the Philippines was to go to church. I ran into some
fellows Mormons on a ride around the island. They were about to have
a baptism, so I stuck around. They had to walk out really far to get deep enough water.

At another beachfront hotel. $30 a night, can't be beat.


My little beach bungalow. No a/c, but it was cool enough with a fan.

Lunchtime view

Another sunset.

Goodbye Siquijor. Amazing island.

The restroom sign at the pier. No, the restrooms were
not clean.

On a ferry.

At the temple.

In a mall. You can't really tell, but that's Orange Brutus, it's like Orange Julius, but different.

On the plane. This was the worst plane ride ever in the history of plane rides.
Other updates:
The parents of one of the students gave us these mugs.
Not sure what they make but they're the finest and the largest.
My friend Annie came to visit. She lives in Bangkok.
We went to a spa and I got a blow-out.

We rode in a rickshaw.

We went to Zero Point, the center of the country. That's a sign
with all the distances to major points in Bangladesh.

Baby taxis

Behind the parliament building.

Crazy storms on campus leave giant ponds of water on the cricket pitch.
Sports day left us all tired. Baby facepalm.

I went to the spa again and got rainbow toes with my friend Alicia.
I got my Bangladeshi face on for my Chinese visa application.

Chinese visa you say? Why would you need that? Probably because I am moving to China  in July! This is what I was being so coy about. The reason I was in Bangkok over the winter break is because I was going to the Search Associates job fair. That's an experience I might write about at a later date. I'm super excited to go to China, it is exactly where I wanted to be, and I am guaranteed that my parents will visit me now. I see a visit to the Yangtze river dam in my future. Among other things. Also trains, so many high-speed trains. And living a 2 hour flight from Hong Kong, almost as good as living in Hong Kong, but less expensive.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Deep thoughts

Despite the fact that I have mentioned it at least twice previously, it truly hit me this week that I'm turning 30. Something about the age of 30 makes me cringe inside a little. Maybe it's because I'll be halfway to 60. Or the fact that, at 30, I'd always thought I'd have my life together in some sort of fashion. For some bizarre reason, the major part that makes my head hurt is remembering sitting in a personal finance class at 21 and thinking "I'll definitely start investing in a 401k or Roth IRA before I turn 30, just like it says in the book, because then I'll have more money for retirement". That didn't happen.

Anyway, I'm not going to linger on it, because life is meant to be enjoyed, not just endured .

Instead, I'm going to make a list of the top 5 things that have happened in my life that have made me who I am today.  In a somewhat chronological order.
  1. I was born into an amazing family who loves me and supports me. The only reason I have been able to accomplish anything in life is because I have such extraordinary parents who are always there when I need them. I'm not really one to share deeply personal feelings that aren't couched in a sarcastic comment about needing a barf bucket, however, this is one place where my emotions take over and I show my gooey marshmallow center. My heart sometimes feels like it's going to explode with all the love and gratitude I have for my amazing family and I thank God every day for them.
  2. I worked five summers ('01, '03, '05, '06, and '10) at Brighton Girls Camp. In 2001 (a mere 13 years ago), I was a Junior in high school and looking for direction in life. I had a friend direct me to Brighton, where they had worked the previous summer. It was life-changing. I feel like Brighton allowed me to be more outspoken and a little bit crazier. It taught me that we are all children of a Father in Heaven, that we are loved, that we deserve to be loved, and that we should love one another without reservations. It taught me the value of planning, although leaving room for spontaneity, of working really hard, laughing with friends, singing at the top of your lungs, being a steward of our environment, and of sitting still and listening to nature.
  3. On November 5, 2005 I broke my arm in a car accident. This was no ordinary break either. I broke my right humorous completely in half and I broke a small chunk of it off at the same time. I have a metal plate that surrounds the entire bone and they screwed the little chunk back in. I also don't really have a funny bone on my right arm because they had to move the nerve. This is kind of a weird one, but being in that car accident forced me to change where I was going in life. I had this plan that I was going to work really hard (lose some weight) and go on an LDS mission, then I would come back and finish school. Instead, I just went off to school, which set me on the path to where I am today. At the time, I was deeply bitter and more than a little depressed that what I wanted in life wasn't what I was getting. Now, with some perspective, I can see that I am exactly where I was supposed to be. Also, I have a wicked awesome scar on the back of my arm.
  4. On a whim (and because I was hungry and they were serving free pizza at the information meeting),  I went to Moscow, Russia and taught English for a semester. While the program I went with (which shall remain nameless) wasn't the greatest, living in Russia entirely changed my view of the world. When you have such an earth-shattering revelation, it is difficult to put into words how you feel and how it has changed you so completely. I literally had no concept of the world outside of Utah. What's worse, I had been to Hong Kong once and traveled over most of the US (although still haven't been to the northeast or the deep south, except for Louisiana) and I still didn't quite get that the world was so integrally interconnected. Living in Russia, even for a relatively short period of time, showed me how we are all parts of a great whole.
  5. I  swallowed my doubts and went to the University of Michigan. When I was applying to grad schools, I had decided in my head that I was going to Indiana University Bloomington. It was a fine school, good program, cheap housing, within a 2 hour radius of Ikea, and their tuition seemed much more reasonable than UM. I had really struggled with the idea of going into debt for school. I knew it was something reasonable to do (although, some people could have bought a nice house for what I paid), but when you look at the total it really makes your head spin. Especially after I had worked two jobs and taken 7 years to complete my Bachelors. For some reason,  I felt very strongly that if I was going to go to grad school, then I needed to go to grad school and take on the full experience at once. I remember praying about where I should be and if Indiana was the right place for me and, as if someone were sitting there talking to me, I heard "you know Michigan is right and you've known since you started applying, why are you fighting it?" So I went and I was blown away by how inadequate I felt, yet knew that I had found exactly where I belonged. I met tons of awesome friends, had a Michigan drivers license, worked at several different libraries, took a bus to school almost every day (public transportation nut right here), started reading more, met an incredible mentor, had at least two sobbing breakdowns, was published in three books, participated in countless pub quizzes, broke down my pre-conceived notions of society, became politically moderate (thanks Obama!), received a world-class education (not without its faults, of course) and overall developed a sense of how I could make a difference in the world. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Hello? Is it me you're looking for?

I just realized that it's almost the end of February and I haven't posted a thing to my blog since January. I have no idea where this month went. Actually, that's a clear lie, because I know exactly where this month went, in order:
  • Bronchitis (the loving reminder of Bangkok)
  • Field trip to a TV news station in Dhaka that ate up one weekend day and provided absolutely no romance for my Valentines Day
  • A hilariously failed attempt to take two MOOC's
  • I discovered Humble Bundle and lost 10 hours one weekend to playing Civilization V (my cognitive excess needed an outlet, so sue me)
  • Mock exams
  • The computer with the library catalog crashing and losing the entire catalog (backups, I know, I know, don't even get me started)
It has warmed up in Bangladesh, but not too warm, it's at that perfect "I can leave the window open and it's the same temperature inside as it is outside" weather.

Meanwhile, politics have cooled considerably, thank goodness. Bangladesh is home to the Asia World Cup of cricket this year. There was talk of pulling out if things didn't settle down, and cricket is really important to everyone. Glad they could find one thing to agree on. I'm desperately hoping that they keep themselves in check until June 14th, which is when I fly home. After that, it's up to you.

Speaking of civil disobedience, Ukraine is hot on my mind right now. It's so bizarre to see pictures of the Maiden (pronounced my-dan, at least according to all the Ukrainians I met when I was there). Ukraine was such a fascinating country, precariously balanced between two worlds, yet constantly under the thumb of their bigger neighbors. Everything is Illuminated, which was a decent book and then an amazing movie, really burned Ukraine into my heart.

I should mention the MOOC's I tried to take. A MOOC is a massive online open course. Basically, on online college course that's usually free (or you just pay for materials). It's a great path for online learning and leading universities, including both my alma maters, SUU and UM, have classes on different websites. The ones I signed up for were through Canvas Network. I am endlessly fascinated by the idea of digital badges, so I thought I would love this course. I just found I had so little time and so much West Wing to watch schoolwork to get through. My brain was just feeling a bit too fried to introduce something new into it. The good thing is, I didn't waste any money and I can always take over. Also, I have access to the materials, so if I get the desire to go through them again on my own time, I can. Basically, it's everyone's dream for education, that we can continue lifelong learning, although I still struggle with online classes. I need external motivation for some things.

Alright, I've blathered on enough tonight.  Enjoy this video of Everything is Awesome from the Lego movie. It is now my theme song.

Gentle reminder, for those who made it to the bottom, I am turning 30 much sooner than I am comfortable with. That is all.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Book Reviews: Winter Break 2013

This time in five lines or less. I read a couple of books over break, but I also bit the bullet and bought an Audible subscription. Basically, you pay for credits, credits can be traded for books, most books are one credit. I got the two credit subscription because I listen to audiobooks so fast. I'm not schilling for Audible (unlike some of my favorite podcasts), but they have markedly improved since their inception and they're much easier to work with since being bought up by Amazon.

Anyway, on to the reviews. All cover images courtesy of Amazon.

Title: Allegiant.
Author: Veronica Roth
Review: The final chapter in the Divergent trilogy. We pick up with Tris and Four as they revealed the truth about the factions, that when there are enough Divergents they should leave the city. Four's mother, the leader of the Divergent makes things difficult. As Tris and Four escape, the truth they find on the outside is enough to shatter their whole world again. A good end to the trilogy, it nicely wraps up all the loose ends.
Good for my library: yes, although it did feature one allusion to adult situations (and much talking about kissing, too much really).

Title: China Road
Author: Rob Gilford
Narrator: Simon Vance
Review: As National Public Radio correspondent Rob Gilford prepares to move from China, he takes a
road trip along Route 312, the longest highway route in the world's most populated country. Gilford weaves stories of his journey with history as he discusses the future of China. Equal parts hope and doubt as we wait to see what the powerhouse nation will become.
Narrator Review: I really struggled with Vance's accent. Several times I had to go back and listen to the story again because I had missed major points. I wonder why Gilford didn't just record it himself, considering he was a radio journalist.
Good for my library: maybe for the older kids, although they would need to have a more basic version of Chinese history before they delved into this discussion.

Title: Child 44
Author: Tom Rob Smith
Narrator: Dennis Boutsikaris
Review: Leo Demidov is a stalwart member of Stalin's State Security Force in 1950's Soviet Russia. When he comes into contact with a murderer who the state won't even admit exists, he questions his purpose and is forced to come to terms with who he is fighting for. Smith's depiction of Soviet Russia is horrifying and poignant. He is able to paint a portrait of the world and recreate the absolute moral degradation that Stalin encouraged.
Narrator Review: Boutsikaris incorporates an excellent Russian accent. His narration does tend to be a bit flat at times, but really shines when there is heavy dialogue.
Good for my library: No, mostly because it's such a niche topic and you would really need to have a firm understanding of Soviet history to help create the background for where and when the novel takes place.

Title: The Secret Speech
Author: Tom Rob Smith
Narrator: Dennis Boutsikaris
Review: After the death of Stalin, the Soviet Union had to come to terms with the actions of their former leader. The so-called Secret Speech of Nikita Khruchev dissolved Stalin's State Security Force and put all former members in the crosshairs of citizens who had been punished on trumped-up charges and fabricated confessions. Leo Demidov's past comes to haunt him and he must travel from Moscow, to the Siberian Gulags, to the Hungarian revolution to help save his family and pay for the crimes of his previous life. Smith again crafts the world of the Soviet Union, this time in flux as their current leader completely denounces the leadership of the past.
Good for my library: nope

Title: Avoid Working on the Great Wall of China!
Author: Jacqueline Morley
Illustrator: David Antram
Review: Life during the Ming Dynasty was difficult. Either you paid your taxes to the emperor, or you were sent to work on his great wall. When you got there, you usually worked until your debt was paid off, then continued to live there because you could never afford to get back home or worked until you died and were buried in the foundations of the wall. This colorful graphic novel explores life as a farmer during one of the great ancient eras, even capturing the horror of life, although in a lightened tone.
Good for my library: yes, I would aim this at grades 4-6, since it contains reference to the general horrific death and slave labor that built the Great Wall.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The book vs. the movie

One of the perks of being in Thailand was finally going to see several movies. Amongst these were two movies based on popular books, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.* The former, while a good movie in its own right, was a terrible adaptation of the book. The latter, was both a good movie, and an excellent adaptation. It got me thinking about making movies from books and how difficult it is to get the tone and story right.

The upcoming year brings us several adaptations of YA fiction. First up is Divergent based on the novel of the same name by Veronica Roth. This is one of my favorite science fiction YA series. It also features a female action hero. Also, Kate Winslet, who is highly watchable in any movie (even Revolutionary Road, which was a terribly depressing movie). That being said, I think the movie looks terrible. The one scene that has been released makes it look like a mope-y Twilight rip-off, with the lead characters making googley-eyes at each other and finds a reason to get the male lead to strip off his shirt (an amazing feat in a less than two minute clip).

Here, you judge for yourself:

Even the thumbnail of the video is a picture of his bare back. I don't care if the scene was in the book (which, I don't think it was, but it has been a while since I read the first one), it comes off as contrived.

Let's get that bad taste out of our mouth.
The next in line is an adaptation of the amazing novel The Fault in our Stars by John Green. The movie doesn't have a trailer yet, but a poster was recently released, which caused quite a ruckus because of its tagline "One sick love story."
Image via (which redirects to their Facebook page)
I am trying to temper my hopes for this adaptation. I think it has the potential of being amazing, but I don't want to get too excited and have a letdown of Ender's Game proportion. Shailene Woodley, who also plays the main character in Divergent, is a great actress (if you haven't seen The Descendants you really should). The director is relatively unknown, which is sometimes a good thing because they're not set in their ways yet, but also bad because they feel like they have to prove themselves to the studio.

The third that I'll mention here is The Giver, which is being released in August. We've been waiting for an adaptation of the novel by Lois Lowry since it was released 21 years ago, but I never really thought this would be a film-able/watchable movie, so much of the book takes place inside the main character's head. If you haven't read it, I'm going to spoil a main plot point right now.

The book was life changing for me when I first read it. I very clearly remember the moment I realized they didn't have color in their world. Even now, thinking about it, I get chills. I'm not really sure how that will play out in the movie, will it be a Pleasantville-type situation where they're all black and white and then color starts appearing?  I have high hopes for the movie, because it features Jeff Bridges as the Giver. On the other hand, it also has Meryl Streep, who I really can't stand. Don't try and convince me she's great, I realize it's irrational for me to dislike her, she is such a great actress. I am interested in the movie, but I'm hesitant, because the book was such a touchstone during my adolescent turmoil.

I was going to finish by listing the other movies, but I found a Buzzfeed article that did it better.

*I also saw Frozen (good, although not necessary for it to be a musical), American Hustle (I felt decidedly meh about this movie, except for Jennifer Lawrence, who should play manic more often), and Captain Phillips (which I realize is based on a book, but doesn't really apply to my arguments in this post).