Monday, June 22, 2009

Notes to a College Freshman

Alright, I realize that getting my undergrad doesn't make me automatically wise or important or even more well-off in this economy (bummer). However, I do believe that I have gleaned some important lessons from my experience and have been compelled to share them (mostly because they won't let my brain rest or go on to anything else until I get this into written format).

Financial Aid - While this may seem a fleeting, unimportant-in-the-long-run revelation, it is probably one of the things that I look back on and am most disappointed about. Lesson learned: Do all the legwork yourself (or at least hound people who are supposed to be helping you). I learned this lesson too late. When I finally caught on I was in my second to last semester of my senior year and received two scholarships... for the next year [the year after I graduate]. With the economy so rough right now and college becoming less of a rarity and more of a requirement, financial aid is an absolute must. And actually, now that I think about it, this is an important-in-the-long-run thing. Seriously, how many of us are going to be spending our hard-earned salaries for the next ten years or so paying off gargantuan student loans? (Oh and that's an extra mini-lesson: Don't go to college on loans if you can prevent it at all. I am dead serious here. I wish someone had really educated me or warned me about taking out loans before I went into my freshman year.)

GPA - Yes, we are raised in a society that tells us we are 'all #1' and that we are all created equally (while that is true there have been some discrepancies in the application of this.). Yes, we are told that 'doing your best' is sufficient. Here's a wake-up call: It's not. Seriously, GPA is big. I suppose growing up in environment where grades were neither stressed nor really even given was a deficit when it comes to realizing how important those four points are to your academic achievement. This did not hit me for quite some time. I made it through freshman, sophomore, and junior year before I realized that the grades I was getting would affect where I went in the future. This is especially important if you want to get into any graduate programs. While I am not 100% sure about other disciplines, I can speak for anthropology and say that the cut off for grad school is usually 3.2. So even if you have good reference letters, excellent community involvement, and an incredible writing sample, you'll be cut off because of GPA alone.

Work Ethic - Apparently I am not the person to ask about work ethic. I have a 'good one' in the sense that I get all my work done on time. However, I am an expert at 'working under pressure' and it is not always a good thing. So lesson learned: stop smelling the roses and put your nose back in the book or in front of the computer screen. You will have the rest of your life to experience the finer things. (This may only apply to me as I am one of those who is easily distracted, but I couldn't very well leave it out).

Diversity - I honestly can say that (aside from the fact that my degree is not offered at the private college I formerly attended) the diversity of the campus has been one of the best experiences for me. I did not have a lot of exposure to people of other cultures and religions before I came to UM-Flint and I am glad that I did not miss out on this great opportunity. America the Melting Pot always held such great meaning for me, but my experience with the Melting Pot had always been a homogenizing affect, boiling us down to basic ingredients in the same basic mold. There was no inter-mingling or fusion of cultures to my understanding before I came to Flint. While I realize that this was most likely not intentional by my other teachers in my early experiences, it was never truly experienced or emphasized before I started here.

Do you all have any lessons you would pass on to freshman (college or high school)? If so, let me know what you think in the comments. Interested to hear what you all have to say.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Slacktivism and the Subjective Weight of Human Life

One of the questions I have been coming up against today: What is the weight of human life? Why do we give some lives more weight than others? I don’t really want to open this up into the abortion debate (as that is too heated and one of my least favorite topics to talk about), but it is the one that has gotten me thinking. If people are willing to protest in the streets about abortion and use ‘the sanctity of life’ as their main argument, why are they not protesting all the times where this sanctity is being betrayed? I can remember being taken out to picket at a young age, but I was never taught about the atrocities happening in the world around the same time –the South African apartheid, the Rwandan Genocide. (I know that I can’t generalize, as I have been called out on this more than once, so understand hear that I am speaking out of my personal experiences, and those of people I know.) I don’t understand how we can go and protest one thing but not the other.

Vocal support only goes so far. A good example of this is Darfur. I will always say that I am against the genocide happening in Darfur, but what will I do against it? What do the people I know who are ‘against’ this actually do? It’s like the recent commentary by the Globe and Mail as well as NPR on the growing epidemic of slacktivism. “‘Slacktivism’ is an apt term to describe feel-good online activism that has zero political or social impact. It gives those who participate in ‘slacktivist’ campaigns an illusion of having a meaningful impact on the world without demanding anything more than joining a Facebook group” (NPR 19 May 2009). Admittedly, there are some online campaigns that do good, so I cannot generalize and say “all” but the vast amount seem to be nothing more than a one-button click to ‘show your support’ and then after that nothing. I am guilty of this myself, so please understand that I am including myself in the guilty party.

This also reminds me of the folly of activist blogging. What good does blogging do? The student government at UM recently held a “Blog or Shut Up” campaign to promote discussion on student government activities. While this is a possible solution for the lack of involvement on campus, I have often heard (and used myself!) the same phrase to refer to activism. I just have to laugh because what does that really do? Unless you have a substantial politically-activated reader base, what the hell do you think is going to happen? People are not going to get out of their comfy office chairs (I am one of those who has trouble ungluing the seat of her pants from her computer chair) and start acting because someone wrote an angry post on their obscure blog. Even with the more popular bloggers, what do they cause us to do? Do we shake our heads at the misery the world over? Do we go to a different website because it makes us uncomfortable? Will we (will I?) ever be motivated to truly move?

When I live in a nation with the incredible privilege of free speech and the opportunity to stand up against injustices without fear for my life or the life of my loved-ones, why is it that I will not use these priceless advantages I have been given to stand up against the problems in the world today?

NPR: Foreign Policy: Brave New World of Slacktivism

Dear Student Government

Life Right Now

So… I am sitting here at work. I’ve got my to-do list done except for end-of-the-day stuff and it’s not even 9:15am. Yes, I am officially bored. So, I am going to sit here and write a bit about how life is going these days and what I have been thinking about.

I am eating the most delicious orange right now. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever tasted a better one. I bought them at the Farmer’s Market (my new favorite place) and I am always continually shocked at how much better the produce is there –and how much cheaper usually as well. Have to say that the meats and cheeses are definitely more expensive, but the fruits and veggies are always comparable to or lower than supermarket prices. (And now I feel slightly boring for talking about produce prices in a post about ‘my life’… Sheesh).

School is almost done. I have a week and a half until I’m finished with my BA. This is providing I actually pass my last class. I am terrified of this economics class. Seriously, it’s got me beat. I think I might’ve actually liked this class, but to do it in seven weeks with the same amount of reading (which would be heavy for a normal semester) with another class besides? Yeah, it’s not working. And now my professor has decided that we are switching from three papers to two. So, while it’s less work, my overall grade for this whole class is going to be based on two papers, one of which I know I did horribly on. I don’t even need my paper back to know that. It was probably the worst paper I’ve ever written because I didn’t understand the material and I couldn’t even make it through all of the books. What’s done is done, I suppose. I can’t very well turn back time and redo it, but it still frustrates me that this one is so hard.

To happier things: my other class. I am seriously loving my Africana class. “Women Writers of the African World” has been a joy. Really. I have never really gotten the chance to branch off into Africana and I’m kind of bemused how I managed to not take even one until my last semester at UM. While I have always appreciated my education thus far (from Kindergarten on up through the first several years of college) and have always been a voracious reader, there has a serious gap in my reading selection, both personally and for school. I can remember the first time I took World Lit and being stunned at how much I learned from the stories and how much I enjoyed reading them.

For some reason, I had always assumed that different cultures’ stories would not ‘work’ with me (just another symptom of my American ethnocentrism that is engrained into all of us as US citizens, I suppose). Even that class, however, I don’t remember reading any African literature. We read several Asian (I can think of two Japanese stories off the top of my head, as well as an Indian one), a Native American book, Hispano South American poetry, but there was a gap there, too. With the books we have read I have been continually surprised on how much I enjoy reading African literature. And now that I say that I feel just a little bit ignorant for voicing that… Anyway, pleasant surprises in the literature class. And we also have a poetry assignment that I’m really enjoying researching. Anyone have any favorite African poets (limited to the African continent and the Caribbean)?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Obsession with American Rights

A while back in a comment about a blog post, a good friend of mine mentioned something about the American obsession with rights and I've been thinking more and more about that. What has really got me thinking most of all, though, is the American obsession with American rights. That is, our obsession with rights that we (tacitly?) only extend to ourselves, as Americans.

It seems like we do not care about what else happens in the world and this dichotomy -of rights inalienable versus subjective- has me perplexed. I read every day about people in other countries struggling against multinational corporations that are exploiting their natural resources, native people, and more, and I wonder why we aren't doing anything. How is it that we preach the inalienable rights of all humans but are unconcerned about anyone's but our own? Do people only get rights when they agree with us? Or when we take over their countries and force our ideals on them?

I feel like my eyes are continually opened to the atrocities around the world each day--those that the US ignores or even supports- and yet there's nothing I can do to make people care or even convince them that these problems exist. I can tell horror stories, I can distribute pamphlets and protest in the streets, and what difference will it make?

I can tell people about Ken Saro-Wiwa (and the others of the Ogoni Nine) who was executed for defending his native land and his people against a multinational corporation that was ruining the land with its oil flowstations, and displacing them from their homes without the slightest bit of reimbursement, remorse, or even a second thought.

I can talk about how Coca-Cola has supported anti-union violence and even paid for the assassination of labor leaders at their plants in South America.

I could go on and on about the sweatshops in Bangkok and the maquiladoras of South America where women lose any sense of 'rights' (if they had them in the first place) when they are put to work like cattle and all to produce a cheaper product for greedy capitalists.

I could relay the ludicrous tale of the company that decided to start charging residents of favelas, shantytowns, for the rainwater they collect on their roofs.

I know I am not innocent in this. I have purchased gasoline from companies I'm against, simply because the cost is cheaper for me (never mind the cost of life for someone else). I purchase the cheap, mass-produced products (out of necessity and out of stinginess) at Wal-Mart and other superstores. I used to drink Coca-Cola, too.

What I don't get is why people do not change when they come face-to-face with these issues. Or why they don't even react. I don't know. Maybe it's a little much to ask people to care or change their ways, but some won't even acknowledge it, or worse they know, they understand and they could care less. I don't understand why my rights are more valuable than those of Tomasina, working in the fields of Mexico, or Yuk-Ling, assembling electronics in South China.

How is it that we can scoff at protestors outside the WTO or in front of the IMF? Why do we think we are so much better -so much more valuable- than someone half the world away? How can we be silent in the face of these atrocities that go by unmarked and unnoticed?

I, for one, am feeling incredibly guilty and only wish there was something more I could do.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

One small step for (wo)man...

...and one giant leap into the realm of adulthood!

I got a cell phone.

Yes, I had one before, but this is my phone. As in, my own cell phone plan, my own money, my own responsibility.

It may seem quite lame to those of you who have been in this realm longer than I have, but I am kind of on edge because of this now. For the past several years, I've just taken advantage of the family plans my parents use and have just added a phone to their plans. But today I went out and got my own.

You should be proud of me, I did research. I shopped around. I even read a report from the federal government on wireless service providers (it was very boring, but somewhat informative). I ended up leaving Verizon behind and switched to Sprint and I think it will end up working out. Got a great discount, a free phone, and all the texting I could ever want. ;)

So, here I am... owner of a new cell phone (a red Samsung Rant) and account holder on a cell phone plan. And for some reason I am absolutely terrified. Maybe it's a good thing. I am so worried that I will screw this thing up. Overage charges, or messing up plans --that sort of stuff. It's one of the reasons I stuck to unlimited texting. :) I'm not sure why this is so much more serious than other things that I have --I pay my car insurance every month, as well as my loan payments. Why is the cell phone plan so intimidating?

Monday, June 1, 2009

FYI

Hey guys,

Just thought I'd let you know that I've switched over to comment moderation, so if your comments don't show up immediately don't be surprised. As I'm on here usually at least once a day, there shouldn't be that much of a delay between when you post and when your comments appear.