Rich with crisp, refreshing weather, enchanting foliage (I’ve been waiting months to use that word haha), and great traditions, October is a natural favorite among many people. For me too, it’s been a blissful month. I’ve made great strides in my health gains. (Unfortunately I don’t have any gym selfies to show right now.) I’ve continued studying for the GRE and have seen awesome improvements. My theses are going quite well, too, although my progress was stagnant for a very long time! Most importantly I’ve made sure to have a little fun!
This year’s fall dance, held at the Hotel Roanoke, was themed “Casino Royale.” I searched far and wide for a suitable dress and ended up finding one in an unsuspecting discount store. The event was lively as usual, though I mostly stuck next to the food bar and devoured the variety of cheeses, hummus, chips, and veggies.
Family Weekend was lovely, lovely, lovely! My best friends came down to visit me for the entire weekend. On the first day, I took them to my favorite spot on campus and we just relaxed and caught up with developments in our lives.
Afterwards we had a great picnic at Button’s Bluff–my favorite spot in the SWVA. I had never been there in the heart of fall so it was beautiful to relax with our blankets in the crisp weather with the colorful sight ahead of us. Finally, we took a refreshing hike up Carvin’s Cove on Sunday morning, afterwards sitting in on Stanislav Khristenko’s moving piano performance. We ended the evening off with Downtown Roanoke shopping and Indian food at Nawab’s. I felt quite downcast when my friends left that evening because I hadn’t had a chance to be with them in a long, long time. More so, I realized how difficult it would be for me to move away from the D.C. area once I graduate. Everything I love is over there! I don’t make friends very easily so the ones I do have, I love deeply. These two are basically my soulmates haha :D
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This week I had the honor of meeting one of my favorite writers, Junot Díaz. Author of such award-winning books as This is How You Lose Her, and Drown, Díaz writes profoundly and unapologetically about adolescence, turmoil, love, gender, displacement, and many other themes. I fell in love with Díaz’s style in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, a coming-of-age novel about its hapless, nerdy, Dominican-American protagonist. Since then, I’ve recommended Díaz to all my friends—especially my fellow first-generation immigrants whose experiences are reflected in the turbulent magical realism of Díaz’s works.
Monday’s event was a reading and Q&A between Díaz and a packed audience in the VAC. Students asked him about his journey as a writer, his treatment of culture and language, and his experience as a professor at MIT. In his answers, Díaz characteristically (as well as aptly, eruditely, and appropriately) bashed the neoliberal world order, defied the myth of exclusive identities, and remained as relatable in real life as in his prose. Because of Díaz’s compassionate and sincere delivery, even his rampant cursing sounded mellifluous.
I spoke with the author the next day during another Q&A. I asked him a question that I’ve had while reading many of his works. One of the most impressive aspect of Díaz’s work is his ability to organically illustrate the relationships that exist among women. Seeing as the writer is not a self-aggrandizing person, I didn’t think it’d be appropriate to ask what he has realized in this regard, that so many other male authors have not. Instead I asked, “How do you approach this theme [female relationships]—especially with regard to the mother/daughter relationship in Brief Life, seeing as motherhood is an already problematic relationship that’s further complicated when you superimpose the dynamics of immigration and race?” Díaz’s answer was deeply introspective. The writer answered that he had to acknowledge his immense privilege as a male—and more importantly realize that ignorance of this privilege ruptured his relationship with his sisters. In fact, it even ruptured the relationship that his sisters had with their mother. I was touched by this refreshingly raw answer; suffice it to say that it gave me hope about changes that may come.
Finally, towards the end of the event I took a picture with the Nobel-prize winner. I was fan-girling super hard so I think I left without thanking him properly. Oops :/
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I wanted to update you all on my semester thus far. I’m feeling very optimistic about this year. Despite the overload of credits and the theses, I feel like I’m in charge of my life. I‘ve made considerable progress on both theses and I’m learning a lot about the research process, in addition to my topics of interest. Just as importantly, I’ve made enormous progress in my physical health. I have to say I’m incredibly proud of myself. I’ve tried to get in shape multiple times in the past; but each time I failed, whether it was because I got busy or frustrated with not seeing results as soon as I wanted. This time I’ve been super successful. I go to the HU gym 4 times a week and run around the loop on weekends.
Additionally, I’ve been studying for the GRE for a few weeks now and I think I’m making excellent progress on that end as well. What I’ve done is spend one Saturday reading the Kaplan section on each section of the exam and then spending the rest of the week practicing questions until the next Saturday, when I study the next section. Afterwards, I practice the sections cumulatively. Once I’m finished with all sections, it’ll be practice, practice, practice until test day! I’m finding this method to be very helpful for me because I can chart my progress.
Finally I wanted to let you all know I’m working on implementing a project with the Global Interest Association to raise awareness about the refugee crisis. I’m hoping that an extended fundraiser that is guided by improved awareness can enrich the rhetoric surrounding the crisis and contribute to alleviating the crisis. Even if the contribution is tiny relative to the scope of the problem, I hope that as a campus we can say we did something about the problem.
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I’m sorry I haven’t written a piece for ya’ll sooner. I arrived at Hollins last Wednesday and was busy with unpacking, preparing for classes, and catching up with friends. I can already tell this semester will be a dynamic one. Currently I’m fanatically looking through Google Scholar and various databases in search of thesis ideas. I’m essentially treating my theses as a probe into the field to which that I will be dedicating the rest of my career. Unsurprisingly both my economics and international studies theses will be addressing Afghanistan in one way or another. Currently, my IS research question stands at: In what ways do the multifaceted and competing foreign-policy interests among China, Russia, Pakistan, India, Iran, and the NATO countries impede, and in what ways do they advance, the achievement of security and reconstruction in Afghanistan? For econ, I am choosing between investigating the efficacy of Amartya Sen’s capability model in Afghanistan, the potential for mining in the development of the nation, and the potential of the Afghan diaspora in propagating growth.
Hopefully I’ll be looking back at this blog post months from now and laugh at how elementary my original ideas were. I understand that one of the fundamental aspects of thesis writing is continuous refinement so I will be meeting frequently with my advisors and professors to hone in on my research questions which will guide the rest of my papers. I’m very intrigued by the challenges and opportunities that thesis writing presents!
Quite frankly, I will dedicating most of my senior year to academic, job hunting, and grad school submissions. However I haven’t forgotten about the friendships that I made here! On Saturday I celebrated the birthday of a friend of mine. It was a small, charming party in her apartment; we danced, listened to music, and reflected on the summer and our goals for the year. It was a great refresher to the start-of-the-year headaches!
As I’m starting to get back into the swing of things, I want to add gym attendance to my daily schedule. I know I’ll be very preoccupied this year so I have to make sure to take care of myself and find an outlet for energy and creativity. I will be running around the loop on weekends and doing weight lifting on weekdays. I am also looking forward to starting rock climbing again!
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I wanted to write a short blog post tonight reflecting my preparations for senior year! I’m facing a juggernaut of emotions right now as I look forward to my last year as an undergraduate. I’m incredibly excited, all while simultaneously being anxious and confused. As I may have discussed in earlier blog posts, I’ll be writing two theses this year, one for my economics degree and another for my international studies major. As eager as I am to begin working on my papers, I am also quite nervous. I hope to be able to turn both theses into honors pieces; and I’m sure the work will be fascinating but I have no doubt it will also be an arduous process. In addition to my thesis courses I’ll also be completing Public Finance, Managerial Economics and a statistics course. I originally planned on forgoing work-study to focus on my writing but it looks like that may not be financially feasible. Additionally, I’m considering working weekends as a barista this year! With grad school apps/job searching, I will have a full plate my senior year.
Nevertheless, I am looking forward to enjoying my senior year to the fullest. I have made some incredible friends at Hollins, and I want to be able to make the best of the little time we have together. This year, I will be living with my friends Corinne and Andrea in the apartments. We’re all currently discussing apartment decorations over Facebook. I’m really looking forward to shopping for my room. Sharing one with Andrea should be a wonderful experience; she’s been my rock through a lot of the issues I’ve faced in the past years. :) We’re planning on taking a few weekend trips throughout the east coast, driving through the Blue Ridge, and of course going to more parties!
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Today I’m celebrating Eid al-Fitr with my family. This celebration is an important one for all Muslims as it marks the end of Ramadan. Ramadan is the time of the year when Muslims fast from dawn until dusk to commemorate the revelation of the Quran. The fast requires one to refrain not just from eating, drinking, and sexual activities but from activities considered sinful in the faith—including gossiping, smoking, and lying.
Although I was born in a Muslim household, I did not grow up as a devout, practicing Muslim. (Which is to say I didn’t pray five times a day, as required by the pillars of Islam; I only visited a mosque about once a year, etc…) As I grew up, however, I found it incumbent upon me to gain a rich understanding of the religion. During my adolescence, I struggled a lot with my sense of self, considering the ostensibly mutually exclusive natures of my various identities. Islam, in addition to the other factors that have inevitably shaped my worldview, would be something I had to deeply understand in order to know myself and the state of our world.
In earlier years, I have always taken Ramadan as a time to learn about Islam in a didactic manner. I did this to to try to comprehend how the religion can be placed in current events. What does Islam have to say about women’s rights, family planning, the creation of the universe, war, and etc.?
This Ramadan and the last one, however, have been incredibly important for me because I’ve used the time to connect more spiritually with the faith. I’ve always been impressed with the way in which religion provides profound meanings to the lives of many people. As I make difficult decisions and face new challenges, I am also finding myself turning to faith to find answers to pressing questions. Certainly I haven’t turn to a full-fledged believer overnight. I still have many questions about the Islam and its tenets and I am continuing to investigate them.
Fasting itself has been quite fascinating. I truly enjoy doing it as an exercise in self control. So many aspects of life in the developed and highly-industrialized world are based on instant gratification that my patience level has declined significantly over the years. Fasting helps me curb many of the incessant instinctive emotions that fall prey to instant gratification. I’ve discovered, for example, that the feeling of hunger has often been only an illusion in my daily life. I certainly don’t deny that we need nutrition to survive! However, I often turn to food when bored or simply because I’m tempted by a delicious-looking dessert. Most days during Ramadan, I found that I hadn’t been physically hungry, but hungry because I had been denying myself something that I wanted.
Many people successfully execute the act of self-denial throughout Ramadan only to fall back into the vicious habit of over-consumption once the month is over. I hope that I can continue to apply the lessons I’ve learned during Ramadan throughout the year and to other disciplines. Maybe I can use the experience to help assuage my problems with chronic procrastination!
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