Peace Corps Botswana 2012

It’s official, I’m heading to Botswana for Peace Corps! The end of my seemingly interminable period of waiting came in late November when I returned home to my apartment to find a UPS notice stuck to my door. Because I knew exactly what it was that I’d missed, I raced to the customer service center to retrieve my invitation kit. After a year and a half of waiting I suppose I could have been patient for one more day, but with the big news being that close I just couldn’t stand to wait any longer. Hopefully Peace Corps will help me to develop more patience. In any case, the relief and excitement I felt at finally knowing where it was I would be spending the next two years of my life is difficult to describe. As far as my placement was concerned, I was very open with my request. As long as I could serve in sub-Saharan Africa, I was willing to go to any country in the region, and therefore was very pleased with my placement. I am scheduled to leave next week, and for the past three months have been scurrying around trying to prepare for my departure. I hope to be able to maintain this blog during my service, hopefully updating a little more often than I did while as I was studying, to offer a complete picture of the Master’s International experience for Josef Korbel School students. I will also be maintaining a separate blog at: 23° 26′ 16″: The Misadventures of a Tswana-be

Snow Day in Denver?

The first big storm of the season has roared through Colorado, just in time for President Obama’s visit to Denver to announce his plan to assist university students who are slowly disappearing under mounds and mounds of seemingly endless debts after graduation. In my southern mind, I instantly equate snow with staying warm and toasty in my house and drinking hot chocolate as the city comes to a complete standstill around me. However, it seems that is not the way it works in Colorado or any state that receives a significant amount of snowfall on an annual basis.

This morning, I reluctantly trudged to class in the wet and heavy snow. The landscape, which had been covered in the white stuff by early morning was beautiful of course. Although, I would have enjoyed all of that loveliness vastly more had it not been constantly blowing in my face my entire walk or sticking to every surface of my clothing. Thank goodness there were no small children or animals on my route, for I fear my terrible grimace would have frightened them beyond belief. In fact, I probably resembled a wampa that just flew in from Hoth when I entered the classroom (and yes I did just make that super geeky reference) and started knocking all of the snow off my clothing.

After class today I will be headed downtown to my internship at WTC Denver and rode the light rail, which I usually try to do, but especially today to avoid driving in the slush and snow. I am fairly confident in my winter driving skills, it is rather that I am not as confident in the skills of others, so I will stick to public transportation. Even though I cannot stay inside, I can at least enjoy the beauty Denver and Colorado has to offer while I shiver outside in the cold.

Thankfully, I take pictures of pretty much everything so I have some photos of this week’s dramatic weather transition.

The week started out, beautiful and warm, reaching a record high of 80 degrees on Monday, with the dazzling fall foliage on full display…

only to devolve into this, instant winter!

Can you make out the state capitol building in the distance? Nope, probably not because Colorado weather is mercurial and crazy. Similar to the looming state capitol building, the mountains were obscured most of the day by snow clouds. It’s odd not being able to see the mountains at all. Even though the metro area did not receive as much snow as some of the higher areas the visibility was still somewhat low.

During the afternoon the remnants of the weather system slowly drifted out of the city and after a few hours the capitol building was once again visible. (Yes, this is a terrible picture but believe me, it’s there!)

There’s no escape from the Colorado winter, not even for the giant blue bear.

My car was completely covered when I returned home at the end of the day. Because the universe has cursed my vehicle (this is a story for another entry) I thought it best not to leave it piled high with snow and cleared it after taking this picture.

The Clock is Running Down

Thus far, I have failed miserably to maintain this blog by producing two entries of week, and for that I sincerely apologize. The time I have remaining at the Josef Korbel School is rapidly coming to an end. This quarter, I will complete my academic study and in the spring I will be heading to a country, which has yet to be specified by the Peace Corps, in Sub-Saharan Africa to begin my two years of service. The application process for the Peace Corps is something I began before actually applying and entering graduate school. Therefore, it has been almost a two-year process and I seem no closer to receiving my placement. Actually, that is not true. Recently, I received an email from my placement officer apologizing for the extended wait. The budget cut Peace Corps received has resulted in a large batch of invitations being held as the Peace Corps takes account of what positions and sites are available and re-evaluates programs. According to the email, I should receive some word on my placement by the beginning of November. Because I have been waiting so long and I am normally a pretty impatient person, I have begun to think of it in a pretty abstract manner, but now that the moment is closer and my feelings of anticipation and impatience are growing. As soon as I find out what country I am heading to I will be sure post it here.

For the first time since I began my degree program here I am only taking three classes, as opposed to four. I thought that the workload would be a bit lighter, which I realize in hindsight was somewhat naive. All of the courses I am taking are core classes and the material is dense, but so far I have enjoyed what I am learning. International Monetary Relations is probably the standout class for me this quarter. It is strenuous and challenging, but I am learning both technical and various theoretical ideas that attempt to explain how the international monetary system functions. It is interesting because we examine the underlying economic mechanisms and fundamentals that move beneath the international financial and monetary system. We began by studying the history of the system, looking at the Classical Gold Standard which began around the mid-18th century and followed the progression of the system until its ultimate collapse at the end of the end of the Bretton Woods when President Nixon declared the U.S. dollar was no longer convertible to gold in 1971. Next, we moved on to discussing the system and whether or not it was as stable as those who have called for a return to the CGS espouse. We moved on to discussing exchange rates and what mechanisms determine these rates and reviewed classical monetary theory as well as alternative theories presented by behavioral economists that examine market psychology and others. I truly believe it will be of great practical use in my future career and when I go on to more advanced studies.

Washington DC Countdown

Amazingly, the end of the summer is near and my internship in Washington DC has come to an end. Despite my best intentions, I failed miserably to maintain this blog on a regular basis. That being said, I do have hundreds of pictures from which to choose that would aptly illustrate some of what I experienced this summer. Washington DC is such a unique place and I sought out the best the city had to offer. Below, I have listed some of the highlights from the summer.

Internship

I was pleasantly surprised once I began my internship at how much substantive work I had to do. My supervisors allowed me a great deal of latitude in pursuing projects that would contribute to the office while at the same time pertained to my academic and professional interests

Food
Definitely one of the best places in the country for foodies, D.C. boasts a wide variety of restaurants that will satisfy any epicurean’s palate.  Below, I have listed a few of my favorite spots.
Ben’s Chili Bowl
This restaurant is located in the historic Shaw part of the city on U Street and proudly serves politicians, entertainers and average Joes alike. The restaurant prides itself on great food and a storied history, which dates back to 1958. Try the chili half smoked once and you’ll understand exactly why the President took Nicolas Sarkozy here for lunch during his visit to D.C.  You can’t visit the city and not eat at this restaurant at least once. Remember to bring cash and that of course only President Obama and Bill Cosby eat for free!
Food Trucks
It’s one of those days when lunch time rolls around, you didn’t bring your lunch and the cafeteria that you frequent practically everyday seems wholly unappealing. The only other option is to trudge across the city in the oppressive summer heat and an atmosphere as thick as soup.  Well never fear, for the food trucks are here! Serving anything from Indian to Italian to Ethiopian to Korean and much much more, these trucks cruise around the downtown D.C. area during lunch delighting patrons with their food and colorful antics. Watch out for the Fojol Brothers, who are especially entertaining with their campy costumes and fun mustaches. They also provide blankets and hula hoops.   Food Truck Fiesta is a great website that aggregates the Twitter feeds for these trucks and tracks their movements so you always know what truck will be around on what day.
Dukem Ethiopian Restaurant
Great place for a taste of Ethiopian food and the occasional traditional dance showing.
Shake Shack
First Lady Michelle Obama was lambasted for visiting this establishment, which is something I find completely ridiculous. I think a woman who exercises and eats as healthily as she does is allowed to indulge once in a while, and I visited to indulge my own craving for a good ole burger and shake.
Cajun Experience
If you’re in the mood for Cajun food and can’t jet down to N’awlins this place is your next best bet in D.C. Besides the delicious cuisine, there was a wonderful live jazz music performance which may or may not be a regular occurrence.
Fast Gourmet
One of my favorite spots to eat in D.C. happens to be hidden in a very unlikely spot, a gas station. From the outside, this place is unassuming and slightly rundown looking, but once you enter and try the Cuban you’ll definitely be back for more. 

Events

Fourth of July
One of the best places in America to celebrate the nation’s independence, there is nothing like taking in the fireworks display down at the National Mall with the Washington Monument as a spectacular backdrop. The crowds may be large, but it is worth experiencing at least once. Keep in mind, there are many places to view the fireworks from afar if you are weary of the crowds.

Musical Festivals
Hip-hop/dance festivals featuring local artists and a few celebrities. Dougie Fresh was the featured performer at this particular event along with a group from America’s Best Dance Crew. Although, my personal favorite was a local group that is gaining in popularity called Mambo Sauce.
Jazz in the Garden

Another wonderfully free event is the Jazz in the Garden series which takes place almost every Friday during the summer in the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden. This year the series is running until early September so there is still plenty of time to catch at least one show! Information on the performances can be found here.

Smithsonian Folk Life Festival
The Smithsonian Folklife Festival is an international exposition of living cultural heritage annually produced outdoors on the National Mall of the United States in Washington, D.C., by the Smithsonian Institution’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. The festival offers a range of food and events from different cultures and countries around the world.

Baseball
Whether or not you’re a huge baseball fan, a rather inexpensive and entertaining thing to do is take in a Nationals baseball game. The atmosphere is festival and you can catch a couple of former presidents racing around the field from time to time. You might even see poor old Teddy win a race one of these days.

Wanderings
National Arboretum
An excellent place for a weekend retreat if you live close by. Even if you don’t, it’s worth the trip! Check out more about the arboretum here.
Museums
Museums in DC are not only amazing and easy to access, most of them are free! Be sure to check out the Smithsonian Castle and the International Museum.
The International Museum featured an exhibition focused on Buddhism and Asian art.  The installation pictured above, Monkeys Grasping for the Moon, is based on a Chinese folktale, the monkeys link arms and form a chain reaching to capture what they believe is the  moon. The moon is actually a reflection shimmering in a pool of water below and the monkeys all fall into the water and perish. The moral is: “We often waste much time on futile goals.” This exhibition features the word monkey in a dozen different languages, craved in wood and linked together just like the monkeys in the story.
Monuments
There is barely any place in D.C. that does not have a monument or statue dedicated to some historical figure or event. Besides that, time-honored buildings like the White House, the U.S. Treasury Building, the Capitol Building and many others offer not only storied histories but beautiful architecture to admire. For a geek like myself it’s the perfect city to wander around.

Washington DC

Four weeks have passed since I arrived in Washington DC to begin my internship and even in this short span of time I have already become enamored with the city. For years, the only real image that came to mind when I thought of DC was a picture of iconic monuments spread across the vast landscape of the mall. Although, on my previous trips to Washington DC I visited several museums and greatly enjoyed many of the other free amenities scattered around the city, I am learning that DC has much more to offer. And I am not referring to the Jefferson Memorial flash mob, which I missed by a day!

The weekend before I began my internship I took a few excursions. Besides exploring downtown and wandering near the mall to find the best route to work, I took a trip over to the U.S. National Arboretum. Established in 1927 by USDA Chief Botanist Fredrick Vernon Coville, the arboretum encompasses some 446 acres and boasts some impressive collections of flora. In addition to the greenery, the arboretum is home to a little known monument, the National Capitol Columns. Quarried from sandstone near Aquia Creek  in Virginia and barged to Washington, these twenty-two Corinthian style columns began their life on the East Portico of the Capitol in 1828, eventually coming to rest in a 20 acre meadow in the arboretum during the 1980s. A wonderful place to ride, take a stroll or have a picnic, the National Arboretum is one of Washington DC’s hidden gems.

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Picnics and Bloggers

Today, the admissions office held a picnic  in Observatory Park for all of the bloggers at the Josef Korbel School. There is nothing like a having a picnic in the park on a beautiful day as a study break.

Unfortunately, I neglected to take any pictures during the picnic, but I have included a picture of Observatory Park which is located only a few blocks from DU.

Why I Chose the GFTEI Program

A number of people have asked me what motivated me to chose the Global Finance, Trade and Economic Integration as opposed to many of the other programs at the Josef Korbel School. Perhaps because it seems somewhat incongruous with my previous studies or because I will serve in the Peace Corps; however, there are many reasons why I chose to the GFTEI program, in lieu of the other programs offered at the Josef Korbel School, each of which are impressive and valuable in their own right. For me, GFTEI sparked an interest, in subjects that I previously had little exposure to, economics and trade, and truly find fascinating. As evinced by many of the recent crises and developments in the world, economics play an integral role in the underpinnings of many of these events. Additionally, I felt I would gain a set of practical and hard skills, as there are a number of quantitative courses required by the program.

GFTEI also represented a challenge to me. I would be diving headfirst into many topics I previously only had a cursory knowledge of, and expected to perform at an extremely high level. Initially, I was very concerned, considering my background, which is in international studies and Japanese, as economics and finance seemed like a far leap to make. After three quarters here, I can confidently say that the programs provides a solid foundation for students such as myself, who previously did not have a strong economics background prior to studying at the Josef Korbel. Another factor which drew me to the program were the interactions I had with co-directors, Dr. Ilene Grabel and Dr. George DeMartino. After meeting Dr. Grabel and Dr. DeMartino at orientation, I felt much more confident and sure of my decision to pursue an M.A. in the GFTEI  program, as opposed to the Development program, which I had been considering. There was no attempt on their part to sway me in either direction, they simply assured me I would learn the skills I needed to progress through the program regardless of my prior academic background. And personally, I also felt that both Dr. DeMartino and Dr. Grabel were very approachable and open, and truly concerned about the welfare and academic success of their students and  thus far that has proved to be true. This past winter quarter I took Dr. DeMartino’s course in international trade, which I consider one of the most challenging courses I have taken, and my favorite thus far. In the fall, I will study with Dr. Grabel, in her international monetary relations course, and I am sure it will also prove to be challenging and looking forward to it.

As an Master’s International (MI) student, I will enter the Peace Corps after completing my coursework, and I felt this combination would work well for what I plan to do in the future. With the GFTEI program I am gaining a practical set of skills as well as learning trade and economic theory,  and the Peace Corps will provide me with on the ground field experience in a development context.

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