Browsed by
Author: Kayla Miron

Vassar After JYA

Vassar After JYA

Studying abroad is supposed to be self-indulgent. That’s part of the point. It does entail cross-cultural exchange and a growing awareness of the self in relation to a larger other, but for the most part, study abroad is marketed as a site of self-discovery and growth. We can tell this a bit from who tends to study abroad. Nationally, those who study abroad are overwhelmingly white women studying the humanities (a category I neatly fit into). Vassar works hard to make international travel accessible to students from a range of economic backgrounds, but going JYA still necessitates that a student can take a semester off from their on or off campus job(s), and tends to have an overrepresentation of wealthier students.
Abroad is a luxury, though, not just because it’s expensive, but because it’s time where you’re allowed, and encouraged, to think a lot about how you’re growing as a person. My time abroad was difficult and overwhelming to be sure, but it was a time when I got to experience a huge range of emotions and had the time and tools to process them. This made blogging easy. My Far and Away posts tumbled out of me in part because at any given time, I was overflowing with feelings.
This post is not doing any tumbling. I am dragging this post across a page it would rather hide from. I, of course, have feelings at Vassar, but they don’t sit just below my skin waiting to spill onto any pages. They’re buried under readings and overdue essays about arcane literary topics, under concentration on mushy Deece rice to avoid the fact that at any given time, five of the people near you in the dining hall have seen you naked.
Vassar students are great at talking about self-care and about coping mechanisms and healing practices, and in no way do I want to scoff at that. It’s an amazing way that we learn here to take care of ourselves and each other. But here this conversation so often centers around getting through our feelings so that we can be productive at what really matters again, rather than on admitting that exploring our own feelings is part of the goal of college. Abroad I journaled every day. Sometimes with my friends, sometimes alone, but I religiously documented thoughts and/or feelings every day. At Vassar that has lapsed.
Whenever anyone asks how it is to be back I, along with every other returning junior, say “Weird! Good, but weird.” I’ve said this so many times it no longer sounds like words. Did it ever? What does it even mean to feel “weird”? Should I delve into what it means to re-immerse myself in a place that I call my home despite its moving on and changing while I left it? Probably. But I have three essays to write.
Midterms week sheds light on student stress

Midterms week sheds light on student stress

Midterms Week.
That simple phrase which strikes students with a fear second only to the dreaded Finals Week. Many of us just went through one of the toughest weeks of the academic year. It’s that time which has been designated by all professors to do heavily weighted assignments at once. Just great, isn’t it?
I’m sure there have been sleepless nights, lots of coffee, papers, tests, final projects, the list goes on. I for one will need Spring Break to detox from all of the coffee that I’ve been drinking. While spending this time studying and working to get the grades that I want, I started to think a bit about the system that determines the value of a student’s work. College is a time in which students are constantly being tested on how well they meet the standards set by different people in different subjects so that the outside world will “know” how talented they are. Strange when you think about it, isn’t it? Receiving grades can be very stressful for students, not just because a lot is expected of us, but because we often view grades not as mere evaluations of our work, but of our very selves.
The whole idea of someone assigning arbitrary letters that are supposed to be accepted as an objective evaluation of someone’s skill is a little strange when you think about it. But even more to the point, does this system actually help students? After all, the purpose of going to college is for young adults to learn and develop into people who are better capable of pursuing their dreams. But the college system seems more methodical than one would think with this purpose in mind. At the beginning of each course, professors hand out syllabi mapping out exactly how much of our effort in different areas is necessary to produce the grades we desire. Already the focus has strayed from judging how much a student has grown in knowledge to a colder and less individualized approach. This is of course due in part to the large number of students who have to be evaluated, but I’m not sure this excuse is acceptable. My fear is that too many students will try to concentrate more on the items that are “worth” more while ignoring other aspects of the material of a given course. As a result, students are less likely to actually learn the material and are merely doing what they must to get that all-desirable “A.”
Are there any valid alternatives to our current system of grading? One step in a different direction has been taken by the English Department at Vassar College in which papers do not have letter grades assigned to them, rather they are filled with constructive comments. Yes, at the end a grade is assigned but the department is moving in the right direction by putting more emphasis on the development of the student. The system is not without its flaws, however. As a science major, I can sympathize with those students who prefer more structure in their grades. Many of us plan to go to medical school, veterinary school, or some other type of graduate school in which acceptance to these schools relies heavily on grades. Both systems create frustrations for students, but at least schools like Vassar are putting some thought into how to best educate students with their wellbeing in mind. It’s about time that colleges and universities begin to work toward their purpose of educating students rather than judging them.
Dungeons and Dragons and Dice, Oh My: Part 1

Dungeons and Dragons and Dice, Oh My: Part 1

So you want to kill a dragon. Good, I like your enthusiasm. But hold you fantasy horses. Before you go delving into dungeons, rescuing townsfolk, and looting shiny trinkets, you’re going to have to figure out who you are first. How do you fight? What do you look like? Why do you do the things that do you? These questions and more are all answered during the first and most essential step to any Dungeons and Dragons campaign: character creation. While a seemingly daunting task to newcomers, character creation is actually fairly straightforward, and can be broken down into several easy-to-follow steps. Before long you’ll be casting or slashing with the best of them. So grab a sword, strap on your plate armor, and let’s roll some dice!

Note: this guide focuses on the actual character creation process itself, and assumes that you have the tools necessary at your disposal—a set of polyhedral dice, a character sheet (three pages in total), and a copy of the Player’s Handbook (PHB). Also, this guide will look at creating a character for the 5th Edition (5e) of Dungeons and Dragons, and will not use any materials found outside of the PHB. Lastly, while thorough, this guide will be by no mean exhaustive. Ask your Dungeon Master (DM) if you have any specific questions.

Step 1: Choosing a Class and Assigning Ability Scores

Of all of the steps involved in character creation, this is perhaps the most integral, and also the trickiest. Your class will determine how you play the game itself, and will inform most of your other creation choices. There are twelve base classes in 5e, each with their own unique play styles. You could be a brilliant spell-slinging Wizard, a swift and sneaky Rogue, or a fierce and intimidating Barbarian; for the purposes of this guide, I am going to build a Fighter (PHB, pg. 70): a front-line warrior that uses armor and martial weapons to dominate the battlefield. The entry for every class gives a breakdown of what features you unlock as you level up—that is, become stronger throughout your campaign. Given that this is a character creation guide, however, I will be focusing solely on the first level of the Fighter class.

Now that we know what class we’re going to build, let’s assign Ability Scores. Your Ability Scores are numerical representations, from 1 to 20, of your physical attributes, and are listed on the left side of the character sheet. A character with a 1 in any given attribute will be severely deficient at that given faculty, whereas a character with a 20 will be renowned for their prowess. The higher the score, the bigger the number that it will allow you to add to die rolls involving that attribute. For reference, a generic commoner has a score of 10 in each category, representing the baseline average. From top to bottom on the sheet, the attributes are Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma.

While there are several methods for figuring out Ability Scores, we’re going to use the Standard Array method, which is an easy way to produce a balanced character. The Standard Array of scores is 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8, to be assigned in any way to the six attributes. We’re building a Fighter, so we want to be strong and have a sturdy constitution. In that case, let’s give our character 15 Strength, 14 Constitution, 13 Dexterity, 12 Wisdom, 10 Charisma, and 8 Intelligence; our character is bulky, but not the brightest bulb—maybe as a result of one too many blows to the head.

Now that we have our Ability Scores laid out, let’s look back to the Fighter section of the PHB. While each class description has tips on coming up with a motivation for your character, we’re going to skip right to the “Class Features” section. First up are Hit Points: how much damage your character can take before going unconscious. As a Fighter, our “Hit Die” is a 10-sided die (a d10). A Hit Die determines how much your maximum health increases each level, and allows you to heal between battles. As it notes, we start with one Hit Die (which we’ll mark down in the middle of the first page of our character sheet). We also begin with 10 + our Constitution Modifier health (to be marked just above that). Given our starting Constitution of 16 (14, plus 2 from our Race, which I will explain in just a bit), our modifier is +3, and so our health is set at 13. A list of Ability Score/Modifier relationships can be found on page 13 of the PHB.

Next, let’s look at proficiencies. Your Proficiency Bonus (which begins as a +2 and increases as you level up) represents your character’s specific aptitude when performing certain actions or using particular tools or weapons. As a Fighter, we are proficient with all armor and shields, simple and martial weapons, Strength and Constitution Saving Throws, and two Skills of our choice (let’s go with Athletics and Perception). Any rolls involving any of those things will gain a +2. Write down weapon and armor proficiencies in the bottom left box, and put a check mark next to the Skills and Saving Throws in which we’re proficient. For equipment, we’ll choose chain mail, a sword and shield, a crossbow, and a dungeoneer’s pack (the contents of which are on page 151 of the PHB). Equipment should be written down in the bottom-middle box; ask your DM for the specifics on the stats of your equipment.

Lastly, we have the class-specific Class Features. These are what truly differentiate between the various classes. At level 1, the Fighter gets two of these: “Fighting Style” and “Second Wind.” Class features are, for the most part, self-explanatory. For the Fighting Style, let’s go with “Defense”; we want to make it harder for people to hit us, so we want more Armor Class (AC). These features should be recorded in the bottom right of your character sheet.

And just like that, the hard part is out of the way! We’ve picked a class, assigned Ability Scores, and recorded all of our class features. Tune in for part 2, in which we’ll choose a Race, pick a Background, and think a bit about our character’s backstory.

 

How to Write Compelling Fiction: A One-Act Play

How to Write Compelling Fiction: A One-Act Play

Characters:

Will Self

Edger Allen Poe

Hilary Mantel

Kazuo Ishiguro

Margaret Atwood

Setting: A dark cellar. Will Self stands by a small bare bulb. He has just finished putting the final masonry on a walled up section of the cellar. Margaret Atwood floats 5 feet of the ground in a Jules Verne inspired dirigible. Kazuo Ishiguro stands somewhere in the room dressed as a knight. Hillary Mantel points a sniper rifle out the only window in the cellar, staring intently through the eyepiece.

Will Self: My name is Will Self. I shot up heroin on Prime Minister John Major’s airplane and I don’t write fiction for people to identify with and I don’t write a picture of the world that people recognize I write to astonish people. I consider myself something of a modern Flaneur and once walked the entirety of the Large Hadron Collider. I can almost guarantee I am better then you. Behind this wall is Edger Allan Poe. I walled him in there because today we’re talking about how to write a compelling novel. Not only did Poe not write novels, but he also told people how to write, which is not useful. Follow anyone’s guide to writing and you risk repeating the past, a dangerous thing. Especially if you ignore modernism. Like Jonathan Franzen.

Edger Allen Poe (Muffled): For the love of god Montressor. Amontillado. Amontillado.

Will Self: It’s not very clever but it’ll do. Poe’s work besides the guide is useful but he wrote the guide so I have to punish him. The other people here also gave suggestions on writing but they were asked to by reporters so I’m not punishing them. Some reporters are hacks and others are hired because they do drugs. I was both. Edger wrote the first detective story. It was about an orangutan. That’s all you need to know.

Margaret Atwood: The secret to writing a good novel is to keep going with what you’re writing, even if your original idea doesn’t pan out. If you must abandon a novel, look it over, see what you can save, something may inspire you later. Inspiration comes when you’re not looking, but persistent practice makes it shine through all the more. And if you want your books to sell, don’t let them be genre. Genre doesn’t sell, nor is it particularly well regarded in literary circles. If it must be a genre, invent a genre with less stigma to it, or find a lesser-known genre and insert your work into that. I’ve never written science fiction. All of my works are speculative fiction. They’re inspired by Jules Verne. I’m currently writing a comic book about a man who turns into a flying cat. That is also inspired by Jules Verne.

Kazuo Ishiguro: Margaret is right. For my novel, the buried giant, I insisted that no one refer to it as fantasy. The buried giant is a story about human people experiencing human things that just happens to involve Merlin, magic fog, and ogres that are mentioned and never really explored.

Will Self: It’s also not very good.

Kazuo Ishiguro: True. Anyway, the important thing is that you get other people involved in your writing. I have my wife read my writing, and of course countless other people do it too, but those close to you can be in the best position to help critique you. Develop a good relationship with your readers. Let them be brutally honest. My wife told me the characters in the buried giant were talking in a moron language. I didn’t change anything, but it was still nice to get a critique.

Hillary Mantel: Think of the world of your work as a cohesive whole, one with its own history both for the world and for each individual character. This is important when writing historical fiction, when I do, but also when writing any other sort of fiction. Find a time to write, even if it’s on the bus or in the bath or before breakfast. Write on notecards to separate your characters. Keep track of their movements, know when they eat and sleep. Give them interesting names like Margaret Thatcher and mark down every detail. Imagine killing your characters with a high-powered sniper rifle. Sometimes, you can only understand them through that lens (she fires her sniper rifle).

Margaret Atwood: Above all, you have to write.

Kazuo Ishiguro: You have to write.

Hillary Mantel: You have to write.

Will Self: Or don’t. You might not be any good at it. Unlike me. Will Self. I am good at writing.

(Will Self-turns off the light. Edger Allen Poe can be heard breaking out of his prison, screaming with murderous rage.)

END

Podcast and TV merge in new comedy show

Podcast and TV merge in new comedy show

My Brother, My Brother, and Me is a short (6 episodes total) and up and coming TV show based on a podcast of the same name starring the McElroy brothers, Justin (the oldest brother), Travis (the middlest brother), and Griffin (the sweet baby brother) who give advice to people and try to solve their problems. The podcast itself is a hilarious advice show, and the new TV show follows suit. The whole show can only be found on Seeso.com, a comedy streaming website, and it is unlike any show I’ve ever seen. It had all the same sense of humor and ridiculous tangents in the podcast, yet the visual aspect and production team allows the show to go above and beyond. While the show is tremendous, it is really just one more thing the McElroy’s can put on there resume. The brothers produce many other weekly podcasts, and Griffin and Justin both create content for Polygon, a gaming website. However, the McElroy brothers never seems to run out of jokes (or goofs, as they would call them).

As an avid TV watcher and Podcast listener, I was incredibly excited to see the two mediums come together. The week before the premiere, Seeso live streamed one of their episodes followed by a Q&A by the brothers themselves on their Facebook page for subscribers and non-subscribers to see. A week later they uploaded all 6 episodes on Seeso.com for subscribers only. While the show differs from the podcast a little bit, they only answer one fan submitted question per episode as opposed to the multiple fan submitted and yahoo questions per podcast episode, the laugh out loud moments and warm fuzzy feelings remain intact.

Possibly one of the biggest differences from the podcast in the show, and the most charming, is the number of non-McElroy people featured. The podcast will sometimes have celebrity “guestsperts” (including Lin Manuel Miranda, Hamilton star and personal friend to the brothers), but they don’t usually like to bring outsiders in to their podcast. However, since the show was filmed in the brother’s hometown in Huntington, West Virginia, we got to see them comfortably (and uncomfortably) interact with a wide range of people, from local high schoolers to ghost hunters to the mayor of Huntington. All of these scenes were completely improvised and ridiculously charming. It really seemed like everyone was having the time of their lives.

What I found especially charming was how different these scenes were from most setups like this. Often when we think of comedians going out into the real world and interacting with regular people, the regular people are being pranked, made to feel embarrassed, or just generally confused while the audience laughs at them. In their Q&A, the McElroy brothers mentioned their distaste for this trope. They made a point to say that they wanted to interact with the people of Huntington to show how great their hometown is, and they were blown away by how funny and comfortable everyone was in front of the camera. Justin mentions in the Q&A that it was really important that the butt of the joke was always them and not the citizens of Huntington. In order to prepare the guests before shooting, they would tell them basically “we’re dummies, we’re gonna say dumb shit, react how you would normally react”. This allowed everyone to feel comfortable and have fun and make for a much funnier show. For example, in the one episode available to non-subscribers, Tarantulas and Travis Did a Hit, the McElroy brothers meet with the Mayor of Huntington to ask permission to throw a parade for tarantulas to try to “rebrand” them so a question asker’s wife will let him get a pet tarantula. The mayor puts up a very strict and mean persona by harshly rejecting their idea. However, he often broke character to laugh at their tangents. Keeping the guests in on the joke allowed different perspectives of comedy which brought about funnier jokes and a happier attitude than mocking or embarrassing anyone would.

My Brother, My Brother, and Me, and the McElroy’s across all of their content, manage to do what a lot of obnoxious, close-minded, comedians think is impossible: Being funny without being offensive. As white men from West Virginia, they know they come from a place of ignorance and they might make mistakes that will upset people, and they have in the past. However, when people tell them they made a mistake, they don’t get defensive, they don’t complain about “PC culture”, they immediately apologize and find a way to fix the problem. For example, in a fairly recent MBMBaM podcast episode, the brothers were answering a question from someone who didn’t know whether or not to correct people who repeatedly get their name wrong. Justin said that he personally didn’t care if people called him the wrong name, and that he believed that, in the long run, it didn’t really matter. Less than a day after the episode came out, Justin tweeted: “Hey. I joked on MBMBaM today about how unimportant I think names are and how I don’t mind being called the wrong name etc. I’ve since been reminded that for trans and non-binary folks, names are an important part of identity. If that bit bummed you out, I’m really sorry. We try really hard to be inclusive, but we’re limited by life experience and sometimes we sound like dunces. Thanks to those who reached out. Reminder: Keeping an open, humble heart to people who live different lives is the lowest bar we as humans have to clear.” This is just one of the many examples of these brothers listening and apologizing. While they acknowledge that they certainly don’t deserve any praise for reaching one of the minimum requirements of being a good person, it’s good to know that there is some comedy out there that cares about being good.

All in all, I can’t recommend this show enough. If you enjoy horses, haunted dolls, tarantulas, your favorite soda, tiny towns, and just some good brothers enjoying some good good goofs, ask your friends if they have Seeso or shell out the $3.99 for a months subscription and binge watch all 6 episodes with your friends. (

P.S. Tarantulas and Travis Did a Hit is still on Youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=UK7y7POw0yA)

A Traveler’s Guide to the Galaxy

A Traveler’s Guide to the Galaxy

Life on the Outer Rim got you down? Sick of moisture farming and blue milk? Drop those power converters and listen up! We’re Lucas-Williams Inc., the galaxy’s leader in interstellar retreat planning, and we’re here to help you get far, far away for a long time. Here’s a list of our top five destinations for the traveler looking to trade two suns for one killer vacation.

1) Hoth

Tired of sand? Try the snow! Located in the secluded Anoat sector, the frigid planet of Hoth boasts some of the best ice-boarding conditions in the galaxy. Year-round snow makes for year-round fun. Impress your friends and shred the slopes of the Clabburn Range—Hoth’s most prominent feature—, or scale Shyloah’s Crest for a view like you wouldn’t believe. Be sure to make it back before sundown, though: with temperatures known to plummet to -60°C at night, you’d better not forget to pack a winter coat! Looking for fun the whole family can enjoy? Visit the expansive tauntaun petting zoo and make a furry friend. Or, for you thrill-seekers out there, make the short journey over to Wampa Mountain for a rare, up-close look at the gargantuan wampas in their natural habitat—wouldn’t want to miss out on that!

2) Coruscant

Credits burning a hole in your tunic? Maybe the urban scene is more your speed. Zip on over to the Corusca Sector, to the galactic capital of Coruscant. A booming cultural hub, Coruscant boasts towering skyscrapers as far as the eye can see. Hungry for a bite of something new? Forget the posh penthouse bistros and overpriced eateries; swing by Dex’s Diner, instead, and try home cooking done right. Located in the heart of CoCo Town, Coruscant’s bustling industrial district, Dex serves up favorites like the tasty Shawda club sandwich and the rich Sic-Six layer cake. Looking to embrace one of the city’s tourism hot spots? Take an air taxi to Monument Plaza, and see the planet’s only uncovered mountaintop. While you’re there, stop into one of the plentiful shops and restaurants that line all four sides of the plaza. If historical significance is more your forte, why not visit the enigmatic Jedi Temple, home of the wise and powerful Jedi Order? The Force sure is strong with that place!

3) Spira

Nothing beats kicking back on a sun-kissed beach, sipping a blumfruit cooler, and watching the waves roll in. Make this dream a reality and spend a spell on Spira, in the Lytton Sector. Sporting over 4500 luxury hotels, there’s never shortage of room to plan your perfect getaway. Why not stay at the galaxy-famous Aspre Plunge Resort on Ataria Island? Plummeting 100 meters down into an underwater trench, the Aspre boasts dining and dance halls, various spas and clubs, and a number of shopping centers that cater to every taste. Stop by the fully-functional casino and try your hand at the Spatz table, or play a round of high-stakes Sabacc. For your viewing pleasure, the transparisteel windows that line the hotel offer panoramic vistas at all levels of the structure. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, rent a minisub and explore the Shinkai Abyss—the deepest of Spira’s many ocean trenches. Maybe you’ll be the lucky one to find the next big forgotten shipwreck; they’re just waiting to be discovered by explorers like you! Rooms sell like flatcakes, so book today!

4) Felucia

Press those khakis and dig the pith helmet out of the closet, because safari getaways are all the rage. Situated on the Outer Rim, Felucia is part of the busy Perlemian Trade Route. Join a group of equally-intrepid adventurers on a planned trek through the dense jungles. Mount a tee-muss and uncover the myriad of secrets that lie hidden in the underbrush. Keep an eye out for the benevolent gelagrubs, or pick some nysillin to take home as a souvenir. The friendly locals are always excited to see new faces! Visit the only place in the galaxy where roughing it isn’t so rough after all.

5) Naboo

Maybe you’d prefer a quiet weekend away from the hustle and bustle. Naboo, found in the Chommell Sector of the Mid Rim, is the place for you. Lush hills and expansive plains hide within them the coveted Lake Country. Famed for its natural beauty, Lake Country boasts bucolic meadows, surrounded by cascading waterfalls and carpeted with wild flowers. Take a swim in Lake Paonga and visit the submerged Gungan capital of Otoh Gunga, a city made entirely of luminescent bubble-like structures. While you’re there, try the infamous Otoh Gunga specialty: a dessert so potent, it is said to take at least four hominids to consume. Hope you have a sweet tooth! With amenities this perfect, you’ll never want to leave!

So the next time you’re itching for something new; the next time you think “I sure could use a break;” the next time you’re looking for a transport going anywhere: drop us a com at 1-327-GET-LOST. We’re Lucas-Williams, Inc., and it’s our job to help you forget about your job.

Viet Thanh Nguyen offers a glimpse into the life of refugees

Viet Thanh Nguyen offers a glimpse into the life of refugees

There are countless reasons one can think of on why many people choose to move far away from their mother land, be it to pursue one’s distinguished career in a promising foreign market, to settle down with a local, or simply look for better economic status. However, the term refugee would still be such an unfamiliar concept to most Americans until waves of Vietnamese refugees arrived in the US after the war just to be greeted with reservation, doubt, and even denial. Viet Thanh Nguyen, a Pulitzer Prize winner for his fiction “The Sympathizer” was a refugee himself. He frequently re-emphasized the importance of distinguishing between immigrant and refugee in his interviews. Undoubtedly, he has never failed to remind himself as well as his audience of his own status as a refugee through his works. What it was like to embark on the one-way journey to escape the Communists just to find themselves caught in a world of capitalism and the Western way of life countercultural to their own Asian ideologies is captured lively in The Refugees, a compilation of eight short stories.

Seeking refuge is probably the most despondent state of being an émigré one can imagine. One not only risks facing death during his escape, but is also confronted by the very real possibility of being deprived of a country, a home, and most importantly an identity. In “Black-eyed women,” the ghost of a boy—a loving brother and a dutiful son—is believed by his mom and sister to have swum thousands of miles from where he was murdered by pirates to the west coast of America, just so that every now and then when it pours at night he can visit his beloved in the old soaked well-worn clothes. It was revealed later that his younger sister – the protagonist was also “killed” in the incidence, or wraithlike, her existence being insignificant and only in the living’s mind could she find herself trapped with personal traumas many boat people share.

The book provides an account of the difficulties Vietnamese refugees had to face once they set foot on America, be it rebuilding their family or growing up in a country that presents so many cultural clashes with their Southeast Asian upbringing. The individual stories at first glance are bits and pieces of memories and experience that are completely unrelated with one another, but on a deeper level they are interconnected by a single thread woven by the characters’ Southern Vietnamese identity, their refugee status as well as their trouble adapting to a not-so-welcoming American society.

Nguyen in his interview with NPR admitted that “War Years” incorporated the most autobiographical materials among the eight pieces and thus reflects his family settling down in America and his upbringing quite precisely. The story depicts his struggle growing up balancing his two identities, one wild and trying to fit in with the American society and the other trying to conform to his parents’ expectations of a filial Vietnamese son. His parents, representative of the larger community of Vietnamese refugees, always tend to shrug off their own self when dealing with Americans and become completely different people from at home speaking their own language. The story also revealed a dark side of the contemporary status quo “that the politics of the war was not won, the war was not finished. People might like to think the war is done when a ceasefire is signed, but for most people who live through a war, it goes on for decades.”

In “I’d love you to want me”, Mrs. Khanh is a dedicated wife to her demential husband who would more often that not innocently break her heart by calling her Yen, a woman’s name long buried in the deepest part of his subconscious mind. Their sons and daughters, born and raised American, have their own lives and hardly contact their parents. All the communications among family members are carried out through a messenger, Mrs. Khanh’s youngest son, who would insist from time to time that she give up on her job at the local library, the only place she could comfort herself with a sense of purpose in life. At the end of the story, she gave up her job at the library and gave in to her husband persistently calling her another woman’s name.

Above all these grueling and discouraging circumstances, there always come tints of joy and comfort: the excitement Liem finds in his first experience with the Western world, where they can start a new life with a new identity, where they do not have to betray their sexual orientation in “The other man”, or the ecstasy of the boy in “War years” when he received five dollars from his conservative mom to finally do what he imagined a normal American kid would do: buy junk food at a 7-Eleven.

The book is filled with intertwinements of bright and dark, good and bad, pessimism and optimism, peace and calamity. The reminiscence of a childhood in beautiful countryside of Vietnam “follow my father down our village’s lanes and pathways, through jackfruit and mango groves to the dikes and fields” is also smeared with stains of memory flashes of a haunted country viciously struck by war, with ghastly images of “an upper half of a Korean lieutenant, launched by a mine into the branches of a rubber tree; a scalped black American whose eyes and the exposed half-moon of his brain glistening above the water; and a decapitated Japanese private groping through cassava shrubbery for his head”. In “Father land”, Phuong’s half-sister, Vivien, who escaped with her mom post-war, on her first (and last) homecoming trip reveals that her life in America is nowhere as wealthy as Phuong and her family in Vietnam imagines. That shatters the rosy lens Phuong used so religiously to look at the Viet-kieus (Vietnamese abroad) and disillusions her dreams of coming to American for better prospects.

That said, there is always light the end of the tunnel. That the Vietnamese was so admirably resilient even though the war mostly tore their lives beyond repair has been proven to be true by refugees and their children. The Refugees not only vent a desire for survival but also an aspiration for a better life, where they could provide their children with a carefree and protected upbringing, something they never once had. However, certain parts of the book also serve as a reminder that the negative impacts of the Vietnamese diaspora on this ethnic group are still very tangible in modern American society.

Making the most of JYA

Making the most of JYA

For many of us who will be going into our junior years at Vassar, we recently found out that we will be spending at least part of that year in a different country! For me, I’ll be heading to Italy and it’ll be the longest I’ve been both without my family and outside of the United States. If you need some convincing about studying abroad and why I think it’s an invaluable experience, hopefully my blog here will do the trick.
Firstly, when in your life will you ever be able to leave the United States for months at a time again? We’re in our twenties; we’re about to go off into the world and try to do amazing things which will undoubtedly take a lot of our time and consequently result in more responsibilities. Right now is really the only time when an opportunity like this will be provided for us and I’m extremely grateful for it.
Secondly, if you want to gain a firmer grasp on your foreign language skills (assuming you’re going to a country in which the inhabitants don’t speak English) then this is the best way to immerse yourself in that language. As someone who’s been studying Italian for a couple of years now, I’m thrilled to be able to study at the oldest university in the world in Bologna. When I go, I’m going to make a commitment to speak English as infrequently as possible. Maybe I’ll just walk through the city and get lost, taking in the language at every corner.
We’re going to be able to live in a country whose culture may be very different than our own, and that is essential to one’s education. As much as we can read about other nations in books, nothing can substitute actually going out and doing our own exploring of the world. I am especially looking forward to the cuisine in Bologna. There is so much beauty to the world with regard to architecture, different types of social interactions, history, art, and more. We’ve been given this time to really become knowledgeable about how people across the globe live, and what better way is there to learn about the world then to actually see it?
One of the biggest suggestions that I’ve gotten from friends who’ve studied abroad is to go out and have adventures! What’s the point of spending time in Europe or Asia if you’re just going to hang out with other Americans? Not only should you explore the immediate area, but if possible, try to see other countries. If you plan to study abroad in Europe, there are so many different cultures so close to each other. So have a pretzel in Munich, a beer in Ireland, and pasta in Italy while you can!
While you’re enjoying your time abroad, it might also be a good idea to keep a record of what your doing. Take a ton of pictures from start to finish, or maybe even keep a journal. That way when you go home, you can share your experiences with family and friends. Nowadays, it’s so easy to create a presentation that will allow those close to you to experience a little of what you did. More importantly, you’ll be able to look back on your experiences later in life and remember all the fun adventures you had and all the friends you made.
Studying abroad creates memories that will undoubtedly last a lifetime, and I don’t plan to pass up the opportunity. Buon viaggio!