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The end of the first road... M.A Exams

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After two years of experiencing different topics, places, people, ideas and so on, I have gotten to the end of the first road. I said the first because this is just the end of my Master and the beginning of something else, possibly the PhD in Hispanic and Lusophone Literatures, Cultures, and Linguistics. I'm writing this almost seven days before I take my oral exam. I don't have authority to talk about the oral yet but I'll about the written experience. This will help you (international student) to get through these particular days, since these days can be really stressful and your mind goes out of control, even if you try to be as calm as you can. I'll give you some personal advices.
Please, take the ones that fit your personality, we are all Grad Students, but we are not the same being:

1. Meet with your adviser regularly to create a list that will help you to start getting organized with the different topics related to your field.


2. Be practical about studying for your exams. You don't necessary have to start studying for your M.A. exams a year before, but keep in mind the more time you spend getting organize for them, the better your mind will feel weeks before you take them.


3. When you study for your exams, write topics, instead of a long dissertation of what you are going to argue about. I work better writing different topics related to the subject, then I write some examples and discuss about them. In terms of theory, I think it is important to have a clear idea of the ones you are going to use.


4. Create a work groups with the rest of the students that are taking the exam at the same time and discuss about the theories, the books that you have work on. This is really helpful. You ended up feeling that you should study more!


5. I think the steps 3 and 4 are the most important ones. Your mind will be also an important factor the days after your take your exams. Try to practice Yoga, or Pilates, go to a meditation center, or just go to the Gym. Try to be calm. That's the clue.

Good luck with your exams.

Post. This is also an interesting link for you to check http://dbrabham.wordpress.com/category/thoughts-on-academia/

On Accents and Speaking a Foreign Language

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Have you ever felt frustrated when nobody understood you or slightly annoyed when someone made fun of you because of your accent? I have seen that frustration among my international friends. Sometimes I experience it with refugee clients of mine in my current social work internship. And yes, I have been there myself as a foreign student. Not only are we asked to adapt to a different culture and academic system, we have to master our conversing in a foreign language in a way that people understand us. My self-consciousness about my accent and way of speaking got me to the point that I would fear doing presentations in front of the class.

How did I overcome that anxiety? For one, I often asked myself why there should be a subtle emphasis on conforming to one unique way of pronouncing and speaking in a foreign language. Wouldn't it actually be boring if we as international students all spoke the same way in a foreign language? Instead we should embrace our way of speaking because our accent and culture make us who we are. Why should we deny something that is part of us and makes us unique?
To give you a personal example, it was a running gag among my best American friends for some time I that I couldn't pronounce the word squirrel. My friends helped me realize that I shouldn't take the pronunciation matter so seriously and instead take it with a sense of humor. Eventually, I laughed with my friends whenever they were amused about my accent because my pronunciation mishaps made them happy. After all, I was there to learn a new language and making mistakes during the learning process is normal. Moreover, learning and speaking a foreign language should be fun and never a chore.

I also realized that in the end I shouldn't focus so much on my accent, but on the overall message I want to get across in my communication. This important point is best summarized in an essay by Chinua Achebe about African authors writing in a foreign language: "So my answer to the question: Can an African ever learn English well enough to be able to use it effectively in creative writing? is certainly yes. If on the other hand you ask: Can he ever learn to use it like a native speaker? I should say, I hope not. It is neither necessary nor desirable for him to do so. The price a world language must be prepared to pay is submission to many different kinds of use. The African writer should aim to use English in a way that brings out his message best without altering the language to the extent that its value as medium of international exchange will be lost. He should aim at fashioning out an English which is at once universal and able to carry his peculiar experience." Consequently, always keep in mind that there is diversity in the English language of how you can communicate and express yourself.

Now I am not saying that we as international students shouldn't improve our English proficiency or if we want to work on our public speaking skills, by all means, we should all go ahead and seek out opportunities to do so. I remember an important lesson from a French teacher at my German high school that one of the key parts about learning a new language successfully is the courage to speak and practice it with others in public. We have a great German saying for that: "Uebung macht den Meister (A master arrives where he is at through exercise)."

But if you are still in doubt about yourself and your way of speaking, then please stop for a moment and give yourself a pat on the back. We all need to remind ourselves that we are making an effort in speaking another person's language in order to communicate with them. It says a lot about us that we are putting a lot of work into learning other people's languages and cultures, it reveals that we care deeply about communicating with the people in the host country and that we respect their language and culture. So...never forget this.

This is all from me today. Embrace the opportunity to learn and converse in a new language, make it a fun experience and laugh about your mistakes because they make you human. Also, please do me a favor and check out the following clip, you may or may not have walked in this guy's shoes before. Bis demnaechst und haltet die Ohren steif, my friends.

Dedicated to Dr. J., all of my international friends and all international students

Thesis, oh Thesis

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Hi everyone! I hope you are doing good in this semester! So some of you might be in the same position as me right now: finishing up their thesis/final project. It can be an exciting moment because you are almost done with school! But to get to that point you have to go through the arduous process of completing your thesis. For me, so far it has been smooth sailing, but a few days ago I've realized that I have LOTS of things to do. It's kinda scary.

So the point of this blog is to share my experience and the stuff I've been doing that might come in handy for you guys. Oh, please comment if you have other tips that can help ease your thesis writing process.

Probably the hardest part is to think of a thesis title. It can be extremely hard to get a fitting and original title, but don't worry, just as long as you know the concept of your thesis you can start with a preliminary title and develop the title along the way with you chair adviser.

Start researching as soon as possible. If you are like me whose thesis is more of a design thesis than a research thesis it helps a lot to start researching as soon as possible to allow yourself more time in the design phase, because designing takes a lot of time (especially if you are a perfectionist).

Creating your own timeline really helps with keeping your self on schedule. Put your timeline in front of your desk so it becomes an everyday reminder that you are not allowed to procrastinate! Hahahaha... Ask you department for a typical semester schedule for finishing your thesis (if they have one), which shows you when to preferably submit your draft, final draft, apply for a graduation package and so on.

Having scheduled meetings with your chair adviser is a must, but it doesn't hurt to meet with your other committee members as well. Try to set up a time somewhere in the middle of the semester for a mid-term review with all of your committee members present. This will help a lot in knowing what direction your thesis/final project is heading.

Peer reviews are also a good way to receive feedbacks. If you see your friends loafing around or not doing anything then don't hesitate to ask them for their opinions. Some of the good feedbacks might come from your friends and since they are at the same stage as you are, they might have awesome ideas that you can cultivate.

Finally, don't forget to reserve a room way ahead of time for your oral defense. Especially for me it is very difficult to reserve a room at the end of the semester since there will be lots of final reviews. Also when you reserve a room, reserve 30 minutes before your presentation so you would have that amount of time to prep the room and presentation.

So that's all I have for everyone else who is going to start their thesis or already have started it. Hopefully it can come to some kind of use to you all and happy thesis writing!

Holidays / Diciembre , 2012

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Hola a todos!

I have to admit that I had the greatest Christmas Day and New Year's Eve in the U.S. so far. I spent time with new people who made me feel special and loved. Even if I felt the absence of my family, I realized that I have certain people that I can consider an important part of my life right now. Ok, I'll stop being sentimental and I'll talk a little bit of what colombians do and what americans do for x-mas.

Americans don't celebrate Christmas like Colombians do; however, it is exceptional to experience unusual feelings and festivities in a different country. The biggest difference is that New Year's Eve is celebrated with our family. We get together and have dinner, and we'll probably dance a huge repertoire of songs depending on the region you live in.

If you're from the Atlantic Coast you might dance Vallenatos, if you live in Cali (where I was living before I came here) you might dance Salsa and Merengue and so on. You'll finally end up singing "Faltan cinco pa' las doce, 
el año va a terminar, 
me voy corriendo a mi casa 
a abrazar a mi mamá...", something close to "It's five to twelve, the year will end. I'm running to my house to hug my mother ... ". In the U.S. this day is the night where you get together with your friends and have fun. It is also a day where you get together with your significant other. Going back to Christmas day I can say that we celebrate almost the same way, with the difference that we don't give seven or eight presents. We just exchange two or maybe three.Other than that it is the same ritual. I can keep talking about our differences, but It is better to mention the good things I did. I also read that blogging is dying and writing too much is boring, so...

...I'll show you the most special moments through some photographs:

Hayward, WI

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Danny, Kay and I made a special Colombian Chicken Rice


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My view was full of snow and silenced sounds!

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I also went to La Jolla, CA where I had time to do Yoga with the Kay, who is as calm as the sea. I hiked by the ocean. I also had time to think about what is coming up: M.A. Written and Oral Exams

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Chao, I hope this year continue being as great as last one!!!

Managing that thing called FINALS WEEK

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As we are moving closer towards the final stage of this semester, I am sure many of you find yourself among the masses of students for whom the end can't come soon enough. Many of you are in the process of finishing final group work, papers, quizzes and undergoing exams soon. And maybe you are in the same boat as me and are experiencing the occasional Homer Simpson Freak-out mode.

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But don't you worry, y'all, in times like these it's always good to remember that it will be over soon and when that day comes you can look at the gigantic hill you climbed through your persistence. And on that day, you can pat yourself on the shoulder and be proud of yourself for making it through another semester and one step closer to your degree.

As someone who has gone through it all in this academic system for the past 5.5 years, I have always found it useful to develop different strategies to get myself through the final stage of every semester and its accompanying madness.

1)Take some time out while studying to do a few breathing exercises to regain composure and get your thoughts back in order. Sit down in a comfortable position or lie down for a few minutes, if needed.
2) If you are the type of person that doesn't like be distracted, find a quiet environment to complete your studies and final projects. If your apartment or dorm isn't the ideal type, university libraries are usually a good place to start at.
3) If however, you are sick of being stuck in your residence cut off from the rest of the world and crave being around people, follow my friend and fellow ambassador Angela Castro's advice and find a coffee shop. Apart from the amiable atmospheres you find in the Twin Cities' coffee shops, you also have an accessible supply of caffeine and other delicacies.
4) Have some chocolate (highly recommend the German ones simply out of personal bias ;) )-Always a sweet stress reliever. Even research has proven it time and again.
5) If time permits, engage in some exercise to get the stress out of your system. Even a short walk and some fresh air can do you good.
6) Remember the funny health insurance guy from your international student orientation? Yes, massages are great and indeed a good resource to contemplate for some relaxing quality time before you take on your finals.
7) And my personal favorite: Set up a reward system for yourself to keep yourself motivated. B.F. Skinner once demonstrated it so well with his pigeons that positive reinforcement reinforces positive behavior. Reward your endeavors with something you like and enjoy, say a favorite activity. I know that laughter can be one of the best medicines to get the endorphins going. So, after long hours of studying, finishing up a paper or group project I usually like to treat myself to an episode of Family Guy, Community or Scrubs.
8) And of course, feel free to expand on this list by leaving some comments on this blog. I am always eager to learn new strategies to manage the challenges of finals week
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That's all from me tonight, my friends. I would like to finish this blog with a suitable quote from the great German poet Rainer Maria Rilke:

"Dass etwas schwer ist, muss ein Grund mehr sein, es zu tun."

Good luck with your finals and all other projects. Take care and see you all soon.

Hey everyone! So right now I've been really busy with starting my final project, gathering my committee, setting up an oral defense date plus all those class assignments, but on top of that I am preparing myself to find a job once I graduate. Probably almost everyone will want to start finding a job once they graduate and trust me, job searching is a daunting task!

Luckily for me, the College of Design has a Mentorship Program which is basically a program that pairs students with professionals from the industry. I do not know whether this program is offered for students outside of the College of Design, so you might want to look more into that if you're not in CDes (CDes rocks!). During my mentorship, my mentor has shared his experience working in the office and the field, and also reviewed my resume a couple of times which I find very helpful! He also gave me some insights about the architecture industry and is helping me with finding a job. One thing he suggested me to do is set up informational interviews with firms.

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For those of you who don't know what an informational interview is, it is basically a meeting with professionals to ask about career and industry advise rather than employment. So this will be your first step in job searching. Knowing the condition of the industry and what they seek in employees will be a great knowledge for you. In informational interviews you will be doing most of the interviewing instead and remember to follow up with a thank you note (either through mail or email). Here is a useful website to learn more about informational interviews http://jobsearch.about.com/cs/infointerviews/a/infointerview.htm

So the point of conducting informational interviews, besides getting to know the industry and professional career, is to establish a network with professionals or perhaps probable employers. Even though the intention of informational interviews is to ask for advise and consultation, this will be an opportunity for you to present yourself and create a first impression. If you do well in this interview then the professionals that you talk to might have an interest in you and might consider interviewing you in the future if they are seeking employment. So if you are seeking employment after graduation I hope this blog entry will help you get a kick start! Happy job searching!

Oh, academia!

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When I went home, to Ukraine, this summer for a short break from my intense study, besides lots of fun, hugs and my mom's homemade food I got to experience quite an interesting communication struggle that I have never experienced before. Just as an example here, it took me almost two weeks to explain to my dad what it is that I study here in the US. And, trust me, my dad is quite smart. The problem was in the time gap between generations, countries, cultures created by advanced technologies and high mobility; the problem was also in me, trying to translate essential English words from my day-to-day academic life, words, inexistent yet in my native Russian or Ukrainian.

You see, I discovered that the education journey you are going on sometimes tends to carry you away from your "roots", from your family and people you knew before all of your academia or people you grew up with. How is that, you'd ask? Gradually, slowly you gain that smartness and sophistication; grow into an intelligent product of the higher education; experience variety of intercultural interactions, while your people back home live their own busy lives at their small towns' speed. But as long as you learn to appreciate your growth along with embracing your "roots", you'll find it very inspiring to be sometimes an ambassador of the new knowledge to your home.

For those of you who are very much into reading, I'd like to suggest this article on the topic that I found quite picturesque and interesting. Enjoy your "journey" wherever you are and never forget where you came from.


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Unique Places in Minneapolis

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Hola a todos! We have been talking about things regarding to the U of M. This time I will introduce you with some of my favorite spots in Minneapolis and some info that could be helpful. Since winter is coming and my mood is shifting with the rhythm of the cold, I decided to remember all the places I find unique here. When you have time, you should definitely check them out.

1. If you are in the mood for a cultural vibe, go to Walker Art Center: This museum located on Hennepin Avenue is one of the most important cultural attractions in Minneapolis. The architecture is exceptional. If you go on Thursday you can get in for free. Here's the link http://www.walkerart.org/

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2. If you want to read, or grade surrounded by different kind of people you should go a coffee shop located in Uptown called 'Spyhouse'. You will find independent music, a tasty coffee, mocha, latte and so on. At the same time you'll see a lot of students doing the same thing like you do, so you will feel related, connected, linked, associated to them. If you want more information here's the link http://spyhousecoffee.com/


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3. One expensive but interesting place in Minneapolis is Guthrie Theater if you want to see a play that you'll remember for a long time. This place will let you see the Mississippi river from an exceptional yellow lens. The performances at the Guthrie are qualified and outstanding. Save some of your money and go to check one of their productions once in a while. I just got a Facebook comment from a college who literally says that Guthrie has student discounts and/or rush tickets (cheaper tickets, if you get them a few hours before a performance). Find out http://www.guthrietheater.org/


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4. If you want to go to a 'college' pseudo-cultural club you can go to Kitty Cat Klub, which is a place really close to the U. You will see local bands and you can try decent drinks. The decoration of the place is attractive. You can give it a try on Fridays after class to relax your busy mind. Website http://www.kittycatklub.net/


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Enjoy and let me know what do you think. Hasta la próxima!

International Education Week

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Today marks the beginning of the annual International Students Week, an event initiated by the US department of State and the US department of Education.
As international students, it's a great opportunity to celebrate education and diversity among students in institutions all over the world.
Interestingly, the University of Minnesota comprises students from over 120 different countries and over 1,300 international faculty and scholars. Last year's event at the University of Minnesota included lecture series, poster presentations, a learning fair and of course, the fun parts - lots of games and film shows.

This year's celebration will culminate in a documentary titled "Crossing borders", which focuses on cross-cultural discussions and misconceptions. The documentary will be followed by a panel dicsussion by students on cross-cultural experiences.

For details on specific events during the week, please visit http://global.umn.edu/global-u/iew/

Looking forward to more exciting events this year!!

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An Ambassador's perspective on the presidential elections

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Everything got quiet suddenly with everyone seeming to hold their breath. We were tightly packed together in a gym hall with blue signs of "Hope" and "Change we can believe" flaring across the crowd. Then out of the speakers blasted U2's song "City of Blinding Lights" and the crowd of students and community members erupted into a jubilant choir of cheers upon his arrival: Barack Obama.

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Back in February of 2008 I had the opportunity to hear Obama speak during his campaign trail for the Presidency. It was a surreal, cool event to see a charismatic political figure give an eloquent speech only several meters away from you. Of course, one couldn't help but being taken in by the crowd's passion along with Obama's charisma, charm, humor and outstanding oratory skills. At the end of his speech Obama made the rounds toward the crowd and fortunately, I had the chance to shake his hand twice (I still enjoy bragging about it to my American friends :)). To this day I think that that was one of the coolest events in my college career.

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In my 6 years of being here I had the privilege to witness two presidential elections. Overall, I have always found the time of elections here very interesting, in particular when it comes to the expression of preference for a candidate. It's not like every day that you suddenly see yard signs with political slogans or candidates' names decorating peoples' front lawns and properties. Whenever you drive or walk through the streets you can't help but noticing the multitude of bumper stickers glaring at you from passing cars. In addition, it's a time when you can encounter many political ads in social media, TV and radio and it's always fun to see how creative both campaigns tend to get with their messages.

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Apart from the candidates and slogans, I also enjoy the effects that the elections have on the people. One thing I have always appreciated deeply about the elections is the amount of passion and energy that is emanated from campaign volunteers, mostly consisting of students and community members. Often you see them on campus or in the community, spending countless, unpaid hours handing out literature or encouraging fellow citizens to register and vote in the elections. Back In 2008 I volunteered along some of them to knock on people's doors to remind them and obtain their pledge to vote in the election. It was a great feeling to do something for the common good with other Americans.


One may wonder then why as an international student who can't vote in this country I care about the elections here. For one, it's the fact that the selection of the next president will also affect the relationship with the leaders of my country and will have an impact on foreign policy in general. More so, I come from a household where being informed and having discussions about politics is important. Consequently, I enjoy hearing peoples' opinions and take on the politics that occur in their country. I remember having some of the best, profound conversations about politics with American friends of mine because they often asked for my opinions and views on the elections. Sometimes these conversations could become heated and emotional when disagreements occurred. But with all fruitful and healthy debates, we could all agree at the end of day to respect each other's' opinions and appreciate the opportunities for an enlightening discussion with insight into another person's beliefs.

Anyway, the point I am trying to make is that if you have a chance to talk politics with people here don't hesitate to do so because it's a great way to explore people's passions and beliefs. My experience has always been that they also like to hear a foreign perspective on their elections or on politics in general. And if you have the chance to see a politician or candidate speak, don't hesitate to do so because it can be another insightful American experience for you. Make sure to check the news on Tuesday because it's probably going to be one of the tightest and most exciting elections in U.S. history. Until next time, my dear friends.

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