Monthly Archives: January 2012

Bull in a Classroom

A new semester has begun.

You know when those horses bust out of their gates at the beginning of a race, the jockeys whipping them with a crop, screaming and kicking as the horses’ legs spring from the dirt like it’s lava they don’t want to touch? That’s kind of how I feel (except I am both the horse and the jockey in this case, I think). The gate has flung open and it’s all systems GO now. Back to school for me!

I’ve decided to take on this spring semester like a bull in a bull fight (uhoh, analogy overload?). I want so badly to conquer this semester, to keep my focus on the red cape, to attack it, to charge through it, so I’m going to do everything in my power to make that happen. Sometimes I feel more like a bull in a china shop flailing around trying to control this science thing, breaking lots of dishes along the way instead. But, hey, at least I’m going into the shop as a bull and I’m coming out a bull — no flimsy china can change that.

Bull in my path. Cotopaxi Province, Ecuador.

This whole post-bacc pre-med thing is HARD! (Oh right, I’ve mentioned that about 50 times already — but it’s worth repeating!) I hope to have more control over the material now. Last semester, I learned more than just science; I learned how to be a student all over again — a different kind of student than I had ever needed/wanted to be. Everything I knew — about studying, about what matters in a classroom, about how to do well, about how to be a top student — was all quickly thrown out the window a month or two in. The small class sizes I had experienced my whole life were suddenly replaced with 700-person lecture courses on a subject I knew the least about. Class participation now means nothing. Who you are as a student means nothing. Only numbers count. I am a student ID number, not a person. My grades are computed by a computer. Every test is multiple choice, filled out with #2 pencils in a new class room every test. Until last fall, I had never been in a class with more than 50 people — ever, and usually there were fewer than 25. I use the word “classroom” loosely, as all our biology and chemistry lectures take place in NYU’s largest theater, with the professor on stage, attendance taken by remote control devices called iClickers that we must bring to every class (both to click in and to answer multiple choice questions throughout the lecture, which appear on a spreadsheet for the professor when he/she gets to his/her office), and we have to grab black boards to rest on our laps so that we have a surface upon which to take notes.

Every week, there are at least three quizzes — two of which are online (laced with exasperating technical problems), one of which is during our Chemistry recitations on Friday mornings. You can never sit back and relax. You can never feel on top of the material because this place is like a factory set at a very high pace, and if one link in the sequence hits a snag and slows down, the whole contraption will fail. If you ever want to get ahead, you must teach yourself the material. In fact, most of my studying is trying to teach myself material. I’ve never experienced an academic environment like this, but apparently it is the pre-med way! I’m used to being taught. I’m used to asking questions as I go, having the material explained, learning piece by piece. This is all so different — it’s on YOU to learn. It’s on you to get help. It’s on you to do well, and even you (oh, I mean me) don’t ever feel like you have total control over that part of the equation. But somehow, in this giant system, there is a chance to do well if you can find a way to grab the golden ring while the Merry-Go-Round of science spins you in circles… and I’ve got to go for it.

Galapagos Hawks. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

When I began Chem I and Bio I in the fall, I can honestly say that for the first three weeks, I had absolutely no idea what was going on (particularly in biology). It was a horrible, disarming, humbling feeling. The amount of material that was referenced and breezed over because I was “supposed to” know it already (like the rest of the fresh-out-of-AP-Bio-pre-med-freshman surrounding me — the real ones) was beyond my expectations, even though I anticipated it would be this way (but not to the extent that it was!). Taking on my least-studied subject at this level at this age has clearly been an uphill battle from the start, and it took me weeks — even months — to find my footing in this new world of science that I had been dropped into like ET on Earth (without a cute kid feeding me candy), but I think I’ve finally found that footing.

All I can say is that the learning curve has been steep! But, here I am, ready to take everything I’ve learned — both about science and about being this new, different kind of student that I have to be in order to succeed in this foreign pre-med world — and apply it to this new semester. Such is life, no?

The look of determination.... on a giant tortoise in the Galapagos Islands.

Every week, when I leave the spinal injury rehab and brain trauma rehab centers of my hospital volunteer job, after working with brand new paraplegics who are learning things as basic as how to get back into their wheelchair if they fall out, and brain trauma patients with staples across their entire scalp whose toughest question every morning is what is their own name, I am reminded of how much I want to do this, of how much I want to learn the skills to be able to help these people, and of how much learning is still (always) ahead.

For now, I’m just happy to have something red to charge towards.

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A Brief Tour of Cairo

Time to reveal the Mystery Snapshot! But first, I want to quickly say THANK YOU to the past four weeks. My staycation has come to its inevitable end, and tomorrow I head back to school for more NYU pre-med intensity. It’s been a pleasure having a social life again, but farewell dear friends… Back into the study cave I go. (Although, I am determined to have a little more control over this semester — both academically and socially, so we’ll see how it pans out.)

Alright…

The Mystery Snapshot was taken outside of Hatshepsut’s Temple, built just outside the Valley of the Kings (Cairo, Egypt). Andy, you are the official Mystery Snapshot winner. Good job! Egypt is one of those places I’ve been wanting to visit for years. Some day, I will actually get over there. For now, I’ve got this post.

Below, guest contributor, Raechel H. explains more about Hatshepsut’s Temple and about Cairo itself. (Enjoy!)

Guest Contributor Raechel H. w Sphinx and Pyramids in Egypt.

By Raechel H:

Random fact about Hatshepsut: She was the longest-reigning female ruler in Ancient Egyptian history.  She ruled for 22 years, when she took over for her husband.  Basically, her son, Tuthmosis III was supposed to take over, but Hatshepsut declared that he was too young to assume the throne. Instead, she sent him to military school abroad, and ruled herself.  Eventually, Tuthmosis III came back, took over, and then tried to erase Hatshepsut from Egyptian history.  She built tons of temples, obelisks, and other monuments to the gods, and Tuthmosis tried to destroy all of them – thankfully he did not succeed.

What’s really cool (in my opinion) is that for the longest time it was believed that Hatshepsut’s mummy was missing.  Turns out, they found the mummy of Hatshepsut’s favorite nurse in her tomb, and found a tooth in some kind of box. A few years ago, they x-rayed the box, and the tooth fit PERFECTLY in another mummy that was already in the Egyptian museum in Cairo!  So they had Hatshepsut’s mummy all along!

Foreground: courtyard of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo (symbol of ancient Egypt). Background: Mubarak's National Democratic Party HQ, a symbol of Egyptian modernity

EGYPT:
Egypt is a place I’ve wanted to visit since I was a kid, and especially during the past year (which is no surprise to the people that know me, I’m sure).  Egypt provides a fascinating juxtaposition of ancient and modern culture, in the cross-world between sub-Saharan Africa and the rest of the Middle East.

Pyramids. Cairo, Egypt. Photo by RH.

Cairo itself is an enigma of sorts; it is absolutely overflowing with people (approximately 18 million officially, but more likely close to 21 million residents), and every one of them seems to have a car. All of that on top of ancient aquaducts, pyramids at the city limits (you can see the Cairo skyline from Giza), ancient markets, and the Citadel.  Traffic in Cairo is like nothing I’ve ever experienced — absolute gridlock at all times of day, with the exception of Friday mornings when everyone is at prayer or at home.

Cairo graffiti outside voting site for Parliamentary elections. Photo by RH.

During the Revolution, I didn’t understand why my friends who live in Cairo were making such a big deal about no one being on the roads, about it being completely shut down – but now I certainly do.  The traffic itself is absolutely fascinating. Cairo drivers get into this rhythm where they’re able to find every hole in every lane as they progress down a highway or main thoroughfare, and that’s how they progress from point A to point B.  Lane lines, when present, are merely suggestions – not absolute.  And most times, you’ll see at least one car, truck, or motorbike driving the opposite direction from the rest of the traffic.  As multiple Egyptians told me, this is “democracy in action – you can drive whichever way you like. If people don’t like it, they can have another revolution!”  Crazy to hear members of the Egyptian military joke about this, but it’s a good sign that people are proud of what they’ve accomplished.

Solar boat, discovered in the 1980s. It was found buried in The Great Pyramid. Its purpose was to transport the Pharoah to the afterlife (in particular, to the Sun God, Ra). Photo by RH.

I was fortunate enough to be there during the Parliamentary elections – seeing lines of men and women at the polls was pretty inspiring.  I was able to hit up the Khan el-Khalili (the famous market), wandering around the Ali Muhammad mosque and the Citadel, meandering through Islamic Cairo, trying out fantastic restaurants, and walking through Tahrir Square (although we were discouraged to do so).

Temple of Hatshepsut. Photo by RH.

Obelisk built by Hatshepsut, which Tuthmosis III tried to destroy by essentially covering it up. Ironically, this just preserved the obelisk, leaving much of the original details visible. Photo by RH.

During my trip, I was able to check out Luxor. I left as Cairo started to get crazy again (there was a sit-in at Parliament that led to clashes between different sides), which was probably good timing.  Luxor is the complete opposite of Cairo: it’s pretty tiny, there are only a few hotels where tourists stay, and you absolutely have to take a cab to get from point A to point B.  Luxor is more restrictive than Cairo in that sense – in Cairo we could walk around a lot more (mainly because there were things close by, in Luxor that’s not really the case).  Since I was solo, I hired a guide and a driver (a friend of mine connected me with a good company), and saw Karnak and Luxor temples before exploring the Valley of the Kings and Colossi of Memnon.

Cartouche for Ramses II, the longest ruler of Ancient Egypt (this particular cartouche is engraved all over Karnak Temple in Luxor). Photo by RH.

The guide and I talked about a lot of things — the revolution in Egypt, Occupy Wall Street, the impact of everything on Egyptian tourism (tourism has obviously taken a major hit, which is problematic), the efforts that the government is making to regulate and organize things a bit more (to try and give licenses so folks can set up stalls to sell things outside of tourist areas rather than letting various people bombard tourists who are trying to enjoy what they’re seeing), and Luxor itself. After everything we discussed, I left with a bit of hope that maybe Egypt, post-election, can go back to a semi-normal state.

Mosque built at what was street level before they discovered the Luxor Temple. The mosque is still a functioning prayer site. Photo by RH.

Additions to Luxor Temple made by Alexander the Great. Photo by RH.

I definitely need to go back and see more – there are tons of sites in Luxor that I was not able to explore, and I did not make it down to Aswan or along the southern border (which I’ve been told is pretty amazing).  Hopefully, I’ll be able to make that happen soon – and I’m always looking for someone to travel with me if anyone is interested!

Luxor Temple, Egypt.

Egyptian Sunset. Photo by RH.

Raechel lives and works in Washington, DC; Raechel and Tavel met while Raechel was conducting a Fulbright Fellowship in Brussels, Belgium.  While Egypt was phenomenal, Raechel’s favorite place to travel is Rome, where she spent a year abroad. She hopes to continue to cross countries and continents off her bucket list, and will head to Costa Rica this Summer with her family.

So there ya have it – Egypt. THANK YOU Raechel for contributing to TwT!

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Mystery Snapshot Time

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a Mystery Snapshot. Call it nostalgia, call it envy, or just call it Tavel-has-an-extra-bit-of-time-during-her-last-few-days-of-vacation… Whatever you call it, here’s the deal:

I may be staying put, but I’ve still got friends traveling all over the world all the time.  So, without further ado and/or rambling about how I don’t get to travel enough anymore, here is a Mystery Snapshot provided by a mystery friend who will tell us more about it in a follow-up post later this week.

For now, can you tell me:

1) The country in which this was taken

2) The city

3) The temple

4) Any other random fact related to this — whether it is from an architectural, historical, or personal perspective

The more detailed you can get, the better. If you’ve been – tell us. If you’ve written about it, link to that post. As always, the winners will get an honorable mention and linkage to their blog (if that’s your thing) in the next post. Or if you prefer, I can just tell everyone that you are very sexy. Happy Wanderlust-ing.

Jan 2012 Mystery Snapshot

OK… GO!

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Vacation Without A Vacation

Vacation has been Heaven-sent. I cannot tell you how much I am LOVING the time off! (Or maybe I just did.) Well, calling the time “off” is generous; the fact is, I am pretty much constantly writing and editing my sample chapter for the second round of submissions to editors/publishers, and a second chance at making this lil’ book-dream of mine come true. It is thrilling and terrifying (in a good way) and my fingers and toes are crossed in every direction.

Chilling in the spring-like winter upstate this past weekend. Dutchess County, NY.

Writing and editing all break has been a welcome change from all the science. It’s challenging in its own way, but at least I’m working with words — my native tongue. I’m back to science — what I can now consider my third language, I suppose — in two weeks, and boy am I savoring the final days of freedom. Once it starts back up, I will be studying like there is no tomorrow. The amount of additional tiny pieces I have to put into place in order to get this whole grad school plan in motion is pretty overwhelming, but I’m trying to take it one day at a time for now.

New Year's Day sunset walk by the Hudson River. NY, NY.

Even though I’m sitting here, intensely  jealous of my friends who just posted photos from trips to Thailand, Egypt and South Africa last week, I know my “trip” is awesome in its own way — albeit less sexy. It stings a little to have to subdue the travel bug I’ve got constantly crawling around my mind, but I know I’m doing what I want to be doing. I’m trying to think of it as just having more time than usual to plan for my next trip. Lemme tell ya — when I get on that plane and fly somewhere far away from all this work (preferably with someone very special, TBD) — man, is that trip going to fucking blow my mind. Until then, I’ll keep looking at all of your photos, reading about all of your trips, minding my own business and attempting to keep my arms and head inside the vehicle I’m on.

Trying to make two dreams come true at the same time is actually one of the scariest and most exciting trips I’ve ever been on. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some more writing to do.

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