End of the Summer

Well, this is a week later than planned, but I’m actually moved into my fall dorm now!  Originally, I’d intended to post last Sunday before packing up, but since I didn’t do a lot of exciting things while in UAdvantage, I thought I’d combine the post with my move-in week to make it more interesting.

A few words about the UAdvantage program though – it was great.  I really enjoyed my classes, especially Anthropology, and I’m very thankful for the resources UAdvantage will give me during the fall semester – for example the adorable little cacti we planted.  In addition to a field trip to the museum, I also had the chance to explore Downtown Tucson with my Anthropology class.  We looked at a few historic sites in the city and noted how it has changed in recent years.  Even more fun than that, the UAdvantage group also took us on a Food Tour that I would recommend to anyone visiting Tucson.  Or, if you aren’t up for a full tour, just go to The Fix for Mac n Cheese and The Hub for ice cream.  I also spent a few hours at the Scented Leaf Café which serves a myriad of wonderful teas (also a great spot to chill out and read a book).

This past week was hectic with both classes finishing and everyone packing up to leave, but it’s been fun.  Wednesday was actual move-out day, and although I was supposed to be on the golf cart to my dorm at 9 am, it was a bit closer to 10:30.  There were a few problems causing this – check out papers not being available, the golf cart leaving without me, etcetera.  But, I digress.  Once I reached Yuma Hall, it only took half an hour to carry my things upstairs (no elevator) and a further three hours to unpack everything.  However, I do mean everything, so the time was worth it since I no longer have to search for anything.  I also met my awesome RA Wednesday, but after the unpacking, I was pretty much dead on my feet.

Thursday was my last big thing with UAdvantage – Meet Tucson.  There were a few options for this, but I chose to go to Roadhouse Cinema, which is very fancy and more than I could afford on my own.  Courtesy of not having to pay for it though, I was able to enjoy the reclining chairs and waiters while watching Dunkirk.  Although I would recommend Roadhouse, I would also recommend planning to spend a lot of money there.  The whole experience was a lot of fun though, and the movie wasn’t bad either!

Friday and Saturday were a bit more laid back.  Although I did make three trips to the financial aid office on Friday, I mostly spent the day figuring out what I need in my room and going shopping at Safeway to buy some groceries.  Another notable occurrence on Friday was that other people moved onto my floor so I’m no longer alone.  As for Saturday, I had no plans at all and just finished the last of my library books (How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn, also featured in 3 of the pictures below) while exploring a few different places to read.  Last night was also the peak of the Perseid meteor shower, which I tried to see, but because of the clouds, I watched a distant thunderstorm instead.  The lightning was incredible though, so no complaints.

Today was the start of Bear Down Camp.  Mostly, this is school spirit activities and explanations of things on campus, but it seems like it will be fun.  I’ll be getting on a bus at 7 tomorrow morning to go to Prescott, Arizona for the rest of the camp, and I’ll post my next update either next Sunday or one week into the school year.  Until then ~


Pasó Por Aquí

Two weeks later, and I’ve not only seen a lot of Arizona, I’ve also finished another first week of class.  But first, the trip.  Before entering Arizona, we stopped in New Mexico to see El Malpais and El Morro – some of my favorites from the whole trip.  El Morro translates to “The Headland,” which is an apt name for this mesa that dominates the landscape around it.  Since pre-historic times people have seen this cliff face as something awesome and have carved into it.  Walking along the trail, you can see not only petroglyphs, but evidence of Spanish explorers, American soldiers, and New Deal workers who carved the staircase that leads to the top.  The Spanish phrase “pasó por aquí” (passed by here) that is written so many times on this rock is, to me, a mark of how people have always wanted to note their passage through the world, like I am on this blog.

In Arizona, we passed by many other places that have been held in equal esteem for the last few centuries.  From the beautiful Painted Desert that is the entrance to the Petrified Forest to the Grand Canyon and Casa Grande, it’s remarkable to see how generations of people have shaped this land and called it home.  Driving through a state known for its desert, you wouldn’t expect mountains, trees, and fields, but they’re all here under a beautiful Arizona sky.  The names of these places make them seem like they’re from another world (i.e. Montezuma’s Castle, which is neither a castle nor anywhere close to Montezuma’s empire).  However, I really liked this trip for the chance to see how people have lived and thrived in this apparently inhospitable land for so long.  That phrase “pasó por aquí” certainly has a deeper meaning when you can go to Casa Grande.  People made in this huge settlement nearly six centuries ago, and their descendants still live in Arizona today!

And last Monday, I continued my own passage in this place as I moved into my dorm for the three weeks of UAdvantage.  I haven’t unpacked much since I’ll be moving again soon, so this place really just feels temporary.  In fact, by the time I post again, I’ll be packing everything up to move again!

The classes themselves have been a lot of fun this first week, particularly the “field trip” across campus to the Arizona State Museum.  As the first part of the Anthropology class has focused on Native Americans in Arizona, the museum’s primary exhibit was relevant.  As a description can’t really capture how cool this exhibit is to walk through, I would first recommend coming out to visit, but for those who can’t, let me just say that this was a really well-done exhibit.  Not only does it have interactive portions and awesome artifacts, it was also designed with the help and permission of the tribes whom it discusses.  By far my favorite part, however, was the life-size diorama that depicted a scene from a story told to you via recording.

As for my first weekend here, I would deem the Lord of the Rings marathon a rousing success.  I think the remainder of my time in UAdvantage will go just as well as this first week, and I can’t wait for the fall semester to start afterwards.  I’ve kept up with Arabic online, so I’ll be ready for that class when it starts too.  It’s exciting to be starting college so soon, as these summer sessions really haven’t been too different from past summers abroad.  Thinking about staying here is exciting, and I welcome the thought that I too will be able to say I passed by here.

The World is a Book

I meant to post this on Sunday, but I got a bit caught up in the scenic driving.  After going home for a few days, I’m now driving back to AZ with my family.  More on this later though because I still need to talk about the last two weeks of Arabic!

For the most part, these were two really fun weeks.  I had two days off of class (Eid-al-Fitr and 4th of July), and it was also getting towards the end of class, which meant I was getting ready to come home.  The only real problem I had was that summertime is also maintenance time at the University.  In the dorm I was staying at, for example, all the washers and dryers were removed ostensibly to be replaced by newer models.  This wouldn’t have been as much of a problem if I hadn’t been completely out of clothes and just about to go do a load of laundry.

After several stressful hours of thinking I would be walking a half mile each way to the laundromat accompanied by my suitcase, I found a ride over there.  It was a little disconcerting since the building was empty except for one employee, but it was definitely an experience.  Naturally, the pick-up I arranged did not quite go as planned and, while waiting for the car, I experienced my first mini-dust storm, which was an…interesting experience.

Over the weekend, I took another trip to 4th Avenue to buy a birthday present for a friend back home (shout-out to Summer!), and I again got to see all the cool little stores there.  I also may have caved and bought myself a book to read (Michelle Moran’s Rebel Queen about the last queen of India ~ highly recommend for historical fiction fans).

This was probably my favorite weekend while I was doing Arabic.  It was really hot, but I still spent a lot of time outside just reading.  I’m loving First United Methodist Church of Tucson. With school out of session, it isn’t very full, but the community is incredibly welcoming and full of wonderful people.  They cook extremely well too, and I am getting far too used to the treats every Sunday afternoon.

As for the last week of class, it was really just review for Thursday’s final.  We played several games and just had fun with the language.  We also had Tuesday off for the 4th, and I was able to hang out with a couple of friends from the class – Aimee and Emanuwela.  I had so much fun on the 4th with them, and it was bittersweet to be leaving to go home.

Thursday itself was The Most Stressful Day Ever.  IB scores were released at 8:15 am (or 15:15 GMT), and the final exam was at 9:00 am.  Needless to day, I didn’t do much sleeping the night before, but I not only received my IB diploma, I also got an A on the Arabic final.  The stress still wasn’t over though.  Despite a relaxing (and free!) lunch at Sinbad’s Restaurant, courtesy of the MENAS department, I still had to finish packing and catch a plane.  There were ultimately no problems with this though, and I had a very nice driver on the shuttle from Tucson to Phoenix.

I was exhausted when I reached Charleston, but I maintain that it was completely worth it to celebrate Summer’s birthday.  After seeing Wonder Woman (also highly recommended, though less for historical fiction fans), we went ice skating and then hung out at her house.  Somehow, after not sleeping on the plane and only getting a few hours of shut-eye earlier in the day, I stayed awake until almost 1 am.

After three nights with so little sleep, it may be expected that I was dead on my feet Saturday, but being back home gave me some energy as I was able to visit with my family before getting up early Sunday morning to drive back out West.

We made it to Missouri on Sunday, which was a 14 hour drive plus a 1 hour stop for lunch and an Abe Lincoln Memorial.  My third recommendation of the post is the Quality Inn in…whatever town we stayed in.  That was the best sleep I’ve had in a week.  Yesterday, we drove across the New Mexico border and have now started to see some of the trademark Southwestern landscape on Rt. 66.

I’m honestly really excited to be returning to Tucson and actually settling in to live there. My other summer classes (Anthropology and Student Leadership) have started online, and I like these as well.  Maybe not as much as Arabic, but they’re still good.  The next time you hear from me, I’ll have a better-informed opinion of the classes and the new dorms, but for now I’m taking St. Augustine’s advice and doing some traveling.  “The world,” after all, “is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”


Passport to the Future

Three weeks into Arabic class, I can now say a decent amount in the language; however, I doubt a list of vocabulary words is what you want to read.  In that vein, I’ll talk a bit more about the cultural activities and exploring Tucson.  I’ve been learning a lot here though, and the class is awesome, which leads me to the quote that lends itself to the title – “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today” (Malcolm X).  Since Arabic is a huge part of what I want to do in college and beyond, that phrase seemed apt.

The cultural activities in the class are varied.  The first Friday, for example, was calligraphy.  Last week, we learned some about games from Arab countries and watched an Egyptian movie.  This past week, we had henna and Dabkeh, a traditional dance from the Levant.  Like most dances, I’ve tried to learn, I did not excel at this, but it was fun.

I was also able to go to 4th Avenue last weekend, which is home to any number of cool shops.  No huge companies are allowed to own stores on that street, so all the little boutiques and bookstores are original and really cool.  In one of these shops, for example, I bought a tunic to wear to the mosque.

As Ramadan was going on for the first three weeks of the class, and we were studying Arabic, the department was able to organize two outings for us related to this.  For the first, we went to the nearby mosque for Iftar – the time after sundown when people in the Muslim community can break their fast during Ramadan.  It was like being at a big family reunion to me.  People talked to their friends; kids ran everywhere; there was REALLY good food.

The last day of Ramadan was this past Saturday.  This is celebrated with the Eid-al-Fitr, which is basically a celebration that started Saturday at sundown and will last until Tuesday at sundown.  Here in Tucson, it was celebrated with a service at the TCC (Tuscon Convention Center) yesterday morning.  The sheikh who spoke was actually from Egypt and had been invited to spend the month of Ramadan here in Tucson.  It was so cool to be able to witness this event and learn more about Ramadan.  I also did not mind the free candy and cookies.

Since today is still part of the Eid, I don’t have class, which is relaxing…although I still managed to wake up before 6:30.  It’s amazing how quickly this class has gone by, and I can’t wait to take more classes here come fall.  My only disappointment is that I don’t have a way to store food in my room, which means I’ve been eating out basically every night.  However, this did have the consequence that the employees of two different restaurants know me, so that’s not too bad.  Here’s to making that three restaurants!

Until next time ~


The Secret to Getting Ahead

Hello to all my readers!  For the everyone who read this last year, you’ll notice that the penultimate post about Canada turned out to be the ultimate one, but I did (obviously) come home safely and even survived my last year of high school.  Senior year was a lot. After all the IB coursework and college applications, I’ll admit I’m glad to know where I’m going to college and to know that I don’t have to do another Extended Essay for a few more years (thanks to the Honors College, I’ll be doing a Senior Capstone Thesis).

Despite the jokes and complaining of the Senior IB students this year, it really was a good experience.  For my part at least, I can’t seem to get enough of a heavy course load, so I signed up to take eleven hours of college credit this summer, hence the partial Mark Twain quote in the title: “The secret to getting ahead is getting started.”

~ Since I know my family and friends back home read this to keep up with my adventures, I’ll try to update with some modicum of regularity despite the coursework.  ~

According to my mom, this particular post should detail the time between graduation and finishing the first week of Arabic.  I think the following image summarizes that:


In short, I’ve done a fair amount of flying lately.  A few days after graduation, I came to Tucson (suburbs shown above) for orientation where I met other U of A students and enrolled in my first semester classes.  Following that, I came home for a few days to go on one last trip with the church youth group and take a picture that scared a few people who saw it.


New River Gorge; Endless Wall Trail

I will point out that there was a rock under my feet, so I wasn’t in as much danger as I could have been.  After a few days of packing most of my clothes and not nearly enough books, I took a fraction of that luggage to return to Arizona for month 1 of college.

Why Arizona?  The short answer is the Arabic Flagship program (“Why Arabic?”) and the scholarship money.  The longer answer is that I love the myriad of cultures that speak this beautiful language, and of the five schools in the country that have this program, Arizona has some very nice scholarships available.  Not only that, they offer this Jumpstart Program in the summer.

Jumpstart is mostly self-explanatory, but I’ll explain in detail anyway.  The Arabic department at Arizona is one of the best in the country, and its directors do everything they can to make Arabic available to students who want to learn the language, from students already attending the U of A to ProjectGo cadets from across the country.  Jumpstart is geared toward high school students who want to learn Arabic and potentially continue learning it as college students.  For those who start the program early in high school, it is possible to come back for multiple summers and gain several college credits along with fluency in the language.

As I am already planning to take Arabic in the school year, taking the 101 class this summer will get me ready to start 102 in the fall and also familiarize myself with the campus.  (I’ve already found some delicious restaurants.)  This first week, we have gone through the textbook Alif Baa, which is essentially phonetics of the language and basic writing conventions.  Starting Monday, we will begin the main textbook Al-Kitaab that is used in most Arabic classes.  The course is intensive, so I’ve learned a lot.  For reference, what we do in one day of class in the summer is comparable to a week of class during the school year, so regular attendance is a pretty good idea.

This won’t be quite like my blogs from past summers where I detail all the fun things I do because the majority of my day, I am either in class, tutoring, or attending office hours.  That’s not to say it isn’t fun.  I really love the class, and I’m enjoying it immensely, but I don’t think pictures of my homework would be of much interest to anyone.  I will, however, attempt to update with what’s going on as I start college and when I do exciting things, I’ll try to upload a few pictures.

Until next time ~


Art for Everyone?

I know I haven’t posted in a while (though I have actually written drafts of several posts), but I wrote this essay in a spurt of extreme boredom this evening, and thought I may as well post it here where it may or may not be read by anyone.  So, here it is:

In his lifetime, Vincent Van Gogh sold one painting. He was not a part of the art world, and was in fact rejected by it. Today, Van Gogh is famous, someone almost everyone thinks of as a great artist. One of my 2016 calendars is just Van Gogh paintings for crying out loud. How did this happen? How did an artist considered by many to be erratic and a mentally unstable[1] become one of the most celebrated artists of the 19th century? More importantly, have things changed since then? Are there artists whom we laugh at today that will be considered geniuses in the near or distant future? In fact, to get to the point of this essay, what makes an artist, and who deserves the title?


Disclaimer: I’m not a professional art critic or anything. I’m just a student who likes to think about things in different ways.


Flash forward to 2016 and Kanye West. What? Yes, Kanye. Some people may stop reading here as I start to compare Kanye to Van Gogh, but I beg you, read on and consider the argument. First of all, if you are against Kanye and what he produces, you aren’t alone. Most notably, there is the Bob Ezrin critique[2] (and ensuing Twitter debacle) in which Ezrin boldly states, “Kanye’s greatest achievements have been in the form of excessive behavior, egomaniacal tantrums and tasteless grandstanding.” According to Ezrin, Kanye’s art is not art because it is not creating public discourse, creating a new art form, or addressing social issues. Except it is.

By Ezrin’s reply he is creating discourse. Discourse that Kanye continues through Twitter, thereby engaging his millions of fans (and haters). True, Kanye may partially live up to the reputation of tantrums and grandstanding (“Ezrin I truly feel sorry for your friends and family that they have had to suffer an idiot like you for so many years”), but from this comes a series of news articles[3] and communication both for and against Kanye’s work and what it means to create art in modern culture. In part of Kanye’s response to Ezrin, “Welcome to pop culture!!!”

Moving beyond the discourse aspect of Kanye’s art, there is the charge of a new art form. For this, I would like to direct readers to his new album The Life of Pablo, which is summed up by Rob Sheffield for Rolling Stone[4]: “Kanye wrestles with his biggest enemy – himself – on a complex, conflicted masterpiece… West just drops broken pieces of his psyche all over the album and challenges you to fit them together.” True, it’s not exactly mainstream, but it’s not supposed to be. It’s supposed to make you picture the artist complexly, as he truly is, however frightening that may be for both the listeners and the artist. The album is honest, and as its critics say, ever-changing, like life is. And here is addressed Ezrin’s third accusation – the lack of social issues. But they are all there, shown in Kanye’s fears of not being a good enough husband or son or father or anything else that he supposedly should be. How many other people are confronted by those same worries and, like Kanye, try to hide behind some other persona? Frightening as it may be, don’t we need someone to address the problems that arise from this fear of being weak or, worse, showing that weakness? Artists – be they writers, painters, or musicians – are all given the same challenge. Make us feel things, confront things we may be too afraid to recognize on our own, and challenge us to see the world in a new way. Maybe Kanye is showy and erratic. Maybe his fashion line isn’t something one normally thinks of as high style. But maybe, just maybe, he’s challenging us and forcing us out of our comfort zones.

Who else challenges art and makes everyone uncomfortable? Actually, most artists, or at least the ones who stick around and give us things to think about even today. The great modernist thinkers who were ridiculed and slandered and are now studied in schools. The authors whose sentences make readers cringe, and the painters whose works look like something a preschooler created. On the surface, these guys are the jerks who act dumb or mean and are praised for it (what?). Yeah, they’re the ones who paint rectangles (Rothko) or scribbles (Pollock) and have these paintings sell for millions of dollars. Why? Because, rightfully or not, we attribute meaning to their work. Now, maybe the critics are right[5], and art like this is a perfect modernist representation of the nothingness of life and selling out to capitalism – making nothing art because that sells. And here’s my argument: If nothing art sells, then nothing art is not nothing. I’m not trying to confuse you with the triple negatives in that sentence either; I’m saying that this art that perchance really has no meaning takes on meaning in its meaninglessness. All right, that was very confusing, but stay with me.

Think of some childhood toy. A Barbie doll or a racecar or a plastic hammer. Something that has no value but sentimental value. If any other person saw that object, it would be meaningless, but to you it isn’t. You took a meaningless object and gave it meaning. Humans have a tendency to do that. we want things to have meaning, so we give it to them, often unconsciously. And even in doing this, we poke fun at ourselves, creating the Anti-Realism movement in which art exists for its own sake – not to have some deep meaning, but just to exist. This fails though because is making the art devoid of meaning, it intrinsically has meaning. The art, once in the public eye, no longer belongs solely to the artist[6]. Each viewer of the piece brings his or her own experiences to the viewing and sees it differently from how every other viewer has seen it. The meaning the art has may not be what the artist intended, and the artist may even be angry by how some people view the art, but that is not the point. The point of art is to challenge us into seeing things differently, finding meaning in things that may or may not have it and growing in our lives from there.

So, who can be an artist? Well, in my opinion, anyone. An artist is a person who has something to say and finds a medium in which to say it. Sure, you’ll face criticism, but in the words of Taylor Swift, who has dealt with her fair share of these, “Haters gonna hate.” Not all artists will be so immortal as others, and perhaps one day, Van Gogh’s art will be forgotten while Rothko’s will be held in high esteem. It’s my belief that, for now, we must consider both Van Gogh and Rothko. There is a reason each of these artists has endured enough to be ridiculed/revered, and to learn from either of them, we must understand them. Their personal histories, their interpretations of their own art, others’ commentary on their art, and finally reflection on our own interpretation. Art is for everyone. Everyone can make it, and everyone should consider it because it really does have something to teach us. You’re not going to understand it all, and part of the discovery of art is that realization. In the words of Miles Davis, “If you understood everything I say, you’d be me!” People are individuals, and that’s what makes us fascinating. Via our different interpretations of one world, we make that world different and better.

Van Gogh knew he was different. He understood that he wasn’t understood, and while this frustrated him, he only hoped for change and acceptance. With time, we, as a society, have become able to appreciate an art style that was once considered strange because one by one, people began to consider Van Gogh seriously and to search for beauty and meaning in his work. Someone gave him a chance. That’s all today’s artists ask for, and if we give it to them, we may find something far better than we ever imagined. Van Gogh once said, “Let us keep courage and try to be patient and gentle. And not mind being eccentric.” I agree with that. So, for now, keep courage in the face of hate and ridicule. Be patient and gentle and listen to those around you because you don’t know what you could learn. And finally, recognize that being different is one of the best things to be.

[1] https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/06/05/van-gogh-and-mental-illness/

[2] http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:http://lefsetz.com/wordpress/2016/02/22/bob-ezrin-on-kanye-west/

[3] http://www.vulture.com/2016/02/kanye-west-bob-ezrin-beef.html

[4] http://www.rollingstone.com/music/albumreviews/kanye-west-the-life-of-pablo-20160216

[5] http://worstartistsofalltime.blogspot.com/2011/01/mark-rothko-infant-or-caveman.html

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eCW3YrYXr-0 (not the exact video I was looking for, but you get the idea)