Veteran’s Day and the VLBA

By far one of the most remarkable events of the past two weeks was experiencing some actual November weather.  Although I’ve had a lot of Christmas drinks from Starbucks over the past few weeks while working on end-of-semester projects, it’s stayed about 80 degrees here in Tucson.  On Kitt Peak, however, things are different.  I spent Veteran’s Day weekend enjoying my day off, doing homework, and setting up the Christmas tree, but this weekend was really exciting!

Saturday at 2 pm, we left the university to go up to Kitt Peak Observatory.  Wearing leggings, jeans, and a long-sleeve shirt, I was pretty hot while waiting for the group to assemble, but once we reached Kitt Peak, I added my sweatshirt.  The trip is one the astronomy club does every year to walk on the dish of the VLBA telescope and look at the stars after dark.  The VLBA (Very Large Baseline Array) is a series of ten radio telescopes across the US that uses interferometry to process large amounts of data.  If you include all ten telescopes, it is technically the largest telescope in the world.  The climb up to the dish was a bit harrowing, but it was completely worth it to stand there!

After the dish, we drove up to the astronomers’ lodge for dinner where I ate a Chick-fil-a sandwich that I am proud to say I kept insulated for five hours after I bought it.  After sunset, we drove back down the mountain a bit to the twelve-meter telescope and parked outside to look at the stars.  The drive down to the telescope was remarkable in its own right because the sun had just set, and with the view from the mountains, we could see the remaining colors over the western horizon while the Summer Triangle was already shining overhead (and slightly to the east).  In the distance, we could see to Tucson which looked so much smaller from this distance.

We stayed to watch the stars for a few more hours, while one of the astronomy professors pointed out constellations.  We had a few optical telescopes belonging to the club with which we looked at a fuzzy Andromeda Galaxy, a few nebulae, and some binary stars including Alberio which has two different colored stars – one blue and one yellow.  The Milky Way was clearly visible above us, and there were even some shooting stars thanks to the Leonid Meteor Shower.  Orion was rising as we drove back into Tucson, signaling winter to me, although I had to shed a few layers once we were back in the city.  It was an incredible experience, and I’m really glad I got to see it!

Until next time ~


For the Time Being

There’s a Sylvia Plath quote I used in my graduation speech that says, “Remember, remember, this is now, and now, and now.  Live it.  Feel it.  Cling to it.”  I finished reading a really good book this morning called A Tale for the Time Being that talks a lot about the way time passes and how we live through each moment.  I could write a whole blog post just on this book and things it made me think of, but for the time being (:P) I’ll just use it to talk about settling into life at UA.  With the first week behind me, things are settling into patterns.  I know when I have classes, and I know when a good time is to get coffee or tea.  I also know that I have more free time than I expected.

My roommate is an astronomy and physics major, so I have the down-low on all the astronomy events.  I may not be studying it officially, but I love the night sky.  Last Thursday, we went to an event at the Steward Observatory on campus to look through a really powerful optical telescope and see a couple stars (Vega and a binary system I don’t recall the name of), Saturn, and the moon.  This was unlike anything I’ve ever done before, and it was really cool.  What’s even better is that courtesy of the Astronomy Club we joined, we’ll receive telescope training in a few weeks and participate in stargazing events.

Last weekend was pleasantly long, and my mom flew in to visit.  There were a few delays, but once she got here, we drove up to Kitt’s Peak Observatory.  This primarily has optical telescopes with only two radio telescopes, but it is mostly known for the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope, which is the largest solar instrument in the world.  It was so cool to see all the telescopes there and even go inside to look at a few (not through them though).  On Sunday, we also drove up Mt. Lemmon.  It’s a good place to go hiking, but I didn’t want to be the one driving the first time I went up.  There are a lot of good views, and pictures can’t really capture how spectacular it is.  For anyone planning to visit though, the drive is completely worth it just for the fudge at the top of the mountain.

Since Monday was Labor Day, and we weren’t in class, we went on a trip with the school’s hiking club to Tanque Verde Falls.  It’s a 1.8 mile hike each way, and since both of us have gone hiking before we didn’t think it would be too difficult…

They didn’t tell us at at least 0.8 of that each way trip was basically rock climbing.  We also didn’t really count on the hot sun without shade, so we were a bit dehydrated by the end.  And by “a bit” I mean they made me drink a liter of electrolyte water.  It didn’t taste to bad though, and when we got back to the dorm we just kind of slept and ordered calzones for dinner.

The rest of the week was mostly just going to classes and a few events.  For example, today we’ll be meeting the Honors College Dean (there’s free food), and last night we did our English homework while eating ice cream.  The benefit of Honors English is that as long as the teachers meet a few vague objectives, they can teach how they want.  Our class’s theme is “Invasions,” and our first essay can be on either Alien or Independence Day.  So, here are a few final pictures, and I’ll get back to writing for class.

Until next time ~

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.”


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 ~


Fun Times and a Masquerade

For the most part everything has settled into a routine by this point.  Besides classes and reading, I didn’t do very much, so here are some quick highlights and pictures.  I’m writing a day early because I’m going rafting tomorrow.

Monday evening was the Guerre des Sexes (War of the Sexes).  I really wasn’t expecting much from this, but the competition was really fierce, and I had fun just watching everyone try to answer the trivia questions and complete the challenges.  In the end, the girls won by one point.

Tuesday afternoon, I had my cinéma workshop where we edited the video we shot last week and submitted it, meaning this week we’ll go out to the actual cinema for class.  Thursday was another field trip with my class, this time to the Museum of Civilization.  That evening was the Masquerade Ball, at which I actually danced and participated and managed to have fun.

I had my other workshop Friday to Explore Quebec, and we went to Petit Champlain to do a scavenger hunt.  That evening, I went out to dinner with some friends only to come back and immediately leave for a park with some others.  Today, I was expecting to be bored, so I planned ahead and found people with whom I could go to the city.  We spent about two hours walking around without much of a plan, but it was still a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to everything tomorrow as well.

French Immersion 101

Since I’m going to a concert tonight, I’m going to keep the actual written part of this brief and mostly show pictures from week one at French camp.

Monday morning was a mess for the most part because no one knew what to do and the classes were really just holding pens for students not testing at that time.  The test was an oral “exam” to determine in which level of French students should be enrolled.  It was actually pretty fun – just a conversation really.  I can’t speak for anyone else, but I really like my class.  It’s mostly grammar with a  few games to help us practice speaking and using whatever we’re learning.  Since it’s more or less the same every day, this is all I’m saying about class.

Monday afternoon was pretty boring – just a three hour seminar about all the rules – but Tuesday was the first workshop of the week.  The workshops are like extra classes that happen twice a week.  My Tuesday workshop was cinema in which we studied camera angles and shot types then began planning our own short films.  Tuesday evening also featured a walking tour through Old Quebec so when we go out later, we will be less likely to get lost.

On Wednesday, I went back to the city with some friends to buy tickets for Festival d’été (more on that soon).  Following that, we all took a trip to the big mall with an amusement park inside it.  Tickets were fairly expensive, so I only rode the rollercoaster, but that was really fun.  Since we had five hours at the mall, my friends and I decided to do some shopping, or really some trying on and not buying.  We made it into a game in which we chose crazy outfits for each other to model.

Thursday was a nice afternoon with no plans until late, so I relaxed in my room with my book for a while.  At seven, I had signed up to go to the movies.  We saw the Legend of Tarzan, in French of course, so it was a little difficult at first.  By the end of the movie, however, I was thinking just in French.  That carried over to Friday and made that morning’s classes very easy.  Friday evening, one of my friends needed to buy a swimsuit, so we went into the city with the goal of purchasing one.  We completely failed, but we had fun trying on clothes in some of the designer stores and watching the street performers.

The next morning, I slept in late and did basically nothing after laundry in the morning.  That was very welcome after a week of doing stuff constantly.  This morning though, everyone went to a waterpark.  Very fun!  Even after we rode all the slides and got cold, we were able to hang out inside and look around and dance to the music on the radio.  Tonight we’re going to the summer festival to see some performers, but I’ll write about that next week.

Overall, my first week has been really great!