A possible dissertation topic

I said the D word, run for your lives!

Since we had a brainstorming session in my research methods class last week, I’ve been trying to think of a possible dissertation topic. This is especially important because, even though we don’t begin formal work on the paper itself until this summer, a lot of prep work for it is due in November (a research methods outline) and January (a formal proposal that must be department-approved).

After slightly stressing out over it, I think I may finally have a topic — foreign aid. Namely, aid that the United States gives to developing countries. While I’m going to do more in-depth reading before choosing a precise angle on the topic, I’m considering writing about aid’s effectiveness, or lack thereof. What does the U.S. hope to accomplish by distributing aid — security, goodwill, humanitarian success — and what does it actually accomplish? How efficient is aid? Would another form of assistance or demonstration of soft power be more practical or successful? How much aid actually gets to people who need it, and how much ends up on the black market? How much does the U.S. actually distribute versus what it says it will?

A final, streamlined approach, which may very well be just a single question listed above, will probably have to wait until I’ve done more research and had a chance to chat with a supervisor. But for now I’m fairly confident that the final product will be something to do with developmental economics and aid.

Advertisements

Going out!

My mother told me before I left not to spend all of my time in my room. I have the past couple of nights, mostly because I’ve been getting over a head cold and the weather’s been lousy.

But tonight I went on a sort of campus pub crawl (yes, we have bars on campus, because we’re awesome). I thought I’d tell you a little about my new friends and our night out.

Hannah, Rachel and Deborah

Hannah, Rachel and Deborah

First there’s Deborah. She’s a PhD student in genetics, and very perky, bubbly and outgoing. She’s shorter than I am but really feisty. She’s also a quiz fanatic, like me, so we sort of bonded over that immediately.

Second is Hannah, who’s doing an LLM in law. She’s like me in that she’s quiet until you get to know her, but talkative and friendly once you do. She also studied at Kent as an undergrad, so she’s sort of our guide around campus and good to get dirt on what to do around town.

Finally there’s Rachel. She’s doing a PhD in biodiversity. She’s outgoing and funny, but on the serious side I can tell she’s serious about her work and plans to study hard.

All three of them are English.

Tonight I had dinner at Origins, the bar in Darwin College (Origins, get it?), with Rachel, Deborah and one of Deborah’s visiting friends. Origins specializes in Tex-Mex type stuff like nachos, quesadillas and fajitas, and also has snack foods and burgers. I had a burger, Rachel had Cajun chicken in a skillet and the other two had chicken wraps. It has kind of a sports bar-meets-modern-restaurant feel, with lots of booths, pool tables and TVs. It has a bright orange/yellow color palate, which is cool.

After that, we headed to Gulbenkian’s bar and cafe (Gulbenkian’s is the campus theatre/cinema, with a large cafe), which had a cocktail night on. We met up with Hannah and one of the other guys from Woolf, who’s from Germany. The drinks were still kind of pricey, so we headed over to Mungo’s, a place in Eliot College that’s designed like a euro nightclub type place. I’m told they have great burgers and sandwiches during the day (a third major cafe on campus, K-Bar, in Keynes College, does mostly pizza, while Dolche Vita, also in Keynes, does more European-Asian fusion and coffee drinks). Rutherford College has a bar owned and operated by the student union; the aforementioned bars/cafes are operated by university hospitality.

After a couple of drinks in Mungo’s, where the dance music made it kind of loud, we walked over to Park Wood, which is a residential neighborhood on the other side of campus for undergrads, and went to Woody’s, a student bar/pub owned by the student union. We watched a game of pool, chatted and had another drink before walking back to Woolf. All in all, a fun night out and reasonably inexpensive — about £10 total for dinner and drinks from 7:30 to midnight.

Tomorrow I’m going into the city centre to see “The Town” at the Odeon Cinema and appraise the theatre. I might look at WHSmith for some work folders for classes, which start Tuesday for me. We might do something tomorrow night, I’m not sure. Sunday afternoon is the trip to Leeds Castle, and Sunday night is a pub quiz in K-Bar. Monday’s curry night at the Gulbenkian and a quiz night at a pub in town, and Tuesday I’m attending an Amnesty International meeting. Current Affairs meets on Thursday evenings, and I may have to alternate between pub nights and society meetings for the American society, as it looks like both will fall on Mondays (even though there are other pub quizzes throughout the week).

I’ve also decided to try out Anglican services at Keynes Chapel on Sundays, starting next week (can’t go this week because of the castle tour). The services all include lunch afterward, and I’m kind of curious about the Anglican set-up. It’s also been ages since I’ve had any sort of Communion. The fellowship organizes a lot of activities during the term, and this term’s trips include a day visit to Bodiam Castle, built during the reign of Richard II (yeah, him again) and the small parish town of Rye, as well as a longer holiday in Bruges, Belgium in November.

So there you have it. Not even here a week!

P.S. By far the most important details of the night were that I earned my first mayorship on Foursquare (I’m “mayor” of Origins now) and I got another badge — the “Crunked” badge for four or more check-ins in one might. Mummy must be so proud.

An afternoon in the cathedral

I’ve always thought that Ken Follett’s title The Pillars of the Earth was extremely poetic and lyrical. And nothing says “pillar of the Earth” like Canterbury Cathedral. It’s old (St. Augustine — not that one, a different one — founded it as a monastery some 1400 years ago), it’s beautiful — Gothic architecture and stained glass windows galore — and it invites reflection and consideration.

I traveled to the cathedral earlier today as part of a planned outing for international students. We were split into smaller groups and escorted around for about an hour and a half. Our guide, a delightful little old man who I suspect is a retired volunteer, showed us around.

The main thing about the cathedral is that it’s immense. There’s a lot of empty space, with tall, thin Gothic columns and vaulted ceilings. It’s been steadily added onto and refurbished over the centuries. Some of the projects were completed hundreds of years ago, such as the nave refurbishment. Others are newer, such as the improved main tower, which was extended about 170 years ago. Others, such as a careful restoration of stained glass, are ongoing today.

Our guide led us through the building, from the enormous nave to the quiet, dimly lit crypt. He told us about how Thomas Becket was murdered in the church in 1170 after standing up to Henry II. A gold altar once stood where Becket’s tomb was, and pilgrims would come pray and bring gifts and ask for intercession. Henry VIII, in one of his hissy fits, plunder the altar, declared Becket a traitor and had his body burned, and, rumor has it, shot out of a cannon to prevent people from claiming pieces of it. Cathedral lore says that monks took Becket’s real remains, swapped them for another body and hid them in the crypt before Henry’s men could get to it. But, our guide reminded us, that’s a legend at this point.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In the choir, once only accessible to the clergy, is the tomb of Edward, the Black Prince of Wales. Edward died a year before his father, Edward III, and was never king. His son became the ultimately doomed Richard II. Edward’s “achievements,” knightly prizes such as his helmet, vest and gauntlets, are on display near the door. They’re about 650 years old.

Edward was also the guy who originated the Prince of Wales’ motto. In battle, Edward faced John I of Bohemia, who insisted on fighting with his men even though he was old and blind. Shockingly, he was killed in battle. Edward, admiring his, as we say in German, Bälle des Stahls, adopted John’s three-feather emblem and motto, Ich dien, as his own. Ich dien means “I serve” in German, and is the motto of the Prince of Wales to this day.

Right across from Edward is Henry IV, the man who overthrew his son, Richard II, and started the Lancastrian line (Edward and Richard were Plantagenets). Henry IV is the only monarch interred in the cathedral.

There are other interesting people about — like the archbishop who founded an Oxford college and has the privilege of having his tomb kept up and overhauled every 50 years. It’s sparkling with color where others are worn white. Stained glass “cartoons” depict visual stories of miracles being performed. A glasswork by a Hungarian Jew whose mother died in the Holocaust celebrates the end of Nazi tyranny. Some butt-kisser snuck in a picture of Queen Victoria in the Chapter House’s front glass pane, even though she really never had anything to do with the cathedral. The tour had to stop briefly as a soothing female voice over the PA led everyone through an afternoon rendition of the Lord’s Prayer (I think in our group, our tour guide and I were the only ones who actually recited it).

Overall it was a really enjoyable afternoon. I finished it off in the town centre, sipping hot chocolate and people-watching before I picked up some groceries and came back to Woolf.

Stay tuned for Leeds Castle this Sunday …

In Canterbury

After spending a few days in London with the family, I’m finally moved in at the university. I love my room — roomy but cozy, with nice big walls to hang posters and places to stick up photos.

I’ve picked up my ID and done some basic grocery shopping. In the next day or so I’ll open a bank account, and when my loan money comes in I’ll pay my accommodation fees, join the gym and maybe buy a city bus pass.

We had international student orientation this morning, and there’s an international students’ dinner tonight. Tomorrow is a tour of Canterbury Cathedral and the postgraduate induction. Thursday is my program’s orientation, where I’ll meet professors and choose my classes. It’s also the society fair, where you can pick which clubs and groups to join. Sunday is the Leeds Castle tour.

I’m having a lot of fun so far. I’ve met a couple of people who live on my (quiet) block, and gone to a couple of quiz nights with three really nice English girls. I’m kind of taking it easy this afternoon before cleaning up and getting ready for dinner.

More later!