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As we transition to new group of incoming students we are determining who will be our next fabulous Peace Corps Fellows blogger. Please check back at the end of October to meet this new person, I promise you won’t be disappointed…

Nicole

Nicole Vilegi
Associate Director of Graduate Admissions
Josef Korbel School of International Studies

Heyo! (*postscript! This post is incredibly random, there are some meaningful things in there though, if you look for em.)

I’m deliriously tired, which happens to be something quite inversely related to my spelling skills, so forgive me if this gets ugly and I fail to spell check, which happens to me.
I will attempt with this post to give you folks a good idea of what it is like to be me at the moment. I also plan on getting into some things that I have been interested in as of late and simply ruminating about.

First – I am listening to Kings of Convenience – their album “Quiet is the new loud”, which sounds tragically hipster, but it was put out in 2001, which as far as I know predates hipsterdom… at least popular hipsterdom as I know it. I am not even sure I know what hipster is. I was in Peru when much of that jazz was infiltrating on a large-scale and have yet to come to terms with what exactly may or may not be going on. I was once told that I was a hipster by a girl who rode horses and knew me all of 4 hours. She based her ‘I’m from NYC, I know’ decisions on the fact that I had music on my zune that she didn’t recognize next to Alan Watts lectures, I was drinking a PBR, my jeans fit and I was, at the time, which was mid June, wearing a scarf. Now, I have noticed the tendencies for ‘hipsters’ to wear scarves, and sometime ago I believe it was ‘Things White People Like’ that told me dudes in scarves is a clear sign of hipsterdom… but it still gets cold in the Fraser Valley at night in June. I’m not voicing any aversion to hipsters, I’m not denying I might be one, and I am not dissing NYC in any way. I am just putting out there my lack of understanding of the topic, though I admit I did assume at least some sort of knowledge at the beginning of this tailspin…

Once again. Deliriously tired. But it is only 9 pm, far to early for sleep yet.

Second – I am currently reading two books. I recently finished a biography on Joseph Kennedy, which was quite amazing. I then picked up a Patterson novel I have had on my shelf since someone left it at my place seven months back. It is my first Patterson novel, and it will be my last, though I admit, I can’t justify not finishing a book. I stopped by the library yesterday and checked out TITAN, a biography on J.D. Rockefeller, and I can’t wait to get into it. The fore word is as far as I got, and that was pretty swell.

Weather – Sunny, Windy, generally beautiful during the day. Mild and pleasant at night, very quiet around DU. We did get snowed on quite dramatically last Friday.

Level of busyness = Redonkulous ( I know Redonkulous isn’t a legit word.  I am debating whether ‘busyness’ is.  It just doesn’t look right…)

Classes I’m in this quarter:
– Before I actually go into this, I have to lead in. Have you ever seen TED videos? If you haven’t, and you down with inspiration, check it out. I have been a regular visitor since my sister let me on to TED a few years back and since I started my studies here at Korbel, I have thought about some of the things I have seen on the videos and have been inspired to think about things in a different way from my exposure to them. For example…

I am taking Stats III. I was only required to take stats II for my program. I hated stats in undergrad, didn’t understand it, had an unfortunate teacher and thought it was irrelevant to my interests. When I started in Stats I last fall, I quickly realized the relevance a solid understanding of statistical methods and analysis has not just on my field of study, but on life in general. I come across statistical analysis ALL THE TIME, and not just in class. Now I just know how to interpret what is being said. I am also deeply interested in the way that incredible amounts of information is becoming available through the internet and the implications it has for individual research and advances in knowledge. The ability to analyze and coherently share gigantic amounts of information is a talent that few possess. This guy get it:

Information is powerful.  Information is power.

I took a policy class last quarter in which I was steeped in the theory behind how policy is created, by whom, in what ways.  One of the things I wish we focused on more in that class was the changes in policy practice as brought about by major historical sea changes, such as the industrial revolution, or expansion into the western world, and how modern changes may impact policy and the way we govern.  David Cameron recently gave a talk on how he sees the very act of figuring and setting policy morphing due in part to the access millions of people are getting to information through the internet.  Granted, his talk is also a shameless plug for the Conservative Party he is trying to lead into power, but all the same.  Check it out…

Moving on.

I am also currently taking Managerial Finance at the Daniels College of Business.  I have decided to focus my electives on fulfilling one of the certificates in finance that Daniels offers, to even out my theoretical knowledge of the private, public and not for profit sectors.  I am particularly interested in the role that the private industry can play in international development, particularly those industries that rely on developing nations to make their profits.  While I haven’t found a TED talk that addresses this topic exactly, there is one that has a lot to do with reliance on foreign resources and the difficulties of convincing large, usually multinational corporations into doing something ‘good’ which is all to often married to ‘not profitable’.  The electric car idea has been around a long time, and for every argument I have heard for electric automobiles, I have heard 3 or 4 against.  If you haven’t heard about what Shai Agassi is trying to do for the electric car industry, check this jazz out:

This is the Nissan Leaf – while I’m not sure if it’s one of the cars that is being designed to work with Agassi’s plan, it still ain’t bad lookin.

I am also taking International Project Management at the moment, which has been a great learning experience, especially after having served in the Peace Corps.  Turns out, for me anyway, my entire service was basically project management.  I was just unaware of the formal field.  Now that I’m up to my neck in it, I realize I already have a lot of the skills, I just need to learn the terminology and how to make prettier documents than I did in Peru.  If you have ever written a SPA proposal, than you have already got a leg up for this course.

Enough about the classes.  If you enjoyed the vids above for the first time, or if you are already a TED aficionado, it may interest you to know that DU is going to be holding a TEDxDU conference in a few weeks.  This is an independently organized TED event, with the backing of the main TED organizers.  There is  solid line up of speakers and musical performance already, and I was lucky enough to get registered for a spot.  I will most certainly be writing here about my experience at that event.  They will also be streaming the event from the TEDxDU website, which I should have posted a link to on the right side of this page by now.

DU is never really a boring place to be.  Unless, I suppose, you are a boring person yourself.

Let’s see, what else do I do?

I work.

My jobs =

Work study – I work as an admin assistant for the manager of operations at the Schwayder Art Building offices here at DU.  I love working for the art school.  While I am a ‘less than’ talented artist myself, I enjoy being around art immensely and have recently become an official ‘art collector’.   I pull around 10-15 hours a week there, depending on the rest of my schedule.

Auditor – I ‘covertly’ audit two grocery stores every weekend, doing simple price checks and reporting online.  It is too easy a paycheck to pass up.

Census Enumerator – I am currently in training to be one of the local census takers.  I went out in the field, aka, the next block over from my apartment, for the first time today.  It is an interesting job, and the most interesting part is the varying reactions people have to the government asking for some information.  I will not get into particulars here, but I will say, I wish people who complained about things took the time to learn about those things first.

Fundraiser – I start next week at my new job as a fund-raiser for the Kellogg Fellows Leadership Alliance here in Denver.  While I don’t know too many details as of yet, I know I will be working with them at least one day a week for the next year trying to raise large sums of money to organize a conference on civic engagement in Washington DC in March of next year.  I will certainly be writing more about this in the future.

I also write on this blog, but I don’t get paid for that, and, let’s be honest, I don’t write that often.  I am trying to remedy that though, as the more I do write on here, the more I WANT to write on here.  Feedback is always welcomed.

Next:  What it’s like to be me Socially.

Well, as you may have gathered, I’m quite busy with work and school most of the time, so my social life has seen better days.  That being said.  I do have a lot of good people here in Denver that I see regularly.  We do fun things, mostly involving eating and drinking, barefoot park activities, dressing up, dancing and making fun of each other.  I go out to Rock Bar as often as possible.  It’s on Colfax and Milwaukee and it is the best dance floor in town.  I sang Karaoke for the first time last weekend.  I have only done this before in Peru, so I was a bit nervous at first.  My friend Ainsley signed us up for a duet version of Madonna’s ‘Like a Prayer’ to start off with.  Like a Prayer is not a duet song traditionally, but with Ainsley taking the lead and me on ‘gospel vocals’ and back up dancing, we brought the house down.  I then had enough confidence to do a solo rendition of ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ and once again made all the folks in the house fall in love with me.  Karaoke will happen more often in my life from now on. A few of my Denver friends are getting married in the next few months, I am most excited about that.  Weddings are a blast.

I am also excited about the elections in England, the World Cup, Summer and my new computer.  My new computer is brought to you by HP and made possible by U.S. Government grad school loans.  It came with a web cam built-in.  It is my first web cam.

This is me trying to figure out how to use my web cam.

.

This is me being amazed how easy it is to use my web cam.

I am also excited about tax returns, live music at Red Rocks Amphitheater, getting tan and being done with school in a few short weeks.

I have a lot of work to before any of that is realized.

I’m off to make a dent in some of that.  I do hope this wasn’t to random and too long-winded for you folks.

Till next time…

I have recently had some interesting encounters with animals here in Denver.  There is a bunny that lives around my building.  I often see it in the parking lots, in the courtyard, or any other place other than a grassy wonderland one would hope to see a bunny in.  I see him often, and liken him to the homeless individuals who you run into on a regular basis due to going to the same places downtown.  While I don’t know him well, we recognize each other, and while I often give to homeless people, I don’t give to the bunny who isn’t actually homeless, he just reminds me of a homeless guy.   Apparently someone who lives above me wants to give to the bunny.  Apparently, they also think the bunny is homeless.  When I got back from work today there was a trail of lettuce from the bush in the courtyard the bunny frequents, leading across the rocky courtyard, down a short section of sidewalk, and up two flights of stairs.  While I did not follow the trail o lettuce to it’s ultimate path, I would like to think it led to a door.  An open door.  A door which invited the bunny into a new existence of rooftops, controllable temperatures and hopefully more lettuce.  The look on my landlords face as he also pondered the trail of lettuce suggested other thoughts.  I decided not to let him in on the fact that we have a resident bunny.

Earlier, as I was dropping some documents off at purchasing services for work, I had to interact rather closely with a squirrel.  He was standing outside the glass door into purchasing gazing in as I approached.  He saw me coming, didn’t move.  I stopped a few feet from the door and stared him down, still no response.  I shooed  him away with my feet and the documents for Ces and opened the door carefully, wary of the squirrel and his seeming intentness on entering the building himself.  He did indeed try to come in, but was no match for my cunning ability of simultaneously throwing a foot and closing a door.  I entered the building to the sound of laughing, unaware that my interaction with the squirrel was being monitored by the ladies of purchasing services.  They were fully aware of the squirrel fondness of the indoors and had been watching him watching them in their air conditioned bliss for quite a while.  As I left the building the squirrel was perched up against the glass door, faced pressed in what seemed an uncomfortably close manner to the cool glass, tiny paws to the sides of his perked ears.   Unemotionally (not really, I felt a little bit like letting him in) I opened the door as he scampered to the side and attempted another weave around/post formation through my legs and the closing door.  Unsuccessful, the squirrel then ran in front of me on the sidewalk and planted himself in what seemed to be a striking position.  I paused, asked the squirrel to consider the ramifications of attacking me, which I realize is completely unreasonable, but I would like to think that he understood me on some level, and then watched him retreat at the sight of another squirrel.

So it was a good animal interaction day.  It made me think about this blog, whether or not such stories were relevant to life as a PC Fellows student at Korbel.  At first I thought ‘heck no’.  But after some consideration I remembered what a large role animals played in my Peace Corps experience in Peru.  I wrote a number of blog posts down there solely devoted to animals, so why not here.  I’m attaching to this post one of my more popular Peruvian animal posts from Feb. 2007.  It’s about donkeys and written in the first person.  It’s the only of its kind that I wrote, though I have later posts about experiences with bulls, coral snakes, dogs, parrots, monkeys, jungle birds and various insects.  While my time spent with random animals has greatly decreased since my move to Denver, I do also have some stories of animal encounters in RMNP and the Frasier Valley, both of which are close by, making this post COMPLETELY relevant to being a PC Fellows at Korbel.  I hope you enjoy.

PAZ

Feb 2007 – The Donkey Post – Nanchoc, Peru

I have decided that in order to share certain things about life in Peru (as I see it anyway) that I am going to have to write a few posts in the ‘first person’ form of the things I am writing about.

This will be the first of a few… or maybe not, who is to tell really?

Hi.  I am a donkey.  I live in Peru.  I am typical of most donkeys in Peru.  There really isn’t anything special about me at all.  I belong to a Peruvian family and I help them with farm work, transportation, moving things, hard labor in general.  I stand about 4 feet high and I am somewhat malnourished, so you can kind of see my ribs and I have coarse hair.  When I am working, I am ‘driven’ by one of my masters.  Generally, I am carrying a bunch of stuff and they walk beside me.  I walk generally at the same pace as the people do.  They hit me with sticks and yell things (or whisper things loudly) at me that, while this is a Spanish speaking country, I am pretty sure don’t actually mean anything in any other language.  Therefore, I am often confused as to what they are trying to tell me to do, and I subsequently do the wrong thing.  At this point, I am generally smacked with a stick, a length of rope, a large palm leaf or whatever else might be in a masters hand.

Sometimes, people ride me.  I am outfitted with a ‘saddle’ of sorts, but it is made of wood and has a triangle structure.  This saddle is actually just to make mounting ‘non people’ things on me easier.  When people ride me, they sit behind the wooden saddle thing.  My saddle has that normal strap that goes under me to hold it on.  It also has another strap that goes across my butt, under my tail, making it a very difficult and messy process to poop.  As this strap doesn’t serve any ‘weight bearing’ function, I am convinced that people just like to mess up the natural order and flow of my gastro intestinal system.

When I am not working, I am generally tied to something.  I enjoy this time of day the most.  I just stand there.  Sometimes I am fed.  I like to eat grass, shrubs, bamboo shoots and palm fronds.  I am generally not tied up near any source of water, I do not know how I do not die of dehydration.  Sometimes, I am not tied up on purpose.  There are a plethora of places to tie me up, just sometimes that is not what the people want to do with me.  When I am not tied up, the people tie a long stick under my neck, making it impossible for me to get my head through fences and into crops, where my mouth might play a game with the crops that I like to call “eating real food”.  Sometimes, when I am not tied up, I will wander and find another donkey to look at, or just stand with.  Sometimes we will run, but we will not run alone, only in groups.  We can actually run very fast, although no human is ever going to get me to run for work.  I like running when I have a long stick tied to my neck, as this makes me a lethal and dumb animal.

One other thing I do all the time is bray.  I am very good at it, as I practice all the time.  Braying generally consists of me breathing really hard in and out until my nasal cavities and neck muscles tighten up enough for me to produce a loud and awkward and meaningless horn sound through my mouth and nose.  I bray for about a minute or two, then I grumble for a bit before I continue standing there.  I like to bray whenever I remember that I can bray, which can be literally anytime.  I also sleep standing up, generally tied to something.  So, may not sound like much to you, but I am a donkey, and that is my life in Peru.

“Is world peace possible in this world as we know it?”

Hana recently (in my delayed sense of time) ended a really great post with the above question.  It’s a question I haven’t asked myself in a long time, though I suppose it’s often hiding behind the things I do and read and see.  I suppose that in a sense that is one of the underlying issues those in the realm of international development (and studies) are constantly addressing, though maybe not always so forthright.  My peers are more likely asking ‘is social justice possible in x country’, ‘is there a more equitable and favorable method for defining trade agreements between y & z?’ or ‘ how do we tackle sanitation issues in a post-disaster area more efficiently?’.. the list goes on.  I haven’t heard anyone posit the general world peace question.  But it’s there.  Constantly.  Underlying the issues we approach theoretically in class and hope to solve literally in the future.

I studied a lot of the theoretical aspects of development in undergrad and when asked later what I had majored in would often reply ‘problem solving’.  In retrospect I should have more accurately answered ‘problem thinking’, as I hadn’t solved to many tangible issues by the time I graduated, unless you count figuring out which wall to tear down in the basement so my brother and I could install a poker table AND a full bar.  Peace Corps changed that.  Peace Corps gave me the opportunity to put the ideas and theories I had been working with to think about solving problems to work with a real community, with real issues and visions of what they wanted out of life.  Realizing some of those goals with my friends and community partners in Peru was a trying, long learning and amazing experience.  Now it’s time to step it up.   That’s where Korbel comes in.  I feel I am constantly pushed to think in a more tangible manner about the topics and issues we take on in the classroom.  The real world at Korbel isn’t some outside concept professors talk about with a nostalgic or bitter tone, it’s where we are, all around us, ready to be influenced by us.  We don’t just talk about how we plan to change things, we talk about how we are trying to change things.  The bar is set high here, and it’s the students that set it.  We seem to be prone to overcommitment and a lack of sleep, but this student body is one of the most inspiring group of individuals I have seen in a long time.

I think Joseph Kennedy put it quite succinctly while serving as ambassador to England in 1938, with the threat of World War II looming over Europe, “I am one of those who dare to hope we shall be able to solve the difficulties of the present”.  We all hope for peace, justice, ethics, love and people just doing the right things.  Some are just more inclined to get out there and do what they can to make a difference by being the difference.  It’s nice to be in a place with so many movers and shakers, so many who dare to tackle seemingly insurmountable tasks.

World peace…  No one has figured it out yet.  Here, that is no reason to stop trying.

It’s a wonderful time to be living in Denver.  This is my first spring in the state and it has thus far been quite agreeable.  As I gander outside from my desk all I can see is blue skies, sunshine and the back of the Pioneer restaurant.  Granted, we still get hit by the occasional mini-blizzard, like the 8 or so inches we got last Tuesday, but that’s the price one pays for having great skiing so close by.

This quarter has started off without a hitch.  I ended last quarter neck deep in stress and obligations but I came out triumphant, my posted grades far surpassing what I was expecting to get.  I blame that work load and stress for the lack of posting for the past few weeks.  That, and I was out of town a bit for spring break, getting a head start on my summer tan, swimming each morning off cabbage beach and abiding to a strict vacation diet of cracked conch, guava and sky juice.  Before heading down to the islands, I spent the weekend in Silverthorne with some of my old Peace Corps friends for our first mini-reunion.  I went snowshoeing  for the first time, which was basically hiking in the snow, but still awesome, ate too much food, soaked in hot tubs and gave excellent financial advice to Lila, the 2nd baby to occur within my PC group, who is also the cutest kid I have ever seen, hands down.

So now I’m back in Denver and already 10% done with the spring quarter.  I have decided in the last few weeks to not attempt to graduate from this program in one year and instead enjoy life while taking a sane amount of credits each quarter.  I am only registered in three classes now.  International Project Management, Statistics III and Managerial Finance.  Each class is primarily based on large projects as opposed to exams, two of those projects are group projects.  I’m not really a fan of group projects in academic settings, but I figure, if I can successfully complete them here in grad school, it will make similar projects done in professional settings in the future that much easier.  Some profs swear by group projects, though they claim that the group projects in their classes are ‘just like’ experiences we will have in the ‘real world’.  I often wonder if these profs have ever really been to grad school themselves, or they realize a majority of us grad students are already familiar with ‘the real world’.  Anyhow, let the last statements not take away from my overall opinion that the program I am in at DU is they best program for me and undoubtedly one of the top in the US.

I am excited about this quarter, with the lighter work load, I can actually have more of that Denver social life I so looked forward to before moving out here.  Baseball season is fast approaching and the famously amazing weather here is finally in line with playing outdoors on a constant basis…

I’m actually gonna go outside right now, later thugs.

I just got back from the weekly Peace Corp Community happy hour.  It is supposed to be a time to relax, chat, imbibe and forget about what assignments you may have due for a small while.  That time was short-lived tonight as Hana and I divvied out responsibilities for the fast approaching Peace Corp Week activities and then I had to run back home to prepare myself for two group project meetings tomorrow.  Thankfully, as short as the quarter seems and as much as they load on you in ten weeks, it is only 10 weeks.  And none of us would be here if we didn’t thrive under pressure and deadlines, searching for that sweet afterglow of success in which to bask in.

I’m off to complete my work, or at least make a noticeable dent in it.  I will update more in the coming weeks and I even have plans to color this blog up with photos and other fun and extravagant things.  So stay tuned, and be well!