things i did today

Yous might have wondered where I've been. Or not. Let's pretend yous did. In the past couple of weeks, I've become (once again) homeless, faced numerous (and ongoing) crises and, after living off various friends for two weeks, I'm now safely set up in a dorm room in one of our nation's most prestigious universities. As we were told repeatedly at today's "Dinner reception", it's got the top-ranked programmes in most fields--both graduate and undergrad--and especially in security studies.*

Since I'm supposed to be preparing my presentation (tomorrow--yes, this is how us folks spend our weekends) right now, let me procrastinate and give you a few high (low?) lights:

The Good:

- Talking about Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia and even England/Wales with people who are from there or going to university there.

- The admittance by BigNameTerrorismScholar (who happens to head this uni's security studies programme) that he has no idea what goes on in Malaysia and him turning out to be a rather nice, friendly bloke.

- The Dean of said department turning out to be this elderly man who was dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt and then apologised for his gear.

- Actually having a place to stay in for a week. Really, not enough can be said about this. Said place is a dorm room, with internet access and opposite the loo. Perfect.

It's rather amusing though that this seems to be the blokes' only floor (apparently such things are common here--we used to have co-ed floors and bathrooms) so most of us (who weren't told this) spent a lot of minutes yesterday trying to find the "women's" toilets. Unsurprisingly, they didn't exist. A few of my fellow participants actually apparently didn't go to the loo or went to the lobby's toilet since they weren't sure if they could go into the men's.

- Listening to a speaker detail her job which involved staying in IDP camps in Northern Uganda and trying to persuade a "fanatical rebel leader" that, really, he should give up his arms and, ideally, stop raping women and recruiting children.

The odd:

- Having designated tables at the first night's dinner. The tables turned out to be arranged according to (or so we were told) "region". I ended up in a table with students from Malaysia (going to uni in Australia), Indonesia (going to uni in Malaysia), Pakistan (going to uni in London), and India (going to Aberystwyth in Wales!) and the US (studying "South Asia"). The logic of selection was quite weird since none of us were doing anything similar but we all happened to be from (or, in the case of the only non-Asian girl there, studying) "Asia".

Worked out quite well I guess since I've spent most of today hanging out with these same people.

- Realising that the people who have name cards and ask questions during the sessions are usually a) American and b) from American universities.

- Being told, repeatedly, that "as women" we shouldn't "play the boys' game". Also, that "when walking into a room, walk as though you're the boss even if you may not be all that sure about what you're doing or saying."

- Realising the utterly American-centric and policy-oriented nature of the programme so far (and wondering what this says about "women in security"). Talks about jobs invariably become talks about how to get a job in an American think tank or the government (not so much academia), examples about foreign policy and democracy invariably lead to discussions about America** and talks about "leadership" were about "believing in oneself" and being aware that "what I do is right and good"***. I did point out that belief was a fat lot of good if one didn't have opportunities and choices to actually work on making that belief work out (yes, I usually don't make sense).

- One speaker equating "progressive" with "being Western in outlook" as in "We have been working with women in the Afghani parliament. Some are very conservative but others are very progressive, Western in outlook". Said speaker was from a RatherFamous Think Tank here in Washington.

- The experience of being in the city where I've lived for the past four years and, yet, feeling like a stranger as I'm living off a backpack and sat in a dorm room, with people from other parts of the country/world and being involved in sessions from 8am (yes, we have people talking at us during breakfast and lunch!) to 9pm.

- Oh, yes, and the (eerie?) similarities between the biographies of many of the speakers here (Army/Air Force experience, counterterrorism, think tanks, especially RAND Corporation) and at the Summer Workshop on Teaching about Terrorism that I was at least year.

* My fellow diners, from England, Indonesia and Australia, were all miffed at the "America-centric" nature of the rankings.

** The Australian participant pointed this out and added "no one else is as arsed about the US as the US". I defended the US (well, I felt I had to) by pointing out that a) this was a VeryPrestigiousUniversity which provided a lot of foreign service folks and b) we are in the capital of the free world, after all.

*** Is it ever?

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At 6/10/2007 4:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

sounds interesting enough even if not fun...at least interesting is good. anyway as you said...you have somewhere to stay :0) write me when you're done...before leaving for cali.

-- p

At 6/11/2007 11:38 PM, Blogger Priya said...

things got a lot better after this...will blog about it later (maybe from Chicago since I don't seem to have time now)


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