Tropical Tribulations, Final Episode: Small Fieldwork, Grand Finale.

*** I just wrote a lengthy, thought-out post, then accidentally clicked on a link, and when I came back I had lost it all. I have no energy to write it again. Thanks, WordPress, for saying you have an auto-save function that doesn’t actually work. Aaaaaaarg. At least it’s not my thesis. Hm. Below is the part I didn’t loose. Co-Bloggers: please hit “save draft” more often than I did in the past two hours…***

24082014732When I arrived in Brazil, one big question lay over the country: would it be enough for the “Hexa”? The sixth title? Here, at home, with the world watching?

It was not to be. The World Cup – which some considered a flawed enterprise anyway – came and went, at lightning speed, as did the Summer. At the end, as I left the country, footballs still flew high in Brazil – as the picture shows – but new hopes had come to decorate the streets. On the school wall, the talk is of “luz”, “esperanca”, “respeito” and “abracos” (light, hope, respect, and hugs); and although the “Hexa” is still visible, somebody has since sprayed a new dream over the old one: “amor por favor” (love please).

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Tropical Tribulations, Episode 3: Time on Fieldwork Flies – but Brazil Flies Higher. [français]

Les choses pourraient être pires au Brésil...

Les choses pourraient être pires au Brésil…

Les dernières semaines n’ont, au niveau planétaire, pas exactement été joyeuses. Entre Gaza, la Syrie, l’Irak, le Soudan du Sud, et l’Ebola, on s’en retrouve à ne pas vouloir allumer les nouvelles. Mais, caché derrière les flash-infos sur avions perdus et terres débattues, il y aussi du bon! Des développements, souvent invisibles de par leur lenteur, mais qui redonnent un peu d’espoir dans un monde dont on entend si souvent qu’il se désintègre. Pour les déprimé(e)s des nouvelles, et autres curieux, donc: un regard vers le Brésil.

Le Brésil – qu’est-il donc? Le pays du football, de la joie, de la fête? De la samba, du manioc, et de l’Amazone? Ou des favelas, de la corruption, et de l’inégalité? Les journaux pendant la Coupe du Monde avaient du mal à se décider, célébrant un moment les stéréotypes festifs de ce pays “accueillant”, “vivant”, et “dynamique”, avant de rappeler au lecteur que “tout n’est pas rose au Brésil” (ah bon?) et qu’il y a “une face cachée”, et même de la violence, de la misère, voyons-même, de l’injustice!

Le Brésil est, sans doute, un peu de tout ça, et bien plus. Mais au-delà des apparences, soient-elles négatives ou positives, ma recherche ici m’a porté à assister à l’émergence d’un nouveau Brésil, dont le changement, aidé par le haut, s’opère par le bas. Vamos lá!

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Tropical Tribulations, Episode 2: Half-Time. Fieldwork, fast and slow.

one-does-not-bbraomAccording to rumours, something of importance came to end around a week ago in Brazil. Apparently. People still talk about it in the streets. It must have been a big deal. And indeed it was: after six weeks in Recife, the first half of my time in Brazil has come and gone! (Also: the World Cup). Six weeks full of encounters, experiences and events, which yielded a pitiful two interviews so far, and the half-time conclusion that fieldwork is fun! – and slow. And, also, that things rarely go according to plan, which, as it turns out, is usually all for the better. Tales, then, of winding paths – and of another kind of couchsurfing.

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Tropical Tribulations, Episode 1: “First Steps”. Qui a dit que le Brésil était chaud, cher, et carnivore?

Recife! (État du Pernambuco, Nord-Est du Brésil)

Recife!
(Pernambuco, Brésil)

Comment ne pas commencer un voyage: arriver à l’aéroport avec exactement 4 dollars canadiens dans les poches, pour se rendre compte que les cartes bancaires ne marchent pas au distributeur. Peut-on payer par carte de crédit au bureau de change? Non plus. De toute façon, celles-ci ne marcheraient peut-être même pas, faute d’avoir prévenu la banque du voyage… et je ne sais pas exactement où je dors ce soir. Excellent début.

Les premiers moments en nouveau territoire présentent toujours leur difficultés, qu’une bonne organisation ne peut pas toujours prévenir (sauf – voir ci-dessus). Comment fonctionnent les bus, les banques, la vie? Où vivre, avec qui, à quel prix? Quand jouer le touriste, en prenant son temps pour découvrir les lieux, quand jouer le troubadour, en prenant sa bière pour découvrir les gens, et quand se retirer pour travailler, afin de démarrer la recherche sur les chapeaux de roues? Tant de choix, d’opportunités, et de dilemmes dans ces premiers jours – jours au cours desquels, jonglant entre rêves et réalités, trêves et activités, et fèves [le feijão!] et festivités, j’ai découvert que le Brésil n’était ni si cher, ni si chaud, ni encore si carnivore qu’on ne le raconte. Récit d’un début de voyage.

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Tropical Tribulations, “Pilot Episode”: Airport Ponderings

indexBack in January, I wrote one of my first posts for this blog – titled “Un novo ano, um novo desafio” [a new year, a new challenge] – about how I wanted to start learning Portuguese. Why? Because I was then planning to conduct fieldwork in Brazil, in the Summer of 2014.

Things since then have come a long way. And so have I, since I appear to be sitting in departure Terminal D of Miami Airport, whose walls are plastered with the above banner. For it has come to be! After a Fall semester spent poking in the dark (topic-wise), and a Winter semester full of Portuguese audio-CDs, vocabulary lists (thanks, Anki!), proposal writing, ethics reviews, funding applications, and other shenanigans, I am indeed going to Recife, capital of the Northeastern Brazilian state of Pernambuco, for three months of fieldwork, on a topic I won’t bore readers with (just yet).

That my fieldwork coincides with the World Cup is, obviiiouslyyyy, sheer coincidence. Bit like a Black Swan. But still: for all those who were worried that this blog would not contain live-reports from “Copa” games, worry no more. I will try to regularly post updates “from the field(work)”, about travel, research, and futebol. But first, boarding calls. Next step, this:

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ps: for those remaining in (beautiful) Montréal, PGSS will be screening many Copa games at Thompson House.

Go Habs… Go!!! An evening (and not just any) at the Bell Centre.

Tuesday. May 28th. 14:12 minutes into the 2nd period, 21,273 go silent. It is the fifth game in the NHL Eastern Conference Final, and the Montréal Canadiens are up against the New York Rangers. In this 14th minute of the second period of the fifth game, the Rangers have tied the game (again), back from trailing 4-1. The Bell Centre is less than amused. And for a moment, the fear – that fear – is back. The fear that the Habs will not, after all, make it tonight. If the Rangers win, the Habs go home – or rather stay home.

"So how do they etch the symbols into the ice?" ...

“So how do they etch the symbols into the ice?” …

 But they didn’t.

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AÉCSUM, Politique Étudiante et Conseil Généraux – Mémoires d’un Représentant

La démocratie en mouvement... assise.

La démocratie en mouvement… assise.
(photo: McGill Daily)

Un autre mois qui passe à McGill, un autre conseil général de l’AÉCSUM. L’AÉCSUM (mieux connue sou son nom anglais, PGSS) est l’Association Étudiante des Cycles Supérieurs de l’Université McGill. Je reviens tout juste de son conseil général, qui regroupe les représentants de toutes les Associations des Étudiants Gradués (AEGs) des diverses discipline, et qui – en tant que plus haute instance de l’organisation – est chargé de toutes les décisions importantes (et de celles qui ne le sont pas, aussi…). Après deux années passées en tant que représentant de mon AEG (Sciences Politiques), ce soir aura été mon dernier conseil. Ci-joint, donc, quelques réflexions vis-à-vis de la politique étudiante à McGill, de l’AÉCSUM, et de mon temps passé en contact avec ces éléments.

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“Don’t let your degree get in the way of your education” …

The MOC House!

The MOC House!

Hidden McGill gems, part 2: after cooking with the Midnight Kitchen a few weeks ago and reporting about it on this blog, I want to bring up another great group on campus: the McGill Outdoors Club (MOC). As its name suggests, the Outdoors Club is an all-purpose sports/travel/adventure club which serves as a hub for outdoor activities of all kinds. What’s not to love?

And yet, having known of the MOC for two years, I had, until recently, never done anything with it. Not, mind you, for lack of opportunities: their mailing list, which I’ve been on since I’m at McGill, witnesses emails every day from people proposing trips and offering shared rides for anything from skiing at Mont Tremblant to trekking in up-state New York (or just building snowmen on McGill’s lower fields). I was even an MOC member last year, but no – no trip, no outdoors, no adventure; it was always for “next time”, when I would have fewer things on. But not this time! After one and a half years at McGill, it was time to stop “letting my degree getting into the way of my education” – the MOC’s motto, incidentally. And – *spoiler* – it was fantastic.

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Food for Everybody! Cooking with the Midnight Kitchen

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The Midnight Kitchen in Action

One of the better-kept secrets among graduate students on campus is the Midnight Kitchen. The Kitchen – also known simply as ‘MK’ – is a non-profit organization that provides a free, balanced and complete vegan lunch to students, every day of the week, every semester, since 2002. Whilst it is quite famous among undergraduates – partly because it operates out of their SSMU building (3600 McTavish) – it is somewhat less well-known among graduates, although it’s always been open to them, too. Either way, I wanted to take a look behind the curtains, and so I decided to join the MK team for a morning, to cook it up for the around 250 hungry students – grads and undergrads alike – that were, like every day, to be expected for lunch!

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Wouldn’t it be great to work and not be paid for it? The dilemma with unpaid internships.

Internship.Flickr.JeffHoward

Does that mean you should or should not take the position?
Image credit: Jeff Howard

McGill’s Institute for the Study of International Development recently organised the “Young Professionals in Development Forum“, which invited speakers to talk about how they got to where they are in their careers. One thing that inevitably came up were internships. After the event, I heard a student approach one of the speakers to enquire about whether they felt one should take a “good” internship even if it was unpaid. The answer went something roughly like this:

Aaah… this is a tough one. Ideally, you’d want a paid internship, right? But there aren’t that many out there. So yeah, taking an unpaid internship – it’s sort of inevitable. I know it’s not great, but if you can do it, I would not forego the opportunity.”

A fair answer, perhaps, but not one everybody would agree with: in Why You Should Never Have Taken That Prestigious Internship, Al-Jazeera columnist Sarah Kendzior vehemently criticises unpaid internships:

“In one generation, working for free for people who can pay you went from something laughable, to something wealthy people were doing in a few fields, to something everyone was recommended to do, to something almost everyone has to do.”

Unpaid internships are a salient issue for many students, and any number of my graduate friends have done one of them, including, well, myself. Should we “never have taken that prestigious internship”?

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Qu’en est-il du français à McGill? Un aperçu.

Le drapeau français avant qu’il soit remplacé par la Tricolore après la Révolution. D’éventuelles ressemblances au drapeau du Québec sont entièrement fortuites.
Source: rgbstock.com

Je m’étais, alors que je commençai à écrire pour ce blog, promis d’écrire un “post” sur deux en français. Cette ambition se fondait sur une double motivation: d’abord, celle de faire justice à une audience forcément diverse, souvent bilingue, et en partie francophone. Ensuite, je souhaitais renouer avec la rédaction du français, qui s’est faite rare au cours d’années passées à poursuivre des études en anglais.

Malheureusement, la deuxième motivation a rapidement eu raison de la première, et pas dans le sens désiré: dur de se forcer à écrire en français alors que l’on passe ses journées à lire et à rédiger en anglais. Mon ambition s’est donc bien vite estompée, et mes “posts” ont, jusqu’à ce jour, tous été en anglais. Mais il n’est jamais trop tard! – d’autant plus que Guillaume vient de publier son premier post en français, ce qui m’a encouragé à renouer avec mon ancienne promesse. Mais le français – parlons-en, justement. Qu’en est-il du français à McGill? Est-il pratiqué? Quelle est sa place, de droit et d’usage? Questions linguistiques, questions culturelles, questions politiques même (ou surtout!?) – ci-dessous, un aperçu, forcément personnel.

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Styles of teaching: a typology of teaching assistants based on the TV series “Scrubs”

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Characters from the show “Scrubs”.
Creative Commons, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scrubs_%28TV_series%29

This week they start again: “conferences”, which, in the Arts Faculty lingo, refer to smaller classes that give undergraduates the opportunity to discuss course readings and assignments. These conferences are led by teaching assistants, usually graduate students from the relevant faculty, who guide discussions and answer questions.

Conferences can be pretty demanding, and how TAs cope with the vagaries of teaching life varies. Having been a TA for a while, I have come to realise (imagine?) that the various “types” of TAs around match the wide variety of characters that the relatively famous (and brilliant!) American medical comedy series “Scrubs” puts on display. The series’ characters are all odd in their own ways, much like us TAs, and all get to teach doctors more junior than them, a task they carry out in a variety of styles. So, want to know what kind of TA you are (or have in front of you)? Read on for an introduction to the staff of the hospital! (pardon: the university).

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Um novo ano, um novo desafio! Or: how to learn languages for cheap in Montreal.

Which language will it be?
Image from rgbstock.com

Two days ago, Kristina wrote a great post, reviewing both her year just past, and the one to come, all in an upbeat and confident mood. And, Kristina, you wished us all that the year “be filled with dreams come true” – thank you for the good wishes, and may your year turn out as you intend to, too!

Speaking of dreams, though, here’s a personal one for 2014: if all works out well, this will be the year I learn Brazilian Portuguese, for the sake of my thesis (on Brazil), for related travel plans, and for the general fun of it. But how does one get started with such a project? The paths and possibilities towards new linguistic skills can be bewildering, and they took me some time to sort through before I even said my first word in Portuguese. I’ve since found my way, however, and thus proudly present the clumsily titled “2014 starter’s kit to learning languages for cheap in Montreal” – with my very own special recommendation at the end.

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How this Grad Life Blog is useful for Grad Life (but doesn’t solve all problems)

GRAPH 1Some weeks ago, Guillaume wrote a nice post about the challenges and puzzles that grading can bring up. Amongst his many good points, he noted that a grade is a fairly reductive, one-dimensional assessment of the many dimensions along which the quality of an assignment can vary. I absolutely agree, and it’s made me re-think how I grade a little.

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When things get a little crazeative

What happens when the temperature drops, and the stress rises? When there is not enough time to make it home from campus for a shower during exam period? When fun and relaxation seem to be restricted to rare moments of spare time?

Things get crazeative! See for yourself:

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What do you mean you don’t understand my Halloween costume?

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Photo Credits: Sean Anderson

Halloween has just come and gone, and like every year, the question on everybody’s mind is: so, who had the best costume? And like every year, the answer is the same: clearly, I did.

Do let me explain.

First, sure, yes, I admit, mine was far from the best (I saw some pretty amazing ones, actually), but if I wanted to show you all the other great ones I’d have to track down a whole lot of people for the authorisation to post their pictures, so I’ll stick to myself here (and since this is my first post, I guess this serves as an introduction, too).

There’s basically two ways to a good costume: the Heidi Klum way, which takes a lot of money and time, and the student way, which can usually afford neither. As a consequence, concept and commitment become the yardsticks of greatness. (more…)

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