Just thought I'd give you a quick update on how it's going with the whole VEGuary thing. Not surprisingly, a lot more UPEACE people joined this than OcSober. I guess most people are more attached to their ethanol than their sarcoplasmic proteins. A good couple of handful of my fellow students decided to give up eating animals for 29 days, and mostly it has been going quite well. We have enjoyed the support of each other but also of the array of already-vegetarians. At a University for Peace, you can probably imagine that there are quite a lot (another similarity with CISV).
Thanks to Stephy's introduction (see previous post), I have personally gotten through the first 3 weeks without any scarring on my soul or physical symptoms. I've been tired at times, but that's not new. I've eaten more cheese (I bought six kinds (parmesan, cottage, cream, Gouda, fresh Costa Rican and Danish blue) at the supermarket one day in early February) but not extreme amounts. I don't know if I've lost weight but if so, not a lot.
The hardest thing has been the raised consciousness. As I don't have any (known) allergies, I usually eat whatever and spice it up with whatever. Now I can't. I can't add beef or chicken stock to the food, and I have not tasted my beloved nuoc mam (fish sauce) for three weeks!!! I haven't even opened my glass of Omega-3 fish oil capsules. And of course, there's the constant saying no to stuff. I haven't faced serious dilemmas like some of my co-Veguarians have, like host families cooking steaks specifically for them or being at an all-meat Latin American barbecue, but as this is my first time trying this, 'without meat' feels even more strange coming out of my mouth than into it.
On the school front, I just finished two weeks in the company of the knowledgeable, sympathetic and witty Gerald Caplan, one of the world's leading scholars in genocides. The topic was the media's role in the Rwandan genocide. I didn't know much about the 100 days in 1994 where between 500,000 and 1,000,000 Tutsi and Tutsi sympathisers were butchered, mutilated, raped, and displaced before, but I know a lot more now. Even if the whole story is so complicated that not even Gerald Caplan knows anything near everything (which he openly admits).
These weeks, I have a course with our Head of Department, French professor Victoria Fontan. She's a very interesting personality with a deeply sarcastic tone and generally a very pessimistic view of world politics on every level. Kind of refreshing, actually. The course is called 'Media, Terrorism and Insurgency', and I'm sure that all the students are now (if not before) on the CIA/Facebook watchlist after sharing questions about the readings on our course Facebook group (which include the communication strategy of Hezbollah and a collection of speeches by Osama bin Laden). Good times.
Oh, finally: In an hour I have a Skype "date" with a guy from CARE Denmark's office in Hanoi. We have been talking about an internship to finish my MA, and communication for a Danish NGO in Vietnam would not be bad. Tonight is just about sharing information about the programme and myself. I'll let you know how it goes.
I promised you an introduction to the tasks and challenges I have this semester. One of the most immediate ones is VEGuary. Just like OcSober (click the category on the right for more posts on that), I got a great idea of abstaining from something for a month, found a great name, and found out that someone else had thought of exactly the same. So VEGuary is a vegetarian February. I have personally chosen the ovo-lacto-vegetarian way (so I get to keep eggs and dairy), others choose pescatarian.
And again, it's not about proving anything to anyone else, it's just to try it out for myself. That a bunch of people have joined in (e.g. on Facebook) only adds motivation. Tonight, a good group of UPEACErs went to a bar/restaurant called Henry's and had a great serving of Buffalo wings and BBQ ribs - with some drinks to wash it all down - to say goodbye to meat for the next month. (Yes, February is the shortest month of the year, but it's still a leap year.)
Let's see how that goes. After doing OcSober I feel quite confident that this should be doable. My wonderful friend Stephy from Bolivia gave a great presentation on the pitfalls and recommendations for a healthy vegetarian (or the next step: Stephytarian) lifestyle.
The other challenges are mostly professional and academic. This week is class-free for me, but I have a relatively short paper due on Sunday, and otherwise I'm working on two rather large projects for school.
To end my MA programme in Media, Peace and Conflict Studies (MPCS), I can do either a thesis or a 4-month internship. Right now I think I want to do an internship in order to get a foot in the door of a relevant organisation or media somewhere. So I'm spreading seeds around the Middle East and Vietnam. Let me know if you have contacts.
Another thing I have to complete for MPCS is a so-called practicum. This is some sort of relevant practical project (not an internship) that is worth 3 UPEACE credits (equivalent to one of our 3-week courses). My idea right now is to combine my work experience with my interest (and a pinch of lazyness) and develop a goal-oriented social media strategy for an institution I'm getting to know better and better: The UN mandated University for Peace. Yup, my own school.
They already have a Facebook page and several groups and a quite active Twitter account, all of which are growing steadily. But with some strategic considerations and a guideline, UPEACE's work with and results from use of social media could get a lot better.
Also, I want to take advantage of a nice little TV studio we have at school. I'm thinking about starting an online TV channel (probably using Vimeo) for UPEACE with little interviews, special lectures, promotional videos, etc.
Both of these things are supervised by my supercool professor, Julia. She's German and young, so she's strict, professional and understanding.
I will update you on my adventures in Vegetarianism. Expect an exhausted and perhaps cranky next post.
So far (2½ days in), it's going well. Friday was my last night of drinking which I celebrated by first drinking a lot of Nicaraguan rum at a bar with my wonderful co-students from the Media programme (MPCS), then going to an Asian party at my friends' house which has been dubbed 'The Party House'. Before Friday I was wondering how it would be to drink until midnight and then stop. As it turns out, I fell asleep on an extra bed at 11:30 pm so I never found out.
On Saturday I went to the mall with the 'party house' crew. Got a haircut. Bought a T-shirt. Then went to a large supermarket where I almost accepted free samples of both wine and whisky. Close call.
In the evening, Diego from Ecuador (who not only is joining me for OcSober but is also a fellow CISV'er) and I tried out a Costa Rican non-alcoholic beer (or malt-based beverage, as they call it) called Kaiser. We got used to it pretty quickly and had a nice long night with a little bunch of people playing games in David's poolhouse and trying to stay quiet so his landlady wouldn't get mad.
On Sunday, Maj organised a triple-surprise party for three of our co-students who are born not on the same date, but on the same day. It became extremely chaotic for several reasons: Maj organised it for Saskia originally and didn't know about Elizabeth and Waan's birthdays being the same day. Then she expanded it to Elizabeth, but Elizabeth already knew about Saskia's surprise, just not that it was for her, too. Through an intricate web of deception, chaos and choir practice, we eventually managed to let Saskia see the birthday sign before we yelled surprise, and Saskia opened the door for Elizabeth and then closed it on her again while Elizabeth was saying happy birthday to her. We ended up having a very good time, and the Danish traditional cake-persons that Maj baked were a big hit.
Today, it's now almost 2 pm and I haven't gotten out of bed. This week is off for the MPCS class and I'm going to spend a good chunk of it not doing anything productive. The plan is to go and see sea turtles lay eggs in Tortuguero next weekend.
Had Kaisers on Sunday too - starting to like them. Thinking about bringing them to school next week and doing a non-alcoholic beer-bong at lunch, just for the hell of it.
A lot of things have happened since I last posted. The most recent dramatic development was a death on campus. The head of the Environmental Peace Department, Dr. Mahmoud Hamid, sadly passed away from a sudden heart attack during class on Tuesday. The entire university was shocked, and the class he was teaching are still trying to figure out what to do until the next class starts. I personally didn't know him, but many of the staff, faculty and students are very sad these days.
More cheerful events have also happened. Last weekend I went on a 3-day trip to the lazy reggae-loving beach town of Cahuita on the Caribbean coast with three great guys: Tito from Barcelona, César from Mexico City and Gregorio from upstate New York. Here's a picture of the four of us at our hostel:
Generally we just had a nice relaxing time. Spent some time in the pool and at the beach, had some amazing chorizos and seafood, met up with other UPEACErs in town and just relaxed. I was supposed to do some reading for school but that never happened.
School's been really good. The Media, Peace and Conflict Studies programme is now in its first real course, Media In Conflict - Introduction. Our teacher is Álvaro Sierra, a Colombian journalist and academic who has lived in and reported from many different countries and conflict zones around the globe. Today he is the editor of Semana, Colombia's main newsweekly. He's very knowledgeable and a very nice guy even though our readings are sometimes unrealistically long.
This past weekend I went away again, but only for about 24 hours. My Belgian/U.S. friend Saskia's family has an apartment in a gated community near Tárcoles by the beach on the Pacific coast, and she kindly invited four of us (my Costa Rican roomie Álvaro, Norwegian/Polish Dobrawa, Elizabeth from Wisconsin and me) to come visit her. It was wonderful to relax in an air-conditioned apartment with an out-of-this-world view, three bathrooms, a coffee-maker with built-in grinder and several swimming pools. On the way to the place we stopped at a bridge to spot crocodiles - here's a pic I took over Dobrawa's shoulder:
Today I tried to give a little lunchtime session on the privacy settings in Facebook. Out of almost 200 students, 5 turned up but they were good students. I think I'll host one again soon and try to promote it a bit better.
Until next time, pura vida.
When I don't post here for a while, you should generally take it as a sign that I'm keeping myself busy with school and socialising. As is the case now. Went to a party last night at a very cool place near the university where they have a hot tub and a pool, and a bunch of us went in. Great party - I came home at 5 this morning.
This weekend is not about fun, though. To round up the last three weeks' Foundation Course, I have to write my first academic paper. It's only a 2,000 words essay but I'm still a bit intimidated. Haven't written essays in English since I studied at Concordia in 2008. It'll probably be fine, though.
Next week we start our actual MA programme. As you may know, I'm in the Media, Peace and Conflict Studies (MPCS) programme, and I'm glad that we are starting now. The first course is aptly named "The Role of the Media in Conflict - Prevention and Peace Building - Introduction". Thursday is the national day of Costa Rica, though, so we hope to get a four-day weekend. That may open up for some travelling, perhaps to the beach?
My father should be glad to hear that I play sports at least twice a week. On Mondays there's volleyball, and on Fridays, Ultimate Frisbee is becoming a big thing. I brought a disc and helped start it up, and people are loving it - such a fun sport. If it catches on, I might try to get it started in the local community (inspired by my first club, Hanoi Ultimate Club) as a way to let the local youth mix informally with all the international people from UPEACE.
Oh, and I moved. Love my new place. I can walk to town, my roomies are cool, and I started cooking much more and having friends over for dinner. Maybe I'll bake something tomorrow. Not having to choose between water pressure and hot water is great. I feel so clean now.
Some of you may have seen my Facebook status: "... just sent an application to the UN." The UN has a programme called Young Professionals Programme, and I applied for a position in Public Information. If they like my experience and application, I will take a test at UPEACE in December and perhaps qualify.
Last thing; I made a group presentation on a conflict (mining in Costa Rica) with a great group of people. We used Prezi to make it, and you can see the Prezi itself here (without comments).
My Year in Costa Rica
I'm studying an MA programme (Media, Peace and Conflict Studies) at the UN mandated University for Peace in Costa Rica 2011-12. This blog is about my experiences here, in and out of school.