Tag Archives: academics


I finished grad school, and I officially have three new initials to put after my name!

Mom and Dad came out for graduation weekend.

lower legion of honor scenic vista

We saw some sights,

fun with old transit

I wore great shoes and my friends and I pretended we were at prom,

msw prom 2011

We celebrated with people who came from far and wide,

hooray for friends and family!

And the next day, we threw a party with lots of finger foods.

Menu items included:
Pioneer Woman’s bacon-wrapped jalapeno poppers
– Pioneer Woman’s hot artichoke dip (from her cookbook)
Stuffed mushrooms
White bean hummus
– Deviled eggs (Mom makes the best ones with relish and mayo)
– Bacon-wrapped smokies (self-explanatory)
– Bacon-wrapped water chestnuts (soak the chestnuts in a mixture of Worcestershire, soy sauce, and balsamic vinegar for 30 minutes before wrapping them)
Goat cheese toasts
– Caprese skewers (fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, and half a cherry tomato on a toothpick)
Pioneer Woman’s best chocolate sheet cake ever
And lots of beer.

It feels good to be done. Next step: find a job. I’ll keep you posted.


being good

Today is the third consecutive workday I have spent at my internship, and I feel great. Instead of working a day here and a day there, with class and other distractions in between, I have been able to focus. I feel more in the swing of things there than I’ve felt thus far. I saw more patients today than I have before, and among them were some of the more gravely ill patients I’ve seen. But I left work today feeling energized, not weighed down. Feeing this way made me more confident than ever that this work, medical social work, is something I really want to do. And something I’m good at.

In the last few months, I have spent a lot of time doing things I’m not used to doing, things that are new to me. Inherent to doing something new is learning to do that thing. And inherent to the process of learning is the fact that you are probably not very good at whatever you’re learning while you are learning it. And I’m not very good at not being good at things.

It’s something I’ve always known, I guess. Doing well in school has been important to me since I was very small. As an adult, I have taken much pride in excelling at my jobs and being recognized for exemplary performance. I wouldn’t say I’m a perfectionist — I don’t have to be the best, I just want to be good, better than average. You know, probably somewhere above the 90th percentile. And honestly, if I’m not good at it, if I’m not better than average at something, I don’t really want to do it. Go big or go home.

Of course, a lot of the time, thinking and feeling like this is extremely bratty. Case in point: snowboarding. When I’ve fallen hard and my butt’s in the snow and my knees hurt and my tailbone feels bruised and I still for the life of me can’t complete a good backside turn, I get so freaking frustrated. I can barely stand it. I want to scream and cry and run down the stupid mountain and quit.

Today, my field supervisor asked me if I was getting enough face-to-face time counseling clients. Now, my supervisor is an amazing therapist, and I am lucky to have the opportunity to work with and learn from her; there is no doubt I will get great training in counseling from her. But I am doing very little counseling — and I don’t think I want to do much more. I don’t think counseling is something I’m incredibly interested in. My skills are much more suited to case management, and I think I want to stick with that. And there it is: I haven’t learned any counseling skills yet. I’m not confident that I am good at it. So I don’t really want to do it.

The desire to run when things get tough is one I fight fairly often. I won’t lie — it’s my first reaction. But I’m working on it, and I haven’t actually run in a long time. So, yes, I will learn the counseling skills and then decide whether or not it’s something I’m interested in doing. And I will keep snowboarding, and eventually I will be able to do those turns. I guess I’m just saying, jeez, it’s so much easier to just stick to what you know you’re good at. Things are so scary and unpredictable when you take risks. You might find yourself — gasp — not being good at something.

“some days i don’t miss my family. / some days i do. / some days i think i’d feel better if i tried harder. / most days i know it’s not true.” –the mountain goats


My first semester of graduate school is almost over. As of today, three of my six classes are complete; I still have one paper and two exams to finish in the next week or so, but this is decidedly manageable.

After some sort of physiological and emotional breakdown this morning in my cohort seminar, I realized that I have dealt with an immense learning curve this semester. Nearly everything I am currently doing and even thinking about on a day-to-day basis is completely different from what I was doing and thinking about on a day-to-day basis six months ago. I have acquired a lot of new skills and exercised a lot of new muscles during these months. When I really think about it and look at it comprehensively, it’s quite overwhelming. But I’m pretty proud to be here.

My internship this semester is at an outpatient clinic that treats patients with chronic, debilitating diseases. I’m not writing about it here mostly for reasons of confidentiality — the stories of the people I have met are more than incredible, but I don’t think I can share them here without providing more detail than would be appropriate. Let it suffice to say that I am learning as much about social work as I am about the beauty and resilience of the human spirit, even in the face of the most dreadful adversity.

I think the most important thing I’ve realized thus far, the common thread through the various experiences, is that we all just want to feel like we’re not alone.

There are many times in this work when there is nothing I or any social worker can say or do to make the situation better. I can’t cure a disease; I can’t magically heal a family that has lost its father; I don’t have much to offer parents whose child will die an untimely death. In these instances, the only thing I can do is sit with the grief and the people it is affecting. I can make sure they are not alone in that grief. I can be present. Insignificant as it may seem, it does makes a difference — a small one at first, but it’s one that grows into the ability to cope.

The capacity and, I believe, tendency we have to raise barns together, to care for one another and to be cared for: This is what makes us human. It is essential to us. It is the only thing that will get us through. And it gives me such a profound sense of hope. We shall not walk alone.

“take my hand, we’re gonna go where we can shine.” -david gray

books books books!

I have to buy fourteen (14) textbooks for this fall semester. Yikes!!!! I know that my program is front-loaded in terms of academics — you take more credits during the first semester (14) than you do any other semester, and you spend more time in classes than you do in work practicum the first year — but still, I was not anticipating this many books!

I never really shopped around for textbooks in undergrad, but I figured I might as well check out Amazon, since I’d rather not lug 14 books home from the Cal bookstore via BART (at least it’s not on strike). Sure enough, buying them on Amazon (some new, some used from resellers) saved about $175 over buying them from the bookstore. That isn’t to say the total price is not still absurd, but as usual, it pays to do some bargain hunting.

Interestingly, I found that it was almost always cheaper to just buy the books new, which includes free shipping, than it was to buy them used from a reseller. Although the base price was generally cheaper for used books, once you add in shipping, it was equivalent or slightly higher. And you get $5 in MP3 credit for every new book you buy on Amazon, which is nice. Now I know, and so do you.

In case you’re curious, some of my riveting reading material for the next few months includes Dimensions of Social Welfare Policy, Essential Psychopathology and Its Treatment, Ethical Decisions for Social Work Practice, Dimensions in Human Behavior: The Changing Life Course, and, of course, the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. (Prepare to be diagnosed.)

Minutes Become Hours. . .

Just made pretty much the best dinner in the history of Prague. . .might have been the best dinner in the history of Megan-cooks. Eggplant, tofu, green peppers, carrots, garlic, olive oil, rice. . .I realize that I talk a lot about food in this blog. I really, really like eating, and cooking.

Tina, Laura, Megan and Bekka just left for a weekend in Berlin. Mom and Dad get here tomorrow at 8:00. It is the weekend.

Good classes on Tuesday; discussion of Kafka from Petr Bílek that made me appreciate “The Burrow” and “The Great Wall of China” more than I did upon reading them myself. Pavla took us to this shrine to the Virgin Mary at the top of Petrin Hill, near the Kolej, and we had class there, overlooking the city. She liked my paper on kitsch and a yellow submarine tattoo, but disagreed with my premise that the yellow submarine was hovno. Eh. Win some and lose some. I took myself to dinner at Country Life and ate 150kč of vegetarian, organic deliciosity, which is a lot of food at Country Life. The hot dishes are so good there, though, because they are heavy and Czech-tastic, but they have wheat pate or tofu instead of beef or ham. Can’t beat it.

We watched a really interesting documentary in Post-1989 Film Tuesday night. It was made by two FAMU students in 2004, and was one of the biggest films to come out of the CZ last year. It was called “Český sen” (“Czech Dream”). The premise was that these two guys invented a fake supermarket, did extensive advertising for it, staged this big “opening” for it, and filmed the entire process, as well as the reaction of people when they found out at the “opening” that it was fake. There was much more to it than that, but hard to describe out of context of the film. It was really, really interesting, though, and provided a good look into the culture here, the way people operate, as well as a critique of the post-communist, capitalist/consumer society, some issues surrounding joining the EU, and Czech national/self identity.

I had a really good day Wednesday. History class early, learned about Jan Hus and decided I might be a bit Hussite — all they wanted was to get back to the roots of Christianity, to avoid the ways the Church had twisted it and decontextualized it and made it modern. Quite noble, really.

Then I walked around Staré Město for a long time, eventually ending up at Ebel Cafe to read some Kafka. I walk in, a waiter with a mohawk/rattail/mullet haircut says “Dobrý den,” I respond in turn. I’m getting good at the sing-song-ey way they say it here, but I guess not good enough, because he brings me the menu in English. No big deal, I’m not offended; a girl comes to take my order and get a “long black coffee,” kind of a cross between an espresso and a brewed coffee. I’m drinking it, reading The Trial, and the waiter comes over, takes the sugar bowl to put more sugar in it, and starts babbling at me in Czech. It literally sounds like babbling to me. I don’t recognize a word, even a sound; he might as well have not been speaking the language I’ve been studying for the past 6 weeks. But I have also gotten good at the cute laugh, the “ano” and the “díky” in passing-by Czech conversations. So I did that and avoided the embarrassment of having to say, “Nemluvím Český,” or worse, speak in English. But why this contradiction of brining the English menu and then the Czech babbling? I don’t know. But I sat there for about an hour and a half, on one 50kč kava, and no one made me leave, which was nice. I forget here how much fun I have just walking around by myself, going to cafes by myself, sitting, reading, looking at things. I guess I don’t do that much here because none of my friends really like to do that much, whereas at school, that was what we did as friends. So, I need to remember how happy it makes me, how it gives me time to think and re-center and re-focus, and really enjoy this semester here.

Went to Martin Machovec’s class in the afternoon, which was enlightening as always. He read us this Egon Bondy poem from 1955 that was crazy similar to “Howl.” I stayed after class and asked him if Bondy and Ginsberg would have known each other or been familiar with each other’s work, and he went on about how they met in the 1990s in New York City, but there were no Czech translations of Beat poetry until the 1970s, and there still aren’t English translations of the Samizdat stuff. It is pretty incredible to think about the fact that these two guys were literally writing the same poetry at the same time, completely unaware that the other was doing so, unaware even of the other’s existence. If that isn’t an argument for some sort of meta-narrative of humanity, I don’t know what is.

I found out that I can take a bus from Prague to Paris and back for about $50. I can take a bus from Brussels to Prague for $20. I think I will look into these options for my break next week.

Went to Jiři’s class today, then walked through Nové Město and stopped at a cool outdoors store near Tesco. Once again, the girl working there started babbling at me in Czech, and I had no idea what she was saying, but I did the cute laugh and said “díky” and didn’t look like a fool. Then I had a great Tesco adventure — this time above the basement supermarket. I’ve been wanting to dye my hair, so I milled around the cosmetics department and found a nice mahogany color for like 80kč. Then I spent about 20 minutes in front of the shampoo/conditioner/pomade/wax/gel aisle, trying to find some kind of leave-in conditioner/styling cream. I couldn’t read much of anything on any of the labels, so I just decided on one that had hip packaging and said “krem” on the front. Then I went upstairs to get some liquid laundry detergent (instead of powder) and look for fabric softener or dryer sheets, because the dryer fried my clothes last time. I spend probably another 15 minutes there, looking at all the different detergents, finally asking a Tesco employee who pointed at one and said, “For color and white” in English. Then this mug caught my eye — it reminded me of something Grandma Marian would have had in her kitchen. It has this smiling mushroom clad in a chef’s hat, and the recipe for “houbová polévka” (mushroom soup) on the side in Czech. There is also a smiling mushroom on the inside of the cup, and little smiling mushrooms on the handle. Pretty much awesome. So I went to the AIFS office after Tesco, and asked Jana what kind of hair product I had purchased. She said the directions said to “apply a portion the size of a hazelnut” to your hair after you wash it, and not to wash it out, but to “wash your hands after using” it. Perfect.

Came home, dyed my hair (I really like it! A bit redder than I would have liked, but a nice change), and went to Laundry Kings. No hassle clothes-washing, used my new detergent and fabric softener, have a new lease on life with clean clothes.

In other news, a Czech baby smiled and laughed at me today when I waved to him at the Tram stop. Early on in life, the Czechs smile at foreigners. But it wasn’t long before his mother turned his carriage the other direction so he couldn’t see me. Something happens along the way, apparently.

After I ate my delicious stir fry tonight, I tried to go to a Bollywood movie at the Bollywood Film Festival at Kino Světozor with Brian, but by the time we got down there, it was 20 minutes in, and we didn’t want to make a scene. So we walked around a bit and ended up at Cafe Indigo in Staré Město, a place where Pavla had mentioned that Karlova students hang out. We were the only Americans there, I’d say, and we sat at a table for 20 minutes before a waiter came to us. But I had a good, cheap espresso and bábovka (vanilla cake), and the atmosphere was cool and Bohemian-ish. I’d definitely go back.

I should go to bed, so I can catch a Tram, the the Metro, then a bus at 7:00 tomorrow to go get Mom and Dad at the airport! I’m pretty much psyched out of my mind for this weekend. . .

Here’s to Amazing Czech Scholars.

Almost done with an unprecedentedly busy week.

Had lots of great classes this week. My Mondays are long, and a bit boring, with Czech History, Czech Language, and the lecture-part of my Cultural Studies class. Tuesdays are stacked, though, with Kafka and Kundera, Cultural Studies seminar, and Post-1989 Film, which I had for the first time yesterday. Wednesdays are busy now, too, with Czech History in the morning, then Kafka and Kundera, and a course on Czech Samizdat Literature that I’ve decided to audit.

Kafka and Kundera was good this week; the first time we have met for both sessions all term. Professor Bílek is awesome, very into making references to weird pop culture stuff like the Rolling Stones and James Bond. He had studied a ton of Kafka and Kundera, so he always has obscure points to pick out and elaborate on. I got to talk a bit in each class, and the comments from the class discussions are quite insightful and good.

Pavla just gets cooler and cooler. She lectured about the Frankfurt School and theories of mass culture on Monday, and we watched snippets from two films about 1950s Czechoslovakia that were quite interesting. We had our seminar on Tuesday, where I presented the John Fiske article, which went really well. It was fun to pour myself into something academic, do a good job, and have my professor be receptive to my work. She talked a lot about post-modern theory and Marxist theory in realtion to the Fiske and an article by Stuart Hall that we were working with. It is so nice to understand her references and be able to keep up with her lectures; even though I haven’t taken any “cultural studies” courses at Pitt, the English Department has really done a good job of infusing good theoretical stuff, especially in my Junior and Senior Seminars, so I feel prepared for someone as awesome as Pavla. It is definitely encouraging, especially since her class makes me want to go to grad school.

My Post-1989 Film class is going to be cool. My professor is a doctoral student, young, gorgeous, smart, a very cool chick. She talked to us a bit about the class, and then took us on a walk to the various libraries, film collections and independent cinemas around downtown Praha. One of the best things about this class, however, is the composition of students — it is about 30% American and 70% international students, from Germany, Finland, Denmark, Turkey, Bulgaria, France, Poland. . .just to name a few. It was great to talk with people during our walk and hear about their home institutions, interests, languages, etc.

For Pavla’s class this week, I read an article on the Czech Samizdat by a man named Martin Machovec, who she informed us is a professor at Charles, and is teaching a course on the Samizdat this semester for ECES students. Knowing that Pitt won’t let me take any more English courses, I emailed Dr. Machovec, told him I really liked his article, and asked if I could audit his course. He agreed, and I spend a few of the more enlightening hours of my time in Praha listening to him lecture this afternoon. He is an expert on the Czech Samizdat, and he was also a part of it, so that makes his lectures all the more engaging. He passed around a few “first editions” from his collection, a few given to him by Egon Bondy, one hand-typed and signed by Olga Havelová, Václav Havel’s first wife, one written by his father. Crazy. There is also a large number of international, non-American students in this course, so it will be enlightening to hear their input on the subject. One Polish kid was already talking a bunch about Polish and Czech history and the ways the two were intertwined during this period.

I am so impressed with people like Pavla and Dr. Machovec and Professor Bílek — they are just such intelligent, passionate professors who really love teaching and care about the subjects they are telling us about. I guess it makes sense; Charles is the best university in the CZ, and one of the best in Central Europe, if not the best. So, if you are a good scholar, you will be teaching there. And if you are a really good professor, by Charles standards, you will be teaching the international students, just to put on the school’s best face for the rest of the world. I feel very fortunate to be studying with these amazing scholars. It is also really cool because they were all part of these movements they are talking about, I guess mostly because these “historical movements” we are learning about took place really very recently. This city, this part of the world, has such rich history-history, because its civilizations go back to the 200s or whatever, but it also has such rich recent-history, because so much has happened in the past few years since the fall of Communism. I mean, Machovec’s father was a Samizdat writer, Machovec was friends with Bondy, he was involved, first-hand, in the movement. Pavla was in a 70s-80s underground punk band, again, involved in the resistance first-hand. Jan Weiner, who lives in the dorm and teaches history, was here through Fascism and Communism, and he had coffee last night with Václav Havel. It’s just really, really cool to have the opportunity to learn from these people.

I’ve been getting my Czech-culture on this week outside of school, too. Went to see Bedrich Smetana’s “Prodaná Nevěsta” (“The Bartered Bride”) at the National Theatre on Monday night, on AIFS, of course. It was a very upbeat and funny opera — I liked it a lot better than “Don Giovanni” (sorry, Mozart). It was in Czech, which made it novel, and it had all kinds of great snippets of Czech culture, like a number dedicated to Beer, “A gift from God,” a number where a bunch of women danced and crawled around like a variety of farm animals, and a very Bohemian, Moulin-Rogue-ish number with a can-can girl, a man dressed like an American Indian, some American Civil War soldiers, and a strange American flag. (I have heard that the Czechs really like the American Civil war, and they do re-enactments all the time for fun.) Again, the orchestra was fantastic. Only 6 of us from AIFS went, so we went for dessert in Malá Strana afterward — some got Cream and Dream, some of us got McFlurries from McDonald’s with Kit-Kats in them. (Shut up. I’m uber-cultural, so I get to consume some Americana sometimes. And anyway, we don’t have Kit-Kat McFlurries in the states.)

Had a good trip to Tesco on Tuesday, after they finally gave us our October stipend. I spent more than usual, but splurged on a few items like like some spices (basil and curry powder, I think, but one can never be sure), a bottle of Moravské bilé vino, and some Trader Joe’s-ish trail mix with peanuts and almonds and raisins and hazelnuts. I couldn’t bring myself to play the lunchmeat game this week. I think I’m just going to go vegetarian for the rest of my time here. The packaged meat at the store is sketchy, you’re never sure what you are getting when it comes to lunchmeat, and in restaurants, meat is more expensive than the delicious vegetarian options; I can’t remember the last time I ate meat. So I’m going to stick to beans and lentils and nuts and eggs and cheese, and see how that goes. I also realized that I probably won’t have to go to the store again before Mom and Dad get here, and the fall break. So that is pretty awesome. Time really is going fast.

I walked home briskly this morning after class, because I felt the need to exercise. I listened to Modest Mouse as I walked through Prague Castle; an interesting soundscape to accompany that neo-Gothic landscape. I stopped at this little Trafíka near the Kolej on the way back and picked up some Praha postcards to send to people. The entire exchange was in Czech, and I even understood the guy when he asked if I needed známky (stamps). I replied, “Ne, díky.”

I’ve been missing Canfield lately. It is strange; until recently I had been missing Pittsburgh pretty hardcore, just the different places I knew so well there, my hangouts, the relationship I had cultivated with the place over the last three years, my Pittsburgh. But this week, I miss Canfield — weird stuff, like White House Fruit Farm and Giant Eagle and Dairy Queen. I guess it makes sense that I would miss it. . .after all, it is home; it is the place I am more familiar with than anywhere else, it is the place that will always be there, will always be relatively the same. I am glad I am here, but I am already envisioning a triumphant return to the Mahoning Valley in mid-December.

Jut is doing a lot better in Stanford this week. It was really difficult being so far away from him when he had just moved and was having a bit of a hard time; I just felt completely helpless, and almost guilty for having been here longer and, consequently, more settled-in. But his classes are going well, and he’s immersing himself in work, which I have found to be good therapy, as well. It’s really fun to hear about him riding CalTrain to the City and sitting at Maxfield’s or in Dolores Park or biking around my old “stomping grounds,” a place so infused with memories and so fetishized. But it is exciting to think about moving out there, adding another dimension to the memories, another level to my relationship with that place, and really being an adult, and being with Jut.

My suite is empty, I’m listening to a great mix by Elise on Indie Pop Rocks, I have some lentil soup boiling, and I stopped at Paneria on my way home and picked up a houska (roll) to eat with it. I think I’m going to check out a new bar/cafe tonight with Tina and Laura, maybe try to meet some Czech people, maybe Bed, Bath & Beyond, I don’t know, I don’t know if we’ll have enough time. . .

Doktory, Scholars, Václavské

It is Wednesday, but it feels like Sunday, because we have no school in honor of St. Wenceslas Day. On this day in 929, Duke Wenceslas was killed by his brother, and then he became the patron saint of Bohemia. In 2000, the government decided today should be St. Wenceslas Feast Day, also known as Czech Statehood Day, but the year 2000 was not very long ago, and no one really seems to care about the holiday yet. So we have no school and the post offices are closed, but that’s about all.

Had a good, short week. (I say “had” because it is essentially over now.) Classes Monday were good; history, language, alternative culture. Then yesterday I had a great Kafka/Kundera course, and a fantastic second half of my alternative culture course. Pavla decided to split the class into two groups so we can go to exhibits and shows and pubs and cafes more easily, so we went for a short walk, then ended up at Ebel Cafe in Old Town. We sat around and talked, and Pavla told us about her life, highlights of which include her Fullbright at UC Santa Cruz, meeting her American husband in San Francisco, buying John Lennon’s “Imagine” on the Czechoslovakian black market in 1971, studying Robinson Jeffers in Czech, and applying postmodern theory to every day life (hence, cultural studies). She is amazing, and she made me want to be a cultural studies scholar. This might be a bad turn for me. After the cafe, we went to an art exhibit called “The Pope Smokes Dope,” which was in the basement of this really cool old building. The exhibit consisted of record albums and concert posters from the 1960s — not “rare” ones or anything, just standard Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Hendrix, Mitchell, Donovan, etc. Basically, stuff any American could find in a parent’s or uncle’s record collection. But it was put under glass, guarded by little museum-docent Czech ladies, and set up in a museum. Quite interesting. They missed all of that movement here, and now have to view its “artifacts” in a museum.

Went to the doctor on Monday, and it was quite a good experience. They took me right away, checked my vitals, did some blood test to see if I had a virus or an infection, gave me medicine, swiped my credit card, and I was out the door. The doctor was a really nice, young Czech woman, and she gave me 4 different medicines for my sinus infection — an antibiotic, 2 decongestants and a nose spray. And it all cost $175, up front. Crazy. So, I am feeling better, but still have opted not to go out yet this week.

I’ve cooked 3 nights in a row now! Made a good lentil soup on Tuesday, and some pasta last night. It is nice to buy fresh veggies and then just make some combination of them to eat each night. Protein is the difficult part, though, because meat isn’t exactly easy or cost-efficient to come by. But lentils and black beans are okay.

Sarah from Pitt is coming in to town today, and I am meeting her at the train station at 1:20. It will be fun to show her around for a few days and hear about her adventures over the past few months. I had thought about going to Budapest this weekend, but I don’t think it is going to happen. Maybe another weekend.

Not much else is new. I’ve been feeling kind of blah this week; I think a lot of people are. A lot of people are sick, and this has been an interesting period of adjustment, since school has really started, and we are all realizing that the vacation is over and now we have to live in Prague for the next 3 months. Stress about various things, travel plans for the fall break being a primary one, and just the trying-to-settle-in thing. I feel like I go in such waves, from being so excited and busy and engaged and pumped up about being here, to just feeling like, okay, let’s go to school, do what we’re supposed to do, and keep things rolling. But time is going so fast. We have been actually in Prague almost a month now.

So, I’m looking forward to a nice weekend, maybe checking out some photo exhibits or theatre productions, perhaps continuing my quest for the cafe, and doing some reading.