Weird hobbies add balance to grad school

I just spent two and a half weeks in a dissertation bootcamp. We wrote individually, but within a community of practice in which we discussed strategies for sustained writing success. I’ve found that, despite all the challenges I’ve faced, as most grad students do, weird hobbies with a strong sense of community have helped keep me sane.

Dead Music Capital Band - photo by Book of Honk

Dead Music Capital Band – photo by Book of Honk

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On winning and losing in academia

“It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”
― Grantland Rice

When playing roller derby, my feelings of success are often not directly tied to the final score. If I played well with my team, if we communicated and implemented strategy, I feel great even when we lose. Conversely, if I couldn’t put my body where it needed to be on the track, or if I couldn’t get through the pack as a jammer, I feel like rubbish even if my team won.

Weirdly, I experienced both of these scenarios recently in my academic life.

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Trans issues

Recently, I’ve been thinking about dissertation topics in a more concrete way. Right now I’m thinking about examining the effect of drama-based instruction techniques in undergraduate foreign language courses on students’ transcultural competence, that is, their abilities to function across cultures. Specifically, I’d like to focus on students’ abilities to recognize their perspective from within their own cultural membership and to open themselves to the perspectives of people from cultures different than their own. While this may never result in complete understanding, empathy is an important trait of social interaction.

But I’ve also been thinking of another trans lately: transgender.

Ferran Esteve/ Flickr Creative Commons

Ferran Esteve/ Flickr Creative Commons


First, let’s talk terminology. To be transgender means that a person’s gender identity is different than the identity assigned at birth. Sexuality and anatomy are different issues. Gender/transgender refers to culture: social behaviors, identity and perceptions.

There was a Time Magazine cover recently titled “The Transgender Tipping Point: America’s next civil rights frontier”.  While the story by Katy Steinmetz was a balanced mix of background information, statistics, and stories about the experiences of a few diverse individuals, I found the most interesting quote to be a detail in parentheses: “(This article will use the names, nouns and pronouns preferred by individuals, in accordance with TIME’s style)”. That’s an important linguistic decision that shows respect and normalcy.

I too want to tell stories of three transgender women from my perspective as an outsider, a cis female. I offered to change their names to protect their privacy, but all three of these women gave me their explicit permission to use their real names. I like this, as I can write in greater detail without having to change their stories to protect their identities. Also, their willingness and relative nonchalance about being open indicates something good about the current state of US society.

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Buzzing with research ideas and grad school support

Last year, I kinda fought my way through grad school. While I had supportive professors and colleagues, I felt like the last frames of this by the end of spring 2013.

Now I feel like I’m on the verge of something, like in an old school video game, when you’ve built up all your energy and you can do a special move. Now, I just have to figure out the button combinations to unleash a research fireball. Luckily, I have a great deal of support on this quest.

Photo from Wiki Commons

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How grad school is like roller derby

I’m finishing out my first year as a PhD student in Foreign Language Education at the University of Texas at Austin. It’s been a wild ride so far, and I’ve come to realize that my grad school experience in the US is actually a lot like roller derby. I’ll briefly explain and let my alter ego, Culture Shock Her, illustrate.

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Why Austin

This is where I am today.

Grad school is hard this semester. Every time I finish a task, it’s on to the next one. Example: Today I had a two-hour statistics midterm. Now it’s time to focus on a literature review on L2 writing, due Monday. When that’s done, I have a paper on diversity to write for my teaching seminar on Tuesday. And then there’s the telecollaboration and presentation on cultural aspects of compliments in German vs. English on Wednesday. Etc. etc. etc. Wah wah wah. And that’s not even considering my teaching load.

My drama-free roller derby team has had drama. Maybe it’s all a misunderstanding. But now I see people hurting each other unintentionally and intentionally, and that sucks. I don’t take sides, but I am exhausted from trying to understand and explain everyone’s perspectives.

House buiding has been buerocratic and slow. It took a full 4 weeks for our land to be surveyed. The next step is to figure out where to put the house on the lot. That’s complicated because of the steep slope. Everything is complicated because of the steep slope.

But I’m still glad to be in Austin.

This is the only city I’ve lived in that would respond to North Korean nuclear bomb threats with brilliant parody. And while it’s still winter in Germany, we’ve already had lake days and sunburns. Sigh… I wish I could have spring break back.


Closing 2012 in the right state of mind

“Be glad of life because it gives you the chance to love, to work, to play, and to look up at the stars.” – Henry Van Dyke

Yesterday, I had lunch with Betsy, aka Scoldilocks. She is my first Austin roller derby friend. Starting in January, she used to pick me up for practices. Betsy lived in China for 8 years and works as an intercultural trainer, so we had lots to talk about. I came to enjoy our carpool chats as much as practices. In the summer, we both got busy, and our travel schedules didn’t line up, so we stopped carpooling. Now that my semester is over and I’m winding down, I’ve been more reflective about the big picture. So catching up with Betsy made me realize how amazing this year has been. Continue reading

Don’t get injured until Sept. 1: thoughts on health insurance

Today, I played roller derby, a full contact sport. That’s me on the left, playing the “jammer” position. Jammers are basically moving targets for the opposing team.

TXRG Rec League scrimmage at the Millenium Youth Entertainment Complex, photo by Peter Voyvodic

My main goal today was to avoid injury. This is because my University of Texas health insurance kicks in starting next week. Continue reading