Saturday, August 30, 2008

Dust to Dust (A little dose of sentimentality upon graduating)

Here’s a little piece I jotted down in my notebook back in June and forgot to put online. I feel it’s appropriate again what with everyone leaving or having left for college.

So, I just graduated. And I feel like I should have something really deep to say about myself, high school, “the long strange trip.” But there is really only one image sticking in my head. Towards Christmas of 7th grade, Mr. Corsello and Ms. Cazeau told our class at the end of an assembly in the Marshall Center that they had presents for us. And then they handed us all these pencils with Class of 2008 emblazoned on them.

Finally, from that far-off assembly in December of 2002, we’ve come here. From the dozens of elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, home schools, we became one. It only lasted ever so long, until now. Now, we disperse like dust in the wind (apologies to Kansas the band) to so many colleges, universities and other ventures. We came together, congealed I think is the right word, from our many different beginnings and now we move on to our many different paths in life. We were one only for so long, through one of Alex Stepheson’s thunderous dunks back in sophomore year, or the amazing run our football team made junior year. But even that, the “we were one” is oversimplifying it greatly. There were fractions and fissures, love hate and drama enough to fill a reality show with Flava Flav.

But none of that really matters. We grew up together. We found out a little bit of who we were going to. Together. And I think that’s enough. That’s enough “one-ness” to overcome any fraction, fissure or even the San Andreas fault.

And I’m pretty sure I enjoyed it. So thank you Class of 2008. Abbott to Mia Zee, wherever you are, thank you. And good luck to you all.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Who Wants a Healthier Life?

This post is an old column from February 2006, my sophomore year. It didn't end up making the Chronicle. I was going through the old files in my computer to try to find writing samples for Projects Abroad and I stumbled across this again. Pretty funny that 3 years later, I'll end up doing a lot of what I mentioned here. I hadn't thought of this column in forever and honestly even when I thought about cattle ranching in Australia through WWOOF (the organic farming program), I didn't give a thought to this column. So enjoy.

Who Wants a Healthier Life?
By David A. Alpert
February 2006

I sat in my Algebra Two classroom as my teacher waxed poetic about next year’s course options and the rest of our lives. “Some of you aren’t cut out for calculus next year. That’s ok. I didn’t take calculus until college, and look how I turned out.”

My mind began to wander. I thought about how I aspired to move back onto the honors track, aspirations that were partly instilled in me by my parents.

“You might want to go to a great college. Your parents might want you to go to a great college.” I snapped to attention.

“But you can go to a good college.” he continued, emphasizing good. “You can do well there and have a better life. You can have a healthier life.”

Who among us wants that healthier life? The sophomores and juniors turned in their schedules for next year, a few weeks ago after careful analysis of the curriculum guide. Most students ambitiously piled on as many AP and honors classes as (super)humanly possible.

I am guilty of the same charge. Next year, I will take higher level classes in subjects that barely interest me.

We are told from our first days at Harvard- Westlake to expect big things of ourselves. We are taught to stretch ourselves to a previously unheard of limit, break through that limit, and set a new one. This way of thought brings to mind the school motto. Possunt quia posse videntur. They can because they think they can.

Even as I was filling out my schedule, with both school motto and future firmly planted in mind, I could not push my math teacher’s words out of my head. A healthier life. The challenges that lie in our future, next year and beyond. There must be some balance between stressful, late-night lab reports and the completely unperturbed mind. Can there not be some sort of promised land where the two can co-exist?

As I reflected more on my math teacher’s advice, I thought back to a dinner table conversation I had had with my parents a few nights previous. They had won an all-expense-paid trip for two to Australia at a dinner party raffle, earlier that month. However, the trip would be centered on cattle ranching, something that did not appeal to my mother.

I sensed an opportunity and jumped at it, offering to take my mother’s place. I may not be the most rugged outdoorsman, but I thought it would make for an interesting experience, and a great chance to see Australia.

As more details filtered out, it was revealed that the trip was to be taken next May. Immediately my excitement dissipated. I knew I could not go. May 2007 would also be when my first AP exams would be held, and valuable time for early finals studying. I remarked to my parents how unhealthy it seemed to me that after being presented with this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, my mind quickly jumped to the tests that did away with the chance.

Instead of experiencing life on the free and open range, and spending my days equipped with a horse and lasso as I simultaneously racked up bruises and experience, I will spend next May locked in my room equipped with textbooks and a number two pencil. Considering the path I’m choosing, I lack the authority to give any advice on the issue, but I feel I must anyways. While the guy next to you is daydreaming about which Pre-Calculus course to take, dare to be the one who daydreams about rough Australian cattle and the cuts and bruises they induced. After all, isn’t the occasional cut healthier in the long run?

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Finally! Another gap year update

So it's been far too long since I've last written about Jaime's and my plans for the gap year and quite a bit has changed. When I last wrote, Argentina was still in the cards. Due to the price of adding another flight and program and time constraints, it no longer is part of the gap year. There is a small chance that I'll go to South America with my family at the end of my gap year, but we'll see if that works out. But while we were still planning on going to Argentina, in doing some research Jaime found a great program called Projects Abroad.

It's an internship program with the most independence of anything we'll be doing. So we both almost immediately agreed to substitue it in for Cross-Cultural Soultions (CCS) China. So instead of doing more international volunteering in Xi'an, we'll be interning in Shanghai for two months. I had my heart set on interning in a law firm, but there was the small matter that in order to actually be able to place interns in a law firm they had to be currently enrolled in law school. I called the program and they said they make exceptions for interns in college, and despite my feeble protests there was no budging.

So instead, I'll be doing journalism which I'm still pretty excited about. Projects Abroad seems to lack a lot of the handholding of CCS, which can be good and bad. I think we placed it in the perfect spot at the end of the year as we become more and more independent. According to the testimonials I solicited from past participants, Proj Abroad staff pretty much shows you to your apartment, or flat as they all called it, shows you how to get to your work and gives you some spending money for food for the month. I'll be in Shanghai, which incidentally I was surprised to learn is more populous than Beijing, from April 1st to June 1st at which point I'll head home. Jaime will head home earlier, May 23rd I believe, to get to a cousin's wedding at Stanford.

To backtrack a bit, the first part of the second half of the gap year has been set as well. Flights have even been booked as of a couple days ago! So now to take this in the proper order, we depart Jan. 17th for Sydney, Australia. We'll be there for 5 weeks (until Feb. 22) organic farming with Worldwide/ Willing Workers on Organic Farms (WWOOF for short). We then fly out of Sydney to Auckland, New Zealand to try our hand at some more organic farming until March 27th. The 28th will have us in Jogjakarta, Indonesia for the wedding of a different one of Jaime's cousins. We'll stay there until March 31st when we head to Shanghai for Projects Abroad.

So now for a bit more detail about this WWOOF planning. Jaime bought a copy of the Australian WWOOF book and I bought the NZ one. The book serves as proof of our one year membership and has to be presented upon arrival at any and every organic farm to prove our identities. The NZ one comes with insurance, while Aus seems to have some sort of universal health care. (Jaime investigated a different insurance option that he'll be doing in Aus and he's giving me the details on it and I may choose to use it as well. CCS and Proj Abroad both come with insurance).

The WWOOF books list all the organic farms willing to host volunteer workers in exchange for room and board for that year with details about each farm written by their owners along with ways to contact them. Jaime went through the Auckland region of the NZ WWOOF book and picked out farms he liked. I narrowed that group down to 9 farms and that needs to be narrowed down further. Each farm ranges in the minimum stays required, some only a handful of days, others a few weeks. The highlights of the 9 farms include a farm run by Italian emigrants who also own and run an Italian cooking school. Learning how to cook Italian isn't what one necessarily pictures when thinking of organic farming, but this gap year is all about a wide variety of experiences!

Jaime and I are also intrigued by working on a vineyard, and I am taken with doing some sort of cattle ranching and working with traditional farm animals like chickens, sheep and cows. I think Jaime wants to really stretch himself and go to one of the rural, undeveloped farms with pit toilets and no running water. I'm not sure how I feel about that. It seems interesting to experience for a couple days, but I don't think I'd like to spend a few weeks there. I'd like to stay closer to the bigger cities. Jaime and I plan to meet in the next week to discuss it all further. We leave for Camp Harmony, a community service camp for homeless and transitionally-housed kids, on Monday and we'll be there for about a week.

We leave for Russia in about 6 1/2 weeks on Sept. 27. I got my Russian visa a couple months ago in my passport which is pretty cool! I'll be in Yaroslavl from (9/27 to 11/15) and Cape Town (from 11/16-12/27) with CCS. All the details are hammered out for that first half except for a place to stay in Cape Town from 11/16 to 11/22. We may choose to stay in a hostel, but I'd prefer to stay with someone who knows the area and could show us around a little bit. Of course a full week is quite the burden, so if anyone knows anyone who'd be willing to host us for a couple days, I'd love to hear about it! Finally, prayers go out to Georgia, its people and the Russian and Georgian armies.