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Day in the Life

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)

If I haven't been awakened by the roosters already, my alarm gets me up about 6:30. I used to get up closer to 6:00 and go jogging with Ali twice a week, but I've gotten lazy and its getting to cold for me to jog. If it was sunny the day before, there's the chance of warm water for a bath. Sometimes when it hasn't gotten too cold the night before, we both get a bath. Otherwise, we've fallen into a more or less alternating day schedule on hygiene.

Then I get to making breakfast. Usually I grate a couple of potatoes and make myself hashbrowns topped with an egg, overeasy, and pour a cup of tea or coffee. Once in a while I'll break out oatmeal or make porridge with maize-meal.

After breakfast I rifle through the stack of clothes that seems to perpetually reside on the second bed in my room and find something I've only worn a couple of times. (When laundry has to be done by hand, it gets done less often.) I slip on the $3.00 watch I bought on the street in Maseru into my pocket. (I quickly discovered why it cost me $3.00-the band fell off the second day I had it and it gains about 5 minutes every week or two.)

At about 7:30 or 7:45 I make the three minute trek to school and get my desk in the staff room in order before assembly at 8:00. Assembly is the daily gathering of all the students and teachers in the main hall for the recitation of the rosary, the national anthem (in three part harmony) a Bible reading, a Sesotho hymn, and the pledge to the cross which bears a striking resemblance to the pledge of allegiance. Following assembly we all file out, the students head to their respective classrooms and we go back to the staff room until 8:25 when the first period begins. (I'll include my time table at the end). We break for tea at 10:25 and lunch at noon. The students either bring a lunch or make their own at the hostel. We teachers all go home for lunch.

At the beginning of any given class that I teach, the students all rise as soon as I enter the room. I greet the class, they greet me in unison. Then they launch into a brief prayer at the end of which I say they may be seated and class begins. Also, throughout class, whenever a student speaks, she stands at her desk.

Classes end at 3:00 pm except on Fridays, and from 3-3:30 the students have free time. At 3:30 the students go to an hour long study hall (except on Wednesdays and Fridays-Wednesdays alternate between clubs and sports during that time and Fridays everyone is done at 2:20 so people can catch the bus at 3:00 to Maseru.)

On Mondays, many of the Form B's come over to our house after study hall for silent reading. Ali and I have started a reading club where students can earn stickers, candy, and prizes for reading books from the library. Tuesday after study hall is the Form A's turn. On sports Wednesdays I spend from 3:30 to 5 coaching our own rag-tag, but very enthusiastic, soccer team. Not only am I on the esteemed sports committee, I'm the head soccer coach. It remains to be seen whether we will play a real game this year. On Thursdays from 4-5 I tutor the son of one of the nurses in physics. His name is Liteboho, pronounced dee-tay-bo-hoe, who completed high school last year but would like to try for a higher score on the Cambridge exam in November. And on Fridays Ali and I make a ritual hike to Mpontane, a village about a 25 minute walk away to buy two large, cold Castle lagers and a couple liters of Coke.

Typically we spend our evenings working on assignments cooking dinner, and reading or playing cribbage. Periodically we'll visit another teacher or have some of them over for dinner and on Mondays as soon as the generator comes on, Violet the daughter of our neighbor and colleague Me Libe (dee-bay) comes over for our weekly Sesotho lesson. Violet is a student in Form D, but she's 23 with a little girl of 4 years, named Zanele (zah-nell). She finished school, or dropped out, 6 years ago and got married. Now she's back to try to improve her Cambridge marks so she can go to college. Like her mother, she's a lot of fun and her daughter, who often visits, is quite the cute little girl.

On the weekends that we stay home, we often play kickball or basketball with the other teachers and students. The teachers really like kickball. Or we tend our small garden plot where we are attempting to grow pumpkin, beans, peas, cabbage, garlic, radishes, and carrots. The soil's not so good and we don't weed enough, but we've had successes here and there. Before all the peaches disappeared with the onset of autumn, we would spend a lot of time peeling peaches so we could can and dry them. We're now the proud owners of 6 jars of canned peaches and innumerable dried peach slices.

The generator usually kicks off about 9:30 and we are left in darkness save the little light we get from our candles and paraffin lamp, so I'm often in bed before 10:00. And if I'm lucky, the cows and dogs and ducks and chickens that roam all over will choose to make their nightly racket somewhere besides right outside my window and I'll get an unheard of in my college days 9 hours of sleep.

So I'm constantly staying busy, but enjoying the simplicity of things here. Its nice to look at the night sky when there are no lights for 50 miles and its nice to buy milk from a neighbor when its still warm from the cow.

Well this has turned more into a week in the life of Ian Besse, so I'll stop here. Hope this gives you a better idea of when life is like for me these days. Much love from Lesotho.

  Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
7:45         E Physics
8:25 B3 English E Physics B3 Lit A1 English B3 Lit
9:05 B3 Lit B3 English B2 English   B2 English
9:45 B2 Lit B3 English A1 English B3 English  
10:40 A1 English     B2 Lit  
11:20 A1 English A1 English      
1:00     B3 English E Physics A1 English
1:40   B2 English B3 English E Physics B2 Lit
2:20 B2 English B2 English   B2 English Early Out


Preparing Seniors For the Transition Out of Grinnell

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)

Helping Seniors With the Transition Out of Grinnell

This is an example of a pro-active advising strategy. The simple act of sending an email communication such as this can send many direct and indirect messages to your advisees. First, it provides straight-forward, factual information about things seniors should be pursuing in their final semester or year at Grinnell in order to be prepared for life after graduation in May. Second, it sends a less-than-subtle message that you, as their adviser, believe that this kind of planning is important, and that the tools to do this while they're still an enrolled student are readily available to them. This allows students to rise to their new (rather frightening) obligations to look beyond Grinnell to the life they must create for themselves.

Keep in mind that, for the first time, these students' next steps in life aren't a matter of applying to a few (or a dozen) places and one will pan out. Prior to this time in their life, determining next steps has been relatively straight-forward; but now every opportunity (and yet no concrete opportunities) seem possible. This very fact can be daunting for so many students that they put off the crucial steps they must take.

Below is an example of an email you might consider sending to your senior majors.

From: Karla Erickson, Sociology

Subject: Post-Grinnell Planning and Preparation

Dear Sociology Seniors---

I am writing to you because you are either my advisee or are someone I have worked with extensively over your four years here. I am writing to offer support, encouragement, and if needed, a nudge in moving toward your post-Grinnell plans. Below I outline some resources that are available to you and some "best practices" as I think of them, for making the transition from Grinnell to the next step in your life and career deliberately and with intention. Feel free to share this with other seniors not included in this email. The ideas below represent my views only about recommendations for a rewarding search. I know that this is an anxiety-producing transition, but it can also be a fabulous experience, both in the transitioning itself, but also in the planning and taking control of your future. I hope it will be so for all of you. Here are some ideas:

1) Treat your post-Grinnell preparation like a course. Set up a series of deadlines for yourself, and tasks, assignments and goals to be completed. Approach it with the same focus and discipline you would a course for which you are graded, ultimately this is substantially more important than a grade. Tasks to include will be big and small:revise resume, develop credential file, conduct informational interviews with people in the field, search databases, prepare applications, use alumni network to make connections and identify opportunities, talk to family, talk to recent grads, meet with CDO, spend time researching in the CDO, library and online, meet with profs, meet with other seniors. . . And the list goes on.

2) Maybe you do not want to decide right away. Maybe you want the summer "off" with a less demanding job to figure out what to do with yourself next year. That is fine and can be a necessary step for many people. However, what is not fine is failing to make use of the resources that are available to you now that will be much more difficult to access from wherever you make your post-Grinnell home. So whether you aim to have this all figured out by April or early in 2008, there are some skills you need to exercise, and resources you need to make use of now, before you graduate. I have included examples below from the most recent campus memo, these opportunities tend to be ongoing, and so you should plan to do most of them at some point in this semester. Treat this process as an exploration, not only goal oriented, but educational. If by conducting this search you learn several things you do not want to do, that is just as useful as learning what you do want to do, so keep an open mind. Never, ever will programs like those listed below be made available to you in your life after Grinnell, you will have to do this work largely alone, and that takes a lot more effort, so do some of it now while you have infrastructure and institutional support near at hand.

3) Think broadly. Undergraduate majors are not determinative of your future, there are very few avenues that you have foreclosed by choosing to be a sociology major. You may already know that you don't have what it takes to be an opera singer, but beyond that, there are still many interesting possibilities that lay before you that are not immediately connected to Sociology, but will still use analytical and intellectual tools that you have been developing. 4) Start talking to people. The biggest mistake I see seniors make is that they get quiet, and hold in fear and anxiety and that then builds. Contact recent grads about their advice for someone in your position, spend time at the CDO, use the files outside my office (Soc files) to browse, if not for specific opportunities, then just to think about a range of possible futures. I don't know how many of you attended Professor Johanna Meehan's convo 2 weeks ago, but I would agree with her that in this search, you are not looking for the one right answer, you are exploring the connections between your self, your skills and the sorts of opportunities that exist. I think you are looking to develop not a plan A, B and C, but rather a working list of possibilities to which you are open and curious.

5) Talk with each other. You are not competing directly with each other for these possible futures, so you might as well pool resources, share strategies and help each other through.

6) That's all for now, but feel free to sign up to see me or contact me by email if none of the times on my schedule are a possibility for you. Know that if you work with me through this process, I will want you to do some of the things on this list, but I will be an enthusiastic supporter of wherever the process takes you! Call on your other professors, coaches, and staff too - this search need not be bound by discipline. And finally, one of the invaluable, and it really is impossible to put a price on it, of a Grinnell education is that you are forever embedded in a network of Grinnell students who have come before you and, it turns out, are doing pretty amazing stuff with their post-Grinnell lives. Even if it is challenging for you to use networks, networks are what get people into positions, for better or worse, and as networks go, the Grinnell network is one you can feel confident and proud to make use of, so please do not let that resource go to waste. 

The Evolution of Language

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)

Carmen Valentin, newly tenured in Grinnell's Spanish department, also has scholarly and personal interests on two continents -- in her case, Europe and North America. A native of Spain, she received B.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Hispanic philology at the University of Valladolid, and cut her teeth as an instructor by teaching the university's courses in Spanish for foreign students.

That she received her doctorate in philology -- the study of the origins of language -- would suggest Valentin came into her area of study through a passion for the nuts and bolts of Spanish. She agrees readily. However, the path she has taken into a deeper understanding of Spanish has led through poetry.

More specifically, she has studied poetry and commentary in Aljamia, a system of writing the Sephardic Jews of the Iberian Peninsula began using during the Middle Ages to write Spanish using the Hebrew alphabet. The Sephardim kept this tradition alive in the new settlements they established in the Ottoman Empire after they were expelled from Spain by an edict of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1492.

"The Ottoman Empire was tolerant of other people who worshiped differently, and their communities were permitted to keep their traditions and culture intact," Valentin says. "This included the use of Aljamia."

This formerly Spanish community of Jews continued to use their Middle-Ages Spanish, which then began to evolve linguistically along different lines from the language of Spain -- hence Valentin's interest as a philologist.

"The literary texts the Judeo-Spanish created are the best tool scholars have today to study the evolution of the language," she says. "After their expulsion from the Iberian Peninsula, the Sephardim wrote a literature exclusively in Hebrew, reserving Aljamia for mere translations of the Bible, prayer books, treatises on morality, and collections of precepts. We know of only a few Aljamia texts from the 16th century that have no biblical content. The language is barely different from the Spanish spoken at that time in Spain. The 18th century really marks the time when the Sephardim start writing original works in Judeo-Spanish."

Valentin first began to look at a group of poems called coplas and a body of rabbinical commentary called the Me'am Lo'ez. These texts provided a window through which she could look at how Spanish changed under the extreme pressures of exile and encirclement by the dominant Ottoman culture. For her dissertation, Valentin transliterated -- that is, systematically converted Hebrew characters into corresponding Latin characters -- those coplas that had moral content.

"The coplas are the first original poetic expression in Judeo-Spanish, (and) the Me'am Lo'ez is the first narrative," Valentin says. "Both were born to help the rabbis teach the Judaic religious foundations to Jews who could not understand sacred readings written in Hebrew, such as Midrash and Talmud."

It was a wide open area when she began. Almost no other scholar of Spanish had been interested in either the Judeo-Spanish exiles or the body of literature they had produced. Part of the problem lay with the peculiarities of Aljamia itself: the texts, since they were written using Hebrew letters, were mostly ignored by scholars who, though they might have been experts on the Spanish language, mostly could not read Hebrew.

"This has been one of the unknown parts of Hispanic literature," Valentin says. She was fortunate in her mentors. She was introduced to Jacob Hassan, one of the foremost Spanish scholars in the world, who took her under his wing and taught her transliteration.

Though Valentin's field of study has gotten more crowded of late, that's fine with her. She's moved on from the coplas and into uncharted territory again, studying gender and language in Sephardic drama, examining women's representation in these works.

She finds Grinnell the perfect place to do such exacting work: safe, quiet, relaxed -- something she and her husband, Santi, who is an architect, value for themselves and their son Sergio, who's nearly 5 -- and with diligent students who're likely to be interested in more than acing that day's quiz on declension.

"At Grinnell I've learned that what the students were expecting of me as a professor was that I not only be the person who taught them the material, but also that I be a person who could talk to them outside of class," she says. "Really, that was not my experience in Spain. Many of the students here are willing to be challenged. They're motivated, willing to accept risks, and they attach more importance to what they are learning than just getting a good grade.

Following the Connections

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)

Shuchi Kapila believes that English is an academic discipline that is anything but merely academic.

"By the time I got to university, the study of English had become a cutting-edge discipline," she says. "I felt that in studying English I would be doing something to change the world of ideas."

Kapila, who grew up in Chandrigarh and New Delhi, came of age intellectually and academically during a time of foment in Indian society, when the roles of women and questions of class were being re-examined from bottom to top.

"The best work in developing world feminism to date came out during the '80s, when I was in college," she says. "It brought together language, ideology, and the law, and the place of women really opened up in these debates. And there was a strong belief that the theoretical skills you acquired by studying English could be used to study the body of culture. I could see that the ideas I was learning about were going to go somewhere."

Kapila received a B.A. in English at the University of New Delhi, in preparation -- as she thought at the time -- for a career in journalism. She even took the exams necessary to winning an internship with theTimes of India.

"They called and said, '"Well, we're waiting for you to come down and do an interview,'" she says. "And I found I just didn't want to." Instead, she went on to complete an M.A. and M.Phil. in English at New Delhi, then became a lecturer at Miranda House, which she refers to as "India's Smith." It was the education she received from her colleagues there, as much as anything else, which confirmed her in her choice of profession.

"There were some amazing women on the faculty there who were reading theory and feminism and making all these wonderful connections," she says. "I remember in particular one Woman's Day, when I was in Calcutta, there was a scholar at Jadavpur -- a Shakespeare scholar -- who went to this park and addressed a crowd of women workers in Bengali, on the history of the women's rights movements from Victorian England to the present day. She was doing all her scholarly work on Shakespeare in English and then she was able to go to a park and do her speech in Bengali, and I formed the idea then that this was the type of versatility that I would like to develop."

Kapila concluded that developing the skills to help her realize this ambition would require her to leave India. She sent out her applications and ultimately decided to do her Ph.D. work at Cornell University.

"It seemed like it would be an adventure," she says. "I'd be able to work with people who'd done all this interesting theoretical work, and be away from my family for the first time -- truly afloat and independent. I thought I'd certainly go back after five years."

But life, as has been famously observed, is what happens when you're making other plans. While at Cornell, she met another Indian grad student, Shankar Subramaniam, a mechanical engineer whom she eventually married and with whom she had daughter Shivani, now 3-1/2 years old. And while she was undergoing changes abroad, change was continuing apace at home.

"I went back in the middle of my Ph.D. work and tried to find a job," she says. "But the university system is changing rapidly in India, and I had been away from it for a while. Here in the U.S., I was in the pipeline; I went on the job market, and after a few years I found a position at Kenyon."

Kapila found she loved teaching at a liberal arts college. However, as so often happens with academic couples, there was nothing close by for her husband. They kept their eyes open and finally a pair of positions opened in relative proximity: a slot for her at Grinnell, a slot for him at Iowa State University. Grinnell's status as one of Kenyon's peer institutions made the move an easy one, at least in concept.

"The reasons I got into the study of English are also the reasons I'm happy as a teacher at a liberal arts school," she says. "What's most exciting for me is when I'm able to talk about these connections and produce a moment in the classroom when everyone is able to see how language and social movements are implicated in each other. When I teach post-colonial literature here, I'm always talking about culture, politics, society, literature and difference -- as in how we structure our world."

Kapila's scholarship is one more extension of this life spent connecting things together -- continents, peoples, histories, languages, and literatures. Her main project now is to finish the manuscript for Educating Seeta: Family Romances of British India.

In more concrete and personal terms, Kapila's interest in various enclaves of people -- religious groups, racially distinct groups, gender, classes, caste -- and their interactions, positive and negative, is leading her to study the literature of the Indian partition, which emerged out of the political convulsion that severed the subcontinent from the British empire, creating India and Pakistan in the process. Kapila's mother's family was displaced during a the forced resettlement of Hindus and Muslims during this period, which cost around a million people their lives in what amounted to a bilateral genocide. Her grandparents arrived in New Delhi after having been displaced from what is now Pakistan, arriving penniless, and with little children in tow.

"The body of literature that has come out of the partition is large, and since the '80s and '90s, even more has been coming out," she says. "It's almost as if after 50 years, people feel comfortable talking about the major trauma of the subcontinent."

Kapila sees her changed status at Grinnell and changes in the world arena as helping her to press on, 17 years after she left India.

"What's made me happy recently is that, after a very long time, with globalization, the links and possibilities of travel and collaboration are greater," she says. "If it's possible to keep my feet planted on two continents, that's what I want to do."

Continuing in the Family Business

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)


For Erik Simpson, English is more than a discipline; it's the family business.

He grew up in Olean, N.Y., the son of an English professor at St. Bonaventure University. His mother, too, is in academe, running the learning center at the local community college. His parents met -- as did he and his wife, Carolyn -- in an English graduate program. Simpson's father teaches the British Romantics; so does he.

That said, Simpson stresses that he never felt any pressure to walk the same path his parents walked. Quite the opposite, in fact.

"My parents encouraged me to explore other options so that I didn't go into English thoughtlessly," he says. "There's no question, however, that my upbringing made it easy to imagine life as a teacher, and that my parents knew how to give me books that would interest and challenge me."

Simpson says his decision to study British Romantics arose from "a fluke" rather than parental influence.

"When I went to the University of Virginia to do my undergraduate work, Jerome McGann, a titan of Romantic studies, had just redesigned the introductory course in English," he says. "To see how it worked, he taught a section of it my first semester; the rest were taught by graduate students he was supervising. When my father heard that McGann was teaching one of the sections, he told me that was the one to take. It was a magnificent course. At the end of that semester, I declared my English major with McGann."

Simpson says he considered other options along the way -- physics, law, music, consulting, computer programming -- but always circled back to English again. But though it's third on this list of other vocational possibilities, music has always been more than a passing fancy for him. He is, as was his father before him, a serious jazz saxophonist, and while he was an undergraduate at UVA, he was known first as a musician -- playing in Virginia's jazz band and working with musicians such as Joe Henderson, Clark Terry, Bob Moses, and "some of the guys from the Dave Matthews Band, which was then playing in Charlottesville most Tuesday nights for a $5 cover."

When he moved on to do graduate work at the University of Pennsylvania, music had to take a back seat to his studies.

"I have never again played music regularly," Simpson says. "I still love playing when I find the time and opportunity, as I occasionally do in Grinnell."

No surprise, then, that Simpson found a way to combine his love of music with his study of English: his dissertation topic -- literary representations of minstrels and improvisers -- when he remarked in a grad school paper that the compositional process of Byron's The Giaour had something in common with a jazz solo.

The professor suggested that I should look into what British writers were saying about improvisation in the 1810s," he says. "When I did, I discovered two things: that the language of improvisation had just entered the English language at that time, so writers were in the process of deciding what it meant; and that they largely defined improvisers as Italian figures who represented an alternative to British and Irish minstrels. Those minstrels, I discovered, were simply everywhere in the writing of the time, and in my dissertation I set out to figure out why."

Simpson is busy with a book on the idea of the mercenary in British and American literature from about 1750 to 1830. It's a project that has developed alongside another compelling project he's launched with his wife, Carolyn -- namely, their son Pete, who turned 2 in January. Simpson is quick to say that the effect on his work has been salutary.

"Academic work tends to make one feel that one should be working nearly every waking minute, and often some of the sleeping ones, too," he says. "Ours can be a guilt-driven life. Having a young child creates boundaries: if I'm at the playground or reading a book with him, I can't be grading another paper or reading another book. I can and must clear my head and pay attention to the demands and wonders of Pete's rapidly expanding world. (I don't know how many experiences can match that of watching a human mind come into language.) Contrarily, knowing that I'll be spending evenings and weekends with Pete has given me a newly intense kind of concentration during the days and nights when I'm working. I've enjoyed the clarity of this separation between my work and family time. Fatherhood has focused my professional life in many unanticipated ways."

One can't help but wonder, too, whether a third-generation English prof isn't getting his start in the family business. -- Mark Baechtel

Roberts Theatre

The Roberts Theatre semi-thrust stage, seating 450, was renovated and restored under the design of Cesar Pelli and Associates (New Haven, CT). The project was completed in 2000.

For more information about the Roberts Theatre please call the Technical Director at 641-269-3130.


Flanagan Studio Theatre

This theatre was built in recognition of Hallie Flanagan Davis's (class of 1911) work. Ms. Flanagan was national director of the Federal Theatre project, among many other wonderful commitments to the theatre world. With a catwalk and tension grid combined with flexible seating and stage arrangements, the Flanagan is our most versatile theatre. The space usually seats up to 126; however, some productions require smaller seating numbers.

Print and Drawing Study Room

Prints, drawings, and photographs in the Grinnell College extensive art-on-paper collection may be viewed and studied in the Print and Drawing Study Room which is under the auspices of the Faulconer Gallery.

The facility houses over 3000 works on paper, including: John L. and Roslyn Bakst Goldman Collection of German Expressionist Prints and graphic art by William Hogarth, Francisco Goya, Pablo Picasso, and William Kentridge as well as photographs, drawings, and examples of all types of printmaking. The Print Room is located on the lower level of Burling Library.

Call Kay Wilson, Curator of the Collection, at 641.269.3371 for more information or to make an appointment.