08 June 2011

A Few Points of Interest

In the post-birthday euphoria, I allowed the last weeks of May to slip away and now find myself in June—halfway through 2011—with a few new projects on my hands. The end of the academic year may seem an odd time for new beginnings, but timing is everything and nobody consults me. First, after several months of miring myself in the university crowd, I have finally found some young ones to brighten my days. Or rather, just one day, Wednesdays at 5:10pm. This family sought me out through a mutual contact and now employs me to play with their kids in English for a little while after school. Their ages are nine, seven, and four, and they will henceforth be called my little darlings. They are delightful and we have great fun playing games, a good break in my new schedule.

The new schedule is determined by the weightier new project: my work as a research assistant for the University of Barcelona! The professor of my course on advances in Second Language Acquisition research was looking for a couple people to help in her strain of the English Department’s communal research project on foreign language study in Catalunya. I didn’t exactly have the required level of Spanish, and certainly not the preferred level of Catalan, but I eagerly applied anyway. (Since I am still on the waiting list for the English teaching assistantship in Catalunya, I figured I better look elsewhere for a way to make ends meet next year.) And what luck! Only two of us applied for two spots! Although the professor assured me she is pleased with the selection.

I immediately started working in the fifth-story windowless assistants’ office of my university’s historic building: I like to call it the Blind Crow’s Nest. I work with four other assistants on the same team, and there are a couple others who use the office. It is quite a mix of nationalities but all women. My current projects include transcribing, or typing up with some notes what is recorded in student oral interviews; checking over other assistants’ transcriptions; organizing the transcription files based on themes in response to the question, “Was there a turning point in your learning of English? A moment when you thought oh, I got it, I can really speak this language!”; and looking through linguistics articles to see what research has been done on parents’ role in their students’ foreign language achievement. Mom, Dad, comments? This is not technically a job but rather a grant requiring twenty hours of work per week, and it will cover my basic expenses through December.

A few other things have happened since I last wrote. I attended two Rotary meetings, one with the club Les Corts where I had been before with my parents, and another with Barcelona 92. The latter is a group of about twenty, all men, and meets in the city’s premier hotel. The dinner was divine, the company better, and we were lucky enough to visit on the same day as David, a Rotary World Peace Scholar who has studied at the program centers in Japan and Australia and is currently interning with the Barcelona soccer team’s foundation working with kids and sports.

I also attended a conference called “How Terrorism Ends” at the Institute where Natalie is doing her masters in international relations. It was enlightening to say the least, with presentations by top US and European researchers working on de-radicalization programs (to change how terrorists think) and disengagement initiatives (to change the terrorist tactics they use), with several case studies on Hamas in Palestine, the IRA in Northern Ireland, and ETA here in Spain. I could go on and on about what I learned, but for now the one point I want to make is that the assassination of Osama bin Laden is likely not a deadly blow to Al-Qaeda, which like most terrorist groups is organized more like a web than a pyramid. “Decapitation” is just one debatable way of ending a group’s terrorist actions.

And that’s the news from Barcelona—but wait! Before I sign off, a correction: I have just gotten news that I was accepted into the Teaching Assistant Program and placed in Catalunya. What a stroke of luck! It makes me want to buy a lottery ticket!