Sunday, May 25, 2008

Graduated, And It Feels So Good

On May 24, 2008 (that would be yesterday) I graduated from UMass Amherst. It was a long and fun four years, learning not only in the classroom but outside as well. I had the chance to make some great friends and learn a lot about life. I think back to who I was when I got to the university and who I am now. Back then I was just a green freshman, someone that my current self would laugh at and call an idiot.

In studying abroad, I gained vast amounts of knowledge in world matters and other related areas that I could go on and on about. Studying abroad gave me the confidence to go on to other ventures, like moving to Ecuador for a year in the Fall. And once again, as my senior year passed by in a blur, I've been left to wonder, where did the time go?

The Smashing Pumpkins said in a song, "Time is never time at all, and you can never ever leave, without leaving a piece of you." As much as I'd like to sit around and remember the good old days, dreaming of how much fun I used to have, I know that I need to let it go and try to get a job, to move on with my life. There are always regrets and thoughts of what else you could have done, and though reminiscing always makes everything look draped in gold, I know that there were ups and downs.

Yesterday, while waiting in the cue, for some reason I thought to myself, "It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times." Of course, that's only funny to you if you're an avid Simpsons fan and remember that lone quote from some episode I can't recall. However, the line still holds up. Dickins had a point, and though "worst" becomes "blurst", it only re-enforces that nothing is perfect. I loved being a student, and I had a great time changing and growing. But at the same time, it's frustrating and aggravating, you go through bouts of depression, and you wish you had just a little more money, if for nothing else than to buy a decent beer for once, rather than a 40 ounce of malt liquor.

So now I'm back where I started. The hometown. I went from a small town with a big college (and a couple small colleges) to a small town with nothing but proximity to Boston. Yesterday I stood among 4,000 fellow students, most of which I might never have met, yet we all shared the bond of completing school at the same time. It will probably be the only time I stand on a football field surrounded by 20,000 "fans," so I took it all in carefully. I just wish Bill Pullman would have said something along the lines of "Today, we celebrate, our commencement day!"

Today I drove back from town slowly, with nothing very important to do. With the windows rolled down, I could smell the barbecues from each house as I passed, preparing for the Memorial Day parties. Hot dogs, sausages, burgers, steaks, and everything else wafted into the car. Sometimes small towns aint so bad. And though within just a couple of weeks I'm sure I'll be itching to get out, for now, it's a welcome change from the college town scene.

And now with not much else to do, I must find myself a job. I'll leave you with these lyrics from The Beatles, which I've found pretty telling from time to time. Now that I'm in those shoes, it puts a new spin on them.

Out of college, money spent.
See no future, pay no rent.
All the money's gone, no where to go...
But oh, that magic feeling, no where to go. No where to go.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Mixed Feelings Over New Dirt

The University of Massachusetts Amherst was born in 1863. From that day and until now the university has undergone huge amounts of change. What once were only four wooden buildings has tripled into a major public university. On April 29th, the university celebrated its one hundred and forty-fifth anniversary of its founding. The “New Dirt” program helps with UMass’ future campus development.

As of now there are 407 buildings on the UMass Amherst campus. Thanks to the New Dirt program, there are five projects in process for the near future. The projects are as follows: the Central Heating Plant, the Integrated Science Building, the Recreation Center, the Skinner Nursing School Building Renovation, and the Studio Arts Building.

The Central Heating Building, which should be completed by March, 2008, will support the university with electricity. Another building (already in the making) is the Integrated Science Building, which is projected to be available for the Fall of 2008. One of the most highly anticipated new projects is the Recreation Center which will supposedly be open Spring 2009. The renovation process of Skinner Hall continues, even though the construction was said to have been completed by October, 2007. The final project, the Studio Arts Building, is now completed and classes will be held there next semester.

The New Dirt projects have come with mixed feelings on campus, but the general feeling from students is that the construction is for the good of the school and will benefit everyone in the long run. Jenna Spataro, a senior at UMass said, “ It’s going to make our campus look beautiful in the end.”

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Strike That Failed

Sitting in class one day, we suddenly heard loud noise coming from outside. Banging on garbage cans, screaming, and air horns disrupted the entire university. The teachers had expected this, and my Spanish professor, Penelope, told us it was "una huelga." After trying to figure out what she was talking about, we eventually realized it was a strike held by the janitors and sanitation workers at the university.

Universidad Pablo de Olavide reminded many of the American students studying there like Bayside High from the TV show "Saved by the Bell". The halls were remarkably similar, the classes seemed like a bit of a joke, and the general atmosphere towards education was far from the expectations of American students. Now that there was a strike going on, it only added to the hilarity and absurdity at the university in Sevilla, Spain.

We soon found out that the janitors were striking because they wanted higher wages and, apparently, more job security. Though I wasn't a Spaniard and didn't know much about their wages or what they consider job security, I sympathized with them, understanding that if you're going to strike, there must be a good reason.

To many Spaniards, the right to strike is more important than the right to vote. Something that was once unimaginable under the dictatorship of Franco, it's now a symbol of standing up for yourself and taking action. One of my teachers told me that strikes happen quite often in Spain, and in general, the public favors with the strikers. Police will actually come to the strike to make sure that you can strike without being interfered with.

Every day, every class was disrupted by protest chants and demonstrations. It was aggravating while in class, and somewhat amusing to watch while outside. It seemed somewhat pointless also. They were constantly throwing trash on the ground and flipping garbage cans, tearing down posters, and blowing air horns. With no one to pick up the mess, the campus soon became a trash-filled dump.

The novelty of it wore off pretty quickly, and after a couple of weeks, replacement janitors were brought in by the university. Every time the new janitors picked up the trash, the old ones would throw it back on the ground. It was futile and sad to watch. As the days went on the trash continued to pile up, but the shouts weren't as loud or frequent, the air horns no longer blowing. By the end of the month, the strike was seemingly dead.

The original janitors simply faded into the background. There was never an announcement that it was over, and never any explanation about what happened. But one way or another, the strikers must have taken the hint that they were no longer welcome at the school. Out of a job, they returned home and probably began looking for another job, having accomplished nothing.

What was probably a minor headline in the local newspaper eventually faded into obscurity, and as the students left at the end of the year, the teachers no longer paying attention to the janitors, no one was left to find what became of the ousted cleaning crew. Much like will happen here in the U.S., what is front page, above the fold news one day, soon disappears into the backwash of American concern within weeks, days, or even hours now, what with online journalism pushing headlines out at rapid speed.

What's the point of this? I really don't know. I have to be honest there. But I was reminded of that strike recently for some reason, and how depressing it was walking back on that campus after the noise had died down. We'd grown accustomed to the trash and protesting, so that when it was quiet enough to hear the wind rustling in the trees, it seemed like a giant sigh of sadness, a failed attempt at better conditions. A strike can take place almost anywhere in the world, and most of the time you won't even know about it. But even if it's defeated, Pinkertons or not, the fact that it happened says something. That people won't just take it lying down. That there's still a flame burning somewhere. Tom Joad would be proud.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Last Day Whaaaaa???

Yesterday was my last day of college. Last day of school in general, unless I decide to go to Grad school at some point down the line. But as of now, I have no plans of doing so. It's a weird feeling, to suddenly be done with a chapter of your life, especially when it's all you've known. Up until now, I've always been a student. Since pre-school we've been coddled and helped along the way, and now we're going to be on our own with little or no help. Everything has led up to this moment.

There's a huge difference between a poor college student and a poor guy, and it looks like that's where I'm going to be heading soon. Poor college students get breaks all the time. Free luncheons, t-shirts, and discounts match the already laid back attitude towards students. But no one really cares about a poor guy. Just another guy not making enough dough. Whether I write professionally or find another source of income, I'll most likely have to make do and live less lavishly than I was raised. I've known this all along.

Parties have already been going on for weeks, and the celebrations will be continuing up until and after graduation. Celebrating the end of education and the beginning of a career in working. It's kind of a weird transition. There's no orientation to the real world. When I'm down in Ecuador, I'll be in the real world of the 3rd World, or as it's politically correct to now say, a developing country. When I come back I'll most likely be in debt, because as a volunteer I won't make any money, and will actually have to pay to go down there. But again, I understood this going into it, and I'm looking forward to it.

I said earlier that it's the end of a chapter of my life, but if life is like a book then I should be able to come back and go over my favorite parts now and then, right? The education never has to stop. I can still take a class or two, or come back for a football game. I don't need to have an essay due in order to read a book. But still, there's nothing like a term paper due to light a fire under you.

There are many things I'll miss and other things I won't. My favorite restaurants in Amherst will be hard to replace. Bueno y Sano, possibly the best burritos on the east coast. I've been told once you go to California, east coast burritos are like Taco Bell, but I've never been, and can only continue to bow down to the Bueno.

Antonio's pizza, a little slice of (cliche alert) heaven. There's no substitute for New York style pizza, with an emphasis on Brooklyn, but Antonio's has some of the best pizza I've ever had. To the Mexicana and Chicken Bacon & Ranch, you guys rock my world!

Wings Over Amherst. What can I say? The quickest delivery service on Earth. No matter how many times you tell me it will be 30 minutes, I know that as soon as I hang up the phone there's gonna be a knock on the door. And honey-barbecue sauce to make Texans shed a tear.

And my more recent friend, House of Teriyake. HOT has some incredible sushi and the spicy chicken is out of this world. And, it's BYOB, so you don't have to spend extra money on drinks. Since it was a bit more expensive, going to HOT was a real treat and for special occasions only.

I'll also miss the days when I could sleep in until 11 am and wonder why I woke up so early. One-class-days were like mini vacations, and my beloved Friday Afternoon Naps got me charged up for the weekend.

It's only a matter of time before things change and you have to move on. To not do so would be pointless and depressing. Yet it's still weird to have to say goodbye to friends you know you probably won't see again, to the place you called home for four years, and to the only life you've known for so long. As my dad has said every last day of school for the 16 or so years: No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers' dirty looks. Congratulations Class of 2008.

Founders Day at UMass

The 29th of April is a significant day in the University of Massachusetts at Amherst's history. That day is called Founders Day, and this past Tuesday was the one hundred and forty-fifth anniversary when Governor John A. Andrews signed a bill to fund a state school for farming and agricultural sciences. Through time, that small school flourished into what we now know as UMass Amherst.

To celebrate this significant event on campus the University provided an outside barbeque, appearances from the UMass Minutemen Marching Band, Governor Deval Patrick and the University of Massachusetts President Jack M. Wilson. However, due to New England's sporadic weather, the event was moved inside into tents and the Fine Arts Center. Students were notified the night before about the change via e-mail.

The on and off rain showers did cause a dip in attendance, but those who came out to see the governor speak said they were happy with what they saw. "I like the tents, I think it's great, and inside the Concert Hall it was nice," said Katelyn Haggerty, a sophomore Music major.

Not every student shared the same enthusiasm, however. "I don't even know why I'm here. I've never heard of Founders Day," said Devin Teagan, a senior and Food Service employee who was working in the food tents. Other students at the celebration noticed that most of the people in attendance were high schoolers on a field trip.

Altogether, there were positive and negative reviews of the event. Positive in that many different types of people from the Amherst community came to celebrate. And negative as the weather ruined this outdoor event. Whether positive or negative, Founder’s Day is a huge achievement in the history of UMass and definitely should be celebrated in one way or another.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

How To Enjoy Paris on $100 A Day

I've just had another article published with MatadorTravel. This article is about how to get by on $100 a day in Paris, based off of my own experience in the City of Lights. You can read the article here. This is a pretty straight-forward article that just gives some advice on how to save your money when you're in Paris.

MatadorTravel is a pretty unique Web site in that it's the first online travel magazine of its kind. Not only can you network to meet other travelers, writers, and photographers, but you can search for paid freelancing jobs. Matador is really cool because it brings together a whole bunch of travelers from all over the world, and the main goal is to further travel knowledge and advice. Check it out.