Tuesday, November 30, 2010

No Shave November

I've never really let my facial hair grow out, mostly because I don't have much and because it starts to look silly after about a week or so.

However, this November I decided to embrace the little hairs that sprout from my chin, partially out of peer pressure, partly in support of Prostate cancer research, but mostly out of curiosity. After 30 days of growth, this is what I looked like - I don't think I'll do this again any time soon because it's kind of itchy and i think it looks silly, but maybe when I'm old.
As a side note, I got second place in our school's end of November facial hair contest, mostly for my inhuman abilities to only grow hair in a goatee around my mouth and nowhere else.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cena Italiana (con un po di spangnolo)

Last night was one of the most interesting, challenging and fun nights I've had in Bologna. As you know, I go to a school where all of my classes are in English and live with 5 other Americans. I really appreciate both of these facts, but it doesn't really help with whatever Italian immersion I thought I might be experiencing.

Luckily for me, I joined the University of Bologna Orchestra (more on that later), where I've had the opportunity to speak a lot more Italian, mostly because I don't have any other choice. I've gone for drinks with some of the other members a few times and was recently invited to a dinner at the house of one of the violin players, Laura.

I was kind of worried that I wouldn't be much fun at the dinner, considering my limited Italian, but everything ended up being awesome. I understood the vast majority of the conversations and was able to contribute and be a part of everything instead of being the quiet English-speaker in the corner.

After delicious food, some great local wine and long talks in Italian as well as Spanish (there are a few South Americans in the orchestra), I bid my new Italian friends goodbye to catch the Big Game and a birthday party for one of my fellow SAIS students. Being able to operate in an environment with no English for 3-4 hours is really exciting - I hope to do it again!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Oh Wow, I'm a Student

You may wonder - what does Bryan do with his days in Italy? Does he eat lasagna and travel all the time?

The reason I'm here is because I'm an international relations masters student. I've always been very interested in international affairs and taking classes that are all relevant to my interests is amazing. My courses this semester:

Political Analysis and Strategy in United Nations Intervention
This is my favorite class this semester. It's taught by Richard Wilcox, an outgoing, thoughtful and experienced technocrat at the UN World Food Programme. The guy has spent some serious field time in the Balkans and Iraq doing some very impressive stuff. The point of the class is to give us tools to do political analysis and I've been learning a lot. The reading for the class is also fascinating. The syllabus is 25 pages and intense, but it really gives you a great idea of the awesomeness that this class is.

Strategy and Policy
My concentration is Strategic Studies and this is the core class for the concentration. This is the kind of class you would take a war college. We're learning Sun Tzu, Clausewitz and Mahan. Very cool to get an idea of how war actually works.

International Trade Theory
Everyone at SAIS also has to (gets to) specialize in International Economics as well, and I decided to get a lot of mine in early. International Trade Theory covers the microeconomic principles behind the international system of trade and how it creates economic winners and losers.

International Monetary Theory
An extension of macroeconomic theory, this class has mostly been focusing on the ebbs and flow of goods, services and assets and how they control exchange rates and interest rates. It's cooler than it sounds, I promise. It might actually be the most interesting econ class I've ever taken.

Theories of International Relations
Another requirement for my Strategic Studies concentration, Theories of IR covers all the main theories on the international system, from Realism to Liberalism to Constructivism. I took a very similar class as an undergrad at Stanford, so I'm just auditing this class to study for a waiver exam. This is one is a little more laid back for me. The professor is an avowed structural realist and managed to get Kenneth Waltz in to talk to all of us at the beginning of the year!

I'm taking a Spanish class, with the goal of being more conversational in the language by the end of the year. We're focusing on pretty intense grammatical stuff (the difference between hubo vivido and habria vivido) as well as lots of speaking. I'm hoping to pull in an internship this summer that immerses me in Spanish, or at least forces me to use the language often.

Most days I am either reading, studying or working on group projects for these classes. The life of a student and I love it!