Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ahoy Bratislava!

And so new adventure begins, this time in a tiny little central European country called Slovakia. On Sunday, I hitched a ride with the only Slovak person I know in the whole world and her family to their hometown of Bratislava. After a quick lunch stop in Austria (and we know how much I love lunch stops in Austria) we drove on and arrived in Bratislava around sunset.

The outskirts of Bratislava have these humongous communist apartment blocks that remind me of the Stanford Law School, and we passed through them before crossing the Danube and entering the old city center, which is filled with very old buildings and a CASTLE!

Bratislava, although the capital of the country, is comfortably small, and the city center where I am staying is just beautiful. It seems quiet, relaxed and simple here. Very un-New Yorky, which is part of the reason I thin I'll like it.

I stayed at a hostel close to the UNDP office and began my first day at UNDP well rested and excited to work. My boss is cool, my coworkers are cool and everyone seems to be terribly smart. More about UNDP soon.

As I write this, I am sitting in a pub near my hostel with keys in my pocket for what will hopefully be the place I stay this whole summer. Lucia (my Slovak friend, fellow student and all around awesome girl) through a connection discovered a Slovak family here in the city who is renting out a room. They seem extremely nice, and they live in a wonderful house that they buolt themselves (the father is a sculptor and the son is an architect). I move in tomorrow, and they don't speak much English, so wish me luck!

Ci Vediamo, Bologna!

After a sometimes harrowing final examination period, I jumped through my last hoops and came out whole on the other side.

And how sweet that other side is! I spent my last week in Bologna sleeping in until the sunlight streaming through my windows woke me up, eating delicious Bolognese (and Georgian) food, and savoring all of my last memories in Italia.

My time in Bologna ended in four wonderful events.

The first was the class dinner/awards ceremony for my debate course, where I got to take the role of MC and host, giving out awards (which were actually bottles of Pignoletto, spray-painted gold a la the Stanford Band) to all of the debaters.

The second was a dinner at Da Vito, the place I had dinner my first night in Bologna. There was a group of about 40 of us, and periodically throughout the night we would heckle someone to stand up and give a toast (I gave the first, of course). By the end of the night, after plates and plates of primi and secondi and a few bottles of delicious vino da casa, all 40 people had given a toast. Wonderful night. Wonderful.

This is called stinko. It is delicious.

The third was our commencement ceremony. Our whole class, plus some parents and other hangers on, listened to some amazing speakers, including our own Matt Carroll, who maybe gave the most legendary commencement speech in SAIS history (link to come later). After the ceremony, we went upstairs to the roof/penthouse for pasta, wine and lots and lots of photos.

The fourth and last was our commencement party that night. Our student government rented out a bar in Piazza Verdi and we all rolled in looking very smart (the theme was Italian Mafia). We had a great night of dancing to the best party playlist I've ever heard, courtesy of the geniuses behind the music blog Basil Not Mint.

The next morning, I threw my whole life into my suitcase-and-a-half and began my new adventure. Italia, you've been awesome, but I think I'm too excited about going toward the future to be sad about leaving the past.

Arrivederci, Bologna, era divertente!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Summer Plans, Autumn Plans

I'm nearing the end of finals week, which also means the end of my time in Bologna. Always one to look ahead rather than behind, I'd like to share my summer and autumn plans with you!

Starting next Monday, I begin my summer internship with the UN Development Programme. I'll be working in support of the Office of the Senior Economist on a bunch of development issues in Central Asia. Despite the exotic locale of the subject of my work, I'll be located in Bratislava, Slovakia. Why? Not sure. Anyway, I'm super pumped to get to know Bratislava and Central Europe in general (I'll be very close to both Vienna and Budapest), so stay tuned for some interesting summer posts!

At the end of the summer, I'll take a plane flight from Bratislava to Minneapolis, Minnesota for a hectic weekend of wedding fun (as I am wont to do) before rolling back to Washington, DC for my second year at SAIS. I some how managed to finagle myself back into my old house in DC, which I love. I'll have a few new housemates and it should make for a great year!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Best Rain I've Ever Felt

I played my last lacrosse game in Italy today. I might be the last lacrosse game of my life. Today we played the Peruggia Pheonix, one of the best teams in Italy. We lost by a ton (20 to 7, of which 5 goals and 1 assist were mine), but this was probably one of the pinnacles of my lacrosse career.

The game began on a hot morning with the sun beating down and it started out difficultly as it became apparent that we were completely outmatched. However, I was able to draw on everything that I've learned about the sport over the last 11 years: defensive slides, ground balls, man down defense, man up offense, picks, fakes, face-offs, and I was able to enjoy every single moment of the game. Today I realized that I won't ever like any sport as much as I love this one.

I've learned so much from the the clinics my parents drove me to as a kid, the Mt. Carmel High School lacrosse team, the Stanford lacrosse team, and my coaches, from that weird guy who used to eat almond butter at practice, to Coach Chancellor, to the Smith brothers.

Around fourth quarter, our team went on a little run of goals, and it began to rain. By the time the game ended, the hot, muggy air was filled with giant, cold drops of rain. They felt so good. After shaking hands, I lay my tired, beat-up body down on the grass and just laid there as the big cold drops fell.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Why I Am Awesome Right Now

I'm trying to finish my paper on Central Asia right now, but I ran into a problem an hour ago. I was arguing in the second-to-last section of my paper that the countries in the region that restrict free capital flows discourage foreign investment, which makes perfect sense theoretically. However, when I got the GDP growth numbers, the two most restrictive countries when it comes to capital flows were the second and third fastest growing economies! Oh no!

After a brief moment of panic where I abandoned everything I learned in monetary and started trying to read up on Joseph Stiglitz, I realized that I am a smart dude, and I could probably get some more data and figure this problem out. I might be more proud of myself than I should be, but it is often *very* hard to find good statistics on Central Asia. No one cares about this region.

First I found some statistics on foreign direct investment from UNCTAD (The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development). Then, I used GDP statistics from the IMF (after making sure that everything was measured in the same way as the FDI numbers, in US dollars, using current prices). Finally, I smushed it all together in Excel and made this pretty lookin' chart:

Will ya look at that - the two countries with the strictest capital controls have the lowest foreign direct investment flows as a percentage of total GDP! THIS is why I'm awesome.

A reason that I'm not awesome is that I just took 10 minutes to procrastinate and brag over a pretty simple excersize rather than continue to write my final paper.

Back to work!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

In Case You Were Worried That I'm Having Too Much Fun...

I'm still a graduate student and I still spend the majority of my days doing work for my classes. My current preoccupation (and occupation) is a paper I'm writing for The Economies of Central Asia. It's about exchange rate regimes and monetary policy and how the countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan used them to achieve economic and political goals after their independence from the Soviet Union.

Here's my preliminary introduction:

The independence of the five new countries of Central Asia presented a brand new laboratory in which economists could observe and analyze the results of monetary policy experiments in a way that was unprecedented in modern history. Born in the heat of extreme inflation and monetary instability, the monetary regimes of Central Asia sought to bring stability, trust, trade facilitation, growth and foreign investment. By 1997, all of the countries had tamed the extreme inflation of the immediate independence period and set out to build monetary regimes that would support their political and economic goals. This paper begins by describing the economic basis of the choices facing Central Asian monetary authorities in building exchange rate regimes, the trade-offs of these choices and how well these choices held up in the subsequent shocks of the Russian financial crisis of 1998, the Kazakhstan banking crisis of 2005, and the worldwide financial crisis of 2008. In doing so, the main exchange rate regime choices of the five countries of Central Asia will be described, with a special focus on the managed floating regime of the Kyrgyz Republic and the flexible peg regime of Kazakhstan. The paper will then analyze these choices in a comparative context and discuss whether a single monetary model can be successful in a Central Asian region with diverse goals, challenges, economies and governments.

The paper is due next Friday. Wish me luck!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Space Exploration

"The universe is probably littered with the one-planet graves of cultures which made the sensible economic decision that there's no good reason to go into space--each discovered, studied, and remembered by the ones who made the irrational decision."

-Randall Munroe, xkcd