Epitome of nerdiness

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I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.

After all, one of my favorite ‘games’ as a kid was to ‘play classroom’ where I would be the teacher bestowing knowledge and wisdom to my 6-7 year old peers in the playground. Going through my journals from early on, I seem to have believed becoming an English teacher/professor was my calling. There were also all these English tutoring/camps I thoroughly enjoyed, amidst occasional tears of frustration because these lovely kids couldn’t get the simple performance of the Beatles’ ‘Hello and Goodbye’ right. Above all, people I have come to admire and look up to in real life have mostly been teachers and professors, ranging from my favorite teacher Tom at the English Centre in middle-high school, the Peace Corps Volunteers who gladly indulged our teenage presence on a weekly basis, to professors in English Literature and at GSIS at university. (Although, considering the number of years I have spent studying/being at school, this should not be too unexpected).

Yet I can’t help but being pleasantly surprised at my eagerness and enthusiasm this semester. Truth be told, I was indeed very nervous to teach undergraduate students (*gasp* not kids anymore!!!) and I could definitely feel and hear my voice shake that first Friday at 9 am in my first class. I forgot half of the things I wanted to say in my second class at 10 am and was still a bit careful in my third and final class of the day at 12 pm.

But as I read articles and papers and textbooks by authors I have read over and over for almost 10 years now (!), it’s like I’m reading them for the first time under a new light, because I get to be the one explaining them and sharing my own interpretation of things based on everything I have learned so far. While most of my students (yes, MY students!) have just begun to carefully and hesitantly tread the vast and tumultuous waters of IR, just getting to know the existence of theories like Realism, Liberalism and Constructivism, I cannot help but feel like I have a responsibility and duty to tell them what took me years to learn. I know I’m going to impose a huge bias on my part, but how can you not want to share all these exciting things? Things like Constructivism is cool, Feminist IR theories even cooler, IR is not just about politicians making a difference but also about individuals like Brandon from HONY (Humans of New York) who help you change your perspective on the very misunderstood and misjudged continent that is Africa.

I read Alexander Wendt and marvel at the numerous possibilities students nowadays could have to deconstruct their own world. I skim Samuel Huntington and imagine the different ways to criticize and point out the (very) few relevant points he still has. I devour J.Ann Tickner and admire the vast spectrum of IR she has to offer us. IR is cool, man. There, I’ve said it.

I go over my emails three, four times before sending them out, put words in bold and italic and colors to make them more fun and say things like “Next week’s reading looks very exciting, Tickner and Wendt are personal favorites of mine ;)”. Personal favorites? I never knew the day would come that I would use those words to describe IR-related scholarly articles. Could I be any nerdier?

I go over the short bio/introduction they had as their first assignment and the constant cynicism I seem to have nowadays simply melts away as I inhale their excitement, their hopes and dreams, their promise of changing the world, and their goal to make the world a better place.

Yes, I was like that too, once, when I was a freshman at university.

But what I remember most about my experience with IR as a freshman and throughout undergrad is, disappointment. Disappointment that all we got to learn was theories that in no way seemed to explain what was going on in the ‘real world’, like the war in Iraq, or boring details of agreements and wars before, during, and after WWI. Although I do know now that these are the necessary steps one needs to take to understand and study IR (and these kids will certainly have to face the same music as well), I want my classes to give them something I didn’t have when I was their age.

I want them to know that IR is not just about theories and history. I want them to see that theories are impressive and intriguing tools they can use and manipulate to understand the ‘real world out there’ and find their own solutions to the problems. I want them to feel, always feel, that yes, they can, and should, make the world a better place.

I’m just fooling myself, aren’t I?

Made by moi! This is what I do with my 'free' time...

Made by moi!
This is what I do with my ‘free’ time…

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Beauty is truth; truth, beauty

For the purpose of this post, see: Two Sides of a Same Coin
For the ‘other side”s take on this topic, see: What if my science doesn’t save the world?

(A simple background explanation: the topic of this post for the November ‘challenge’ is explaining what our ‘science’ is in our own words. Since we are in very different, almost opposite fields of ‘science’, we thought this was another way to show, once again, our differences, and perhaps, with a little surprise, similarities we might not have known about. Also, due to technical problems from my sister who is currently in Malaysia, her post is on Blogpost and not her usual WordPress.)

This was supposed to be a passionate advocacy for what has now become, basically, the purpose of my life. It should have been a beautiful plea and a moving manifesto of how Social Sciences are awesome and “rock the world”. Instead, struggling under a mass of readings every week and indecipherable numbers and math symbols, with the haunting fear that just one day, a half a day of relaxation and peace is sufficient to bring doom for the following week, I am, for a lack of a better word, disenchanted. I vowed myself that I would never take this for granted, that I would always be grateful for being here, studying for a PhD in Political Science. I wrote posts about the near-ecstasy that the idea of studying in the States had brought me, and posts about how I would always remember I am lucky to be here.

But reading about multipatism, pluralism, the relationship between political regime and welfare in developed countries, and what I can only describe as a petty quarrel and immature bickering among political theorists about who understands the ‘world out there’ better than the other, I am done. I don’t care how Proportional Representation leads to a better coordination and cooperation among firms than the Majoritarian system. I roll my eyes at Morgenthau, Waltz, Wallerstein, Marx and co who furiously write about why they are the right ones in their vision of the world from the safe cocoon of their offices. What is the purpose of all this? How is learning about all this going to help me ‘change the world’? How is reading (barely, rather, skimming) more than 400 pages every week going to help me contribute to stopping world inequality, wars and all that is bad in this world? Surely, helping make i-phones or conducting research that would eventually lead to the elimination of cancer would be much more rewarding and practical?

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As I helplessly try to make sense of countless scholars whose names I forget the moment I see them, only wishing that they would write in a simpler style, easy to understand and not act as a sleeping pill, I am struck by various flashbacks and memories.

Like how excited I was to write a paper on a web cartoon and its soft power and role in promoting social awareness and political participation in Korea. How inspired I was by Paul Krugman and his diagnosis of the financial crisis. How writing a paper in my class for Feminism allowed me to discover sides of my mother I had not been aware of. How during a class I would get sudden inspirations of future paper topics (which would die, soon enough, but well, it’s the thought that counts). How I discovered certain prejudices I had about Africa I didn’t know I had.

And I realize, perhaps with a sigh of relief, that the reason I keep persevering in this field is because a small part in me still believes I can make a difference. It may not be a concrete one like getting rid of AIDS or formulating the ‘right’ and perfect policy to deal with North Korea (is there one?). But it’s what everybody I believe in Social Sciences has, and what keeps ‘us’ going: passion and hope. It’s that flicker of light in our eyes when theories written in papers and books finally start making sense in real life. It’s that glimmer of hope that we can somehow bring a change in the way people think that will eventually lead to actual changes in policies and reality. It’s that brazen certainty that while Social Sciences may not be ‘practical’, it certainly is ‘essential’. The focus doesn’t always have to be on the practical usage of science, sometimes, science just ‘is’. And as it is, it helps shape who we are, our beliefs, our perspectives, our ideas, our hopes and our future. When we shed the ‘what we are for’ and are stripped down to ‘what we are’, that definition of ourselves is shaped by Social Sciences (and Humanities). Especially living in an era where things that can’t be quantified are often discarded as useless and meaningless (and Social Sciences, with its frequent emphasis on quantitative methodology, is not immune to it either), Social Sciences allow us to enjoy and appreciate that which is not measurable.

Please... let's not...

Please… let’s not…

It is often believed that people revolt and desire for change when/because they have nothing to lose. But it isn’t so (and of course, I forgot the name of the scholar who actually argued this). Those who have nothing to lose live day by day with what they are given because they can’t think of an alternative. It is those who have the faintest gleam of hope who fight for change, for the better. And I believe that Social Sciences provide that very gleam of hope that constantly pushes people to seek for something better.

Or maybe this is all just my illusion. It doesn’t matter. This is all I need to keep going for the next 5 years and plus. 

“Beauty is truth; truth, beauty; that is all

Ye know on earth and all ye need to know”

– Keats –

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