Saturday, August 31, 2013

All You Can Eat

I’m standing at the front of the line at the buffet. I have my empty plate in hand as I scan the options ahead of me. My first thought is that I wish my plate were a little bit bigger. I’m hungry—scratch that... I’m starvin’ like Marvin and the food looks real good. The bad news is that this restaurants is costing me an arm and a leg just. In fact, I had to take out two loans just to get in the door. Do you see where this is going? The good news is that I’m hungry and the food looks real good—scratch that... the food is world class.

I just finished a long week of orientation at Harvard Graduate School of Education, and I’m feeling good. My most important task for the last week was to select and register for my classes. Sounds simple, right? Browse the catalogue, pick the classes, enroll in the classes. Yeah, no. It works a little differently here. After some orientation events and meetings on Monday, I had two days to “shop classes.” Shopping classes is like standing in that buffet line, trying to decide which delectable (or required) goodies to pile on your plate. Fortunately, since I’m in the Special Studies Program, I’m not required to eat any specific thing being offered (take that, Grandma!). So, on Tuesday and Wednesday, I scrambled around campus to sit in on various mini-lectures and presentations from different professors. The point is to get a better idea of what the class is really all about, and how the professor likes to run his or her show. For some of the more popular classes/professors, you actually have to “apply” just to get into the class. 
Unlike the Sizzler, this buffet has certain rules that can’t be bent. For example, I’m not allowed to just try a little bit of everything. I am limited to only four, but this buffet is offering about 100 different dishes in the Fall. And that doesn’t count any of the courses that I could take at the Harvard Business School, The Kennedy School of Government, The School of Public Health, etc. It also doesn’t count any of the dishes being served up  at M.I.T.*—but I am slightly allergic to math and science, so that’s a moot point.

Eventually, I made a game plan, and I’ve loaded up my plate. Here’s what I’ll be dining on for the next few months.

A-608 - Leadership, Entrepreneurship, and Learning (Prof. Monica C. Higgins)
This is definitely one of the most popular courses at HGSE, with space for only half of the students that try to get in every fall. Luckily, I won the lottery, so I’m in.

AT-113 - Educational Effectiveness: Examining Influences on Student Achievement (Prof. Heather C. Hill)
First of all, even the professor admitted that this course needs a new title. This statistics-heavy course explores the education production function, seeking to identify the factors that have the most influence on a student’s performance. Is it great schools, great teachers, great neighborhoods, great families? The answers may surprise you.

H-107 - Introduction to Educational Neuroscience and Education (Prof. L. Todd Rose)
This course was on the bubble until I attending the shopping session. About two minutes in, I knew that I needed this one in my life. Two great quotes from the Professor on day one... “There is such a thing as a dumb question,” and “Some people like to ask questions, not because they want to know the answer, but because they want to sound smart. If you do that in this class, I WILL call you out.” This one’s gonna be good.

S-997 Field Experience Program (Advisors: Prof. Vicki Jacobs & Prof. Thomas Hehir)
Simply put, this is an internship. I’m still in the process of setting up the details, so stay tuned for more information on this one.

Between shopping classes, advising, and other orientation events, it’s been hectic in ways that life in the Peace Corps never, EVER, was. So far, I think I’ve done great job of handling the workload. I give myself an “A+” in Orientation. Maybe this grad school thing isn’t as hard as everyone says it is. Wait... I haven’t even taken a class yet and I’m swamped (shout out to Javi, mi llave). This could get ugly.

Pura Vida,


* I am only required to take four out of my eight classes at the School of Education. The other four can be taken through other schools at Harvard or at other universities in the Boston area.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Transfer Window

If you were to ask your Average Joe, “When does the year begin?” he would would probably say “January 1st, duh.” But if that Average Joe happened to be a first-grader—or perhaps a first grade teacher—you might get a different answer. You see, certain people lead lives that follow a different calendar, for one reason or another. These folks tend to hit their reset buttons sometime in late August or September. Coincidentally, Virgos and soccer nuts also fall into this category. Can you see where this is going yet? I happen to be a student, a teacher, a Virgo AND a soccer nut, so right now I’m at the starting line after enjoying a great end of the year (summer).

"The Hue-Man Project" @ Betti Ono Gallery - Oakland, CA

Dakota's Engagement Party - Sebastopol, CA

The Fellas @ Caña - Oakland, CA

My life—and life in general—is so much like the game of soccer that it’s scary. It never ceases to amaze me just how many parallels I find between the Gentleman’s game* and the world I experience everyday. I could go on all day listing them, but today I want to talk about one: the transfer window. For the benefit of those who don’t follow European soccer, I will take a second  to explain this concept. While the landscape of European professional soccer often resembles the Wild West, there are actually one or two rules in place to maintain some order. Players’ contracts are often “bought” and “sold,” as teams throughout the world look to strengthen their squads or lighten their financial burdens.** BUT, these transactions are only allowed during two periods, known as transfer windows. The summer transfer window occurs during the off-season, and stretches until the end of August (after the second week of the new season). The second transfer window is in January, as teams look to make adjustments halfway through season. Basketball fans will recognize the similarity to the NBA trade deadline.

I am a supporter of Arsenal Football Club of North London, one of the biggest and baddest*** teams in the world. We are known for being extremely classy, on and off the pitch. We are also known for balling on a budget, in comparison to the handful of clubs owned by Oil Barons and Sugar Daddies. We are one of the few big clubs that actually fund our operations with revenues from football activities! Wow, what a concept!  Over the last few years, Arsenal has spent hundreds of millions of dollars LESS than those clubs, yet we are always “in the hunt”... kinda. We’re really good, we’re just not the best. Actually, we haven’t won a trophy in almost a decade. So, while I’ve been very proud of our approach, both on the field and in the boardroom, I’ve become more and more frustrated every year.

So, you can imagine my excitement a few months back when our club announced that it was sitting on a 70 million pound kitty, and was ready to spend big during the summer transfer window. Actually, that cash reserved has recently been estimated at 150 million dollars. Without going into Soccernomics 101, I'll just say it's is enough to buy a few world-class players, whose current valuations stand between 30 and 100 million pounds+ each. Like any self-respecting Gooner, I believe one or two signings could make us the team to beat.

I, like Arsenal, am standing at the starting line, waiting for the gun to go off, marking the beginning of a new season (school year). I recently relocated to Boston, and I have another week or so to get settled in before game time. Like Arsenal, I’m not poor, but I do know how to squeeze a nickel when necessary. To illustrate my point, I present to you my total moving expenses to date:

- Extra month of rent... yes I paid for July, even though wasn’t here. But my rent is so cheap that it was worth locking down the spot... $495

- Shipping stuff to myself (kitchen knives, spices, winter clothes, books, pandeiro, drumsticks, comforter, pillows, etc) - $110

- Flight from San Francisco to Boston - Free!****

- U-Haul cargo van rental - $67

- Full size mattress, box spring, metal frame, pillow top mattress cover, desk lamp, floor lamp, trash can, full length mirror, bookshelf... $Free.99... gotta love Craigslist.

- Desk and printer/scanner... $30

So, that brings me to a current total of $702. Clearly, that’s not pennies, but it’s pretty darn efficient for a cross-country relocation. So yes, I’m patting myself on the back. But here’s the problem. Remember that $150 million pile of cash? If I told you that I’ve spent more money personally during the transfer window than Arsenal Football Club, would you believe me? Well, I have. Despite various attempted power moves, the only new player to join our team is the French 20 year old,  Yaya Sanogo, who is talented, yet unproven—which is why we got him for the same price that I paid for my bed (see above).

In our defense, we have managed to get rid of several players that were surplus to requirements, so that we're no longer paying the wages of 5 or 6 players who contributed virtually nothing, nothing, or worse. We got a few bucks for some of those players, but others we just gave away. Again, there lies another parallel between my summer transfer window and our team's. I spent a whole lot of hours cleaning out closets and going through old boxes that have been in storage for years. I sold some decent stuff to a used clothing store (as Gervinho was sold to A.S. Roma), gave some nice stuff that I just didn't need to my cousin (Johan Djourou to Hamburger SV), and I donated the rest to charity (see Marouane Chamakh, Vito Mannone, André Santos, Andrey Arshavin and Sébastien Squillaci). Unfortunately, like Arsenal, I still left with at least one box of junk that I would pay someone to take of my hands (Niklas Bendtner).

I’m not gonna lie... I’m confused and I’m frustrated. I trust the folks calling the shots—manager Arséne Wenger has had a profound nfluence on my development as a coach and a gentleman. But my patience is wearing thin. The good news is that there are still two weeks to fix the situation. Kind of like when I checked my email last night and Harvard said I wouldn’t be able to register for classes because I was not compliant with Massachussetts State Immunization Requirements? Seriously!? Do you know how many times I’ve been stabbed with vaccine-filled needles in the last three or four years (thank you very much Peace Corps). If I can eat street food in Soweto, then I think my body can handle a year in Cambridge. I’m so immunized, when I stand in the rain, I don’t get sick, the rain gets Drew.*****

But, like I said, we’ve got time to sort out our issues. Hopefully I can hit the clinic on Monday for one final shot. And hopefully, Arsenal will convince one GREAT player to make the move to North London. Either way, we’ll find out soon enough. As I write this last sentence, it’s only 30 minutes to kick-off in our first game of the new year. Wish us luck!

Pura Vida,


* It is widely agreed upon that "football is a gentleman's game played by ruffians and rugby is a ruffian's game played by gentleman."

** These "transfer fees" are paid from one team to the other—these should not be confused with the  wages that players receive. The average player playing in the top flight of English soccer earns about 1.5 million pounds/year, or 29,000/week. The highest paid player, Wayne Rooney, earns 250,000 pounds... per WEEEEEEEEEK!

*** "Bad," as defined by Michael Jackson and Run-D.M.C.

**** George Clooney’s character in the movie Up In The Air  was partially inspired by my Dad, who will probably be voted into the United Airlines Hall of Fame on the first ballot. He hooked me up with some of those free miles—Obrigadão!

***** Adapted from one of the best Chuck Norris jokes of all time.