Pre-Thanksgiving Update

I’ve taken to going swimming after work lately, about two or three times a week, on top of some running during the mornings and hitting the gym on Sundays. The swimming is nice since we have a heated indoor pool. I’ve talked to other people who say they swim about 35 laps or so for their workouts. Which is bad because I generally do nowhere near that many! But it’s relaxing and my arms and legs feel like jello afterwards. Also my lung capacity has increased enough so that I can swim the length of the pool underwater.

I think it’s interesting that the Iraqi Study Group contains no Middle East regional experts and instead contains a lot of conventional thinkers of past events. Wow, what a productive move!

Both the PS3 and Nintendo Wii come out this weekend. Oh god, what to get, what to get. Can I even get it? <3 I hope so.

Last weekend I split town early, flew out of Nashville over to Atlanta, and then to BWI in Baltimore late at night. I read a lot more of “Ghost Wars” but there’s just so much of it to get through!

I stayed with my uncle Rory, who graciously kept me for the weekend even on extremely short notice. I arrived late at his house after renting a car and getting a little lost in his neighborhood. We talked until the wee hours of the morning and finally crashed.

The next morning, I got up, talked some more with Rory, then drove down to DC in order to look at schools. I planned to visit George Mason, George Washington, and American, but ended up taking a little longer trying to get to Georgetown. And when I got there, I was a little more familiar with the campus since I went there the last time I was in DC. I found the School of Foreign Service, which is tucked away in the intercultural building. Eventually I went to the top floor where the actual School of Foreign Service is and found out that an informational session was already in progress. Good timing!

I interrupted the presentation when I came in, adding a little levity to a nervous bunch. What struck me was the smallness of the area — we were in a cramped little room that was at the end of a little warren of walls and little doorways. Very cramped. The prospective people in the room with me, numbering only around seven, seemed young and eager to impress, even though no one was looking for impressions. Obviously they were extremely smart people but they seemed like kids.

The rep seemed pretty cool although extremely busy in her studies. There was an admissions person there also and I talked to her a little bit about how my scores should show up as reported on the admissions web site even though I didn’t think they did.

A couple of the people visiting mentioned SAIS so I knew I’d see them later in the day.

I drove over to Massachusetts Avenue and found a parking garage, walking fast to make it to SAIS’s walking tour followed by their own informational session.

SAIS is a branch of Johns Hopkins that pretty much runs independently of it. Right down the street from SAIS are the Brookings Institute (where students supposedly go to get better lunch) and the Carnegie Institute for International Peace. Now this was more like it! The main SAIS building had a little courtyard out front which would later be used for weekly Happy Hour. Hot.

There were a ton of people here for the tour, presumably because they admit more students at SAIS per annum and also because they have only a few sessions officially scheduled. We saw the building’s facilities and I liked them much more than Georgetown. The library seemed great and provided access to the main campus’s also.

The students seemed to have a great attitude from what I could tell.

We gathered inside a conference room to listen to the session. There were at least fifty people there, and it was an impressive mix of people. Most were younger than me but they were very eclectic. Many from South American countries, a few from Europe and Africa, many mixed races and accents and clothing. Some seemed to be trying to act a little too professional.

This was interesting to me as I kind of felt older and more established. The Army time has made me more socially adept and able to detect timidity in others. I think many didn’t have much work experience even though they clearly could read until their eyes stayed shut. Both at Georgetown and here, you could tell by the questions that people felt insecure about their abilities because they asked about degrees of ability in second language fluency, GRE scores, etc. I don’t believe many asked about pursuit of interesting work, which some of the older, more direct participants focused on instead.

The dean was very enthusiastic and clearly loved her job and SAIS. This was very motivational for me and she made a great first impression. I felt that the people here were happy and satisfied with their choice of going to SAIS.

One panelist who spoke as a current student was an Australian diplomat who blew the whole thing away. Apparently he applied to five schools and got into them all, his education being paid by the Australian government. He decided to go to SAIS over all the others and explained that this was what he really wanted and this was where he would be able to make the most difference and learn from the best people. To separate from some other schools not in DC, he asked why anyone would study international affairs and not study in DC. He was by far the most convincing reason to attend SAIS.

As we left, there was a Happy Hour in the courtyard which supposedly they do every Friday. It was wonderful to see all these interesting people drinking beers outside and enjoying themselves. It seemed like a really tightly-knit crew which appealed to my Army sensibilities. I really fell in love with the school. Plus, if you go to the SAIS web site, you can see their amazing list of visitor speakers. This week alone: Ted Koppel, Bob Schieffer, and General Petraeus (who seems to really understand how to work with Arabs and Muslims, and combatting an insurgency). The school attracts a constant stream of intelligent people who work with policy.

So I’m really hoping I get in. Really really hoping!

I drove back to Baltimore afterwards, arriving late but not late enough to miss storytime with Rory and his wife and their daughter. Rory read The Hobbit to their daughter, including goblin voices. I stayed up and talked for a bit with Rory and his wife after their daughter went to bed.

I slept like a log.

The next morning I said goodbye to Rory as he had to go out all day, so then I hung out with Becky and Catie. We took Catie to ballet practice nearby and then Becky and I walked around the campus she works at while Catie did ballet. Afterwards we went to Starbucks and talked for a bit over caffeine infusions. Catie is exceedingly bright and has just discovered reading so she devours anything with words in it!

We went home and I played Clue Jr. with Catie, who kicked my ass. I think I might have suspected her cheating while rolling the die, though I let it go! =P Her cleverness as my cousin is something I can’t fault her for now but will definitely call her on when she’s older, more surly, and less cute!

Then we all walked to Einstein’s Bagels for some lunch. I had a cookies n cream chilled drink along with a pesto chicken sandwich. Mmm. Catie asked me when the war would end and I said no one really knows. Catie said, “Thank you, George W Bush,” which cracked me and Becky up. =P I explained how Muslim men dress in Iraq (man-dresses and facial hair) to Catie and she wondered why Iraqi women don’t wear facial hair also if it means maturity. She also remarked that I probably wouldn’t see my deployed friends again until I see their corpses. See, some might find this offensive but to me, these are the jokes Army buddies tell each other. So Catie already has an insider’s track into the soldier mindset! I was very impressed!

We walked home and I talked to Catie a little bit more before I had to drive to the airport. We took some photos and I left. The whole family was extremely generous to me and very observant of small details that made me feel comfortable. I hope I was a good influence on Catie as her big cousin and that I was a fun houseguest. I hadn’t seen them all for so long. I share a lot of interests with Rory and Becky and that’s really interesting to me since I didn’t really grow up with them much. Catie is growing up to be an amazing girl with an intensely unique personality.

Thank you guys. =)

On the way home I stopped in Philly to get a cheese steak, then took a nearly empty flight back to Nashville, which welcomed me home with friendly temperatures, a beautiful night, and an easy exit from its pleasant airport…as it always does. I will miss Nashville when I leave it soon, for it is not boisterous, not mean, not anything but relaxing and enjoyable all the time.

PS: This tattoo on my arm really racks up the compliments and comments daily, especially when I travel. This one flight attendant was cooing over it and touching it and I was like, hey, this may be an empty flight but I’m trying to read here, woman!!

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