To Ecuador or Oxford?

Earlier this semester, I decided that I wanted to study abroad. Studying abroad with the CS major can be slightly problematic if you have particular electives in mind. I intend to do the programming languages specialization and the electives for it are offered only in alternate fall semesters. So I looked for Spring 2016 study abroad programs. My choices were limited to English speaking countries. After speaking to an academic adviser, I ended up applying to Oxford and Cambridge to study Philosophy and Logic. Since it’s closely related to computation and programming languages, I was able to put together a coherent application, although I have hardly taken any classes in those subjects.

In March, a housemate emailed our list-serve with information about a class titled “Student Community Partnerships in Latin America”. The class involves learning about and working with a community in Intag, Ecuador, on projects related to sustainable economic development. Intag is a “cloud forest”, with extremely rich biodiversity. Faced with the threat of copper mining which might contaminate the pristine water in the area, the community is developing alternative economic practices. So far, that’s all I know about the class. The class also involves a trip to Ecuador during Winter break, when can students collaborate with their community partners on particular projects. I was strongly attracted to this class for two reasons:

1) It pays a lot of attention to the topic, “What does it mean to help?”. In the past, I have found that a lot of service learning programs underplay the learning aspect and there tends to be an unequal power dynamic. The Intag program seemed to be exactly how I envisioned an ideal engaged-learning program.

2) I learnt Spanish at Cornell and absolutely loved the language. Traveling to a Spanish speaking country would fulfill a long-time wish. Previous participants said that the trip to Ecuador was not very touristy, although they did visit some tourist spots towards the end. That sounded perfect.

So I ended up writing a very enthusiastic application for the class as well. By mid April, I learnt that I was accepted to the Ecuador class. I couldn’t contain my excitement, until I read that I wouldn’t be able to take the trip to Ecuador if I will be studying abroad in the Spring. But I hadn’t heard back about my study abroad applications yet, so I postponed thinking about it. This week, I received an acceptance letter from an Oxford college’s visiting student program for Spring 2016. While I was glad about the acceptance and the prospect of spending a semester at Oxford, I knew I might decline the offer.

I didn’t have to think long to decide which one might be a better learning experience for me. While Oxford would be a fantastic environment to be in, I felt that the Ecuador program would widen my worldview far more than Oxford could. Although there are great cultural and historical differences between Oxford and Cornell, essentially, both are elite universities. So the people I meet and know at Cornell are more likely to similar to those I might meet at Oxford than in Ecuador. The Ecuador class/trip seems like the more enriching life experience at this point in my life.

In addition, a required class for the programming languages vector – the infamous Compilers, is being offered in the Spring instead of the Fall this following year. Staying at Cornell in Spring 2016 makes my academic decisions much easier! So I’ve decided to decline the visiting student offer from St.Catherine’s at Oxford and take the “Student Community Partnership in Ecuador” class instead. I’m already looking forward to next semester!

Intag! 😀

 

Spring Break in Ithaca

I stayed in Ithaca for all of Spring Break. A few other friends, who are also international students, also stayed. The primary concern for undergraduates who stay over breaks is food. All the dining halls and most BRB eateries are closed. Most students survive the breaks by stocking up on ready-to-eat/microwaveable food. Fortunately, I live in a co-op. So I always have access to a full kitchen (with all the utensils I might need) and staple food items like oil,flour,grain,pasta salt, spices, milk ,onions, potatoes.. (it’s a long list). With most basic ingredients readily available, I only had to buy some vegetables and special ingredients for particular recipes.

Since I had the time and resources to make elaborate dinners, a few friends and I made our own meals during break. Each meal took us a few hours to make, consume and clean up. But it was absolutely worth it!

Omelette and veggies

Omelette and veggies

Eggs, fruit salads and soups were as complex as our brunches were. We were too hungry to really cook in the mornings.

Mushroom Paneer Masala

Mushroom Paneer Masala

Having bought paneer from the Indian store in collegetown, we struggled to cook it. Once we simply fried and ate them, another time, we tried adding them to a rice dish (which ended in a disaster and hence no photos of it). But finally, we created this dish with tomato sauce which was meant for pasta. I tried really hard to mask the flavor of basil and other italian seasoning with garam masala and cumin!

Penne in Tomato Sauce

Penne in Tomato Sauce

A can of olives, a jar of seasoned tomato sauce, and some mushrooms found in my house’s pantry warranted this delicious, free meal.

Thai Curry

Thai Curry

We found some red thai curry paste in the pantry. So we bought some frozen vegetables, some coconut milk and paid a lot for a handful of bell peppers and baby corn at the salad bar in Atrium Cafe. The result was delicious. That evening, I also cooked the rice perfectly and was finally declared a true South Indian.

Thai Curry with Rice

Thai Curry with Rice

Other nights, we made sweet potato and spinach quesadillas and also resorted to some ready-to-eat meals a couple times. At one point, I had the surprising realization that we had cooked Thai, Italian,Mexican and Indian food over the course of a few days. I guess that’s how you know that you live in the U.S. – by the ridiculous variety of cuisines in regular meals.

I also developed a great appreciation for the people who cook my meals. At home, my mother cooked all three meals, every day, from scratch, in addition to having a full time job. I have come to the belief that she must have superpowers, because cooking two meals for myself left barely enough time for other activities (like trying to go the gym, compelling a friend to teach me to play the ukulele and sleeping 10 hours a day). So I’m glad that I can get my dinner tonight at a dining hall, although I did really enjoy cooking during the break.