Monday, July 11, 2011

First Day of School All Over Again

Today was an extremely eventful day here at Vanderbilt Summer Academy.

We started the day off by walking to breakfast at the Commons together with our proctor group and enjoyed a breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, and more. I could not find the orange juice dispenser, so I just filled a cup full of Coca-Cola and brought it to my table instead.

After finishing breakfast, Aiyana and I explored around the Commons area, where we discovered an area adjacent to the dining hall where people could engage in games such as pool and foosball. When breakfast ended, we walked outside to find our Teacher Assistants, also known as TAs, standing with signs of our respective classes. We found our TA, and when everyone in the class was present, headed over to our classroom, which is relatively close to the dorms we reside in.
We played a quick game to introduce everyone in the class and a brief oral evaluation of what each student expects to gain by the end of the three-week session. Our professor, Dr. David Dunn (who just recently received his PhD), passed out syllabi outlining the expectations and materials that will be covered in our fast-paced course of comparative World Religions.

Essentially, we will be learning about the history, teachings, and practices of the five major world religions (Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism) and compare one to another in order to develop a better understanding of them, including the conflicts they create and sometimes even resolve.
We received our reading texts, The World’s Wisdom by Philip Novak. We also read an article as well as listened to a radio broadcast that described real-life situations where the ignorance of religion and lack of respect for a people’s culture led to heartbreaking consequences and useless frenzy. It stressed the importance of understanding and knowledge of religions and the effect it can have on daily situations.

Later on, we took a short trip to one of the campus’s many computer labs and did some research on about four different religions (some sectoral), working in pairs of three. Aiyana, our floormate Grace, and I researched Buddhist monks and the many assumptions and stereotypes held against them. For example, many believe that Buddhist monks are pacifists and peaceful people. However in reality (in most circumstances), to them, violence is justified. For example, some Buddhists (keep in mind, not all) believe that killing or fighting something that threatens the Laws of Buddhism is justified, even though they themselves condemn murder.

We presented our research to the class. Basically, the project was to show whether the certain group were extremists or not, once again demonstrating the many stereotypes people possess regarding religions. Ours was not.

After class, we had Study Hall with our TA and began our first assignment: a reflection/essay about our reading for the night, which was around fifteen pages about the foundations of Judaism. I did not completely finish the two-page reflection during the brief hour of Study Hall, and I will do so later.

We had arĂȘte classes afterwards, which are basically non-academic classes that we have in addition to our regular course load. I am in Teen Scene, a theater/acting class. We spent most of our time today introducing ourselves, so I look forward to what is in store for tomorrow. I have never tried theater or acting before, so I am very excited to see how I like it.

During our limited free time (before dinner from 5 PM – 6 PM), Aiyana, Kye, and I decided to do laundry. We made our trip to the first floor of Hank Ingram House and washed away. The laundry machines were a bit different to what we were used to, so although we knew how to do our own laundry, utilizing the unfamiliar machines took some time, but we managed to successfully do so.

After dinner, we had a recreational activity set up for us by the VSA Activities Coordinator. It was, essentially, a huge scavenger hunt of all the proctors who were hidden around the huge entire Vanderbilt campus. The air was very, very hot, extremely intense, and competitive; the House (V-House, S-House, and A-House) were competing against one another and whichever house found the most proctors and received a token from each of them wins!

It was so much fun; the only downside was the heat. Other than that, we found seven of the proctors (it sounds like a small achievement, but is the complete opposite) and learned to work as a group as well as our way around the whole campus (although we usually are restricted to a small section of the university, with the exception of tonight).

We will find out the winners tomorrow morning during breakfast. GO V-HOUSE!

The meals are actually very decent here at Vanderbilt. They provide a lot of options, so there is usually something for everyone, especially picky eaters.

My dorm is very large and roomy and has both AC and Wi-Fi, which is very convenient.

I am excited to begin the second day of class tomorrow and look forward to the activities.

The ILC’s Maiden Voyage to Vanderbilt: A New Beginning

I awoke to the beautiful sunrise, with its double sided rays piercing the window in my dorm room. Luckily they fell directly on the face of my roommate rather me, but he didn’t seem to mind. The time was 6:30 AM and outside it looked as though the day had left us behind, but I was reassured it hadn’t forgotten VSA when I emerged out of my room to get ready for the day.

I was happy to be the first one up and in the bathroom seeing that I didn’t have to share anything, it also created an invigorating sensation in my stomach letting me know it’s time to eat.

I grabbed breakfast a simple bacon, eggs, and waffle combination. We set off to class after meeting our Teacher’s Assistant, or TA, Vanderbilt predominantly uses acronyms, and we met our Professor Dr. David Dunn. He just received his PhD and his youthfulness compliments his knowledge allowing his adventurous teaching methods to be effective with us students.
Our first day in class, we had to prepare a presentation on the former Gush Emunim group of Israel, research how religion influences them, decide if the organization was extremist or not, and present it to the class, starting with only one given website. I really enjoyed starting class in such a creative way encompassing teamwork, communication, investigation and the overall yearning to learn. We also used radio to learn about how ignorance can destroy.
Breaks and meals are great times to socialize with classmates. I’ve met people from almost all the East Coast from Texas to Ohio, even New York to Utah. It is interesting to live in an environment where everyone is motivated and sharp because things like even the level of conversation seem to skyrocket.
Discussions in class seem to travel around the world and through time bringing facts from all of man’s great history. I think our Professor, Dr. Dunn said it best when he told us this is an opportunity for we students to sharpen each other, we should take in all that is said and done so we can be able to maximize the rewards we receive from this program.

In all the first day of class was exciting. We have entered the room of the blacksmith, and we have 20 days of work left before the finished project is revealed.
my group proctor Stephen Siao

Day One of World Religions Class

As I have said before, trying to fall asleep in a foreign environment is not the easiest thing to accomplish. In my opinion, the beds are not uncomfortable and they are nice in size, but attempting to find that perfect spot to fall asleep in is quite a challenge. Not to mention our A/C making quite a fuss with loud clanks and bangs sometime very early in the morning.

Breakfast starts at 8 AM, and our proctor leader likes us to head down together, and eat breakfast together as a way to stay bonded throughout the session. Breakfast was buffet style with potatoes, eggs, and cereals, and some danishes and fruit as well. It’s good to try a little bit of everything so that you can decide what you like and what you don’t like for the rest of the program. I didn’t particularly care too much for the eggs, but the breakfast potatoes were pretty good.

The first block of class (yes there are two sessions of class) starts at 9 AM and lasts until noon. Kye, Julia, and I walked together in our World Religions group, following the Teacher’s Assistant so we wouldn’t get lost. Our professor is Doctor David Dunn, who recently got his PhD. As a way to introduce ourselves, a ball with questions written on them was thrown around the room, and whatever question your right thumb landed on, was the one you had to answer. I had the question of, “if you could add a rule to the 10 Commandments, what would it be?” I pondered for a bit, and replied with the answer “to eat well”. I suppose food was still on my mind after a filling breakfast.

So today in class, we mostly focused on three items. One was the lack of awareness of other cultures. We discussed a somewhat recent incident of a plane that emergency landed, because they suspected a teenage boy of carrying an explosive on the plane, when actually, he was praying with holy scriptures that come in these boxes, and you place one box on your head and one on your arm. Apparently the boy was Jewish, and the religious material he was using was called tefillin. The pilot and crew flipped out and had bomb sniffing dogs, TSA, and more at the plane when it emergency landed.

The second discussion was about extremist religions and non-extremist religions. The class divided into groups, and we headed to a computer lab to research our separate topics. Julia, a friend in my proctor group, and I had the topic of Buddhist monks. We found out that the common perception that Buddhist monks are perfect, non-violent, and vegetarian/animal lovers, was completely false. We researched that monks condemn certain types of violence, but do have some exceptions. For instance, if a Buddhist monk feels that their beliefs are being threatened, they believe it necessary to fight these forces of evil. Also, the act or murder in a certain way, called “liberation”, is also not condemned by Buddhist monks, because they believe they are killing in an act of compassion to free the soul from the demon, have them released of ignorance, and reborn to a higher being. Now, this is not to say that monks go around doing this sort of violence, but it shows that they are not exactly the pacifists, we all believe them to be. We also read an article about monks carrying guns more frequently now, to protect themselves. For years, monks have been attacked, and they feel that carrying guns is necessary as a means of self defense. When this information was published, many readers were outraged by this material. So all in all, our group found out that many refuse to believe in the possibility of a change in the belief of a religion, or that these monk who are supposed to be pacifist religious people, actually aren’t. These Buddhist monks react to violence coming upon them the same way that you or I possibly would. We decided that MOST Buddhist monks are considered not to be extremists. Other sects that were researched were Zionists, the RSS of India, and Aryans. I found all of these topics to be very interesting.

The third discussion was about how propaganda can spread creating negative stereotypes and generalizations about religions. We listened to a broadcast of This American Life on NPR, which focused on the persecution of an American-Muslim family due to the spreading of propaganda in the elementary school system after the 9/11 attack. The school district enforced a book to be read that made false or extreme assumptions and attacks about Muslims and their relationship to Americans. The story was depressing and frustrated all of us in the class that such ignorance could affect that family, and many others, in such a negative way.

After class we have study hall. It lasts for about an hour, and most of the time, teachers will assign homework that can probably be completed in that section. We were assigned reading from a book called The World’s Wisdom, which contains sacred texts of world religions. We read out of the Torah, and our assignment was to write a reflection on the readings.

Now the cool thing about the VSA program is that it’s sort of like a camp, in the sense that they plan many activities for everyone. They have these sessions called Arete, where everyone has an activity assigned to them for the week, like acting, art, juggling, and fencing. I took a jump roping course, which might sound like a mediocre activity, but it was actually pretty entertaining. They brought in some jump roping professionals who taught us the basics. They said by the end of this course that we would be able to do some cool tricks like doing a push-up while double-dutching.

During the hour of free time after the Arete class, Julia, Kye, and I did some laundry. We got a few curious stares from students, since to them, it’s only day one, but for us, it’s day 6.

Dinner was a choice between chicken, quiche, and burgers. I had chicken, potatoes, and a salad (I’m trying to eat a salad once or twice a day to hopefully stay healthy), and an enormous slab of chocolate cake (which kind of contradicts the previous attempt to stay healthy, but at least I’m making some sort of effort).

The absolute best part of the day was this night’s recreational activity. Every night there is a different one that you can sign up for, but for tonight, there was a mandatory scavenger hunt for every house. For you Harry Potter fans, every student can win points for their house just like in Hogwarts. We were given hints to find proctors hidden across the entire campus. We used our combined wits as a proctor group, and just pure luck, with finding the hidden proctors. We received a card, and all cards at the end would be collected, and points will be posted tomorrow morning. Now although this was a fun and creative activity, it would have been better if it wasn’t over a hundred degrees outside, and we were running around to fit the time limit.

The night ended with a proctor meeting, where we talked about tomorrow’s events, as well as musicals, Harry Potter, and our highs and lows of the day. What a great first day!