Watching the second Republican debate, something incredible struck me – and it had absolutely nothing to do with politics. It had everything to do being a women.
There’s been a lot in the media in the past few years about women, about girls, about being strong and being respected. Sheryl Sandberg wrote Lean In and people of all persuasions read it. Women, men. Democrats, Republicans. The CEO and the middle class and the night janitor. Girl Scouts teamed up with women’s rights groups and pushed to Ban Bossy. Always has gotten press for their #LikeAGirl campaign. An absolutely brilliant video was created two years ago that reveals the differences between impressions of men and women doing the same thing:
Carly Fiorina is an incredible example. People laughed at Sarah Palin when she was the first female Vice Presidential candidate on a big ticket. People scoffed eight years ago that the Democratic race was “the woman” against “the black man.” But Hillary is back. And Carly is a force to be reckoned with.
Carly Fiorina, unlike most of the men on stage, did not get flustered. She didn’t just meet the men where they were, she beat them. She was more impressive, more polite, and revealed herself to be a woman of effortless class. Sure, she interrupted the men, but so did the men. Sure, she went over time, but so did the men. She addressed the fellow candidates on stage with polite candor. She treated them like the incredibly intelligent people they are. When they disagreed, and they did, Fiorina kept to the issues and avoided ad hominem attacks.
She was the only person on that stage who consistently encouraged the audience to use their brain – she was the only person on that stage who seemed to recognize that we have brains. She had just as many facts as the men. She answered the questions without a stutter, without a drop of sweat. She won the “kids table” last time, and I think she won tonight’s debate again.
I watched eleven Republicans stand on stage tonight and present many positions that I fundamentally disagree with. I watched Carly Fiorina stand on stage tonight and present positions I disagree with.
I watched Carly Fiorina stand on stage tonight, and I watched her represent women with class and grace and brilliance. I watched Carly Fiorina stand on stage tonight as a role model for little girls who see infinite possibilities in front of them. She is a conservative role model that young girls in conservative families will get to see as an example they can aspire to. She is persuasive, but not pushy. She is smooth, not a show-off. She isn’t bossy, she’s a boss.
It is almost 2:00am, I am sitting in the second library of the night (the first one closed, technically this one is closed too, but there are loopholes…), and I’m working diligently (well, minus this break to write this post) on a 15 page paper due tomorrow. Due today. Due in ten hours.
Technically, its just a rough draft. So it doesn’t have to be grammatically correct, it doesn’t need to be fully formed, it doesn’t even need to be a full 15 pages.
Thus far, I’ve written two of my three case studies, and haven’t even started my introduction or conclusion. I’ll probably leave my conclusion for the final draft, but if I don’t write an introduction, then I’ll need to write a literature review for the rough draft.
So I’ve basically got half the paper I intend to turn in tomorrow written. (Since yesterday, I might add.)
I’ve written 15 pages.
Technically, I’m done. Technically, I should be cutting what I’ve written thus far down, to make space for the aforementioned and as-yet unwritten intro/conclusion. Technically, my professor said 15 pages minimum.
When I was in middle school, we didn’t get normal grades. Instead of an A,B,C,D,F scale, we had AS, MS, BS: Above Standards, Meeting Standards, and Below Standards. Now, the teachers may or may not have explicitly mentioned this, but the standards were individual standards. Different students were held to different standards in different subjects; if you were strong in one subject but struggled in another, the school wanted to reward effort, not just knowledge.
It seems a bit intense, and certainly took a bit to get used to, but it truly was (and is) a great system. As a student, you learn to push yourself. You learn what truly great work looks like for you. You learn to have high expectations for yourself. You learn to meet, and even exceed them. After all, what is “Above Standards” other than doing better than anyone thought you could do?
15 pages. I’m not that proud of them. I can tell I wrote them in a day. I know that my writing is more cohesive than many of my classmates, that my thoughts are more nuanced, that my citations more thorough. But I’m not impressed. And, most importantly, I know that my professor has standards. Like anyone.
Teachers theoretically grade us all to the same standard, but we all know that isn’t *actually* true. Students joke that being a teacher’s pet makes life easier – he already likes you, so you don’t have to try as hard and he’ll likely grade you highly. But sometimes, a professor has a sliding scale of standards. Sometimes, she sees what you’re capable of, and pushes you to reach that edge. Combine that with the internalized desire to be better than I can be, (yes I realize the impossibility inherent in that statement) and all of a sudden it is 2:03 in the morning and you’re halfway through a rough draft of a paper that has already met the length expectation. Ooops.
See you tomorrow. Or is it today?
When I write blog posts, I write them in the moment. Usually, I have some thought that I realize would make a great start for a post, or I have some experience I really want to record. I often think of this blog as my journal or my diary, it is the way I record what is going on in my life, and I am just sharing it with everyone else in the whole wide world. The point of saying this is to remind both myself and you, my readers, that each of my blog posts exists as a snapshot of a moment. Usually, I write my posts straight into my blog. Less often, I write them as word documents and just cut and copy later. With the exception of my posts in foreign languages, I almost never edit a post before it goes up, just like I wouldn’t edit an entry in a diary.
Like everyone else, my life is a roller coasters of ups and downs. I’ve had a lot of ups this year, but as the end of my time in Prague approaches, there are a lot of downs too. I’m trying to be honest as I record what I’m feeling, even when my feelings from one day to the next are opposite. With that said, I want to share two posts I wrote in word documents in the last few days. They are, interestingly, basically contradictory. The one is full of excitement about my growing language skills, while the other expresses frustration with those same skills.
Me and Czech TV
I’ve been traveling a lot these past few weeks (Paris, Cinque Terre, and Malta all in one month) and it has been seriously great. But the result of traveling a lot is that I’ve had very little down time. Especially since we’ve been in the midst of finals, all my extra time has been spent frantically writing papers and studying for those tests.
But this weekend, I’m not going anywhere. Technically I am, but I’m just accompanying my family to grandma’s house. Which means I’ve had the time to just hang out with my family.
I’ve been cuddling with Emma and got kisses from Jachym when he got home from school today. All this kid time means I’ve also gotten to watch some cartoons. Morning cartoons, afternoon cartoons, evening cartoons. There isn’t anything fundamentally interesting about watching cartoons if you are no longer a child. Watching cartoons has actually been a bit like torture over this year, because I am stuck watching cartoons that I don’t even understand. So I stopped watching them sometime around February. I would still sometimes watch other TV shows, like Castle, in Czech because I knew the plots well enough to use them as a sort of lesson in Czech.
But then, this week, I watched some cartoons. I watched some with Emma this morning, and then some with Jachym this afternoon. And I realized at some point that I wasn’t just absentmindedly staring at the TV screen waiting for the program to be over so we could do something else, like I had been earlier in the year. This time, I was actually watching them. And understanding them. Not translating them for myself, but actually understanding them. In Czech!
Now I realize that these are TV programs for children, and so they fundamentally have easier vocabulary and lots of visual clues. But I also know that these are programs in a foreign language. And these are programs that just a few months ago I found incredibly frustrating because even if I devoted 100% attention to them, I wasn’t able to understand even half of what was going on. But now, I can sit on the couch and watch the cartoons like any other kid. I don’t understand all the words, but I catch enough to figure the rest out. I use the images as context for the sentences I don’t understand. I don’t try to translate, but let myself learn through osmosis.
Obviously, this moment of realization was exciting and, honestly, a little overwhelming and disappointing. I’m about to leave, and I finally feel like I’m getting a handle on this language. I can read stories to the kids and feel like I’m actually reading them. When something seems strange, it might be because I don’t understand the words. Or it might be that the story is actually about a biting sweater and another sweater made of spaghetti. (Kids stories can be a little … strange.)
As I finish my time here in Prague, I’ve been continuing with the habit I’ve picked up here in this city filled with coffee shops. I’ve joked multiple times that there is a café on every corner, and more than once I’ve made it my goal to find a new favorite. Needless to say, I have many.
But I’m not the type of person to just go sit aimlessly in a café sipping a cappuccino. I go with friends, and we chat for hours. Or I bring my computer or my iPad or a book and I write the papers I need to write or I read.
I’ve fallen in love with the café culture here more than I ever fell in love with cafés in Boston or San Francisco, not because there are necessarily more cafés here, or a greater variety, but for some other reason I couldn’t put my finger on.
I finally figured it out.
I hate working with headphones in. Not that I can’t do it or that I find headphones uncomfortable, but just that I enjoy hearing what is going on around me. I like to hear the clink of plates or the low voices of people around me. But in the States, where all those conversations are in English, I overhear something I find interesting, and all of a sudden I am no longer focusing on what I am reading, but rather that I’m thinking about the conversation I am listening to. But here, in the Czech Republic, where everyone is speaking a foreign language, that hasn’t been a problem. Every so often there is a table speaking English, and I hear that and find the language notable, but very rarely is the conversation notable as well. So I ignore it as easily as I ignored the conversations my brother and dad would have while I was in high school.
Today, I’m sitting in a café, like always. Like always, the conversations around me are in Czech. But this time, I understand most of what is happening and I can’t focus anymore. I am listening to these conversations around me, understanding enough to want to understand it all. And it is distracting.
I finally figured it out.
I love having background noise, and as long as I couldn’t understand them, dozens of conversations could happen around me and I wouldn’t be bothered.
It feels like I have been doing my homework in the eye of a hurricane all year long. But now, the eye has moved, and the wind is blowing my papers away and I am getting wet. And it is distracting.
Perhaps this is why I never fell in love with doing work in cafés in Boston. I’ve gotten lots of distraction-free work done in Diesel, where you have to pay for internet. But that was in spite of the atmosphere, not because of it. I would go to Diesel with headphones and playlists because otherwise I’d happily sit in a corner and eavesdrop. And here, with just two papers left to write in Prague, the same thing is happening to me in Czech.
So I guess getting good at this language is a double edged sword. I was hoping to bring my love of cafés as work spaces back to Boston, but now I suspect that won’t be happening. At the same time, learning that I need my headphones in cafés here too is a little exciting, because it means that my latent language skills are growing exponentially! Just in time to go home…
I’m not going to pretend that I’ve got a good answer or come to any sort of conclusion regarding how I feel about these discoveries. But you can be sure that there will be lots more posts about leaving coming up. Consider this a warning – my blog is about to get sentimental.
There are about a million and one things I’d like to write about this week. A tribute to Shirley Temple, a list of all the places I want to go this semester and why, a consideration of the brilliant simplicity associated with the names of different Olympic sports in Czech. But first, I need to brag.
My brother, though I don’t often talk about him, is a really cool kid. He’s only thirteen years old, but he’s been doing some pretty sweet stuff with his life. He just finished making an amazing stained glass project, he had a big part in his school’s recent Shakespeare performance, and he earned an award for the youth referee of the year in the local AYSO soccer organization last month. He’s heading to Japan in a couple of months with his class for his first parent-free international trip. (If he’s anything like me, and he’s shaping up to be, it will be the first of many.)
But of the most importance right now is to give him and Team M a much deserved and giant “Congratulations!”, because they’re going to St. Louis!
For anyone not involved in FIRST, this doesn’t mean much, so let me explain. FIRST – For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology – is an international robotics organization. They have challenges for all age groups, from JrFLL for 4th and 5th graders up to FRC for high school students. If you want detailed information about the organization, go here, and if you want detailed information about the challenges, go here, here, and here.
Each of the levels of FIRST Robotics has local challenges; the winners of various awards in these challenges get forwarded to regional competitions, and the winners there get to go to nationals, which are held in St. Louis. (Hence the excitement.)
I was lucky enough to go to St. Louis in high school because I joined a good team. My brother, on the other hand, gets to go to St. Louis because he and his friends are actually good at what they do. Admittedly, they have an amazing parent advisor who is probably the smartest man I’ve ever met in my life, and the kids are lucky to have him around. But the kids are lucky not because Zain does the work for them, but because he gives them challenges in the offseason that prepare them to face their problems and solve them on their own.
Not only that, but apparently they work together and are good at research. The highest award teams can earn at any level of FIRST is the Chairman’s Award. (Edit – apparently the FLL awards system is a bit different. I wouldn’t really know, I was never that good at that level. It turns out their team got the Champion’s Award, not Chairman’s, which is based on their scores in Robot Design, Project, and Core Values. Also, not all teams at the FLL level get to go to St. Louis; there is a national lottery for teams that got the Champion’s Award, and Team M lucked out.) This award is given to one team at every competition, and is granted based on a variety of factors. At every level, it includes robot performance, teamwork, and commitment to FIRST values. At the high school level, it includes a consideration of the team’s service to their community. At the middle school level, it includes the level of research about your project and the quality of the presentation. (Every challenge is themed; teams must research and create a solution to a problem within the theme. This year’s theme was weather.)
To receive the Chairman’s Award is a big honor, perhaps the biggest honor in the whole competition. When in St. Louis, there are exactly two awards all teams want: the Champion’s Award (winning the whole competition) and the Chairman’s Award. Other awards, for robot design, first aid, FIRST values, etc., are nice, but these are the ones you really want.
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, Team M won the Chairman’s Award at their regional competition, which puts them in the running for the Chairman’s Award at Nationals. They ALSO had the highest score of the competition, and their 4 scores were all in the top 6 of the weekend, which makes them even more awesome in my book.
So congratulations, Robby, because you’re amazing. And I don’t tell you often enough, but I love you and I am incredibly impressed by everything you are accomplishing every single day. I wish that I could have been home for your Recital presentation and your show. I can’t wait to see your stained glass in person when I get home. I wish I could have heard your speech, but I’m looking forward to being home for your graduation speech to see how much you’ve grown up. Congratulations on the Ref of the Year award. Be careful with the plaque though, the AYSO fell off of mine after a year or two. And, of course, congratulations to you and Team M. You guys rock. (See below)
Dear Team M,
Congratulations! You guys should be very proud of yourselves. To have accomplished what you have, to have earned the scores you have, and to have gotten the awards you have is seriously impressive. So give yourselves a pat on the back, because you deserve it.
But be prepared for St. Louis. I’ve been there, and I know what its like. It is amazing and petrifying at the same time. You will have experiences there you’ll never forget, but hopefully you will all get to go more than once and they’ll all blend together. But still, be prepared.
You get to travel to St. Louis. You get to talk to kids from around the country that are just as smart and accomplished as you are. But you have to face the reality that winning everything won’t be easy, and winning a single match is an accomplishment (this is something you haven’t really faced for a while…).
There are all sorts of experiences to be had there, and all sorts of connections for you to make. Befriend robotics kids from around the country – but do more than just friend them on facebook. Actually talk to them, ask them questions. Don’t limit yourselves to FLL kids either. Familiarize yourself with the FRC and FTC challenges for this year. Go and watch some of the matches, and then talk to some of the older kids. Yes, they are in high school. But you all will be too within a year or two. Talk to them, get to know what works and what doesn’t. Because their experiences will help you in the future, but also with your FLL challenges.
It is scary for me to think that my baby brother is old enough to be thinking about making connections in the world, but he is. If you are all going to St. Louis on your own merits, you all are. All the members of Team M, and perhaps equally importantly, your parents, will have the opportunity to meet representatives from all sorts of tech and robots related entities. There will be college reps from MIT and CalTech and, though you guys are still in middle school, I’m sure there will be brochures about amazing summer programs, complete with financial aid incentives to help you get there.
Try to take some time to explore. Hundreds of teams come from all over the world to compete, each bringing different ideas and different techniques to the competition. Talk to other FLL kids, but go bigger. Talk to kids in FRC and FTC. Ask them about scouting, and figure out why it is so important in the high school competitions. Find the place with the college kids and their copters (no promises it will be there this year, but look!). Talk to them about robots in real life, because they probably have experience with it. Talk to the judges about your robot, but also ask them about their experiences in industry. If you are going to St. Louis, we already know you’re interested in this stuff, so see these three or four days as a time to learn as much as you can.
Everybody in the industry knows that the kids (of all ages) at St. Louis are the engineers of the future, and you will be treated as such. But you will also get treated like kids. I was only there as a high school student, and I’m sure we had more freedom than you will get. We had dances, and a free Black Eyed Peas concert for all the competitors, but we also had strict curfews and a lot of responsibilities. Because this is a competition, after all, and everyone wants to win. There is excitement when everything goes right and heartbreak when everything goes wrong.
Be prepared. Even though there is a lot of fun, there is also a lot of work to be done. To be successful in St. Louis, you have a lot of work to do before you get there. You need to polish your presentation. It doesn’t matter how good you think it was, it can be better. Make the presentation to a panel of teachers, and ask them for honest critiques; when you get criticism, don’t be offended, but incorporate it to make your presentation better. Figure out why you didn’t get your highest possible score on all four runs at regionals. Is your mat at home slightly different than the one you competed on? Why? Will your robot still work if the table isn’t perfectly level? If there is one thing that will be absolutely necessary at the next level of competition, it is consistency.
Bring something to hand out. Though fewer people visit the FLL pits than the FRC pits, there will still be people. Make up a Team M flyer, or pins, or something silly so that people will remember you. Why are you called Team M anyway? People will want to know. Be prepared for judges to come and talk to you in the pits, while you are watching other robots, and even while your own robot is competing. Always be polite, and if you can’t answer their questions, recommend a different team member who can. Remember, gracious professionalism always and forever.
You will make a million memories while in St. Louis, and the experience will be truly amazing. No matter what happens while you’re there, remember that it is seriously amazing what you have all accomplished as a team and as individuals to get there. But don’t be conceited, and learn as much as you can while you’re there.
Most of all, though, get excited and have a good time!!
Finally, if you want to know anything about my competitions in St. Louis, my FRC teams, or anything else, (or, parents, if you do!) just put it in the comments, and I’ll get back to you.
Good luck, and Congratulations again.
To do lists. I’m not sure when they became such a staple in my daily life, but they are truly indispensable. Maybe I love them for the semblance of control they give me, maybe I like them (we’re being honest here!) because people are always impressed by their existence and their length. Maybe I use them because they keep me from forgetting important things, which is incredibly important when you’re trying to maintain valuable friendships and forge professional relationships at the same time. Maybe these lists are just an excuse to use all the colored pens I’ve collected over the years. Regardless, when you’re stuck at a desk, staring at a blank wall for hours, there is nothing better than highlighting that last assignment, crossing off that last task, or crumpling that list up once and for all. Little accomplishments, but its the little things that truly matter.