summer

The calm before the semester

Makal - calm before semesterOver the past three weeks, I have done almost no work on my research project. Though it was always in the back of my mind, I was relieved to have the opportunity to take some time off after working on my project for 10 weeks of my precious, far too short summer. As stated in my last post, during my time off I was able to something I’ve never done before: go to the west coast.

The first stop on my west coast journey was in St. George, Utah, a city surrounded by mountains and inhabited by Mormons. My family and I went to St. George to see my uncle in a series of musicals, including “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “Peter Pan” and “Tarzan”. As expected, my uncle was amazing. But what I wasn’t quite prepared for is how beautiful the scenery would be. We were surrounded by mountains of red rock as far as the eye could see – good for climbing, hiking and even jumping off of. My days in Utah were filled with breathtaking views of different national or state parks, and my nights were filled with breathtaking performances.

From Utah, my family took a quick one day trip to Las Vegas, Nevada. Though most people enjoy Las Vegas because of the gambling and the night life, I was plenty happy to just sit by the pool and soak up the sun after walking for miles on miles every day in Utah. Because we were only there for one day and night, I wouldn’t really say I got to experience all that Las Vegas had to offer. However, I was able to leave the city with all of the money that I showed up with, so I’d call it a success.

In Las Vegas, my family and I went our separate ways – they flew home, and I flew to San Fransisco, California to visit my boyfriend and his family. As this was my first time in California, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. However, I can tell you for sure that it was not what I had pictured! There were beautiful trees and grassy hills all over the town in which my boyfriend lives, no sand or palm trees to be seen, and, most shocking of all, the city of San Fransisco was absolutely FREEZING. Going from 100-degree weather in Utah to 60-degree weather in San Fransisco was quite a shock, but it was a beautiful city nonetheless. We explored all around the city, my boyfriend’s home town, and, most importantly, the many wineries in Napa.

Over the past three weeks, I have visited three new states, and had countless unforgettable experiences. Now, with just a week left before classes start, it is time for me to get ready to get back into research mode. Once classes begin, so too does the rest of my research (as well as campus jobs, grad school applications and more). I am truly lucky to have been able to spend the last few weeks of my summer exploring with the people that I care about, but it is now time for me to focus on myself, my school work and my research.

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August Reflections

Sternstein - August Reflections
The Fourth of July is usually the day that sets me into a panic that the summer is over. In reality, though, at this point the summer is still at its early stages; New York’s beach water has yet to warm by the stored sun, my August birthdate hasn’t reached my radar and my mother has yet to plan the last hurrah family vacation. On the Fourth of July, I remind myself to focus on the present days, that August is sprawled out somewhere far ahead.

But here we are: past the midway point of August, perhaps my favorite month (I mentioned the birthday part, right?), but also a month that feels like one long Sunday. As I soak up some of the final moments, I also reflect on all that I learned while working on my honors fellowship and how I can use the momentum to carry on in the midst of my challenging fall semester course load. Here are a few things that I came up with:

  1. Schedule in daily writing time. Even when I feel bogged down by homework assignments and exams, I need to schedule in my writing time as if it were a class I wouldn’t dare miss.
  1. Tune everything out. Find a quiet space where people won’t be coming in and out, power off my cell phone and tuck it away somewhere out of sight. 
  1. Give a story a chance. I have so many ideas of what I want to write about that sometimes, in the very early stages, I have trouble sticking to a story. Write down those ideas, save them for later. But an idea is not yet a story, and I need to remember to stick it out before swapping out. Usually, once I get three to four pages in, I won’t want to switch anymore.
  1. Ask “What if?” If my characters feel stuck, asking some questions can help me figure out their next moves.
  1. Pick up a book. And if all else fails, reading a little bit of a really well-written story or novel (For example, I recently finished “Half an Inch of Water” by Percival Everett – recommended by my adviser, Kevin González) always inspires me and makes me want to sit down and write again.

Summer Wrap-Up: What I’ve Learned

The soundtrack to my summer

The soundtrack to my summer

At the end of every semester, I always ask myself, “What did I learn this semester?” This question is applicable to all aspects of my life – academic, personal, social, etc. And so, as I’m wrapping up my summer research, I asked myself the same question: What did I learn this summer?

  1. Finding the right work space: I’ve learned to accept that there are places where I’m very productive and places where I am not. This summer, I learned that I do my best work when I switch it up. I would spend some mornings at the library, some at Starbucks and some at cafés around CMU’s campus.
  2. It’s okay to ask for help. When I was about three weeks into my research, I started to experience a lot of self-doubt about my work. I went to multiple sources about this issue, and was given a lot of useful pieces of advice. I learned that it’s okay to have some self-doubt, but that it’s important to keep working.
  3. Take breaks! I also learned that I was more productive doing research when I took the weekends off to relax, spend time with friends and family and read for pleasure. I even picked up extra work shifts at the campus bookstore, which was more helpful than I could have imagined it would be. Researching alone all day can become fairly isolating, so it was nice to go somewhere in the afternoons where I could interact with people and take a break from focusing on French language policy.
  4. Music helps. I’ve always listened to music when I do school work, but found it to be extremely helpful in increasing my productivity over the summer. When I find the right playlist or album, I’m really able to focus on my readings and am more motivated to use my time effectively.

I’m really looking forward to applying what I’ve learned about how I work most productively to my academic work this coming fall. I’m also curious to see what rhythm I fall into once classes start up again.

In terms of what I accomplished in relation to my research this summer, I’ve been able to create a Language Policy and Planning timeline for France and Quebec, and now have a theoretical and historical basis for better understanding language policy and nationalism in these two contexts.

Moving forward, I will be reading public debate surrounding La Loi Toubon (1994-France) and La Charte de la Langue Française (1977- Quebec), and sending an online survey to participants in France and Quebec to better gauge contemporary opinion about the French language and its relation to identity. I hope to determine how multiculturalism and globalization are effecting the somewhat homogenous nature of of French and Quebec language legislation.

Thank you for reading, and I’m really looking forward to how my research will develop over the coming academic year!

Exploring My Freedom

Makal - Exploring My Freedom
As I sat, just a few days ago, in a conference room in Baker Hall surrounded by my fellow Fellows and their advisers, waiting quite impatiently for my turn to present the work I have done over the summer, I got to thinking about what I’ve done in the past three months. Of course, I know what I have accomplished in terms of my research project, as that was the core of the presentation. For those of you who missed it, here are some of the highlights:

  • I generated two unique research questions and hypotheses.
  • I crafted a research experiment to address these questions and hypotheses.
  • I found and created measures and manipulations with which to perform this research experiment.
  • I formulated these measures and manipulations into a coherent, hopefully acceptable IRB application (for which I am still waiting on approval).
  • I programmed all of the information from the IRB application into the online platform through which my study will eventually be made available to participants.

Though there is still work to be done before the school year, specifically in terms of piloting my study to ensure that there are no further changes to be made, and (God willing!) receiving IRB approval, I am able to look back on this summer and say that I have accomplished most of my goals. This is an incredible feeling – almost as good of a feeling as sitting down after completing my presentation. However, as I sat in that room sweaty and anxious, I was not thinking about my research goals and accomplishments. I was, instead, thinking about the summer I was able to have outside of my research.

This summer, thanks to the flexibility of the fellowship program, I was able to continue on with my job at the Carnegie Mellon University Store, enabling me to make some extra money. I then swiftly blew through this money during my travels, which included my family’s annual summer vacation to Wisconsin, as well as multiple trips to Washington, D.C. to visit my boyfriend and explore a new and historic city. Some of my most fond and educational memories of the summer come from the traveling I was able to do, and I cannot express my gratitude to the fellowship program for making this possible. Additionally, as I have written about before, I found a new love this summer: hot yoga. Having the flexibility to attend daily classes has allowed me to improve myself, both physically and mentally, in ways that I hope will carry into the rest of my life off of the mat.

Though I have already had a very fulfilling summer, it is now time for me to take some time off and regroup before the school year starts. In this next month, I will continue my travels – this time going out west to Utah and then on to California. I will still be in contact with my faculty adviser through email, sorting out any issues that may come about during study piloting that will occur while I’m gone. However, I can confidently say that I have made it through this summer of research, and that I have great momentum and hopes for when I get back to it in the fall.