Sunday, October 18, 2009

Casas de carton

Here in Athens, Habitat for Humanity sponsors an annual event called Cardboard City. The basic idea is that you gather a team, raise some money through donations, and then show up to a parking lot where you are given duct tape, cardboard, and about 90 minutes to construct a building to stay in for the night. The money all goes to Habitat then and a good time is had by all. We got invited by our couchsurfing friends Greg and Regina and their new dog Gus (no, Gus didn't actually invite us but on a tangent, he did ask Regina to marry Greg... but that's a different story...)

As darkness fell, we worked feverishly to construct our home. Joo and Regina worked on an elaborate recliner while Greg and I focused on a combo box-A-frame structure and a bench for lounging on our cardboard porch.

In the end, it started to rain and two of us had sore throats so we called it a night and left the younger citizens of cardboard city to battle the elements.

John, our sometimes home resident, had a shock the other morning when he stepped out on our porch and found that his car had disappeared. While Joo got pretty worked up and upset, John stayed calm, confident that I had just played an elaborate joke on him. By the time it dawned on him that I would have had no access to his keys, Joo was on the phone with the police and they eventually found that his car had been towed. As the story unfolded, his car must have coasted from its parked position and rolled down the hill into an intersection around 4am and apparently, being against the law to park in an intersection, the tow truck came and took him away...

Mom visited the following week, bringing the year's final harvest from our first garden. We had lunch at a Middle-Eastern restaurant, grabbed a coffee and then visited some shops in nearby Nelsonville.
But that has been pretty much the summary of our last month. Virtually all of my time is being consumed by studying; even weekends are essentially just open spaces for extra blocks of studying. One of the questions I had going into a master's program in math in my 30's was whether or not my brain could handle it (math is apparently one of those grad subjects where virtually everyone goes into straight out of undergrad or doesn't go at all). In terms of the material itself, although it's significantly harder than anything I saw in undergrad, I steadily am able to grasp it more and more as I invest time. The bigger problem is speed- while my brain may be able to understand the same concepts as 10 years ago, it seems to take it longer, which is coming into play in two ways. First, I struggle to follow the teachers' pace during lectures and have to rely on my notes afterwards to truly digest the information. Which means a lot more out-of-class studying time. Second, I don't have nearly enough time on tests and end up panicking as the clock ticks by while I try to compose the necessary proofs.
That said, overall, in six short weeks, my understanding of mathematics has significantly deepened much more than I expected it to and seeing some of the intricate relationships between different concepts is truly amazing. There's also an intense satisfaction that comes from proving a theorem all on my own- even if the theorem has been proven millions of times before by other math students and professors. For tricky proofs, the moment when the final hurdle suddenly drops and I see the entire path of the proof step-by-step in my mind as I'm sipping on some coffee in my study... I get goosebumps, my eyes widen, and my heart beats faster as I scribble down a complete map and see whether it really works out. When it does, I joyfully write it all out in my neatest handwriting with my best Pilot pen and then take a minute to baske in the feeling before moving on. On a couple of occasions, I was so excited that Joo took notice and politely asked me to explain and so I went through every step of the proof with her while she took great interest (or at least pretended to- it really must have been quite boring for her!!) So those moments make it all worth it, and the class I'm teaching is going well too which is an added bonus.

Joo has been studying quite diligently herself- 4 hours of english class a week in a local program and sometimes spending 8-10 hours at the university library going through classical literature and taking meticulous notes on the vocabulary and sentence structures in order to improve her translation abilities. She has built up her reputation quite high now in Korea after two years of translation and has had some recent opportunities for bigger projects and even a book (which she turned down because she wants to pace herself and improve a bit more before she tackles a huge project like that).

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