Debate and Rhetoric, Session II
Debate and Rhetoric, Session I
Summer College 2014
My name is Max, and I grew up in Beijing, China. Coming from a family of mixed heritage, I was able to experience the essence of two cultures. Basically, I was handed the traditions, mannerisms, and expectations of both Chinese and American societies. However, despite being raised in the narrow in-between of two somewhat conflicting worlds, I was able to develop individual perspectives and interests that allowed me to not only foster, but also steer the direction of my own growth. These hobbies ranged from music, to debate, to theater and so forth.
Thus, I enrolled in Cornell's summer program (Debate and Rhetoric) to not only get a taste of life in my dream school (the School of Industrial and Labor Relations), but also, to further my interests in debate. Hopefully, attending the program will impart me with skillsets that I can use to nurture my passion in the field.
I will say that Cornell has been an unusual experience. This summer, instead of playing music on a bustling city street, or writing opinion-papers in a busy college-town coffee shop, I find myself nestled under shady trees reading chapters on fallacies of logic and argumentation. The beautiful learning environment tints my lenses in a way so that even doing homework becomes somewhat romantic and Hollywood-esque. I feel at peace and satisfied, and I will elaborate on this later.
Classes were the highlight of my struggle between the realms of dreaming and reality in the past week, for they were the only certainty my days possessed. Jetlag meant that I was no longer guaranteed that I would sleep through the nights (most of the time I would be awake at 3 a.m.), and the mere thought that I would be conscious and hungry at the right times during the day became fleeting dreams. Fortunately, I was able to find myself in time for the weekend, which I mostly spent working and relaxing off campus.
I do love my professor and I do love my class, and I must admit that I have never been in a class so bizarre. The laid-back nature of the course structure makes it easy for the information taught to soak in, the professor's jokes keep the atmosphere light, and the eager, enthusiastic, attitudes of my classmates help inspire me to participate and to actively analyze the material assigned out of class. Though there is a lot of coursework, I feel energized by the ambience and encouraged by those around me to work through it all. I also keep in mind that the work is mostly reading, which is never actually that difficult for me at least.
However, another part of the magic here is, literally, outside the classroom. Right now, it's the grass between my toes, the tree at my back, and the breeze in my hair. I type away under the blue sky, constructing sentences, then deleting them, then re-wording the phrase in a different way… and I do this for hours. Occasionally, a bee or a fly would buzz around me, and my fear of bugs would remind me to stand up and stretch a little before continuing on with the next paragraph. A couple of days ago, it was me and my friends, sitting on the ledge of a building, telling jokes, and admiring the fiery red sun as it set over the gorge. Though this gets cheesier as I go on, the feelings in those moments make me not regret coming halfway across the world for summer, and even if one day I forget what an A fortiori argument is, I'll at least remember that sense of inner peace and satisfaction departed upon me by my beautiful surroundings.
This will be my final blog post during my final week in Cornell. I must say, it is slightly awkward, for I missed the initial deadline for the post, and I am now writing this in front of gate C90 in Newark airport. Nevertheless, there are many things I want to say about this program, but it will have to be brief (my plane for Beijing boards in 15 minutes).
Firstly, the academic experience was an utter delight. I learned new content in a variety of learning formats: lectures, readings, in-class debates, and discussions… the list goes on. I truly believe that the summer program has a program that is not only rigorous, but also suited to students with a variety of learning styles and preferences, in that whilst the traditional sense of "study-study-study" academia is there, there is also an opportunity for students who don't fit the mold to excel through more hands-on activities (I really hope all college courses are like this). For example, my course had 30% of the grade from debates, 30% from papers, 30% from tests and 10% from participation. If one were to be like myself (in that I'm a horrible test-taker), I still had a chance to earn an A through participating actively in class and doing well on the papers and in the debate. This was stressed several times during the course, which brings me to the second point: the professor, Mr. Sam Nelson. First day of class, he told us to refer to him as Sam, for he wanted to eliminate the sense of distance between student and professor, and this he did excellently. Every class would be a carefully concocted (yet seemingly organic) cocktail of laughter, learning, advice, and Q&A. Students who needed help would be able to find him or the TA's almost anytime outside of class; this level of accessibility made it easy to receive guidance, whether it be for tests or assignments. Not only this, but the professor also offered to put me in touch with some professionals in Beijing who work with a similar style of debate that we learned in class! Potential students: it's all there, the learning, the opportunities, even the networking!
As I furiously type away and attempt to sound like I know what I'm writing about, I have to admit that I will miss Cornell… homework, friends, Collegetown Bagels, and everything else. And I guess that's all.
To be perfectly honest, I have always hated writing down reflections. For me, the process needs to happen naturally, say in my head on a sleep deprived 14-hour plane ride from Newark to Beijing. Thus, when the time comes and I have to brainstorm my ideas, organize my thoughts and phrase them coherently on a Word document, I draw my inspiration from the narrative style employed in Virginia Woolf's "To the Lighthouse": Stream of consciousness.
Right now I sit on the 19th floor of an office building, pretending to be in the midst of researching precedents for a merger. I'm interning for a law firm you see, so really, what little work gets thrown my way is rather tedious, and I guess "reflecting" could be considered as taking a break. I look to my right, and I see a giant gray chimney standing, 40 stories high, defiantly to an even grayer sky; the view is really quite ugly. Nonetheless, before you go ahead and scrutinize the last construction personifying the chimney as some sort of a rebellious figure, I'd just like to remark that no smoke has come out of the chimney for years, which is why I described it as seemingly "defiant" towards the hideous smog-filled clouds that permeate the Beijing skies. Laugh if you will, but my summer is so "lame" that I've resorted to romanticizing the infrastructure outside the office window. Nevertheless, gazing out over the gloomy capital, I find it hard to believe that just a couple of weeks ago I was in such a free place as Cornell.
The last days are etched in my memory as a stressful, yet somehow bittersweet combination of cramming for exams, packing for the trip back, and saying goodbye to the few people I'd gotten close to in the three weeks. Unfortunately, I don't feel like rehashing any of those episodes: it's far too sentimental for a blog post. I would like to, however, express my gratitude those who were supportive, before, after, during the talent show on the last day. All the performers were, without a doubt, on a professional level, and combined with the eagerness of the audience, the night was the perfect cherry-on-top finish for a fantastic three weeks. Though, I must say that out of everything, I still do miss my class and professor the most. What I would give right now to walk through the quaint ILR quad, into Ives 305 and take part in a hilarious discussion about politics, ethics, and Mr. Nelson's back story. I really want to go back soon, and to that my mother would say that I should start writing my common-application essay, but for now I'm still "reflecting"... I guess.