Shockingly, my second alma mater (as in, the school I just graduated from) sent my diploma and it arrived today. Considering its inefficiency in general, I’m shocked the diploma arrived here a whole month ahead of schedule.


The Five Most Important Concepts in International Relations

Stephen Walt, a Harvard professor of international relations, has a post up on Foreign Policy about the five most important concepts in international relations. It’s in honor of all the graduating students out there (shout out to the class of 2014—congratulations!).

Obviously there’s more to international relations than this (which reminds me how much I wish I had some extra money lying around so I could go get an international relations degree!), but here’s what Professor Walt says is the most important:

  1. Anarchy—there’s no central authority on the world stage, unlike in domestic politics.
  2. Balance of power—everyone always worries about how their strength relates to others, and big shifts in balance of power usually means big problems.
  3. Comparative advantage—it’s better to specialize in producing something you have a relative advantage at than try to do everything.
  4. Misperception and miscalculation—basically, people are stupid and often act stupidly.
  5. Social constructivism—states’ behavior is often shaped by prevailing social attitudes.

Admittedly, I’m not sure I agree with this list or not, but I thought it was interesting enough to share. (And interesting enough to make me want to quit my job that I haven’t even started and go study international relations!)

What do you think? What are the most important concepts in your field?

Exciting News!

My dear readers, I held off on making this public until I was (relatively) certain that it was true. It is my pleasure to announce that I will be graduating from my program (this fact was never in doubt) and starting a job this summer, an actual job at an actual company. I want to maintain at least some semblance of anonymity for now, so I’ll have to come up with a catchy nickname for my future place of work. I’ll also have to come up with a nickname for where I’m moving—because I will be moving away from where I currently live, the area I affectionately call the Balmy Tropics.

I can’t even tell you how excited I am about all of this. Rest assured that I will continue blogging and fill this blog with Russia-related stuff and historical goodies. Because, as they say in the super-secret history society* I used to be a member of: “Once a historian, always a historian.”

*I’ve never actually been a member of a super-secret society. I was a member of the history honorary at my undergraduate university, though. And I made up that saying myself, just to let you know.


My mom and I were talking earlier and it fully hit me that the exam I’ll be taking tomorrow (technically later today, as I’m up past midnight) may very well be the last exam I ever take for school.

I complain a lot about studying to my friends, but I’d be lying if I said I was completely unaffected by this thought.

Advice To High School Graduates

It’s that time of year, when people feel the irrepressible urge to dispense their sage advice to those young ones who have recently graduated or will be soon graduating from high school. Your favorite blogger (i.e. me) is no exception.

One thing that does make me sad about being all wise and full of advice is I know a lot of people won’t listen. I know this because I wouldn’t have listened to any of this when I was eighteen. I was astoundingly foolish when I was eighteen. I didn’t know anything back then and I am certain the vast majority of other eighteen-year-olds are the same way. But since I enjoy giving advice so much, I’m going to post this anyway.
Continue reading “Advice To High School Graduates”

Some Thoughts on Language Teaching

I read this post on Rebecca Schuman’s blog, in which she writes about teaching foreign languages. (She’s a former German professor who left academia because of the dreadful job market. More on that another time.)

She talks about four different methods of teaching foreign languages. I think she says it better than I can, so here’s an excerpt from the post:

SLA (Second Language Acquisition) pedagogy has come a long way since the 50s, when the grammar-translation method was all the rage. Instruction was done entirely in the L1 (the native language of all or most of the class), with the focus being on sentence diagramming, grammar, vocab lists, noun inflections, and translating the L2 (or the “target language”) back into English. It’s still the method used to teach dead languages–but you can see why using it to teach a living language is lächerlich and muy estúpido, oui?

Since then, SLA has gone through many different vogues, each less objectionable than the last. These include…

the natural approach (where you treat SLL like first-language learning–sort of weird when you have adult learners, though)

the audiolingual approach (SO MANY DRILLS–also, the approach I learned German with, and possibly why I was so bad at transitioning between “skills” and “content,” although that also could have been laziness)

the communicative approach, in which the communication of material, however it manages to be done (including “incorrect” speech with errors and code-switching) is prioritized, and SLL (second language learners) are treated from the beginning as “uneven bilinguals” and simply gain more fluency and accuracy through the use of positive reinforcement. This is a great method, because communicative language teachers try their god-damndest not to correct students directly while they’re talking (I don’t know if you’ve ever had someone Sprachpolizei you, but it’s enough to scare you out of ever talking again). Rather, communicative language teachers repeat the SLL’s utterance back to them in the correct way, one that both models how it’s “supposed” to be and helps discourage anxiety. The best part of the communicative approach, though, is that it connects language with meaningful content all the time. Students almost never do exercises for the sake of exercises, but rather their grammar or vocab-building is incorporated into the content units of the class.

She goes on to say that she used the communicative approach with a slight modification: no English was allowed in the classroom, ever. I’m assuming this means even in introductory-level courses, she still allowed no English. Now, I know everyone learns differently and has different preferences, but I have always been unsold on the idea of banning English from first and second year foreign language classes.

My first-year Russian class was intense. Our textbook used the communicative method (though I didn’t realize it at the time because I knew nothing of foreign language pedagogy back then) but my Russian professor, who was from the Old Country (aka Soviet-era Ukraine) didn’t fully believe in the communicative method. He was a big believer in correcting mistakes right as they happened (so we wouldn’t learn something incorrectly and have to re-learn it later) and we did a ton of grammar drills because Russian grammar is just that complicated. Overall, based on Rebecca’s descriptions, I’d say we were taught fifty percent with the communicative approach, fifty percent something else that seems like a mix of grammar-translation and audiolingual methods.

Because here’s the thing: once you’ve had your mistakes corrected, right in front of everyone, you stop worrying about getting embarrassed and will basically say anything to anyone. I speak from personal experience: at the beginning of first year, I was slightly mortified when I messed up, but I got over it. It wasn’t the end of the world and realizing this helped me get better at asking questions in all of my classes, not just Russian.

As for learning grammar rules, I have never understood why so many language learners fear learning grammar and say that it isn’t necessary. Yes, it’s difficult and yes, it is necessary. My English improved immensely when I was twelve because I spent a year in school learning English grammar. Grammar may be difficult, but it is possible to learn it. Someone—I think it was Vicki Boykis—said that often, there’s no substitute to sitting down in a chair and doing some hardcore studying, whether it’s working through economics problem sets or learning grammar rules so you can speak properly.

Knowing a foreign language is fun. The actual learning process is not always fun. (In fact, in the beginning it is downright frustrating at times.)

But trust me, it’s always worth it in the end.

Reading Recommendations

Readers, I need your help. I’ve found a field I want to learn more about: political economy. However, I don’t know where to even begin reading on this subject. That’s where you come in: if you’ve read something interesting—preferably a proper book or textbook—on political economy, help a sister out and leave a comment on this post so I can start learning.