Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Welcome to German 101.

If you’re like me you’ve waited last minute to take that dreaded second language course you need to graduate. I’ve never been good at speaking another language. I failed Spanish in middle school which upset my mom because for some reason she was naturally good at rolling her “R”s. When I was a senior in high school I was forced into German which I managed to pass with a solid B. I’m a senior again enrolled into Elementary German, surrounded my fresh faced students eager to learn while I’m praying to just pass.

The first day of class was like any other; uptight students looked around at one another but not utter a word. A young woman with blonde hair stood in front of us. “Guten Morgen, Mein Name ist Katharina.” I felt smart; she spoke the five words I remembered from my high school German class: Good Morning, my name is…” Katharina handed us a sheet of paper with a bunch of German words which told us a little more about her. From what I could gathered, she was from Germany and would be the teacher’s assistant for the semester. She asked the class if anyone could make out any of the words; a few brave souls raised their hands. One thing I’ve always hated about second language classes, it’s a guessing game. Am I really suppose to know what der zweitkleinsten means?

We filed into class on Wednesday; Katharina was in the corner and Professor Undine Giguere was gliding back and forth from each side of the classroom. Giguere apologized for missing the first two classes but insisted she had just found out she was teaching a few weeks before hand. She was middle-aged, petite, short brown hair, thick German accent, full of energy, talked with her hands, and attempted to make everyone feel comfortable. She’s who you’d want to teach you a second language, not some boring old man who just reads from a book. Giguere realized learning a second language at our age is difficult; so she pulled out a little helper: a yellow teddy bear hand puppet. The class burst out in laughter. Had we just graduated into kindergarten? She put the puppet on her right hand and began blurting out foreign words. There was something comforting about that smiling bear talking to me. Her German accent didn’t seem so harsh anymore.

Giguere went over the syllabus. There would be two tests throughout the semester, pop quizzes, and homework from the textbook and an online workbook. She also made is clear attendance and classroom participation is very important. Giguere where the homework would be located on blackboard; it would be under the assignments link. But she warned us, the dates are mixed up and something assignments needed to be submitted online but some had to be written out and handed in. The class looked confused. Giguere informed us she wasn’t great at navigating blackboard and when it came to the dates for homework she told us to hand it in at the earliest date listed. During the second week of class, when some of us went online to do homework, we were told it was already too late. I knew this was going to be a long semester.

Our homework for next class was to make a nametag. Giguere gave the class construction paper. Our nametags needed to be big and sit on our desk so she could learn who we were. One student, Chris, took this assignment to heart. His name was written in fancy, beautiful cursive; it was bold. He wanted to be known. Mine was simple text medium sized; I wanted to blend in.

The next two classes we learned the basics: how to say good morning; my name is; what’s your name; How are you; thank you; and good-bye. The class seemed to be divided into certain types of students. There were the over achievers, like Ben, who never put their hand down and got a hard on when they answered the questions correctly. Ben was 17, and he made my life a living hell. Every time Giguere asked a question Bens hand popped up. He spoke every German word almost perfectly with an overconfidence tone and a sly smith on his face. I hated him. I hated that he wore Ivy league college t-shirts to class every day. I hate that his nose always looked liked it was running. I hated that I was stuck in a class with a kid seven years younger than me. I wanted his mom to pick him up and bring him back to high school. Then there were the students who were more hesitant, who raised their hand some of the time but usually waited until they were called upon. Then there were the remaining six students in the class, who avoided eye contact and tried to hide behind other students to avoid being called on. I found a good hiding spot behind a tall blond soccer player from New Zealand. He had the perfect afro to block my face from the professor but to my disappointment the second week of class he had cut it.

The third week started off with learning about standard classroom materials and objects. Notebook, blackboard, chair, table, pen, and pencil, were things we had to point to or hold up. Giguere asked to see pencils. She and I were the only ones who had one. Mine was a silver mechanical pencil, which seemed to be a new invention to her because she denied it being a true pencil. The class looked at me like I didn’t understand what Giguere had just said. I felt my face turn red. I turned to the person sitting next to me and him it was a pencil. He just looked at me. My first attempt to contribute in class and I was shot down. We then moved onto the months and seasons; to learn the seasons we were shown a poster of a song. We sang about the months and what they brought. The class giggled. Giguere apologized for the poster but told us sometimes she teaches children and today we were those children. All I remember from the song is that the summer brings grapes and the winter is cold. However, it did help me pronounce the seasons better. Maybe Giguere was onto something.

Giguere taught her class in a circle, so she can see everyone and more importantly their nametags. She wanted interaction and communication even if you pronounced something wrong. She was almost hyperactive and kept you on your toes. This wasn’t a class for those who enjoy sitting back and taking a half page of notes a couple times a week. Giguere expected you to know when to hand in homework regardless of the four different dates listed, sing songs about the seasons and raise your hand to answer whatever she feels like asking. More importantly, if you sign up for this class you need to find your inner kid and enjoy it.


Monday, October 19, 2009

University At Albany Gets a Veterans Club (finally).

The University At Albany seemed to be slacking when it came to their veteran students...until now! Tomorrow veterans will meet at 4pm, in the Commuter Lounge. The lounge is past the "Copies Plus" office in Campus Center. This will be our first meeting and all are welcomed to attend. Please spread the word, stop by and say hello! Hopefully, this club will lead to more veteran awareness on campus!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Haider Hamza.

I'm looking for you! I would like to come to your booth and ask a few questions. I read you reside in New York City...but where? Anyone know?

Read about Hamza here.

From the Capital Region?

I need a subject to shoot for my photojournalism final project. I will shoot over six weeks on and off. Know anyone interesting? Know of anything that is interesting? Ideas would be appreciated. Thank you!

Back From Iraq: The Veterans' Stories Project.

The Pennsylvania State University...you are amazing! During the spring 2009, semester Penn State offered a course to veteran students called, "Narrative, Oral History, New Media Technologies." Ready for this? The course was designed to teach student veterans how to use video and web technologies in order to share their experiences of the Iraq War. I'm beyond impressed! A college course geared toward veterans?! A course designed for veterans to talk about and share their experiences?! Beautiful. I wish more universities understood how important it is for veterans to have an outlet. I hope this course will be offered throughout the year.

Penn State, I salute you.

Back From Iraq: The Veterans' Stories Project.

Meet the Veterans' Here.

VA Video Regarding GI Bill Emergency Checks.

The VA made a video in regards to the GI Bill emergency checks. Here it is!


Weekend Plans?

At the Hudson Opera House, Helen Benedict reads from her recent book, The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq.

The reading will take place Saturday, October 17, 8pm. The opera house is located at 327 Warren St. Hudson, New York...(518) 822-1438.

The Lonely Soldier:
The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq
Beacon Press, April 2009

More women soldiers are fighting in Iraq than in any other American war in history, yet they face a dual challenge: they are participating in combat more than ever before, but because only one in ten soldiers is female, they are often painfully alone. This isolation, along with a military culture hostile to women, denies them the camaraderie soldiers depend on for survival and subjects them to sexual persecution by their comrades. As one soldier said, "I ended up waging my own war against an enemy dressed in the same uniform as mine." In The Lonely Soldier, Benedict humanizes the complex issues of war, misogyny, class, race, homophobia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and more through the compelling stories of five women of diverse ethnicities and backgrounds who served in Iraq between 2003 and 2004. By following these women from their childhoods through enlistment, training, active duty in Iraq, and home again, Benedict vividly brings to life their struggles and challenges. Between their stories she weaves in accounts from numerous other Iraq War veterans, illuminating the wrenching and private war of female soldiers. Benedict ends by showing how these women came to face the truth of war and by offering suggestions for how the military can improve—including distributing women more evenly and rejecting male recruits with records of domestic or sexual violence.

Hudson Opera House.

**There will also be Rally US out of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan Now! Bring the Troops Home Now! at the State Capital Building in Albany. The rally starts at 12pm. There will be a march from the capital building along Washington Ave., to Lark Street, to Madison, returning to the starting point at West Capital Park.

More information here.

I'll be there taking photos.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Well, the bad news is...

I won't be graduating in the spring! I'm going to have to take a class or two in the summer. And the good news is...there isn't any. Oh, wait. There is good news! I'll have more time to figure out what I'm going to do after I graduate. Hopefully, I'll work in a cubicle, gain 35 pounds, watch Bill O'Reilly every night, and own eight cats. But if that doesn’t work out I’ll just join the Army again.

Side note: Stop writing me about Michael Jackson. I don't care that he passed way. I don't care that his daddy was mean to him. I don't care that for some insane reason you think you have a connection to him because you listened to the Thriller album 55 times. What I cared about was how much airtime he was getting. And whatever idiot wrote me saying, “If it was Elvis you wouldn’t be complaining.” You’re a jackass and missed my point. So, let’s review…Important news coverage: the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan. Not important news coverage: MJ’s tragic death and what Ed Hardy shirt Jon Gosselin is wearing.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Latest Numbers from the VA on ER Check Distribution.

As of October 7th, this is what we got...

The VA has issued a total of 19,136 checks from the Regional Offices for a value of $55,692,978. The VA has also issued a total of 17,025 checks via the advance pay website for a value of $49,508,000

Ready?! Combined, the VA has issued a total 36,161 checks to Veterans for a value of $105,200,978!!


Soldiers Losing Heart & Lesbians More Likely to Get the Boot.

I'm about to head to night class but I wanted to post a few articles I just read.

What are your thoughts on Afghanistan? Is it time to get the hell out or send more troops?

**“The many soldiers who come to see us have a sense of futility and anger about being here. They are really in a state of depression and despair and just want to get back to their families,” said Captain Jeff Masengale, of the 10th Mountain Division’s 2-87 Infantry Battalion.

“They feel they are risking their lives for progress that’s hard to discern,” said Captain Sam Rico, of the Division’s 4-25 Field Artillery Battalion. “They are tired, strained, confused and just want to get through.” The chaplains said that they were speaking out because the men could not."

Read the article here.

**"Pentagon statistics obtained by University of California researchers show that women are far more likely than men to be kicked out of the military under the "don't ask, don't tell policy" banning openly gay service members."

Here's what I think. If you want to get kicked out, you play gay. To play gay, you jump in bed with a person of the same sex. When you're questioned about your sexuality, you wave the rainbow flag and make your case. I know a few women who claimed they were gay to get out. One of these women now has a baby...clearly, she wasn't gay. So, the question is…is it more acceptable for women to claim they are gay? Is this why they have a higher rate of being kicked out? I don’t know. It’s just a thought. I’m not so sure you’d see a male soldier jump into bed with another male soldier just to get kicked out. Who knows.

Read the article here.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Department of Veterans Affairs is My Hero...Hopefully.

I've spent eight years in the Army Reserves and the way things are done generally never make sense. Over the years, I've found myself asking my buddies, "why the hell are we doing this?" or "wouldn't this make more sense if we did it this way?" But that is where the suggestions usually stop. No one listens to us, the higher-ups are stuck to their traditional ways, and everyone ends up pissed off. Welcome to the Army.

But the year is 2009, veterans are now in positions to have their voices heard, common sense seems to come into play, and issues are being dealt with accordingly. The main issue now: Education benefits. Veterans are enrolled into college and still have not received any of their benefits, they are maxing out their credit cards, and some have even dropped out. This is unacceptable and finally the VA has put together a plan to get emergency money to veterans.

"Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki today announced further outreach to Veteran-students eligible for a special emergency payment of their education benefits. Veterans can now apply online beginning Oct. 2. Veteran-students can also request courtesy transportation to VA regional benefits offices."

Here is a list of the Regional Offices:

Easter Area Offices:

Baltimore Regional Office (Baltimore, MD) Boston VA Regional Office (Boston, MA) Buffalo Regional Office (Buffalo, NY) Cleveland Regional Office (Cleveland, OH) Detroit Regional Office (Detroit, MI) Hartford Regional Office (Newington, CT) Indianapolis Regional Office (Indianapolis, IN) Manchester Regional Office (Manchester, NH) New York Regional Office (New York, NY) Newark Regional Office (Newark, NJ) Philadelphia Regional Office and Insurance Center (Philadelphia, PA) Pittsburgh Regional Office (Pittsburgh, PA) Providence Regional Office (Providence, RI) Togus VA Medical/Regional Office Center (Augusta, ME) White River Junction Regional Office (White River Junction, VT) Wilmington Regional Office (Wilmington, DE)

Southern Area Offices:

Atlanta Regional Office (Decatur, GA) Columbia Regional Office (Columbia, SC) Huntington Regional Office (Huntington, WV) Jackson Regional Office (Jackson, MS) Louisville Regional Office (Louisville, KY) Montgomery Regional Office (Montgomery, AL) Nashville Regional Office (Nashville, TN) Roanoke Regional Office (Roanoke, VA) San Juan Regional Office (Hato Rey, PR) St. Petersburg Regional Office (St. Petersburg, FL) Washington D.C. Regional Office (Washington D.C., DC) Winston-Salem Regional Office (Winston-Salem, NC)

Central Area Offices:

Chicago Regional Office (Chicago, IL) Des Moines VA Regional Office (Des Moines, IA) Fargo Regional Office (Fargo, ND) Houston Regional Office (Houston, TX) Lincoln Regional Office (Lincoln, NE) Milwaukee Regional Office (Milwaukee, WI) Muskogee Regional Office (Muskogee, OK) New Orleans Regional Office (New Orleans, LA) North Little Rock Regional Office (North Little Rock, AR) Sioux Falls Regional Office (Sioux Falls, SD) St. Louis Regional Office (St. Louis, MO) St. Paul Regional Office (St. Paul, MN) Waco Regional Office (Waco, TX) Wichita Regional Office (Wichita, KS)

Western Area Offices:

Albuquerque Regional Office (Albuquerque, NM) Anchorage Regional Office (Anchorage, AK) Boise Regional Office (Boise, ID) Cheyenne VA Medical / Regional Office Center (Cheyenne, WY) Denver Regional Office (Lakewood, CO) Fort Harrison Medical and Regional Office (Fort Harrison, MT) Honolulu Regional Office (Honolulu, HI) Los Angeles Regional Office (Los Angeles, CA) Manila Regional Office (0930 Manila, PI) Oakland Regional Office (Oakland, CA) Phoenix Regional Office (Phoenix, AZ) Portland Regional Office (Portland, OR) Reno Regional Office (Reno, NV) Salt Lake City Regional Office (Salt Lake City, UT) San Diego Regional Office (San Diego, CA) Seattle Regional Office (Seattle, WA)

I plan on applying online tomorrow for my payment. You can do so also at: http://www.va.gov/

Good luck! And let’s be honest for a minute, expect something not to go right. Expect your check to come a day late or your records not to be on file…something, anything. You’ve been in the Army, you know to expect the worse but hope for the best. While some say this plan came to let be grateful it came at all.

On a more personal note, this semester is kicking my ass. I was enrolled in five classes but recently withdrew from one. I had to quit one of my jobs (which I couldn't afford to do) just to have enough time to do my homework. I have a three day drill this weekend, a test on Monday, I need to get a tutor for German because I failed my first test, and my credit card is maxed out because I had to buy school books. Awesome! I need you Department of Veterans Affairs.