First week of classes

From random blog photos

It’s Saturday morning here in Fig Tree Pocket, our little corner of Brisbane. Deanna was up with a restless Mason through much of the night, so she’s getting some sleep while he is, and I’m watching the morning in a quiet house. I’ve finished my first week of classes at the University of Queensland, and this morning I’m taking stock of where I am and where I’m going.

In case anyone reading this missed the chapters leading up to now, you can go here to read a short post on the Rotary World Peace Fellowship and why I’ve suspended my music career for a while. This is an incredible opportunity, and a rich time for me.

The classes are fascinating, though they’re not even the most exciting part of this for me. This semester will consist of three courses and a weekly small group session to take one of the classes a little further in discussion and exercises. A quick note on each:

Advanced International Relations – This class is going to kick my academic butt all over town, I’m afraid, and I’m strangely happy about that. The first article of four we need to read for Monday’s class is only twenty-eight pages long, but took me over four hours of focused time to plow through. I got excited when I saw that it was written by Colin Hay. I mean how dense could an article by the lead singer of Men At Work be?

Different Colin Hay, as it turns out. The learning curve will be steep here, as we’re starting out looking at the major philosophical and academic schools of thought in the history of the field of political science, and a lot of familiarity with the subject matter is assumed. Sure, I understand that Calvin and Hobbes are more than just cartoon characters, but when we get into the “challenge posed to the political science and international relations mainstream by the distinctly post-positivist agendas of constructivism, critical realism, post-structuralism and and postmodernism,” without defining any of those terms, simply discussing their ontological and epistemological implications — for twenty-eight pages — I confess I’ve got to work pretty hard to keep up.

Fortunately, the professor, Martin Weber, is an animated and engaging lecturer, and has encouraged us to interrupt him constantly with questions and/or objections. I imagine I’ll take him up on that.

Principles of Conflict Resolution in Deep-Seated Conflicts will probably be the most accessible of the three classes for me, since that’s an area where I’ve had at least some training and study in my undergrad degree. There will be a good bit of role-playing involved in that one, which I look forward to.

Ethics and Human Rights is taught by Roland Bleiker, who is one of the reasons I made U.Q. my first choice for this Fellowship. Bleiker’s academic interests include the interplay between aesthetics and peace work, which is right up my proverbial alley. We’ll spend the last chunk of the semester in that class role-playing a war crimes tribunal in the International Court of Justice. Even the first class meeting was promising, though. At one point we went around the room and introduced ourselves briefly by name, nation and reason for choosing this class. Among about fifty students there were twenty-eight nationalities represented.

And that’s my deepest joy and excitement in this experience so far. Deanna, Mason and I are going over to a party being thrown by one of the Fellows in a little while, and I’m pretty confident that all six of the inhabited continents will be represented there, hanging out by the pool and chatting on a warm afternoon. The depth of experience that these people bring when they arrive is rich and enticing. While here, we’ll deepen and broaden that experience with intense academic interaction and with our three-month field assignments around the world. And we’ll take these relationships as well as this knowledge with us when we move on from here.

The caliber of the other Fellows is extremely high. Joseph Hongo, for instance, who has been involved with negotiations between rebels and African governments in several African countries, and Zuska Petovska, who has been working for the UN High Commission on Refugees advising on policy questions around refugee issues in eastern Europe. Pamela Padilla worked for the Philippine government in their peace negotiations with Communist rebels there, and Teddy Foday-Musa, who was involved in founding a third political party in Sierra Leone only a few years ago. There are stories like that for each of them, and having their input on these conversations is invaluable. I promise I’ll tell more of their stories later on.

For now, though, I have some reading to do. Then off to the pool. 😉

From random blog photos
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3 Comments on “First week of classes”

  1. Ginger Evans Says:

    Hey David – Alex and I have moved from Blacksburg Pres. to Second Pres. in Richmond. We are taking a group of youth to Guatemala in August and wonder if we can see any of your work there. You are a long way from that right now, but wonder if you could give me a contact or location.
    Peace to you and Deanna and your precious child.
    We remain your fans and friends!
    Ginger Evans

  2. Ben Smith Says:

    Hey David–

    I’ve been a slacker in reading your blog lately. It’s a shame, because it is fascinating and I do miss seeing you perform–which I remedied recently by investing in your concert DVD. Very exciting.

    I wanted to let you know that I’m finishing up my grad program in the next couple of weeks. My thesis defense date is set and I’m ready to go. And while that’s great, my reasons to email you are only tangentially related.

    When I began grad school, I had incredibly similar experiences that you’re having now. I know I threw more than one book of literary theory across the room (for using terms like post-structuralism, constructivism, neo-marxist narratological functionality, etc). There were days and weeks when all I wanted to do was quit. But I stuck it out, and it did get easier. Not that literary theory ever gets “easy”.

    In that vein (or artery, I forget), if you ever need someone to proofread anything or just to bounce ideas off of, I’m always available. Don’t get me wrong, amongst the writers I respect, you’re high on the list. But I also know how academic writing is so incredibly different than any other kind of writing. Wading through it can be tough–I’ve been there. If you need me to lend you a life jacket or any other appropriate metaphor, I’ll gladly do all that I can. After three years of this stuff, it seems to be manageable for me. This fall I’ll find my thesis published as a chapter in an anthology about adaptation theory. Like I said, it does get easier.

    I can tell you this: what I’ve learned about academia, more than anything else, is how willing people are to help if you just ask. Every semester I hear about a colleague or a student emailing someone who, at least for their field, is quite famous. Invariably, that person is more than willing to answer a few questions or chat on the phone. I met Cary Nelson last year, and although he’s not a movie star, he’s a prolific and brilliant writer–and gracious to a fault. With a little legwork, you could easily find contact information for the authors of your books. They might be up for a conversation on critical realism.

    One last thing–if I haven’t mentioned it before, I’m so very proud of you and all that you’re doing. It’s an honor to know you and be a part of your great journey.

    Come back stateside when you’re ready.


  3. Dr James Liu Says:

    Hi David,
    Will be in Brisbane in May? Will be working there. Would love to meet up with you.

    James and Belinda
    Wellington, New Zealand

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