Archive for December, 2008

Off to Italy!

December 9, 2008 - 6:27 pm No Comments

The convenience of traveling Europe is extraordinary. For approximately 60 Euros, I have a round trip ticket to Italy. Although traveling through different states in the US is also fun, frankly, each state more or less feels the same (with some exceptions). Not the case here! France, Italy, Germany, Ireland, Spain, Portugal…although the overall geographic area of Western Europe is not substantial, the cultural diversity is unparalleled.

I’m leaving tonight at 2 AM, and will return on December 17th – first stop: Venice, followed by Florence and Rome. One of my traveling companions is a Classics major at Oxford – I expect to learn a lot by diffusion!

Overall, the past week has been very quiet. I spent a relaxing weekend catching up on all the sleep I’ve missed over the past two weeks. I believe on Sunday, I slept more than 14 hours total, including naps. On Monday, my flat mates celebrated with a festive Christmas meal. I also had a supervision with Dr. Albert Park about my extended essay topic, which I have chosen on a theme related to my work with Givology and Opportunity International (see note below). If you can provide feedback on my topic, please e-mail me! There are severe problems with endogeniety that I have consider given that I’m looking at attitudes and differences in expectations, but I’m hoping to work around the issues (we’ll see whether I succeed…). Later that day I formed a new partnership for Givology with AHEAD Energy and the Peace Primary and Nursery School in Uganda. I am extremely excited about this project – it’s very innovative and expands our network to Africa.

Today, I worked on a service project with the Opportunity International team. We painted the house of an elderly woman who lives alone in Headington, and who has recently had her life uprooted with the death of her mother and a forced move away from her childhood house. Hopefully, her new Magnolia walls and glossy white detail finishes will make her feel more comfortable in her new surroundings!

Extended Essay Topic Proposal: Academic achievement and aspirations of children: The effect of parental attitude about education

Introduction: The vast majority of studies have analyzed the direct positive influence of parental income and education level, especially that of the mother, on child achievement. The mechanisms for understanding this influence, however, have been less well studied. In particular, few studies have attempted to link parental beliefs on education expectations and the efficacy on education itself on children’s achievement outcomes and aspirations for the future. In addition, important studies in this area, such as that of Davis-Kean (2005), Halle, et al (1997) and Alexander, et al (1994) have focused on parental expectations and influences of different socioeconomic and racial groups in the United States.

Fugligni ‘s (1997) analysis of academic achievement of adolescents in immigrant families showed that educational emphasis by parents was a more significant correlate on achievement than socioeconomic status. Likewise, a study by Alexander, et al (1994) illustrated that poor families tended to have high expectations and performance beliefs that did not correlate well with children’s actual school performance. The authors then suggest that the ability of parents to form accurate beliefs and expectations regarding children’s performance is essential in structuring the home and educational environment so that children can excel in post-schooling endeavors.

Proposal: To study the effect of parental attitudes on education (belief in the efficacy of education, prioritization of education in comparison other needs, expectations for the child’s education, expectations for the child’s future career options) on the academic achievement and aspirations of children. It would also be very interesting to analyze the accuracy of parental beliefs of their children performance and aspirations, and then to consider the impacts of potential divergence.

Week 8, End of Michaelmas Term

December 5, 2008 - 6:52 pm No Comments

Today, I officially finished with Michaelmas term. Overall, this past week has been absolutely crazy in terms of workload timing. I had a macroeconomics problem set, microeconomics problem set, econometrics computer exercise, paper on the Nigerian economy, and group presentation on the aforementioned paper (not to mention the responsibility of defining my extended essay topic in preparation for a supervision this coming Monday). Despite this workload, I seem to continue to find time to pursue my extracurricular indulgences, for better or for worse.

On Tuesday, I heard Muhammad Yunus speak at the Sheldonian Theatre. Since his work with the Grameen Bank has inspired a lot of my own pursuits over the past six years, I was so excited to finally hear him in person. As expected, the speech was a general call to action, but I enjoyed hearing about Dr. Yunus’s vision of the world. He spoke about the importance of developing social businesses and social stock exchanges for sustainability in comparison to traditional corporate social responsibility, the potential of leveraging technology to alleviate poverty, and the overall plight of the poor. His actions speak louder than his words – his quiet presence contrasts sharply with his celebrity status as a champion of microfinance and Nobel Peace Prize winner. Afterwards, I went to Christmas Dinner at St. Hugh’s, which was a very elaborate and festive affair! I feasted on a traditional Christmas foods, from roast turkey and sausage to mince pies and Christmas pudding.

Next term, I will be co-president of the Hive, an alternative debating society at Oxford and the main competitor of the Oxford Union. Having done debate for eight years, I truly miss the intensity of debate tournaments and engaging in intellectual clash. Although the Hive doesn’t actually send students to debate competitions at other Universities (only the Oxford Union does this and spaces are rather limited and allocated in an opaque manner), the Hive organizes debates on campus, in which speakers engage with students in a dialogue about controversial issues, spanning all subject fields. Given my scanty knowledge of Oxford bureaucracy, I figure this opportunity will entail a crash course in figuring out the system and the logistics of event planning in a decentralized institution. Moreover, I will look into the possibility of using the Hive as a channel for sending students to debate competitions who otherwise would not have a chance.

Yesterday, despite mountains of work, I worked as usual at Opportunity International, represented my academic program at the Graduate Council Meeting for the Economics department (I serve as our class representative), attended a Christmas Party at St. John’s MCR for our class of American Rhodes Scholars (tons of food, lots of fun, Secret Santa Exchange!), and then went to ice hockey practice at midnight, where we combined two ice sessions in an extended scrimmage against the Men’s B team. In short, my day started at 8 AM and ended at 3:30 AM.

The macroeconomic presentations started bright and early today at 8:30 AM. Surprisingly, I did not feel too tired, and enjoyed hearing the issues and countries that other groups had selected. Tonight was Balliol’s Nepotist Carols event – a classic tradition of the college (no idea why the event was named as such). Basically, we all piled into Hall, was handed a large sheet of Christmas carol lyrics, and proceeded to sing, while accompanied by an organ. To compliment the festive cheer, there were large quantities of minced pies and mulled wine to enjoy! As attendance probably exceeded 200 people in different states of post-term celebratory inebriation, the Hall was very crammed and the singing of carols reflected enormous exuberance and enthusiasm, but questionable quality. Afterwards, in accordance with tradition, everyone exited and lined up against Trinity’s gates (our rival college) to chant a rather *impolite* speech (if you’re curious about the lyrics, you can find them here. What an end to an exhausting week!

Holiday Season at Oxford

December 2, 2008 - 10:17 am No Comments

In 22 years, I have missed coming home for Thanksgiving a total of twice – in 2006 when I was in Madrid and most recently, this year. Nevertheless, I had a chance to celebrate with Balliol’s MCR (Middle Common Room), which organized a dramatic feast. One of the graduate students was a professional chef – he prepared six very juicy turkeys, mounds of stuffing, mashed potatoes, and sweet potatoes, buckets of corn, broccoli, and cranberry sauce, and piles of fresh bread. To top off the feast, there were more than twenty pumpkin pies, apple pies, and brownies. Although everyone ate as much as they could, so much food remained. Afterwards, everyone piled into the TV room to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” – a holiday classic. Thanksgiving is always one of the most exciting times of the year because of the budding anticipation of the holiday season!

For many reasons, I believe that this Christmas season will be one of the most memorable and dramatic for me. There seems to be so many different celebrations on campus, from Christmas dinners and holiday socials to theatre, musical extravaganzas, decorations and lights, and overall cheer! Since undergraduates officially leave campus on December 5th, all the colleges and clubs are packing in holiday socials. Looking at my calendar, I will have a festive Christmas dinner or social event nearly every day for the next two weeks! In addition, since I’ll be in Italy (Rome, Venice, and Florence) from December 10th to 17th and the Commonwealth and International Student Christmas Weekend on December 22nd at Windsor Castle (Cumberland Lodge), I’ll certainly gain more holiday cheer. Then, I look forward to a wonderful holiday celebration with my family on December 26th (I’ve already booked theatre tickets to Hans Christian Andersen’s Magical Tales at the Creation Theatre in Oxford), New Year’s Eve in London, and then Paris with Grace from January 5th to 8th! Ah, a major benefit of studying at Oxford is that traveling to other European countries is so easy!

Last Friday, I went to the Oxford Winter Light Festival (, in which the town dramatically switched on all its Christmas Lights, arranged for many street performances, and organized a dramatic pyrotechnic display of the solar system at the town center, right outside of Balliol’s main site. All the museums at Oxford were open late and featured special performances and exhibits – I had a chance to visit the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Architecture (the oldest museum in the UK with so many splendid treasures), Oxford Castle, the Museum of Oxford History, the Museum of History of Science, and most notably, the Museum of Natural History, the inspiration for various settings in Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. The dinosaur collection at the Museum of Natural History is very good, and visitors are encouraged to touch the collection of preserved animals, including a cheetah, owl, and fox, among others (morbid, perhaps, but I enjoyed it a lot).

Life at Oxford has been extraordinarily busy. For me, academic work has taken a temporarily secondary role to many new opportunities and activities. My work at Opportunity International continues to be very rewarding and playing ice hockey is “good fun” (a common phrase here), despite the practices spanning from midnight to 2 AM. I’ve joined the Hive, an alternative debating society, and a portfolio trading team sponsored by ORBIS (as a team of seven, we earn 1000 GBP for each percentage point we beat the FTSE), as well as work on Givology and YouthBank in my spare time. Through Oxford Entrepreneurs, I’ll be coordinating a SIFE (Students in Free Enterprise) project team for YouthBank team in preparation for our full scale launch in March 2009.

It’s been a while since I last updated, such that I am probably omitting a lot of interesting events and activities. Three weeks ago, I went to London to visit Adam. Tackling six museums (National Art Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Natural History Museum, Science Museum, British Museum, Tate Modern), national landmarks (parks, Buckingham palace, Oxford street), and a theatre performance (Avenue Q) in a span of 24 hours was perhaps too ambitious, but it gave me a taste of the excitement and wonder of London! The following weekend, I had a chance to play “guide” to Oxford – good practice for when my family comes. Last weekend, I went to London’s Alexander Palace to play in an ice hockey challenge game against Cambridge. We won 12-5, but the entire experience was a fiasco and escapade in its own right (a very long story…).

Most notably, Givology is progressing very nicely. Since coming to Oxford, I’ve been able to form so many new partnerships! In general, the community of students and scholars are very involved with international development to a degree unheard of at Penn. In just a week, we’ve been contacted by various grassroots education organizations in Africa, Eastern Europe, and Latin America. Over the past month, I’ve formed a partnership with TECC, Global Peace Exchange, Free the Children, and am in the process of coordinating the formation of many other partnerships, such as with Oaktree UK, Dream Corps, among many others.

More to come, but I have to leave soon since Muhammad Yunus is coming to speak at the Sheldonian tonight.