Archive for October, 2009

Happy Halloween

October 31, 2009 - 6:18 pm 1 Comment

Of all holidays, Halloween is probably one of the most commercial. I do not know anything about the origin of Halloween, so I found an interesting page created by the History Channel to explain the ancient origins as well as the modern incarnation of this highly popular holiday.

According to the History Channel, Halloween originated from the ancient Celtic festival of Samhai. The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France, celebrated their new year on the first of November, which marked the end of summer and the beginning of winter – a season often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the New Year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. As a result, on Samhain (October 31st), the druids wanted to take advantage of the intermingling of spirits with human society to make predictions about the future. To commemorate the event, the druids built sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. In addition, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.

Now, the most ironic aspect is that even though Halloween’s provenance emerged from the United Kingdom, Halloween is considered a very American holiday. Yet, Halloween came to the US only from the arrival of Irish and English immigrants in the 19th century.

As for how I spent my Halloween, I went to a pumpkin-carving barbeque party at a friend’s apartment, played an ice hockey game against Peterborough (we tied though we definitely deserved a win given how much we out-shot and out-played the opponent!), and then attended the (in)famous St. Antony’s  Hallowqueen bop (the guys were very into cross-dressing, often in very scanty dresses that would be scandalous if a female wore it…definitely an opportunity for high quality blackmail material). Yesterday, I went to Magdalen’s guest night dinner – a truly opulent, four-course black-tie experience. The food was truly amazing – we had a tasty beetroot soup, followed by fresh gnocchi and smoked salmon, venison cooked to perfection, and then a chocolate chestnut-mousse desert. Each course was carefully paired with a matching wine of a particular vintage and grade. Then, there was coffee, fresh fruit, cheese, and assorted chocolate truffles, along with ample time for relaxed conversation and desert wine and port (evidently, the port has been aged since 1982, signifying that it is even older than me).  Alas, this is the prototypical Oxford experience that one reads about in novels – lavish, aristocratic in its traditions, and elegant.

Well, Halloween was never one of my favorite holidays. To be honest, I miss the simplicity of trick or treating in comparison to the grown-up version of Halloween parties. Often times, it’s just an excuse to wear really revealing clothing and get extremely inebriated. I still think back to my elementary school days in Connecticut, where I would go trick-or-treating in the neighborhood with my little sister. My father would wear this soft dog mask, and Grace and I would collect lots of candy in our plastic pumpkin buckets. We never were fans of candy so everything we collected basically sat around for years, or my mom would give it away to trick-or-treaters the following Halloween.

Regardless, Halloween for me signifies the start of the holiday season – I can’t wait until Thanksgiving and Christmas!

More Education, Not War

October 30, 2009 - 4:34 am 1 Comment

Nicholas Kristof’s opinion peace “More Schools, Not Troops” in the New York Times today really captures the true opportunity cost of waging war in Afghanistan rather than investing the money in education. In particular, Kristof writes, “For the cost of a single additional soldier stationed in Afghanistan for one year, we could build roughly 20 schools there.” He estimates that for the 40,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan each year, this would approximately equate to 75 million additional children educated.

Certainly, education cannot solve every problem, but studies have shown the benefit of education in promoting democracy, empowering women,  improving health practices, increasing civic engagement, and ultimately, spurring economic growth through raising the stock of human capital – in essence, making each worker more productive. And clearly, stable economies tend to be associated with stable governments. Notably, Kristof highlights that although American foreign policy makers haven’t yet tapped into the power of education, the Islamist extremists certainly have. The construction of free madrasas that offer free meals and free schooling inculcates and perpetuates as new class of young fundamentalists. In the end, whoever controls the mind always triumphs.

Anecdotally, I think back to Japanese occupation of Korea – although the Japanese built up institutions and monopolized coercive power in society, the acts of brutality (despite policies to spur industrialization) alienated the government from the people, and ultimately, strong resentment still persists. In contrast, Japanese occupation of Taiwan has been historically remembered much more favorably, where education played a critical role. For the Japanese, public education constituted an essential mechanism for facilitating control and intercultural dialogue. During Japanese occupation in Taiwan, free compulsory education was created and by 1944, primary enrollment rates and literacy rose dramatically. Although Japan likewise attempted to introduce a similar education system for Korea, the scale of activities in Taiwan exceeded that of Korea by a substantial margin, partially because Taiwan was a much smaller, easier to administer colony at the time. In winning over the minds of the people, the degree of anger left today is on aggregate more diminished in Taiwan than Korea, although clearly antipathy to occupation still remains (the Japanese certainly indisputably suppressed the people).

By no means am I advocating colonialism or education as merely an instrument of the state! Rather, the above example serves to demonstrate the power of shaping the minds, rather than merely coercing the bodies, of people. And even if critics of western cultural imperialism decry the “doctrine of democracy and liberalization”, I still believe in the intrinsic value of a system that promotes human rights and enables individuals to participate actively in society. It would be a true travesty to mask and enable the abuse of human rights and civil liberties under the cloak of “cultural relativism”.

Taking a more philosophical view, I believe education liberates the mind. Regardless of its benefits to development, education has intrinsic worth in it of itself because it really enables an individual to express his or her rationality and live fully as a human being. What separate us from animals is the ability to think richly – to use our minds to explore and create meaning for ourselves.

In life, we are truly constrained by what we know – education allows us to expand our experiences and our “language” of self-expression. I often wonder, would humans be capable of complex thought if we did not have language? For example, how would one be able to communicate highly abstract, complex concepts if we did not have in the beginning the words to express such thoughts? Concepts such as “irony”, “irrationality”, and “logic” all require some level of sophistication. The powerful realm of mathematics with nearly universal applications in all spheres of life requires knowledge of the concept of numbers. (Recall how important the discovery of zero was to the progress of the entire field!) Without the tools given to us by words and language enabled by education, then we are left with only the base instinctual emotions and thoughts. Without education that provides us with the language to really think and develop our own self-expressions, an individual is so severely limited and constrained in his or her potential.

During the Victorian era, women were patronized for being creatures of emotion, rather than rational beings. The lack of education diminished the value women could contribute to society, so in essence, a cycle of perpetuation of discrimination continued. Women were seen as less worthy members of society, and hence investments in the education of women appeared profligate for a more indigent family (which in turn, continues the cycle of women not seen to create value, and so forth).

Half the Sky by Kristof is well worth reading. In many developing countries, household expenditures of cigarettes and alcohol are treated as essential, while the education of girls discretionary. When females have control over expenditures, however, more money gets spent on education, food for the family, and health. Going back to Kristof’s column, imagine the impact if the American government invested substantially in the education of girls and these girls in turn became active participants in the economic and social fabric of society! Kristof cites the example of the positive impact of the education of Bangladeshi women in promoting civil society, contributing to economic growth, and creating government stability. There is certainly no reason to suspect that such a positive result cannot occur in other countries.

Is Life a Dream?

October 29, 2009 - 1:36 am 1 Comment

In his gsite, my dear father writes, “‘A beautiful soul resides in a beautiful body,’ as Greeks stated. Similarly, ‘A healthy soul resides in a healthy body.’ What else do we need to know to take care of our body?”

I cannot agree with this statement more! My day starts bright and early at 5:45 AM and I rarely sleep before midnight in light of all the Givology calls that I schedule in the evening. Yet, I am filled with energy throughout the day with only five to six hours of sleep on average…gone are my undergraduate university years of sleeping late, waking up late, and feeling lethargic. With morning exercise, even though my total aggregate hours of sleep have decreased, the quality of sleep has increased so substantially that it more than compensates.

My father wrote a dream in response to a posting I made referring to “Life is a Dream” by Pedro de la Barca, the famous lines copied below:

I dream that I am here
of these imprisonments charged,
and I dreamed that in another state
happier I saw myself.
What is life? A frenzy.
What is life? An illusion,
A shadow, a fiction,
And the greatest profit is small;
For all of life is a dream,
And dreams, are nothing but dreams.

Yo sueño que estoy aquí
destas prisiones cargado,
y soñé que en otro estado
más lisonjero me vi.
¿Qué es la vida? Un frenesí.
¿Qué es la vida? Una ilusión,
una sombra, una ficción,
y el mayor bien es pequeño:
que toda la vida es sueño,
y los sueños, sueños son.

My father responded with a poem of his own (well worth reading for its wry humor and witty introspection), but I want to make my own reflection on the significance of dreams. De la Barca’s statement that “Dreams, are nothing but dreams” captures such a dreary sentiments – that dreams are nothing more than idle, escapist pleasures – fantasies with no real world consequence. I cannot disagree more. For some, this statement may be true, in which the reality of life remains so unfulfilling that dreams constitute a form of temporary sustenance – an opiate of sorts – to facilitate the passage of time. But in such a case, the dream is nothing more than an indulgent substitute, rather than an actionable objective in itself.

I believe that even if an individual’s aspirations may be objectively too high, keeping that dream as a motivating force makes life much richer – instead of just living each hour like an automaton, we define our own existence and create our meaning. If we write off our dreams as an impossibility, then the pessimism and self-doubt can make even small triumphs and achievements appear futile. If we expect a lot and work hard, even if progress is slow and incremental, we find meaning and conviction.

Alas, you may ask, what about unattainable dreams? For example, what if a tone deaf individual aspires to become a world-class singer? My response is that no, there is no contradiction. If an individual truly desires an end goal and is willing to put in many long hours of work and practice, then eventually, he or she can succeed. Maybe we will fall short of the original objective, but given the stochastic nature of life, who knows the final outcome?

After all, attitude matters more than anything! We cannot win our battles if we don’t believe we can achieve them in the first place. We control our own fate and lives – we create our own meaning and objectives. Citing the failure of others and society for discouragement – passing on the blame to others for our own failures – merely means that we have not met our own responsibilities and exercised our own freedom. I guess it all boils down to one simple principle – it’s pointless to wait around and wish idly for our desires to fulfill themselves, rather, just the act of taking action today brings us one step closer.

Financing Social Enterprise

October 26, 2009 - 1:01 pm 1 Comment

I’m settling into my routine Oxford life – ice hockey, meetings related to Givology and YouthBank, schoolwork, special speaker events, and Balliol MCR socials as they arise. My mornings start very earlier, typically at 5:45 AM. I’ve discovered that the energizing effect of morning exercise far outweigh the costs of foregone sleep. Why so early? The gym gets too crowded after 6:45 AM, and I enjoy using the first thirty minutes of my day to read the Financial Times and engage in introspection about world events. Being at Oxford feels somewhat surreal – a sheltered environment that epitomizes the intellectual ivory tower.

The MFE course is definitely ramping up; although the majority of the material of economics and corporate finance is still review, I suspect that by mid-semester, the course will be significantly more difficult. We are moving at a blistering pace – the CAPM was resolved in one lecture; the subject took at least three long weeks in my honors corporate finance class at Wharton. But such is the nature of Oxford terms – eight weeks of intense coursework and then six weeks of vacation to digest all the concepts.

On Friday, I had a chance to meet with a venture capitalist from Octopus Ventures to discuss YouthBank and Givology, as well as a program coordinator from VInvolved Oxfordshire, a government-sponsored youth volunteering agency. What a stark contrast between those two men! The former cared only about our revenue model, value proposition, and our sources and uses of funding, while the latter mainly focused on our mission and opportunities to engage and raise awareness in the local community. My goal in studying Economics for Development and Financial Economics is really to be the bridge between two very disparate communities. Imagine the developmental impact of demystifying investment opportunities in developing countries and spurring the flow of private capital!

I’m really fascinated by the financing alternatives for social enterprise – in particular, the decision to register as a business or as a non-profit. The tax benefits of non-profit status make strong economic sense because the savings can be re-invested in the business to expand operations and increase the overall social impact. Yet, a social enterprise at its core remains a business that needs to achieve solid financial returns, and no investor wants to put in equity financing without a profitable return! Non-profit grants and donations tend to be more patient and forgiving, but much more risk-averse. As a result, highly innovative social enterprise ideas may not receive enough funding because grant-making foundations often demand proven impact (alas, it’s a reoccurring problem with YouthBank). Conversely, even though private capital is much more comfortable with high risk-high return investments and rewards innovative business ideas, private capital financing can be extremely demanding, compromising social impact for economic return.

Clearly, the financing structure for social enterprise remains an elusive act of balance. Although many take for granted that social entrepreneurship simultaneously balances social and economic objectives, thereby achieving the best of both worlds, in reality, the reconciliation of the profit and sustainability motives is likely tenuous at best. I’ll be attending the Skoll Emerge Forum – the World Forum equivalent for students – and I’ll definitely ask a lot of questions to probe deeper into this polemic issue.

On a different note, my parents approved my trip to Uganda this December to support the Peace School, one of Givology’s most notable partners! I’m truly excited about going, though at the same time, sad that I will be missing Christmas at home again. My mother and father put a lot of faith in letting me go – I understand their worries and promise to take all precautions before I leave. Even though for me there is no greater personal joy than going home and spending time with my family, I know that by going to Uganda, I will discover more about rural education and development than I could ever learn by studying, reading, and working on Givology and YouthBank. I consider it a personal challenge and calling to confront the reality of the theory that I have learned about the economics of education and impact assessment.

I want to understand this complex world that I live in, and there is no better way than to travel and live, work, and engage with the local community. We can’t choose the circumstances of our birth, but we can make every effort to help others who are less fortunate purely as a result of chance.

Jeffrey Sachs – Role of the US in Global Economic Governance?

October 24, 2009 - 4:58 pm 3 Comments

I am generally the happiest when I am the busiest; keeping my mind and body occupied makes each day feel much more meaningful. Ice hockey started this week, I had a chance to meet with a venture capitalist to discuss YouthBank, set up a few key meetings and sessions for Givology at Oxford (including a discussion with a program coordinated for vinvolved Oxfordshire), and participated fully in my academic courses!

On Tuesday, I went to a talk by Jeffrey Sachs on “Repairing Economic Governance”, held at the Natural History Museum.  Sachs mainly spoke about four major themes – financial instability, transition from US hegemony to a diffuse Asia-centric world network, environmental sustainability, and public finance for development. As a campaigner for aid, environmental change, and global engagement, Sachs did not delve deeply into these issues nor propose concrete solutions, but merely highlighted their general importance. Advocating a strong liberal position, Sachs called for greater coordinated international action and heavily criticized the role corporations and the US government plays in creating global financial crises and failing to address the issue of climate change and providing sufficient development finance. In all, he presented a series of stark statistics and radiated a general sense of resentment at the status quo.

Frankly, he did not present any new ideas (and some of the statistics and facts were misleading), but one argument that I found interesting was that the series of boom and boosts over the last two decades all originated in the US with expansionary monetary policy by the Central Bank, driven by Greenspan’s ideology that creating liquidity can prevent a downturn. Clearly, US interest rates have profound global effects – expansionary US monetary policy and cheap financing can fuel bubbles, as in the case of the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis (hot money flowing into already overheating economies). In a world in which US economic growth is less correlated with the economic growth of emerging markets, expansionary US monetary policy can push already high-growth economies further over the edge. Or, as Sachs argued, cheap financing, coupled with financial deregulation, can incite short-term investors to search for and create the next big bubble – in fact, the current financial crisis caused by excessive leverage in the market has its roots in the cheap financing available after the tech crash.

This of course is not a novel argument, but the interesting aspect is the analysis of the counter-factual, which he did not discuss. The US central bank has a public mandate to ease cycles and maintain a balance between growth and inflation. On the Federal Reserve site, the mission is explicitly stated as: “conducting the nation’s monetary policy by influencing the monetary and credit conditions in the economy in pursuit of maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates”. (Let’s ignore the impossible trinity for now and just take this mission as given.)

The questions thus arise: first, in setting monetary policy, should the US only consider its own economic state? Second, by delaying or attempting to prevent business cycles through monetary policy (abstracting from monetary neutrality arguments), are we exacerbating crises? If so, then is it better to let the recession run its due course – despite the employment and inflation consequences – in order to prevent moral hazard in the future?

Clearly, regional monetary policy is not a new phenomenon – the European Monetary Union has certainly struggled with setting one monetary policy that benefits its very diverse member states, all with different fiscal and economic conditions. For example, tightening interest rates in the earlier part of this decade benefitted a fast-growing, relatively high inflation Spain, while further hurt the contracting German economy. But the United States, unlike the EMU, is not legally bound to consider other countries. Even though it plays a central role in the global financial system and the management of systemic risk that arises in integrated financial markets, the bank’s prime objective still remains concentrated on the US economy. Although destabilization of world markets harms the US economy, there are many instances in which policies that benefit the US may run contrary to the optimal policy for global markets. Not to say in the least, Americans would be generally upset if the central bank did not promote a policy of quantitative easing. Although we now credit Paul Volcker for successfully combating inflation during the Reagan and Carter administrations in the 1970s, he was extraordinarily unpopular at the time for raising interest rates at a time of severe economic contraction and the oil crisis.

To put this all in perspective, during the late 1970s when Volcker sought to reign in double-digit inflation by setting strict money supply growth and targets, in which the prime interest rate peaked at 21.5% in December 1980, the economy fell into the worst recession in 40 years with unemployment reaching 10.7% in 1982. Volcker and his administration were demonized by the media; in fact, appearing on a building trade publication with a “WANTED” poster accusing them of “premeditated and cold-blooded murder of millions of small businesses.”

Alas, in retrospect, his policies are very much respected, but we forget how highly unpopular at the time. Certainly, the public criticizes heavily the bail out of the banks, but the general expectation was that the central bank nevertheless had to do something rather than let the economic crisis run its own course.

My perspective is that although US monetary policy should take into account adverse effects on the global economic system, the primary focus should continue to remain on US economic targets. Even with greater integration of global markets, the global financial system still remains highly decentralized and trying to determine the “weighting” criteria to analyze how US monetary policy net benefits or net harms all the countries in the world would be extremely difficult. Likewise, even though quantitative easing does create moral hazard and cheap liquidity a potential fuel for future bubbles, the real cost of the alternative may be much more severe.

In my asset pricing class, the professor argued that financial innovation itself is welfare-enhancing and should not subjected to the suspicious scrutiny of regulators. In short, financial regulation should address externalities, but not stymie the progress of the creation of new instruments to transfer wealth. The fundamental problem, however, is that the discovery of the externalities occurs ex-post. Hindsight may be 20-20, but I distinctly remember reading articles in early 2007 in the Economist, Wall Street Journal, and Financial Times about the “end of the public company” and the continuation of financing for leveraged buyouts given its “economic sense”.

What are your thoughts?

Starting the MFE

October 20, 2009 - 3:59 am 1 Comment

Settling into Oxford the second time around is so much more relaxing and enjoyable! About four weeks have elapsed since my arrival, and I’m already feeling very much in tune with the rhythm of graduate student life. I wake up early, go to the gym, bike to class, return home, do my academic and extracurricular work, attend interesting seminars and events on campus, and retire when tired. Like my father, I’ve also discovered the joy of cooking with the objective of making tasty and flavorful soups, salads, and main courses from fresh and natural ingredients.

The MSc in Financial Economics program is rather time intensive – the day begins bright and early at 8:45 AM and then continues to 5 PM nearly every day. Unlike my prior course, the MFE is similar to an American undergraduate program. We have problem sets to turn in, graded homework and assignments, periodic midterms, and an expectation that mastering the lecture notes alone is sufficient for the final examination (rather than the typical Oxford attitude that exceptional exam performance is contingent on a self-driven pursuit of a vast body of reading and knowledge outside of lecture).

So far, a lot of the material has been review for me – having done finance and math in undergraduate and a recent economics program last year, I’m comfortable with the basics. From what I’ve heard, however, the MFE gets theoretical and very demanding as the semester progresses – I’m certainly looking forward to the challenge. I find finance extremely fascinating; in particular, I’m really looking forward to my asset pricing course and learning more about options and derivative instruments. Although this course may be perceived as pre-professional with an emphasis on careers and post-program placements, I’m here to just enjoy the material and learn as much as I can – to ask questions, think critically, absorb the lectures, and really internalize the material.

My 70-ish classmates are all very international from a variety of backgrounds and countries, though there is a rather noticeable Asian majority and slant towards investment banking and consulting. (I’d conservatively estimate that 75% of my classmates hail from Asia and 90% want to pursue some career in investment banking or management consulting). Surprisingly, only one of my classmates is from the United Kingdom and about six from the United States; I had expected more. In light of our course concentration, I’m trying to organize an MFE investment fund so that we can actually put the trade strategies and pricing principles we learn in class into practice!

Backtracking to the celebration of my 23rd birthday on September 26th, Shaan invited me to go see “As you like it” by the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford upon Avon! I had such a wonderful birthday celebration, visiting Shakespeare’s birthplace and Nash’s House, perusing the Shakespeare museum, wandering the quaint streets, enjoying the bright fall afternoon, and most notably, watching the play from perhaps the best seats in the theatre. The actors were tremendously engaging – from our seats, I could see every expression on their faces and hear every word uttered with amazing clarity. My only complaint was the inconsistency at the end, in which costumes worn by different characters seemed to span different centuries.

Somehow, although Shakespeare’s plays are often difficult to fully appreciate and understand when read, the words become alive when spoken and performed. Amazing to think that despite the passage of centuries, the elements of humor have not changed much at all! We still laugh at lewd jokes and the antics resulting from cross-dressing, enjoy staged battles and violence, and take pleasure in creative wordplay and romantic comedy.

Overall, I really enjoyed “As you like it”, which is light-hearted and cheery, but simultaneously self-reflective. In contrast, I remember watching Andromaque with Grace in which by the end, we all felt so emotionally drained since there was absolutely no suspension in the level of drama and intensity. I suppose in retrospect, it’s very humorous that the actors were able to utter ever word with such a heighted sense of emotional suffering…for three hours.

Afterward, we took full advantage of the International Food Festival that coincidentally just happened to be occurring that weekend; I sampled some really tasty dishes that I never had seen before. Although I was sad to leave home a day before my birthday, my trip to Stratford upon Avon was truly memorable – an experience I will forever treasure.

Catching Up – Trinity Term & Summer

October 19, 2009 - 6:35 am 1 Comment

A long time has transpired since my last entry – more than six months! Having just updated my site (www.joycemeng.com) and renewed my interest in web design, I will do my best to write in this journal. Rather than wait for large-scale events and experiences to happen, I intend to post some of my daily ruminations and reflections. I suppose, in the long term, the latter are more insightful and interesting to preserve. As many of you know, YouthBank and Givology consume a great portion of my life (albeit happily). Going forward, this journal will touch upon some of our major milestones – particularly my own personal reflections on our achievements and challenges, but I won’t be discussing much in detail because most of our major news and updates can be found on www.givology.org and www.youth-bank.org, respectively. Now, to cover 6 months in one post to bring all my readers up to speed!

In June, I took my final exams for the MSc Economics for Development course and submitted my thesis, entitled “Aspirations and Schooling: Analysis of the formation and intra-household impact of educational aspirations in China.” (If you would like to read a copy, please send me an e-mail.) Working on this thesis was particularly gratifying because economists have only recently embarked on the analysis of aspirations and subjective measures of well-being. As a result, my work had very little precedent, allowing me great latitude to explore and experiment (though naturally, controlling for sources of endogeniety becomes ever the more difficult given the nature of the research question).

Even though I had no classes during Trinity Term, I found myself working harder than ever – not comprehending the Oxford examination and assessment scheme, I decided to take full precaution in preparing. In retrospect, I may have over-prepared. Despite a minor strategic lapse on my economics paper, I ended up doing well. I received distinction in my marks, along with the George Webb Medley Prize for Best Overall Performance (a prize for the overall marks) and the Arthur Lewis Prize for Excellence in Development Economics (a prize for best thesis).

The last day of Trinity Term, I went to Magdalen’s Ball! I felt very much like Cinderella in a world transformed! The Ball perhaps represented Oxford in its most lavish, aristocratic, and opulent state – from having a big tent circus, live music from famous artists, and a glamorously decorated outdoor dance floor in the cloisters to tasty foods and drink (chocolate fountain, cocktails, etc.), the ball tantalized every sense. When I woke up the next day, I couldn’t help but wonder – was it all a dream?

To re-cap last semester in a series of bullet points (yes, I know this definitely trivializes each of these occurrences), my most notable memories are:

  • Traveling to Paris with my dear little sister and spending time together at Oxford – in particular, discovering the delight of Cream Tea at the Rose and the grandeur of Les Invalides (somehow, I found it much more impressive than Versailles!)
  • Traveling to Italy (twice) to see Venice, Florence, and Rome – the first time with my friends, the second time with my parents
  • Traveling to Dubai to present at the Education Without Borders Conference on “Leveraging Microphilanthropy in Education” and winning the best paper award for the “e-technology” panel
  • Showing my friends who visited from the states around Oxford
  • Going to the picturesque Lake District with my coursemates, enjoying the beautiful scenery through hikes and drives, and holding fun cook-outs and events in the cottage we rented
  • Pitching YouthBank at the Idea Idol Competition held by Oxford Entrepreneurs in front of a panel of distinguished judges and venture capitalists and winning the People’s Choice Award
  • Listening to Muhammad Yunus and Gordon Brown speak (not necessarily because the speeches themselves were that wonderful, but for what each public figure represented)
  • Christmas at Windsor Castle (The International Students Christmas Weekend, organized by Cumberland Lodge. I had a chance to see a proper British Christmas, culminating in an appearance by Father Christmas bearing a large plate of Christmas pudding.) Balliol’s Nepotist’s Carols were likewise a lot of fun – mince pies, mulled wine, carols, and…insults hurtled at Trinity
  • Rhodes House Events – in particular, Shrove Tuesday was a lot of fun (tasty pancakes and dancing), along with the Rhodes Ball, coming up dinner
  • Freshers Week – almost too many events crammed into one week. The superhero themed bop was the first time I’ve ever been to a costumed party before outside of Halloween, and I enjoyed it thoroughly
  • All my development modules – For my course, we were only supposed to attend 3-4 modules, but I ended up going to all 8 because I enjoyed them so much! Some of the topics included: Economics of Education and Public Service Delivery, Rural Development, Openness, Monetary Economics, Institutions, etc.
  • Burns Night at Balliol followed by Ceilidh Dancing in the MCR (don’t know how we managed to do it considering how packed that room was!)
  • Music concerts at the Sheldonian, Swan Lake at the New Theatre (Swan Lake…I grew up listening to that ballet and to see it in person was such a delight!)
  • The varsity ice hockey match against Cambridge – yes, our team lost, but regardless, the amount of spirit and anticipation for that game was unparalleled

I only had about 3 days between my last exam and the start of my internship in NYC at Goldman Sachs, so I didn’t have much time this summer to relax at home. Unfortunately, since Oxford’s academic calendar differs so much than that of US schools, I missed training and the chance to meet the other interns. Regardless, I had a really fulfilling internship experience, enhanced by frequent visits from my dear little sister, my parents, and my friends (many who I had not seen in a year). Pinkberry, Museum of Modern Art, tasty food in Koreatown and Chinatown, karaoke, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, American Museum of Natural History, walking in Greenwich Village, shopping in Soho, lounging in Central Park, among other pastime – all with my favorite people -  what more can I ask for!

In addition, in August, we had a hugely successful NYC Launch Party for Givology at Marquee – and for me, it was just amazing to see everyone on the team again in person, many of which I had spoken to for countless hours on the phone or on Skype (and who I would trust with the greatest of responsibilities), but had never met in person.

With only a week and a half between the end of my internship and my return to Oxford for the mandatory maths review course for the MSc in Financial Economics, I split my time among home, the University of Pennsylvania (this time as a MGMT 100 client! Four years ago, I would never have imagined that I would be put in this position), and Virginia Tech. Perhaps the happiest few days of my summer were at Virginia Tech with my little sister and my parents, where we went blueberry picking, ate tasty food at local restaurants and dining establishments on campus, experienced the excitement of a last-minute football victory, ran alongside Grace’s bike in country fields (very much like the setting of J-dramas), and just spending time together.

I came back to Oxford on September 25, 2009 – one day before my birthday. That same day that I left, I went to Thomas Jefferson HS (my old high school) to give a presentation about Givology and starting a chapter at TJ. How nostalgic to be back! Given the very short lunch hour, I only had a chance to say hello to some of my favorite teachers before they had to leave for class right afterward. This year marks 5 years since I graduated from Thomas Jefferson; there’s a reunion coming up on Thanksgiving that I really want to attend, but will likely have to miss.

In my next entry, I will discuss my birthday this year and my new program, the Msc in Financial Economics. Then, I should be fully up to date!