Monthly Archives: September 2013

In case you missed it… (Miss America recap)

Crowning the winner   …the Miss America 2014 pageant was last Sunday night. The roomies were gathered in the living room to watch this cultural event. So, in scenes reminiscent of the 1980s when my little sister and I would spend a Sunday afternoon watching this as little girls, I joined them to watch the pageant once more.  It would have been rude not to.

As if you didn’t already know, Miss America is not a beauty pageant it is a scholarship fund. The scholarship comes in the form of cash-prizes which delegates use to either pay off student loans or to fund graduate school.  After witnessing their dancing in the opening number of the telecast I, for one, was relieved that all these girls have academics as a back up.

Here is my view of the most ‘interesting’ elements of the spectacle.

Thumbs up to…


  •  The ‘bedazzled’ knee brace holding Miss Florida upright.

This rhinestone covered knee brace allowed Miss Florida to overcome her torn ACL injury, sustained in the preliminary rounds, and take the stage to make it to the top 5.




The magic of the sparkly brace took her from this…


…to this!

Miss Floridas comeback

And the prize for best sympathy-enducing strategic move goes to… Miss Florida

  • Twitter feed #MissAmerica

Kept me sane, and entertained, throughout the night. For a retrospective on the gems coming through the Twitterverse check out tweets for this hashtag from 15th September.

  • Multiculturalism

The winner and first runner up were young women of Asian-American background. Which apparently was A Big. Deal. The face of Miss America is changing.

Thumbs down to…

  •  The non-projectile clause in the talent competition rules.

This rule meant Miss Kansas had to forgo her ‘real’ talent of archery. Her fallback talent? Opera singing. Click here to see the result.

Miss Kansas

  • Miss Florida’s parents’ spelling 

For letting the alphabet spill all over daughter’s name at birth: Myrrhanda Jones

  •  The pageant organisers 

Who allocate 15 minutes to the health and fitness parade* but only 15 seconds per contestant to showcase their speaking skills in the Q&A section.

Historical fun facts about Miss America

  • The event originated from a decision made by the Atlantic City Businessman’s League of 1920 which was trying to solve the problem of how to have tourists continue visiting after Labor Day.
  • In the last 56 years of Miss America (through 2013), 29 winners have been blonde, 15 were brown-haired, 9 had black-hair, and 4 were redheads.
  • Whatever you do, do NOT mistake Miss America for Miss USA. The former is a scholarship fund. The latter is just a qualifying round for Miss Universe.

*Formerly known as the swimsuit competition.


Advice to Freshman: What NOT to do.

In the first week of the semester I read with interest an article in the student newspaper aimed at incoming freshman. The purpose of the article was to tell the freshman ways to avoid looking like a freshman. Apparently being ‘new’ is something to be ashamed of.

The list of advice included:

  1. Leave  your varsity jacket and high school yearbook at home.
  2. Likewise your stuffed animal toys.
  3. Do not attach your room key to a lanyard. And if you absolutely must, use a lanyard DO NOT wear it around your neck.
  4. Never look at the large campus maps displayed around campus. Use your phone to check the online map, or better still, memorise where you have to go before walking out the door.
  5. Do not wear a backpack.

Now items 1 and 2 I endorse 100%. Item 3 kind of makes sense if you are into presenting a certain carefree image. But I definitely did not understand items 4 and 5. Using maps to orient yourself to a new place and carrying a backpack seems pretty harmless to me.

Anyway, I have since found out why this advice was offered.

Drive-by hazing.

People in passing cars, typically 20-year-old boys, yell at pedestrians doing any of these things on campus. They are so brave and clever in their moving vehicles. I have been struck twice now by this phenomenon.

While wearing a backpack…  ‘Freeeesssshhhhmaaaannn!!!!!!!!!!!!!‘.

I actually found this one a compliment – if only they knew how old I was.

While looking at a campus map… ‘You’re at UConn you idiot. U  –  Conn.’

Yes. I sure am.

Five signs I have found my groove


Today marks exactly one month since I arrived on campus. So far so good, but this week has definitely been the best. Here are 5 signs that I am finding my groove.

1. I am official.

My social security number arrived, so it feels like America-the-nation has acknowledged that I do actually exist. When I reply to the ‘What is your SSN?’ question, with ‘I don’t have one’ it is a sure-fire conversation stopper. They don’t know what to do with you, they have to call a supervisor, and I move from being a person to a nuisance.

2. I made some non-compulsory friends. And we went out.

Anyone who you don’t live with, who wants to spend time with you, is classified as a non-compulsory friend. This week I had my first social outing with new friends from my course, and another outing is planned for this weekend with some other people.

3. I passed my statistics assignment.

In a perfect role-reversal from teacher to student, I sat with growing anxiety at my desk while the lecturer walked around the room returning assignments. As a teacher who normally tries to tell my students not to gain affirmation solely from the marks, I broke my own rule. The mark on the front in red pen felt great. Maybe I only half-suck at maths.

4. I joined things. And met people.

I had my first meetings of the Ski and Snowboard club, and the Graduate Student Activities group. I tacked the big questions: Should I go on the ski trip to Aspen, Colorado in January, even if the majority of attendees will be undergraduates? What would be a good theme for the Grad School Prom in March? I had my second rehearsal for Festival Chorus. The big question there was: How long can I hide the fact that I can’t really sing, and definitely can’t pronounce the lyrics in Latin and German?  At each of these, and in my classes, people have now asked for my contact details or given me their cards. I hope this is not another version of the ‘let’s have lunch’ line.

5. I was introduced to FroYo.

Remember the dessert buffet at Sizzler restaurants in the 1990s? You know, self-serve ice-cream, with trays of chocolate flakes, freckles, hundreds-and-thousands, and dispensers of chocolate, caramel and raspberry sauces? In America the self-serve-dessert buffet concept still exists, but the ice-cream is disguised as the ‘healthier’ alternative of frozen yoghurt. And you don’t have to go through the charade of having dinner first. The selection of flavours, toppings and sauces is extensive. Luckily it is not walking distance from my house.

So I have learned that it takes a month for the seeds of a life to sprout. And it is happening just as the leaves are beginning to change.


Involvement Fair

Apparently the best way to ‘make the most of your time at university’ is to ‘get involved’ in ‘campus life’. So the Involvement Fair is the first opportunity that new students, like me, have to talk to less-new students about the things to do around here when you’re not studying.

The university takes activities and involvement very seriously. When you enter the Student Union Building you are greeted with this imposing message overhead:


For an entire week before the fair, my inbox was peppered with links to the list of organisations that would be represented. The list of clubs and their descriptions (accessed here) made for entertaining reading. I found myself imagining what types of people join what types of club.  Would any of them have me? If you were in your mid-30s at university, what group should you join?

So on Wednesday afternoon for five solid hours the road was filled with students in matching T-shirts or costumes, handing out flyers, brandishing props, and manning tables with give-away merchandise, and sign up sheets. I headed down with my phone and an open mind.



Each club had a tri-fold cardboard display board, which had been decorated with coloured paper, photographs, typed-up “mission statements” and photographs and stuck on with craft glue. It was amateur and very charming and reminded me that not everything young people do these days is organised entirely through social media.  No, there they all were. Looking each other in the eye and having conversations. Just like old times.


(I was too embarrassed to take a photo of the front of displays because I have discovered that it is only cool to take photos around campus if you are taking a selfie.) 

I had spied a small-scale version of this recruitment method a week earlier when the fraternity and sorority houses set up stalls to enlist new members from the undergrad population. Many of the frat-boys and sor-sisters were wearing T-shirts that said ‘Go Greek’ which appears to be the way to express your support of all ‘Greek Lettered Social Living Communities’. They were there in force again at the Involvement Fair.

It was heart-warming to see a large number of stalls under the ‘Community Outreach’ banner. This university is indeed a place of social justice. It was less heart-warming to overhear this from one female undergrad to another as she passed by these volunteer and charity groups.

“Uh. Helping people. I am done with HELPING people!”

As I wandered through, I stopped to speak to the cheerleaders (finally spotted them!), and discovered that in fact they are a ‘dance and performance’ group.


Opposite the dancers I was happy to discover at that a TEDx conference will take place on campus later this month. I toyed with the idea of joining the tennis club, until I realized it was less about social hitting and exercise and more about winning matches against other New England universities. I ignored the cries coming from the physics club stand. Likewise the rowing guys dressed in zoot suits and carrying oars aloft through the crowd. No there was only one club I was determined to join.

Ski and snowboard club. It is going to be a long winter here in CT and I am looking forward to the playground the snow will  create on my doorstep. When I finally located their stall, I walked up and said hello. The 19 year-old-guy behind the stand was less than happy about having to explain the offerings of the ski club to a mid-30s grad student, and he made no effort to disguise his discomfort. Undeterred I left my name and email on the sign-up sheet with the hope of using the ski shuttle buses and discounted lift tickets to my advantage later this year. I suspect he may have crossed my name off the list, or it will “accidentally” be left off the initial email, but that is okay. Thanks to the Student Union website I know how to track them down.

After an hour of inspecting the stalls, I decided to find a club that offered something that I had never done before. This is the year I am trying new things.

So Festival Chorus it is. Yes. I have joined the choir.

The Evolution of Cask Wine

My roomies had a party in our apartment last Friday night. Sadly (or rather, conveniently for all concerned) I was on a weekend away from campus. Before leaving, I did get to discuss with my roomies the party drinks of choice for their generation.

I think this picture from our shared fridge says it all. It might even bring back a few memories from the 1980s for some of my readers. Cask wine

I tried to explain that it was known as a ‘goon bag’ back in Australia, but it was very alien terminology on these Gen-Yers.

Then, in today’s edition of the university newspaper, I found this amusing cartoon depicting the latest development in the history of the cask.

Cask wine cartoon

Whatever you call it: boxed wine, cask wine, the bag of goon, I think we can all agree that ‘Carboardeaux’ is far more appealing.

Bottoms up folks!


Encounters with Americans.

It is a nice change observing Americans from within their own society, rather than in restaurants, public transport and tourist sites while travelling in Europe. Here are just a few memorable encounters I have had so far with my American brothers and sisters.

Military pride

A middle-aged women came in to class 15 minutes late. She explained her tardiness immediately. “Sorry I’m late, I had to finish up some military business.” Is there any better excuse than this in America? No one is going to question you once you play the veteran card.  Later on when we did the tell-us-a-bit-about-yourself activity I learned that this woman was now studying to be a school counselor having just finished a 15-year career in the US Army. She received an impromptu round of applause from the class.

Helpfulness and comfort zones

Having disembarked the bus from NYC back to campus on Labor Day Monday I found myself wheeling two suitcases from bus stop to bus stop in search of a shuttle back to my dorm.  A young man on a skateboard, wearing a baseball cap, and the enormous headphones stopped and asked if I needed any help. After a few minutes of talking, during which time we established that the bus I needed was not running, I resigned myself to walking back to my dorm. I thanked him for trying to help me. His reply baffled me.

“Well I just think the world would, like, be a better place if, like, people just helped others more often you know. Like for example, I just went out of my comfort zone by stopping to talk to you.”

I wasn’t quite sure how to take that. Was I that undesirable to talk to and therefore should be grateful that he spoke to me? Or was this simply an honest expression of this young man’s dream for America? In the spirit of thinking positively, I’m going with the latter.

School spirit lives on in alumni

While visiting NYC I stopped by my favorite shoe shop. A young salesman on duty recognized me from my 2012 visit to the store (when I bought 12 pairs of shoes) and we had a quick chat while I was served by his colleague. At the checkout I asked for the shoes to be shipped to me in Connecticut, as it eliminates the NY sales tax. On my way out I was chased down by the now-extremely-excited salesman who had spotted my address on the shipping instructions.

“Oh man, no way. You go to UConn???!!!!!!!!’

“Ah, yes. I just started there this week.”

“Man, that is awesome! I went to UConn. It is the best school in the country. Oh man, you’re a Husky* too. This is amazing!!!!!!!”

Long conversation ensued, mainly with my fellow Husky expressing his love for the school and its reputation for strong alumni networks. But just when I was feeling completely affirmed in my decision to study at this school, he reiterated how deeply, disturbingly, depressingly cold the campus gets during the winter.

Oh, and the shoes being shipped to me?  All-weather snow boots.

*The mascot of the university is Jonathan the Husky. More on that later.