Long time, no see

While Columbia gives me a brief reprieve over the winter break, there’s going to be some work going on here. Bear with me, it’s going to look rad.

Nashville, Tennessee

“Oh, you’re from New Zealand? That’s nice, y’all too far away to offend anybody. You know when you’re in Nashville, you should go see some football….”

There’s nothing nicer, or more unexpected, than an immigration official talking about sports when you’ve gone 18 hours without sleep. I showed my documents, got my stamps, and walked on through to wait for my bags. After everything I went through to get here,  it all felt like a bit of an anti-climax.

Nashville was my first destination, where I would be staying at Vanderbilt University for a Fulbright orientation. Known alternatively as “music city”, “Athens of the south” or “Nash-vegas”, the Tennessee capital is famous for its country music, universities and churches.

I had forgotten almost everything I needed to get clean after travelling all that way, so a grad student who was looking after us offered to take me to the nearest pharmacy. It wasn’t far, she said, but a storm was coming and it was going to rain. The second we stepped out the door emergency sirens started wailing – a warning soon came over the car radio that a tornado had been spotted nearby. Jet lagged and sleep deprived, this information was all a bit too much for me to cope with. Later I read that the tornado had destroyed a house and almost killed a woman.

It was a rather bizarre introduction to Nashville, but things were about to get crazier. In between the orientation sessions about medical care, American history and leadership, we were taken to experience the city. The second night we went to the Grand Ole Opry, a live country music radio show recorded at the Ryman Auditorium – the kind with ads read out during the breaks.  Country music legend Little Jimmy Dickens played for us (between making crude jokes about his wife), resplendent in a cowboy hat and a sequinned red, white and blue jacket. Man, that guy was awesome

Little Jimmy Dickens

Carrie Underwood, of American Idol fame, also performed, causing many teenage girls in the audience to squeal and run to the front for autographs. She has the pop/country/Christian thing down to a fine art, but I’d have preferred to see a little more of Little Jimmy.

A dedicated group of us went to explore Broadway after that, narrowly avoiding purchasing cowboy boots and hats. I danced quite spectacularly to Folsom Prison Blues at a honky tonk bar named Roberts. While I was crossing the street on the way to the next place a homeless man snuck up on me and, to my horror, kissed me on the cheek. One of my colleagues thought it was appropriate at this point to give him $5, which was the source of some amusement the next morning.

Disclaimer: this is not me dancing, but I kinda wish it was

The rest of the week paled in comparison. There was a scavenger hunt around central Nashville (which my team won. Booyeah!), dinner at the Hard Rock cafe and a grill restaurant nearby, tacos, seminars, line dancing, Bud, and fun times with some really great people. Say what you like about country music, but Nashville is a very cool place. I’ll be heading back to get myself some proper cowboy boots really soon.

Leaving on a jet plane…

I’m off on Monday. Stay tuned for travel blogging goodness.

Slightly late post about my secret squirrel scholarship

The week before last I went to Wellington to accept my Fulbright general graduate award. That’s right! In March, just days before I emailed to Columbia to tell them I couldn’t get the money together, I got a call from Fulbright saying somebody else had pulled out and I was first on the waiting list.

I’m really honoured to be selected, and it was fantastic to have the opportunity to meet the other grantees and swap war stories. As well as a fancy ceremony at Parliament attended by about 400 people, we met with Fulbright alumni who gave us loads of advice about life and study in the States. I feel a lot more prepared to hit the ground running.

Me and the Minister

I was also awarded the Rowling scholarship, which is a bit of additional money to undertake an internship relating to my course in Washington DC. Usually this is with a senator’s office or a NGO, but I’m going to intern with a media organisation – hopefully in the White House.

So, back in Auckland I’m working on getting my visa, booking flights and doing all that leaving-the-country-freak-out stuff. Next week is my last ever deadline at Unlimited (sniff!) and then I’ve got a week to set my affairs in order and get myself to Nashville, where I’ll be doing a short orientation course with some other Fulbrighters. And going to see some country music.

Vote for me!

A couple of weeks ago I applied for an AMP scholarship. It turns out there’s a People’s Choice award, and whoever gets the most votes wins $10,000. So, if you’d be so kind to vote for me I will be eternally in your debt.

To vote go to http://doyourthing.co.nz/whos-applying, and search for me. And if you’d like to tell your friends or colleagues to vote for me as well, that would be awesome!

Key to Victory

A comment on another post I received today reminded me that I hadn’t blogged about Key to Victory yet.

So anyway, during the 2008 election campaign I was asked by Stephen Levine at Victoria University to present a paper at the post-election conference. I jumped at the chance and eventually helped organise the conference.

The result is the book to the left, which came out late last year. I’ve got a chapter in there about how politicians used the internet and social media during the campaign. As usual, Stephen and Nigel Roberts have managed to wrangle a number of participants and commentators into writing chapters. It’s a must read if you’re interested in recent New Zealand politics.

Just quickly…

If you’ve got the time, this is a great essay about the state of the States.

Deer hunting with Jesus

In a couple of months I’ll be moving to a strange city in a strange country, so I feel like I need to be mentally prepared. I’m pretty adaptable, and reasonably good at fitting in and making friends, but I’m also going to have a pretty heavy load of school work to cope with.

When I lived in Melbourne briefly I started reading Australian news websites and read all the books about the country’s history and culture I could before I left. It worked quite well, so I’ve started listening to podcasts like “This American Life” on NPR and tracking down helpful books.

This is the reading list I have so far:

  • Race of a Lifetime: How Obama won the Whitehouse by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin – a racy, novelistic account of  the last election campaign
  • The American Future: A history by Simon Schama – I’ve had the intellectual hots for Schama ever since I watched his series about the history of Britain when I was a kid. I haven’t started it yet, but the jacket promises to show me how America arrived at where it is today and what the future will be
  • Deer hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America’s class war by Joe Bageant – thanks to @Katforbes for this. Bageant, a journalist and editor, returns to his hometown in Virginia in an attempt to figure out why unhealthy, poor and uneducated white Americans continue to vote against their own interests.

Any other suggestions?

I’ve also been following a couple of NYC knitting and thrifting blogs on my Google Reader; I am far more excited about this than I should be.

Good news and Givealittle

The world works in mysterious ways. One day you’ll be drafting an email to say you can’t afford to take up your place at an American University, the next you’ll be offered a substantial amount of funding.

In other words, I’ll be winging my way to Columbia in August! I’ve been sworn to secrecy about the money’s source until it’s confirmed, so you’ll have to wait to find out more about that.

What I can say is, while substantial, the funding doesn’t cover all my course fees and expenses. So I still need your help to get to New York. If you have any great ideas about scholarships or get-rich-quick schemes, get in touch.

I’ve also finally got around to starting up a Givealittle page, and any donations will be greatly appreciated. I’ve searched high and low for scholarships, bugged philanthropists, and am selling some much-loved stuff on TradeMe. I need to raise a mind-bogglingly large sum, and unfortunately none of those things have been enough.

Thanks for all your help and suggestions so far.

Fulbright Fail

Some bad news yesterday afternoon: despite months of preparation, I failed to land a Fulbright scholarship. I’m still on the “alternate” list, so if someone else pulls out I have a shot, but I’m not going to pin my hopes on that.

So it’s back to the drawing board. Still around $98,000 to raise, and no more big scholarships to pray for. Time is slipping away, and I’m not really sure what the next step should be.

Which is where you guys come in. If you have an ideas, no matter how kooky, I’d like to hear them.