Studying On-the-go

I’ve written before about how my study plan has to as flexible as my work schedule. My full-time work in the orchestra has some really busy periods and my moonlighting as a dance critic and journalist means that sometimes it’s really difficult to find the time to meet my weekly and monthly goals.

Autumn was a particularly busy time – Ireland has many arts festivals around this time of year, so I travelled all around the country to see dance shows. On top of that, the orchestra had a really busy period with performances and recordings, including playing live for the second Lord of the Rings movie.

And as if things weren’t busy enough, another orchestra, Camerata Ireland, invited me to travel to Chile and Argentina for four concerts over eight days in early October. Touring to foreign countries always appears glamorous, but the reality of constant travelling between airports, concert halls and hotels can be a bit of a drag. Nevertheless, Camerata Ireland is a great orchestra and I always take any opportunity to experience other cultures and perform in another countries.

Anticipating down-time, I brought some study materials, particularly for long journeys. Baggage allowances restricted my reading to printouts of journal articles and a couple of study guides, but on two 14-hour flights and a few coach trips, I did manage to delve into my foreign policy and nationalism studies.

The great thing about studying politics and international relations is how the everyday news impinges on your studies. When in Buenos Aires, a few of us headed off to a particularly good parrilla mentioned in a guidebook and soon found myself in the middle of a noisy – bordering on violent – demonstration about austerity measures. The atmosphere was tense, so we slipped away and took a detour, but it piqued my interest in Argentina’s domestic political situation.

Many hours later, in the more relaxed surroundings of a tango club, I spoke with locals about Argentinian politics, and while I didn’t have a lot of local knowledge I could relate to how they spoke about the tension between nationalism and globalism, and particularly how Argentina finds itself compared to the economically emerging Brazil. In spite of my broken Spanish, I found myself able to relate and understand their position, not just through personal understanding, but by recalling some readings on my courses. It wasn’t that I was boring them with quotations and fanciful theories, but I was merely drawing on my ever-increasing understanding of politics at a global level.

Sipping Malbec, chatting with tangueros and tangueras in Buenos Aires about Argentinian politics might seem a million miles away from my study plan, but it is exactly why I’m putting myself through the hard slog of studying and examinations. I didn’t start this course to necessarily change career (although any offers would be carefully considered!). I just wanted to gain some understanding of the shifting global political landscape that we all inhabit.

Next May, I’ll be writing carefully structured answers to exam questions that will judge how much I understand my courses. I’ve no problem with that system of evaluation and will endeavour to get as high a mark as possible. But for me, the ability to empathise and engage with the political realities of other cultures is what attracted me to pursue this degree.