Joyful Picnic

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My imagination of the social activities when I read novels like Jane Eyre’s is realized in the activities held by McDonnell Academy.

In the first week we had a pleasant potluck picnic. The clear blue sky was decorated with white clouds. It turned out that everything in the picnic was a pretty object to me. The green grassland and roses flowers never failed to impress everyone in the party. Stranger as I was in this lovely town, I never felt bereft of warmth from the surrounding environment and foreign friends in McDonnell Academy.      

Every scholar contributes to the event by bringing his or her own food.The picnic accommodates a lot of cuisines from different cultures. Having been a fan of American food who has been accommodated to Western food for a long time, I appreciate the variety of food provided here: American apple pie, cookies, Chinese noodles, Israeli pancakes, etc. There is some exotic joy in food here. This sharing not onlyrepresents the diversity of scholars in our Academy, but also serves as a terrific fuel beyond our studies.

Six Flags


McDonnell organized a tour in Six Flags, which gave us an opportunity to test our extreme. I was very scared at seeing those giant thrilling roller coasters. A horrible feeling that “I am about to die” came up into my mind when I was up in the air. When I had no blood running in my heart, my agreeable friends who were playing with me, good-naturedly gave me consolation. With my friends’ comfort, I was able to relive myself of the stress and see the greatestamusement. The excitement of the games, the freshness of the air, the united warmth of McDonnell, kept us all well employed. We were not willing to leave until we felt the sunburn on us. It was one of the lovely public events where we availed ourselves of the beauty of St.Louis. Our tour also permitted me to enjoy the lovely sceneries on the way.

International Tea Time in Forest Park

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Having a picnic in windy rainy cold weather? Unheard of! But that was exactly what the Tea Talk team managed to do on May 15th. It was quite disheartening waking up to a grey sky when we knew that a success of a picnic was probably hugely dependable on how nice the weather is. But the team took on a positive outlook. All members set out early, cooking and preparing snacks and tea for the event. We were all excited no matter how windy or how rainy the outside was.

By 1pm everyone was quite busy on the picnic spot. Food needed to be on display and utensils needed to be made ready. Labels to stick, bubbles to blow, busy busy busy… But everybody was all smiles and enthusiastic despite the dampening weather.

By 2pm people started to come. And come they did, slowly but surely trickling to the pavilion like the rain outside. We were overwhelmed by the supports showed by friends and families and those who were committed to the cause. People who told us that they would come to the picnic actually showed up! We were fully and truly grateful.

The event turned out to be quite a success. People were enjoying themselves. The food was delicious and the company was the best. And don’t forget the contests! Biggest umbrella and most colorful clothes! We also got the ambience going by blowing bubbles all over the tent! By the end, everyone actually stuck around long enough than we thought they would.

So on behalf of the team, in Vietnam, Singapore and St. Louis, we would like to say our deepest and sincerest gratitude to all who came that day and lent us support. This event, we are confident, was only the start of a long and fruitful venture with Tea Talk as a medium to address mental health challenge in a more cultural appropriate way. But to achieve that goal, we need all the support we can get from anyone and everyone. So, thank you friends, thank you family. You have turned one of the coldest days into one of the warmest.

A circle is Ban Ki Moon, a triangle is Adelle!

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So here’s the deal, I always wanted a surprise birthday party, but no one ever thrown me one, so I decided to just have one myself! Of course it’s not a surprise because I know all about it yet the advantage of that is, I can decide whatever I want to do in the party!!! And of course being such a boardgame buff like I am, my party would not be complete without a game or two that involves weird rules and huge embarrassment to people who dare to participate. Ooops, I shouldn’t have said that. Now probably no one would come to my party ever again!!!

But at least plenty of people came to my big three zero! So many, I almost felt like it’s a legit academy event <LOL> What a wonderful thing seeing everyone outside of the campus! And everyone was so sweet, bringing snacks and drinks and cakes!!!! A special shout out to Fernando and Connie for the cupcake, Huong and Ray for the éclair, and Weijen and Aleks for the cheesecake!!!! Yeah, didn’t we all experience sugar rush that night! Oh wait, to Elad too! For the pizza with a little twist of home made taste. And all of those gifts that I got, made my night really completely! Thanks guys. Being 30 has never been this awesome (not like I experienced it ever before /grin)

Yet nothing can beat the game that we played—but I’m biased so… Starting with Quelf that made Dor sang in four different styles and each of us to think of bad habits that is annoying and common at the same time (nope, taking too long when it is your turn in Word with Friends DO NOT count!) or sport teams that has an animal name in them or things that are pink! Which… really… after 10 people said 10 different things, it’s almost a miracle that you could even think of anything!

We cap the night with the craziest game we ever played (so far, do underline that with a big line please). The rules were simple, if you boiled it down to the core. All you needed to do was guess the name of the person your team mate was trying to describe to you. First round was a free description phase, for the second one, you could only use three words and for the last, no words, gesture only. Sounds easy? Well, try describing Genghis Khan or Mila Kunis for example. Yeap, not that straight forward, really!

And we thought to make it even more fun, we made it into a battle of the sexes: it’s the boys against the girls, people!!!!!!!!!!! Of course you can always count on those human with y-chromosome to come up with weird personality such as “the girl from the progressive commercial”. Seriously? I mean… seriously? WHY??? (Got it? Y-chromosome… spelled out as “why?” No? Ah well…)

But no one can beat the cunning of the girls as we realize the trick to the game was to win the last round!!!!  So we did a quick mind-synchronization while the boys were dilly dallying, having conversation about unimportant stuff—which I wouldn’t be surprised if it was actually about that girl from the progressive commercial… (come on, boys, eyes on the game!!!!) which of course resulted in the girls crushing the boys to bits by the end of it!!!! Mwahahahahaha!!! /evil laugh.

Yet, what was so bad about letting the birthday girl win, right? It was my night after all. MINE!!!!! Mwahahahahaha!!!! /evil laugh (okay… it might be a tad too much now…)

THE BEST birthday party EVER!!!!!! Thank you wholeheartedly everyone!!!! Wholeheartedly.

It’s Dor’s birthday? Yes. Will we forget that celebration soon? No!

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Ask any communication specialist. Chances are they are going to tell you that open ended questions are a better tool to use in a social situation than closed ended ones that are only going to give you yes or no answers. Well… not on Dor’s birthday party! Yes and no answers actually lit up the night and brought all twenty-ish of the guests together in a big game of whodunit!

The evening started perfect already. Good food, great friends, nice conversations… you really can’t beat that combination! But what would be a bigger hit in a room full of intellectuals (read: nerds… cough…) than a little game of mystery solving! Oh well… maybeeeee… words with friends… fine… I’ll give you that. But this one allows people to NOT be stuck to their smart phone screen all the time. Yeap, it’s a miracle!!!!

It’s kind of addictive too. Try this yourself. Why do you think a guy kills himself after taking one sip of an albatross soup? Or why another one is found dead in the middle of the desert, completely naked, except for half a match in his hand? The best part of it all, there’s no alien involved!!!!! Please… do keep that in mind, no matter what Elad or Aleks tells you.

And what is the best part of having a room full of international students? All those foreign language of course!!!! Or figuring out how your name would sound like in Chinese, even better, how to write it down in one! We were lucky that the table cover was made of paper. Because before long people started to scribble down different versions of their names for demonstrations. Yes, we were both loud and liked to doodle. The party almost sounded like the one for toddlers! Props to the restaurant people for keeping up with all of our annoying quirks!

To cap the wonderful evening: a birthday cake full of good fruity slices, courtesy of Liran! And yes, thank you Liran for making the evening possible. Lucky Dor! And lucky us to be able to call both friends. Yom Huledet Sameach!!!!!

DC on Two Wheels

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What is the best way to explore DC? On a bike!!!!! Especially since we had 2 Dutchies in tow, we really had no excuse but to take those lovely red two wheelers for a little touristic round! Well yes, there was that indecisiveness at the beginning of “shall-we-shall-we-not” for 10 minutes—with Lenny keep saying “let’s just do it” and Elad keep calculating in his head how much money the trip would cost us—and you might want to have a couple of Israelis in the group just to figure out how the machine would let you take the bike from where they were parked—Dor literally had a one on one conversation with that piece of electronic: “NO! I just want the bike!”—but apart from that, it was smooth riding.

Also take this from a firsthand experience, it’ll be even more perfect if you had a Thai to always snap a picture on every turn—yes, our Sassy was always on the ready. Having an Indonesian is optional. She was probably just going to forever whine that people with longer legs were going too fast for her to keep up. But by the end of the day, she would probably be the only one who is lazy enough to do school work so she can then sit in front of her laptop writing about the awesomeness of the experience instead. So… well, anything in life has its trade off (/grin diabolically).

Now, don’t mind all the stops every five minutes, which literally made you wonder why DC is not known as the traffic light city: Washington Don’t Cross! Not funny? Ah well, it was even less funny if you had to wait for it to turn green! But stopping every now and then has its advantage. Especially for people like me who was always bringing up the rear and gaining new understanding why bicycle was originated in the Netherlands when everything was blissfully flat. DC was unfortunately not… flat. Well, alright… mostly it was. So even for yours truly, it was a pleasant pleasant experience.

The weather was even oh so perfect. Not too cold and not too warm. Kevin ran upstairs to get me my gloves for no reason really… ahem… sorry, Kev. Even though, I have to mention, after riding for twenty minutes we all had to peel off the outer layers and started the fashion trend of “casual waist bowtie”. Not too shabby I should say. Just blatantly touristy. And don’t forget to stop in front of famous landmarks and ask a kind stranger to take picture of the group, all on bike of course!!!!!

So in a nutshell it was quite a blast. Although my legs literally turned into jelly by the end of it. How could it not! I had to pedal faster and faster since none of us wanted to pass the half an hour limit of the free ride deal—I’m pretty sure that pending fee on our cards will go away soon, Molly. But of course a leisurely stop in front of the White House was not to be missed where everyone had to take at least 2 pictures. First the regular one, pose… smile… click… and another one saddling the bike, pose… smile… click… Oh wait!!!! My eyes were closed!!!!! Darn!!!!

Public policy talk at monthly lunch

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Today was another monthly lunch with the McDonnell Academy. As usual, this is a great opportunity to catch up with some Scholars that you don’t usually meet during your work and study as well as meeting with some Ambassadors and have a chat or two with them. And of course, who can ever say no to free food! But today’s event was more than just dining and mingling. For the first time, some of the Scholars were presenting their thoughts and experiences related to a particular issue. This time, the theme was public policy. As spring break is approaching and the first and second year batches are going to Washington D.C. to meet with top policy makers, this topic is seen to be very much relevant.

There were four speakers for the talk. Wimonmat Srichamroen, or Molly, talked about public policy formation. In particular, Molly discussed about the debate, advantages and disadvantages of the two main approaches used in the formation of public policy: bottom-up and top-down approaches. Minchao Jin presented next. He discussed the importance of considering the right assumptions in the design of public policy. Minchao made his point using as example the bill proposed by republican senators in Texas which attempts to allow students and professors to carry guns into campus buildings. Then, it was Fernando Lopez’s turn. He illustrated that an ideal impact evaluation of a public policy has a number of similarities with the evaluation of the effectiveness of a drug or treatment typically carried out by scientists. Fernando also discussed the state of the art of impact evaluation of social programs in Latin America and highlighted the main technological and institutional challenges faced by impact evaluators. Lastly, it was my talk. I introduced a quite new approach to public policy evaluation: the qualitative method. I argued that this approach provided a more complete understanding of what is going on the people’s life hence the public policy formulated can be more on target and really addresses the core of the problem at hand. Overall, two common elements in the talks were a call for more rigor when studying public policies and also the recognition that public policies should be addressed from a multidisciplinary perspective.

These topics were an interesting warm up for the coming discussions the Scholars will have with US leaders in their annual trip to Washington D.C. The talks were very much informative and the audience was engaged throughout. The Q&A sessions provided the other Scholars opportunity to explore more the topics in discussion. Surprisingly, Scholars studying PhDs in sciences were the most curious and engaged in the discussion. It was a very successful first session of the McDonnell Scholar Speaker Series. We are all now looking forward to more talks in the future on more interesting topics and of course, more knowledge sharing and intellectual discussions amongst the scholars as well!

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