Summer weirdness

Well, the Mandarin intensive at UVA started yesterday. Small class (6 students). That’s good. For me though, the setting is a little weird.

This is my third summer language intensive. I took my second year of Hindi in an intensive summer program at Madison, WI. I took my 4th year of Sanskrit in an intensive summer program in Pune, India. Now I’m taking my first year of Mandarin in an intensive summer program at UVA. For the first two programs, I had to temporarily live away. In Madison, I shared a room with a student from Korea (who was studying something else than Hindi… I don’t remember what). In Pune I shared a flat with an American student who was also in the Sanskrit program. But UVA is where I’m doing my Ph.D. So for the length of the program, I’m just using the same old efficiency I was using during the past academic year. My lodging is the same. The university is the same. In the other programs, I was away from my wife for the whole duration of the program but during this program the isolation will be broken by weekend visits. Somehow, without having to live in a different city, it does not feel like a summer intensive. It’s not like I’m not doing all the work. I’m practicing my pinyin and my Chinese characters to death. There’s just some other intangible element missing.

Then there’s something more tangible missing: my friend Llerena. We took our first year of Hindi together and then went into the summer program together. After that, life took us into different directions. One day during the Hindi intensive, our entire class was walking together. I don’t quite remember what we were doing but what I remember however was that I was mumbling to Llerena that our path was not optimized. Of course, I meant optimized for speed towards our final destination. Instead of taking a direct but more boring route, we took the scenic route which meandered by the lake shore. Llerena just laughed at me and asked, grosso modo: What about how pleasant the walk is? Doesn’t that count? She insightfully pointed out how my obsession with optimizing for speed was flawed: optimizing for speed would have meant sacrificing other, more pleasant, aspects of our walk.

I should drop her a line…

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