Monday, July 27, 2015

What is a Country?

When I think of all the places I've been on this Earth, I have all these fantastic memories of countries and cities, national parks and exotic landscape.  To me, the different places I've been all seem to blend together.  Probably in the same way that the world actually blends across national borders, as opposed to the way we often think of it as a hard stop of one culture and landscape to something entirely different on the other side of the fence.  However, no matter how I think of my adventures, there really should be some way to quantify exactly (or really not so exactly) how much I've travelled in my lifetime or how far I've been or how many places I've visited.

The way I've been referring to where I've been is in the form of how many countries I've been to.  This has some obvious restrictions due to the vastly varying sizes of the countries of world.  For example, I've been to Luxembourg City, which is the capital of the small state of Luxembourg.  I've also been to Beijing, which is the capital of China, one of the world's largest countries.  To say that I've seen the same amount of Luxembourg as I've seen of China would be an obvious inaccuracy.  It should be obvious that I've seen a much larger percentage of Luxembourg than I did of China.  Granted these two countries are just extreme examples on opposite ends of the spectrum.  There are also much more moderately sized countries that I've travelled through extensively.  So the ultimate question is, how do we balance all of this into one accurate form of measurement?

The answer is that we can't easily do that.  I suppose I could tell you how many cities I've been to.  That may be more accurate, but what about all the places that I've been that aren't cities.  As you can see, this is quite difficult.  This is why I choose to stick to my method of counting countries, depsite all of its caveats and flaws.

That being said, I realized this morning that even this method can swing in one direction or the other.  As many of my friends already know, I've been looking forward to the milestone of 40 countries.  After visiting China, I only need one more country to hit the 40 country mark.  However, I noticed that I may have already hit that number.  It depends on what you consider a country.

You may be wondering how I could be debating such a simple thing, but when you really get down to it, it's a confusing qualification.  Most people would go with the United Nations member countries; however, there are several states that are often overwhelming argued to be countries that are not member countries of the UN for various reasons.  The one least argued about is Vatican City, which has voluntarily opted out of being a member country of the UN to remain neutral due to its religous base.  Yet despite its lack of membership in the UN, barely anyone would question whether or not the Vatican is a country.  Others are a bit more debateable but are usually still considered countries, such as Kosovo and Taiwan.

When I'm determining for myself 'what is a country,' I generally like to go with the Sporcle rules.  Sporcle is a quiz website and it has its own classification of what is a country and what is not.  Sporcle accepts all UN member countries without any questions.  It also accepts several other countries, which are determined on a somewhat individual basis.  Outside of the UN member countries, Sporcle accepts Vatican City, Kosovo, Taiwan, and Palestine.  So due to Sporcle's somewhat recent acceptance of Palestine, by these rules, I've already been to 40 countries!

Now whether I should really count Palestine as a seperate country from Israel, I'm not sure.  Because I've travelled around Israel, I have basically been to Palestine as well.  This one is tricky because Palestine doesn't necessarily have agreed upon borders.  So to say I've been somewhere when we can't even determine where that somewhere is is drawing on many shades of gray.  This leaves me wondering...have I really been to 40 countries or just 39?  I'll have to think some more on this one and for now I'm still looking forward to hitting #40!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Post-Grad School Life

I know it's been a while...but it has been an insane year for me.  Aside from finishing grad school, I also started working for the federal government again last August.  Up until when I graduated in May, I had so much to do all the time I couldn't even think, let alone write about it.

That being said, I'm back!

So first a little catch-up.  I believe I last left off towards the end of the school year last year.  After the Spring semester ended, I spent the first half of my summer taking an online course.  The second half was spent relaxing and waiting.  There is nothing worse that a government HR department.  It took them nearly two months to officially offer me a job.  Two months!  That was after my office had already informally offered me the position.  Then I had to wait another month for the revalidation of my security clearance.  So I finally started work August 25, 2014.  Coincidentally, that was the same day my Fall semester classes started.  I was back to being a government intern, but at least this time they were paying me for my services, which was a breath of fresh air that I hadn't seen in a long time.

The Fall went well and the Spring followed.  I was working 4 days a week and going to school full time.  There wasn't much else going on.  There was no time!  But needless to say, I eventually made it to graduation, which was one of those milestones in life that you can never quite match.  Also upon graduating, I was offered the option to convert to a full time civil servant in my office.  So at the fear of not finding a job elsewhere and being content enough for the time being, I took them up on the offer.  Within a month I found myself with a real person job and it felt good!

A few days after graduation, I left DC for a family vacation to Israel. I know...not your normal family vacation destination.  But then again, my family is not quite normal and I prefer it that way. (I'll write a longer post about this trip later.)

Once I returned from Israel, I was only back for about a month before my work decided to send me to China on a temporary assignment for 3 weeks.  I've been to a lot of places, but I had never been to China or anywhere in that part of Asia.  So this was an exciting trip for me.  Not only that, but I rarely have someone else footing the bill for me to travel.  A free trip to a place I had never been?  Of course I was excited!  (I'll write more about this later too.)

I just returned a few days ago and I'm finally getting the feel for this post-grad school life.  It's a funny thing to have free time, especially when you haven't had any in so long.  It's been an adjustment, but not a bad one.  Hopefully part of my free time will be used to blog a bit more frequently than once a year.  We'll see if I hold to this.