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Nov 08

An update on campus life

It’s been a while since I wrote something substantive on here. Almost four months in, and this place continues to amaze me. I’m dreading the day it all finishes.

After an afternoon of study today, I played squash with a group of LLMs and got my ass majorly kicked. I grabbed dinner afterwards with a friend, an eighth year lawyer from Brazil, during which we jointly commiserated over the painful depreciation of our respective currencies (the Brazilian Real has gone down more than the Aussie Dollar!). I then headed over to a neighborhood “dessert night”. I stay in Escondido Village, which is a large on-campus residential area for graduate students, and each section of the village regularly runs community events. I only intended to drop by for a half hour to gorge myself on some ice cream before returning to hit the books but unfortunately I was late and the ice cream had run out by the time I arrived. I got involved in a conversation instead. It was one of those conversations that was so engrossing that everyone ended up standing around talking for three hours despite the presence of perfectly good couches only a couple of metres away. We were six people who grew up on six different continents, and the spark which initiated everything was when one of us admitted to being a conservative and was lamenting about four years of Democrat rule. A Republican, much less a Republican who is willing to admit it, in this part of the country, is a rare thing. But diversity of views is always good – when everyone shares the same views, there is too much self-congratulatory back-patting and agreement which, while potentially therapeutic, isn’t so interesting. Reasonable disagreement is that much more stimulating and productive. The conversation lurched from topic to topic – universal healthcare, economic bailouts, Detroit, fiscal management, feminism, the Presidential campaigns, the role of languages in a multicultural society, voting in California, differing notions of democracy around the world, oil and alternative energy, the drinking age, and so on. We all had different academic backgrounds and upbringings, so even among the liberals, there were widely differing worldviews (I, for one, am economically more to the right than I am on other issues). But what made it work was that people were not rabid supporters of their personal views (ie, in the same way that support is shown by the nuts in the Republican party base whose reflexive instinct on hearing the word “Obama” is to boo). There was always intelligent give and take, and while you can’t expect a conversation like that to make people switch sides, you do expect it to bring people closer to the centre. These comments may be trite, and my wonderment quaint, but I can’t say I’ve ever been in an environment like this before. I would certainly be hard pressed to find one in Australia.

And here’s what I did on a day earlier this week.

Woke up about twenty minutes before a 10am contract drafting class and dashed off to make it. We spent the hour dissecting a Stock Purchase Agreement. I then biked over to the b-school to meet a couple MBAs to discuss a very interesting business idea they had. There’s a b-school course which teaches about starting up a start-up and they were looking for a law student to join their team. Then I rode back to the law school for lunch with Larry Lessig. Various faculty Professors make themselves available throughout the semester to a small group of students for a talk with them over lunch on a first-rsvp first-served basis. Since Professor Lessig is not teaching any cyberlaw courses this year, I jumped on the opportunity. He took questions from all of us and answered them one by one. As expected, he was extremely eloquent in expressing his thoughts which recently have been turning to examining corruption in democracies (not so much overt corruption, but conflicts of interest and competing influences on decision makers).

After a thought-provoking lunch, I moved to the library to work on a case study presentation for an International Deal Making class (involving an LBO of several Taiwanese companies by, coincidentally, an Australian conglomerate). Spoke with a friend about the status of the job market and our expectations of US work culture. I typically think of New York as being the most intense place to work in the world. However, she used to work in the Cairo office of a US law firm – as a lawyer in an understaffed office, in an emerging market economy, and in a culture where clients don’t understand the concept of personal time, the hours she pulled were very scary.

Then I rode to the b-school again to meet with an MBA who was interested in an idea I have about an IT application for streamlining administrative tasks that lawyers always complain about in law firms. I was planning on attending a talk about microfinance initiatives in Africa afterwards, but our discussion ran overtime. I instead attended a presentation by Professor Frans De Waal, a famous biologist known for his work on primates, who spoke about whether animals have the capacity for empathy. It was a fascinating presentation. (The evidence is pretty strong that apes do have empathy which extends to an inter-species level.)

I went home to cook dinner, do some study, and then went over to a wine and cheese night that the French Student Association was hosting (a friend is the President of the association, which is where the connection lies). I don’t normally attend wine functions for reasons that are obvious to those that know me, but I needed to get out and do something social. The French seem to have a mansion called La Maison Fran├žaise all to themselves in which they can host events. I’m not sure, but it was probably bought by some French alumnus or alumna who wanted to donate something back to the university. I was told that ze Germans have their own house as well.

I think I was the only one drinking coke there, but it fooled more than a few people into thinking it was a glass of red wine. I walked up to a person with a jacket that had “Australia” written on it, only to find out he was actually Swedish. We spoke for a while and I found out he was involved in a funded startup which provides a service that converts bitmap images to vector images. A group of us then adjourned to a bar in Palo Alto where we ended the night bitching about how much work we had to do. (The line of the night was that one of us had applied to Stanford for the sole reason that it was on the West Coast. He thought it would be chilled, laid back, and a good place to have a holiday from work, only to find, much to his chagrin, that he was working harder here than he was at the Magic Circle firm he used to work at.) I arrived home at about 2.00am, put in a couple more hours of work and then went to sleep. We have exams in two weeks.

  2:42am (GMT -8.00)  •  Life  •   •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment