Identity and Place in the World

My personal identity is something that I spend a lot of time thinking about. One of the greatest concerns that I have right now and something that I have been trying to figure out for a while is what I want to do with my life. I am currently majoring in Agricultural and Biological Engineering but the only thing that really interests me in this major is the Renewable Energy Systems concentration. I also am interested in Aerospace, and jet propulsion, for spacecrafts and such. And I also find robotics pretty cool. At U of I’s engineering school they make it so hard to transfer to different programs (which literally just makes me want to punch a hole through a wall) but makes me feel an urgency in figuring out what I want to do, which I really don’t know yet. One thing I know is that I want to be an engineer and that I love solving problems, and there were a few separate occurences in Puerto Rico that helped solidify this for me.

The last hotel that we stayed at was an Eco Lodge in the middle of the Rainforest. There was a ten minute hike that we could took from the lobby that led us to a river. The river was not a river that one could canoe in because there were many big rocks sticking out of the water that are all pretty close to each other. Once we got to the river, I jumped on one of the rocks, and then another, avoiding the water underneath. I kept doing this and made my way down the river, however with every rock I had to figure out a way of climbing on it, getting to the next one, and to navigate the best path down the river. Sometimes the rocks were slippery and I had to try and stay on without slipping and falling. A few times the only way to get to one rock to another was to jump. I think this reflects my identity pretty well. I am a very adventurous person, and I really love putting my body on the line and taking risks. I really hate looking back on things and regretting, so I try to take every opportunity that I can. I also love solving problems, and I really liked looking down the river and finding the best route.

Us navigating a route down the river going from rock to rock.

We went to a couple plantations during the trip, one sugar and one for coffee. I generally am pretty underwhelmed when it comes to farming, and it does not interest me at all; so when the talked about the plants and stuff it was hard for me to get excited and be engaged. However once they stopped talking about the planting and got to the machines it was a whole other story. The machine used for crushing the sugar canes is recognized as one of the greatest mechanical engineering feats for its time, and while looking at it I could tell that it was very advanced for the time that it was built. I was in the back of the group as we approached it and once they turned it on I made my way to the front and just stared at it trying to understand how every part worked. I looked at it for a few minutes and asked Dr Rodriguez a couple questions about the mechanics, that now make sense to me. At the coffee plantation the machines were also very interesting. In fact, there was this machine that was used to filter the different coffee fruits based on their density, so that they could only collect the better, denser ones. I think it is really cool that they can construct a machine so that it can do all of that.

On this trip we also visited the engineering University, where we met Dr Luis Perez. He told us about the school then took us out and showed us a farm and the dam. Although I was sick for that day I did get a piece of paper that showed the path of the irrigation system, where the dams are, and how it works. I liked seeing this because it provided me with an example of an application of the things that we are learning. We also went to another location near San juan where we got a lecture from Perez, and the lady that wrote the article we discussed in class. Perez took us through one of the projects that he was working that had to do with wastewater, experimenting to test for different minerals in the water. Seeing these two applications of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, it really made me want to get out in the world and help. I like to tackle problems especially on the actual sites and my place in the world is to use engineering knowledge to save our planet, this makes me think that once I learn the basics, my identity will allow me to do great things.

Current State of Illinois and Puerto Rico

In the political world any small single change, vote, or law can have the greatest and extensive consequences, good or bad. A couple years ago the people of Illinois elected Bruce Rauner as our governor. As hard as it is not to, I will not digress by going into what my personal opinions about him which are quite strong. Last year, Rauner, his advisors, and a few other state officials decided to impose major cuts to CPS (Chicago Public Schools) funding. It was rumored that my high school along with many other school in CPS would have to cut about a fourth of their teachers. I could not believe it when I heard it, twenty five percent of CPS teachers would be out of work. This insane percentage of teachers being cut would serve as a good measurement factor to indicate that the situation was not in good shape Before Rauner was mayor he cheated the system and got his daughter to go to a CPS school even though they lived in the suburbs and now he wants to cut funding no that she graduated. This blatant neglect toward the public education system, students, teachers, and their families was appalling, and a lot of us students felt like we could not let this happen.

Many people, including me, took it upon ourselves to advocate for a change and try to do something about it. One of my friends created a facebook event called the “Study In” to respond to the budget cuts. My friends and I told everyone we knew about the event, shared it on facebook, and eventually there were nearly a thousand people planning on going. One of the risks of this event though is that it could be thought of as hypocritical because we were ditching school to protest for education. However, if we did it during a school day it would attract the most attention and it would show that we found this issue more important than one day of school so we decided to go through with it. Soon before the day of protest it got a lot of attention and our principal had do make a comment about it. He emailed all of the students urging us not to go to the protest. We knew our principal though, and he was probably pressured to make this decision, and after we went out and protest he secretly thanked us. The protest went really well, about six hundred students ended up joining us, and we attracted a lot of attention. We marched while chanting from the Thompson Center, around downtown, sat outside of the state building and studied for a few hours, and then we finished with a rally back at the Thompson center.

I thought that the fact that we were high school students going and were protesting made the message that we were trying to advocate for even stronger. The state looked over the budget and made a slight change, but a huge amount of teachers were still cut. As a result, CPS enrollment fell by 3.5 percent in 2016, which is only going to cause more cuts, approximately for a total of 300 CPS teachers and staff members. CPS will continue to be underfunded by the state and with our next president I cannot imagine it will get any better.

A solution to this problem that I would advocate for though it really controversial is the legalization of marijuana. Wait, hear me out. If marijuana were to be legal, I think the majority if not all users would buy it from dispensaries, which would mean that it would be pretty easy to tax. We could use the huge amount of tax revenue that this would create and funnel it into our education system. If the question has to do with money this is a pretty easy and pretty harmless way of getting it. Just a thought.

I have really loved my stay in Puerto, it is a really beautiful territory, from the beaches, Old San Juan, to the Rainforest and all of the people that we have met really kind and interesting. One major problem that Puerto Rico is facing that I have seen through research is their economy. Puerto Rico is 70 billion dollars in debt, which is a very large number considering that the island has only 3.5 million inhabitants. This measurement of the debt owed to its creditors is a credible indicator to show that Puerto Rico is indeed facing a big problem.

There have been quite a few factors that have led to this debt accumulation, and to Puerto Rico’s current economic state. A few years the United States changed a tax law in Puerto Rico which raised taxes on companies operating there. Before this change was enacted, many American companies moved some of their operations down to Puerto Rico because they were taxed less. However, now that the taxes have increased a lot of the companies are moving back to the United States which is hurting the Puerto Rican economy and causing debt. Another reason as to why Puerto Rico’s economy is bad is because the job market isn’t very good. Puerto Rico has an eleven percent unemployment which is about twice the rate of the US. Because of this, a lot of educated Puerto Ricans are leaving the territory to look for jobs in the US.

Puerto Rico has a lot of work to do to get them out of this whole. However, it would be easier for them to do so if they had the same bankruptcy rights as all of the United States. The United States has something called Chapter Nine Bankruptcy rights which can be used to help the country, states, and municipalities get out of debt. Chapter Nine Bankruptcy Rights were crucial in helping Detroit when it went bankrupt as with a couple cities in Michigan. The Obama administration pushed for Puerto Rico to gain these rights however it was very difficult to get the bill through congress. Even if Puerto Rico had Chapter Nine Bankruptcy rights though, it is estimated that it would only cover about a third of their debt. A lot of politicians in the United States are thinking about finding ways to help Puerto Rico but they are worried if they give them money no real problems will be solved and debt will build up again.

I think that Puerto Rico needs to find a way to create new jobs, and I think that a great way of doing this would be using its environmental awareness revival to its advantage. In this way, Puerto Ricans can try and find solutions for there environment, and in order to execute these solutions, people will need to work, thus a greater job market. The key to getting out of debt that I would advocate for doesn’t have to do with stocks or bonds but with creating jobs

Day Late

Well I’ll begin this with a disclaimer: this wasn’t by any means my favorite part of the trip but it had my favorite outcome. It was the day before we left, and I leisurely woke up at twelve in the morning. I got up made myself a bit of breakfast, went upstairs and began watching some Netflix much similar to a normal winter break morning. As I waited for the show to load I checked my phone only to see that I had about five missed calls, and many texts asking me where I was. As it turned out it was not the day before the trip but it was the day that we left and I our flight had departed a few hours ago. I immediately turned to a state of incredible rage, I was so upset. How could I have been so dumb? What if I wouldn’t be able to go? How might our professor feel about my horrible mistake? Even if I would be able to find a way to meet up woth our group, how much would it cost and how long would it take me to get over there? I punched my bed out of anger for about a whole minute, and then tried to find a way to get out of my predicament.

I ran upstairs and me and my mom went on a flight finding site and we were somehow able to find a flight to Puerto Rico leaving at 10:40 that night. I felt so lucky that we could find flight considering that it was the middle of the winter break and everyone is looking for someplace war to go for vacation, not to mention it was direct and only two hundred bucks. I instantly sighed of relief, I was going to be able to make it to Puerto Rico. I then remembered that I had a doctors appointment that day at 4:00 and needed to get all ready for the trip before then. It usually takes me a long time to pack because I have to always check a few times to make sure I have everything, since as you may have guessed sometimes I am not very organized. I frantically began to pack as fast as I could praying that I remembered everything. I also had to find some time to fit in the chores I had to do that day. This as you could imagine was a pretty stressful few hours, and I did end up forgetting a few things most importantly my phone charger and my book. I eventually finished packing, went to my doctors appointment and got back in time to polish off some stuff and leave my house when I was planning to. I knew that since I was going on an international flight I had to arrive at the airport three hours early and allow an hour for the train ride there.

I left for the train only to realize that the handle of the suitcase that I was using wouldn’t extend at all, so I had to roll it using the handle attached to it, and had to walk around crouched over at a forty five degree angle, just my luck. When I got on the train I decided to spend the time waiting for the O’Hare stop (the last one) figuring out my handle situation, because it wold have really sucked to have wheeled it around the immense airport so uncomfortably. I began kicking my suitcase as hard as I could, hoping that it would somehow come loose meanwhile everyone on the train was staring at me out of bewilderment. Eventually it finally finally came loose and stood up and looked around the train car in triumph.

I got to the airport and much to my surprise I was able to make it past check in and security in less than twenty minutes and found myself with a bit less than three hours to kill. I indulged in not one but two of Rick Bayless’s famous tortas at at the Frontera restaurant. I waited at the terminal for the remaining two hours hoping that I wouldn’t fall asleep and miss the flight. We boarded, and I found my way to my seat and a sat next to this couple. When they began talking to me, I thought to myself “come on, all I want to do is just go to sleep.” Usually I am a pretty social person and don’t mind engaging in conversation with complete strangers, but it was a very long day for me. We ended up actually having a really great conversation, the man’s name was Ricardo and he was from Italy, and his wife was Kristin and was from California. They lived together in Puerto Rico with their two kids. Ricardo was a Biology professor at the University, and was very intrigued when I told him the purpose of our trip. He told me a lot about the country, the ecosystem and its environmental state. They also talked to me about their kids and I told them a bit about my childhood. They had me write down suggestions that they had for places to see and restaurants to go to. We talked for about an hour until it got late and they decided to go to sleep; they gave me their contact information in case I ever needed anything or had any questions.

The plane landed and I walked through the airport to claim my baggage. My bag was the first one to come out considering how early I arrived at the airport. I called a cab at the cab station and it came pretty quickly. My cab driver was really nice and told me about everything that we passed on the way to the hotel. Once we got there I got out of the car, looked through my bag for a minute to find my phone to call Dr Rodriguez to let me in. He picked up and said he would change and come down. I waited for like ten minutes and then got a call from him saying that he was outside; I was at the wrong hotel, just my luck, again. Fortunately the right hotel was only a couple blocks away and we were able to find each other pretty quickly. By this time it was about 5:30 in the morning so I had time to take a little nap before we got up. However I couldn’t sleep at all because I was so happy and excited that I was able to get to Puerto Rico after all.

Music and Cost of College

From the five days that I have been in Puerto Rico it has been evident that there are many cultural differences between here and where I live in Chicago. I obviously cannot fully understand the Puerto Rican experience since I am not Puerto Rican, but from what I have seen so far during this trip, I can identify a few differences between my culture and my world view, and that of the Puerto Rican experience.

The first thing that I can think of is music. I am really into music, listen to it all the time, and it plays a huge role in my life. I feel very passionately about the music that I listen to, and find myself head-banging and sometimes even dancing around when I listen. But why do I listen to the music I listen to? What is the connection that causes an organized array of sounds to bring pleasure to my everyday life? The answer for me is simple: because I like it. However, while being in Puerto Rico I can sense that there is something else in play. In the time that I have been here I have realized that everywhere we go, especially in the little beach town Cabo Rojo, there is always music playing. The kind of music that I have heard here is stuff that I am not very familiar with; these kinds of music are Bachata, Salsa, Cumbia, Merengue, and Reggaeton. These genres of music are unique to the Puerto Rican culture and they are something that every Puerto Rican can feel a connection with. It is fascinating how Puerto Rican Music is directly a part of the Puerto Rican culture. You can tell that it is a deep rooted part of their culture because everyone is dancing to it and they are doing so so passionately and embracing it as a part of themselves. I feel like I cannot say the same about where I am from, I have not been born into any kind of music genre, other than what my parents listened to. There isn’t a cohesive genre of music that is linked with American culture, at least from my experience. There is obviously some kind of gap here. As an American I view music as something I listen to because I like, and, in comparison, I’m sure Puerto Rican people also listen to music because they like it but they also listen to some music because it is an innate part of their culture.

This music culture plays an important role in the lives of Puerto Rican people. In Cabo Rojo, at all times in the day there was always some kind of traditional Puerto Rican music playing somewhere, and almost half of the time it was live. I also saw karaoke at almost every bar we passed by. At night they closed off the street, put up speakers and microphones, and there was always some live band playing. This only highlights the importance of music in the Puerto Rican experience and how valuable to their music culture it is to them. During the three nights holiday (a holiday in Puerto Rico that we learned is very similar to Christmas) there was a huge celebration in town and people filled the entire streets. There were live bands playing all day and night and the Puerto karaoke going nonstop and everyone was dancing and celebrating their culture. There were three people dressed in kings, who probably played a big role in the celebration, and they were also singing and dancing with everybody. Not only is there music that can be associated with culture but there is This just goes to show how much they see music as such an important part of their culture unlike my culture.

Another view that I think differs greatly between the United States and Puerto Rico is the cost of college. In the United States, some of the only ways to get a decent college education and being able to afford it is by either going to community college, your state’s school (which can still be too expensive and can be very competitive), or get a scholarship which are always extremely competitive and sometimes don’t even give you enough money. There are so many high school students in the United States that do not go to college merely because they cannot afford it. This is unbelievably unjust; a college education should be a right, not a privilege. The amount of money that a family has should not determine whether their kid can attend college.

In Puerto Rico, although college still costs a good amount of money, especially at private universities, it is a lot less than it does in the United States. One of the Agricultural Engineering professors at the university that we visited told us that at that particular college students paid about 45 dollars per credit hour. To put that in perspective, students at the University of Illinois pay about 452 dollars per credit hour on average. The engineering school that we visited was a public institution so it would generally cost less than most private schools in Puerto Rico. The professor told us that typically the private institutions in Puerto Rico cost 3 times as much per credit hour as the public ones, which makes the private schools cost 135 dollars per credit hour which is still significantly less than the cost of the University of Illinois. Although school still costs a good amount of money in Puerto Rico, it is so much less than the United States. It seems that they actually understand that all hardworking students should go to school instead of people with money. This is one of the many big problems in the United States that leads to our incredibly messed up capitalistic society, in which everyone is competing with each other to stay afloat in life. I really think that we should take a lesson from Puerto Rico and begin viewing things as they do so that we can become everyone can have an equal opportunity to become passionate about learning, not competing.