This evening Andrew and I went to a "mingle and mentor" session-conference-convention thing that the Marriott school hosted. In years past it was specifically for MBA students but this year they also encouraged the MPA students to attend. It was so fancy and so not-us.
We had been warned that the MPA and MBA students at the Marriott School were a bit like the Sharks and the Jets--today I got my first taste of that. We didn't seem to fit in well at all.
The first hour we were supposed to eat a light dinner while networking with all these bigwigs on the NAC (that's the National Advisory Council). I'll admit that meeting some of them was cool but since we aren't looking into the private sector we didn't find many who could give us much guidance. The food was also a bit weird. They were serving rice in little take-out boxes and you could choose chicken or beef to go on top--only to discover that they were giving out chopsticks and only chopsticks. This worked fine for me. It did not work out too well for Andrew.
Then they had these little cracker spoons with spiced cabbage and meat resting inside. It took a while to figure out that you were supposed to eat the spoon. We later learned that they also had Mexican food and Italian food and a few other not-Chinese options.
The beverage was cucumber water. That was kind of weird. Poor Andrew hates cucumbers.
So there we were, trying to look all suave but failing miserably. My cracker spoon broke when I bit it and the stuff on top fell all over the table, me, and the floor. Andrew spilled, too. And then he gracefully and nonchalantly slipped over to the drinking fountain to empty the contents of his cup and refill it with plain tap water. I wonder if anyone noticed.
We also both failed miserably at making small talk with the NAC members.
I later took a class on etiquette for business parties that discussed how to properly attend and throw a party. It was rather intimidating. Andrew went to a class on international business but the content seemed to favour the private sector and when he raised his hand to ask the panel if they had any advice for someone going into the public sector the room fell silent.
We were a little out of our element.
I guess that's why they have these functions, though, so that when they send us out into the real world we don't make fools of ourselves. I'm not sure this is the real-world that we're looking for, though. Our real-world dream involves comfort, yes, and a healthy income, but it also involves living in third-world countries and getting our hands dirty to help someone else live more comfortably.
Oh, and I almost forgot to say what I'm thankful for today. I'm thankful for the comfortable life I've known simply because I was born into it. I'm grateful I got to go to school, that I have always been paid at least a decent minimum wage, that clean water comes out of my tap, that I have a cozy bed to sleep in, a heater to warm me, a door that locks, shoes on my feet, food in my stomach.
Perhaps I'm a bleeding-heart but all the talk this evening of formalities and entertaining and etiquette seemed so frivolous and pointless. I know that graciousness and beauty are meant to have a place in our lives but sometimes I think we go overboard. That is all.
Tonight was discouraging.