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Alexander Hamilton: The Perfect Mentor?

Like most people infatuated with musical theater, I cannot seem to get enough of Alexander Hamilton as of late.  The smash-hit musical “Hamilton” seems to be the cause, especially as I listen to the cast album on repeat during work.  Everything about the musical is inspiring: the story, the music, the inconceivably clever raps, and even the charming, literal genius (MacArthur “genius” grant winner to be exact) writer, composer, and star behind it all, Mr. Lin-Manuel Miranda, all contribute to an enthralling tale of love, lust, and loss which will throw anyone into borderline obsession with one of our little-recognized founding fathers.  While yes I really do enjoy the music as that is all I have at my disposal (since, as with most of America, I have yet to see the show due to ticket prices reaching near bankrupting proportions), I was more curious with the man who started it all: Alexander Hamilton.  A few weeks ago, I picked up the biography that inspired the musical by the same name for two reasons. First, anyone who knows me knows I am an avid reader anyways, and after finishing Freakonomics, I figured reading a seven hundred page book on Alexander Hamilton’s life would satisfy me until ticket prices come down.  Second, I am never one to obsess about anything until I actually do my homework and know who or what I’m talking about, and this musical is no exception.  Mr. Miranda took his time crafting such an amazing musical that I am now going to take my time and study the figure that is Alexander Hamilton.

And whoa what a man!  Seven-hundred pages may seem like a lot but they are over-flowing with Hamilton’s very complex and provocative life.  This is a man who transformed himself from a poor Caribbean orphan into Washington’s right hand man, then a distinguished New York lawyer, and eventually the country’s first treasury secretary.  I’m also leaving out a plethora of other achievements, roles, and events in this incredible man’s life, but the only point I’m trying to make here is to buy Ron Chernow’s biography if you are at all interested in seeing what our most undervalued founding father did for America.  Mr. Chernow does a phenomenal job of condensing and blending Hamilton’s own writings with tertiary sources and other biographical material into a surprisingly easy to read and also really intriguing story.  The full review will come out when I finish the book, (just reached page two hundred so this might be awhile) but I wanted to write about something very distinguishing I noticed in Hamilton’s character…

Alexander Hamilton was the one of the first professional American mentors!  Now I can’t say for certainty that he was the best, as mentorship was something that thrived in colonial America, in particular the apprenticeship as a special kind of mentor-mentee relationship.  However, Hamilton seems to poses the innate ability to guide his mentees, whether they be his children, his colleagues, or even his opponents.  In personal encounters or professional meetings, Hamilton played the perfect courtier and role model for many in New York, especially among his lawyering days.  He dressed the part, “trim and stylish, though not showy in dress” writes Mr. Chernow.  He smiled first, talked second (taking from Arron Burr’s musical words), in ways that “convey[ed] an impression of mental keenness, inner amusement and debonair insouciance.”  He trained numerous new attorneys, fresh out of law school himself by only a year or two, and saw to a strict regimen for his students that was not intended for the weak of mind.  He was honest, good-natured, and daring, never one for accepting bribes and yet always tackling the challenging cases that “established critical points of constitutional law.”  Hamilton also always did his homework, reading and writing and preparing as if his life depended on it and seeking out scholarly and legal authorities in and beyond his realm of study, including “the Frenchman Domat, the Dutchman Vinius, and the Spaniard Perez”, but also the likes of Jonathan Swift, Plutarch, and Voltaire.  He was a family man and a philanthropist, having his children tutored in French and at the same time working to create educational institutions in his home state for the benefit of all children.  There are so many facets to the character that is Alexander Hamilton that my recounting his life in this paragraph does not suffice it.  In essence, Hamilton was the jack of all trades, jacked up all the notches.

Does being this multi-talented actually make Hamilton a good mentor?  I would argue yes.  This is a man who seemed to ooze perfection with a flawlessness only dreamed about in the aspiring young minds at the time.  However, peel back the ooze, and one finds a man who works tirelessly (to his eventual doom) in the pursuit of helping others, which is what a mentor is all about.  A mentor should seek to educate himself tirelessly, as Hamilton does profoundly but expediently.  A mentor should aim to help those around him, especially those less fortunate than he, as Hamilton did on many occasions in his pro-bono legal work for the poor.  A mentor should care about the ones he loves, as Hamilton did every day for his eight children and his loving and supportive wife Eliza.  Finally, a mentor should be passionate about something, and about imparting that passion onto others, for that is at the core of who a mentor is.  Nothing less characterizes Hamilton, who through passion and his relentless work ethic fought for a greater framework of law in the state of New York and eventually for the whole country.  And for this passion, Hamilton has been admired by many, as great mentors should be.  Both Judge Ambrose Spencer and Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story handed praise to Hamilton for being “one of the premier lawyers of the early republic” and that doesn’t even begin to describe him or his work.  He’s indescribable and at the time, he was nonstop.

I urge you to read Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton if you want to see more of why this powerful founding father deserves his very own musical tribute.  As for me, I aspire to be the kind of mentor Hamilton was but in doing so, I already know that I will fall short of that expectation.

Why We Shouldn’t Complain About Education, No Matter Where We Are

Over the past few weeks, now that I am comfortably settled in to my study abroad experience, I’ve been hearing some relatively negative things about my specific program and the country that we have been studying in (the United Kingdom for those just joining me on this journey).  Some people are complaining about the type of food served, the weather, the size of our accommodations, the internship is too boring, the classes are too hard, where’s the WIFI, etc.  While I admit that at first I was bothered by a few differences between school, work, and life here versus back in the United States (namely the lack of a dryer for my clothes), I’ve mostly adjusted to life here and there are a surprising amount of aspects that I prefer about life in the UK than back in the states (public transportation, the culture that’s freely available, and the fact that people are generally quieter, more polite, and better informed).  So while I believe that most of my fellow students are well adjusted, myself included, others aren’t so much.  Whether that’s due to homesickness or an unwarranted sense of entitlement is not as clear to me, but armed with the full knowledge that you miss your dear kitty Cat Benatar or just hate the fact that people drive on the opposite side of the road from Americans, I want to at least give some context as to how lucky we truly are as students to be studying abroad.

Let’s start with some basic information about who studies abroad.  According to the National Association of Foreign Student Advisors (NAFSA), less than 2% of students enrolled at an institution of higher education in the U.S. study abroad, representing about 304,000 students in the academic year 2013-2014.  These students gain a variety of cross-cultural skills, including easier communication between cultures and a better understanding of themselves and of their own culture, as disclosed in the Journal of Studies in International Education.  Moreover, a survey published by the Institute for International Education of Students (IIES) found that among the students who studied in their programs from 1950 to 1999 (with updated results in a 2012 survey), “96% have increased self-confidence, 97% feel more mature and 98% understand their own values more clearly.”  As students of study abroad, we are not only among a select few who have this very special opportunity but are also developing the cultural and emotional competencies to face much bigger challenges in the future.

When international internships are thrown into the mix, the results just keep getting better.  The same survey by IIES reported that 70% of students who had internships while abroad reported “ignited interest in a career decision after the experience” while 83% said that the experience “allowed them to acquire skill sets that influenced their career path”.  Furthermore, employers like the fact that students study abroad, to the point where they are actively looking for job candidates with international experience, a feature that is currently lacking in American businesses.  In 2014, a combined report by the University of Hawaii at Manoa and the University of Memphis surveyed 836 different companies of all sizes and determined that 40% missed international business opportunities due to a lack of cross-culturally competent staff.  And these companies are looking for more and more people with both hard and soft skills acquired within an international context, because 95% of consumers live outside of the United States, and that’s the nature of international business today.

So there is plenty to celebrate about getting at least a portion of your education in another country and no matter the details, we as study abroad students in the UK should be grateful for the opportunity, especially considering there are other students studying in much less hospitable countries.  What is most important, however, is that getting a quality education and learning valuable, transferable skills is something that should never be taken for granted, no matter the location, no matter the context, and only heightened by its international nature.

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