IOL, conclusion: wajah tersedu-sedu
posted on 2018-01-04 with tags [iol]

The last few days of the IOL, as well as the several months to follow. (See part 1, part 2, and part 3.)

alternative title: IOL, days 7–162

So, this post is slightly overdue, but I figured that in the unlikely event anyone actually reads these things, it wouldn't be fair to not give at least an attempt at a satisfying conclusion. Here, then, is that attempt—this is all from many months ago now, but I'll do my best.

Wednesday was the IOL excursion that lasted most of the day, during which we toured several historical sites of Dublin. Here are some pretty pictures:

The cost of obtaining them was high—all of us quickly discovered that we had been vastly underprepared for the perils that Ireland had to offer. And by "perils," I mean the wind and rain; evidently the Bridge Crew™ had neglected to learn from our first altercation with nature. To be fair, though, that was just a drizzle and a breeze compared to the violent sheet of freezing mist that actually broke my umbrella and provoked multiple people to buy sweaters at the nearby tourist shop for the sole purpose of wearing them for the next few hours. (I use the word "mist" instead of "rain," by the way, for a good reason; it was as if each droplet of water were being cut up into tiny pieces before spraying us.)

Along the way, a few groundbreaking discoveries were made, although I can't go into much detail because of their nature. There is an IOL tradition, apparently, of what one of my teammates referred to as "stupid mind games," which may give a sense of how frustrating some people found them. For instance, the most notorious involves determining whether a given line is "beautiful" or not (e.g. "the line from here to here is not a beautiful line"). Obviously, describing the rule here would be betrayal and defeat the purpose, but suffice to say, tormenting others with it is far more enjoyable than being on the receiving end.

In the evening, there was another linguistics presentation, this time on preserving minority languages, which I really liked. Of course, there had to be that one person who asked what essentially boiled down to "why can't we all just speak English?" They had some... tenuous reasoning, but the US and Canadian coaches quite appropriately tore into them, which was perhaps the moment at which I felt the most proud to be part of the US team.

Thursday was an exciting day! The main event, of course, was the team contest, which I was terrified for but tried to see as an opportunity to redeem myself from the idiocy that I had committed during individual contest. The extent of our team's practice while actually together was a single problem at MIT (a really neat one about Sanskrit poetry); while we had also done problems together over Skype, I don't think any of us knew what to expect, with the possible exception of our teammate who had gone to the IOL last year as well. Even she was surely surprised when we received the team problem and saw that it was a sheet of paper covered in emoji.

The duration of the actual contest consisted mostly of us alternately flailing about trying to produce interpretations that made sense and incredulously questioning why we only got 3 instead of 4 hours for this. By the end, I'd estimate that we were fairly certain on perhaps ⅔ of the matches, and that we maybe had reasonable guesses for ¾ of them. All things considered, we thought we did reasonably well and mostly hoped we'd at least get a medali perunggu.

After lunch, I went to a lesson on Gaeilge, also known as the Irish language. Needless to say, since it was only an hour long, we didn't become fluent in Irish, but it is quite a fascinating language with some unique and interesting features. Of course, I would probably say that about almost any language given the chance to study it, but I still remember many of the orthography rules (which I practiced frequently in Dublin by trying to pronounce the various street signs to my teammate, who had learned some Irish beforehand).

We participated in another IOL tradition to conclude the day—IOL jeopardy, run by the US coach himself, Drago. There were four contestants, chosen by a preliminary round the day before, and the audience could answer any question that the contestants failed to (leading to the common semi-joke that the competition is rigged towards the audience, who almost always win). This year, though, a member of team Taiwan—not TaiONE, but TaiTWO, which were the actual names of the two teams from Taiwan—in fact tai-won (I'm very sorry).

Finally, Friday came, the last day of the IOL proper. Before lunch was the long-awaited solution discussion. It was quite a relief to hear problem #2—the one on Abui metaphor, of which I solved essentially none—referred to by the problem committee themselves as "the hardest problem in the history of IOL." The median score was zero, with an average of 1.7/20. We had taken a survey about the problems after the competition, and it was the "Hardest problem (according to 98 participants and reality) / Easiest problem (according to 0 solvers)," to quote the presentation.

And it was finally time for the closing ceremony. As the names for the honorable mentions and bronze medals were called out and mine wasn't one of them, I started thinking it increasingly likely that I didn't win a medal, which wouldn't have surprised me in the least. They had nearly gotten to the end of the silver medals when I heard my name; in fact, there were 10 gold medals, and I came in 11th place. (I'm certainly not complaining, though; I still feel like I was incredibly lucky to even get to the IOL at all, much less get a medal.) One of our team members did win a gold medal, but we still completely disappointed our country by breaking a four-year-long streak of getting the most combined points in the individual competition.

As for the team contest, we continued the trend of being a disappointment to our country by managing to not even get an honorable mention for the first time since 2010, also making it the first time ever that the US teams as a whole didn't receive any special recognition. We did have an excuse, though; the winning team, TaiTWO, just so happened to have a member who had studied Indonesian, the language the team contest was about, for four months, which may have given them a slight advantage. Why the team contest was on a language with so many native and L2 speakers I have no clue (wajah tersedu-sedu).

Afterwards, the rest of the last day was simultaneously one of the happiest and saddest experiences that I had at IOL. It wouldn't seem like much if I were to just describe it as playing a bunch of different card games with some new friends that I had met in Dublin, but I think we were all silently thinking yet didn't want to explicitly point out that we wouldn't see each other again perhaps for a year until the next IOL or perhaps forever. So, we ended up staying awake until 2 in the morning—despite that I and several others had to be at breakfast at 7—just for the sake of being together.

And that was quite possibly the best part of the trip, in hindsight. It was one of the only places where I could participate in passionate debates over whether split-S or Austronesian alignment was superior, where others had not only heard of the minimalist 120-word language toki pona but would willingly spend hours debating the finer points of its semantics, where I not only felt perfectly normal producing strange nonpulmonic sounds but would receive responses in kind—in short, where I was surrounded by people who shared the same obscure passions and interests that I had, an experience that I had never had the opportunity to go through before.

Anyway, the reason that I had to wake up so early was that the next day was the 2-day post-IOL excursion, which I went on with a few of my teammates (and my dad). We saw some incredibly beautiful scenery; here are just a few of the pictures I took:

I don't have much to say about after the excursion, mostly because a.) it was just a lot of sitting in cars and airports and planes and b.) I really didn't want to remember the inevitable reinstatement of normality after such an amazing week, nor do I want to now. So, let's just say I was there and now I'm here.

It could be considered a sort of testament that this post has inadvertently ended up being over a thousand and a half words long, five months after the events it's about. One of my friends that I met in Ireland and I have even transcribed and translated a book about the topic of question #1 from the very first IOL.

The only thing left to do now, then, is wait and panic about the imminence of NACLO this year, which is in exactly three weeks. Yes, I'm counting. I have been, for a while...