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TBS Abroad Week 6: McDonalds

By mkeller on March 22, 2017

Week 6 Prompt: McDonalds    

MCDONALD’S — Few global brands are as recognizable as McDonald’s. According to its website, the McDonald’s corporation operates or has franchised some 36,000 restaurants in 100 countries and employs 1.8 million workers worldwide. Its prevalence has spawned unsurprising imitations—for instance, “McDonal” stores in Iraqi Kurdistan emulate both the appearance and menu of McDonald’s. But ubiquity also necessitates critique. To some analysts, “McDonaldization” exemplifies the homogenization of global culture, a visible (if not vestigial) sign of American-style consumerism spreading throughout the world. This week, photograph the McDonald’s location nearest where you live, if there is one, then answer a few basic questions: What kind of people do you see inside—tourists, locals? Is it busy? Is there any attempt to emulate local culture, traditions, or heritage on the menu? Have you eaten there? Explain why or why not.


Danielle Norgren

I am a person of principle. One of these many principles includes avoiding McDonalds at all costs when abroad. Its glaring yellow arches are an enticing promise of comfort; step through the sliding glass doors and suddenly, I will be able to speak the universal language of fast food. In some cases, speaking won’t even be necessary: touch screens have replaced all human interaction. Thus, in countries such as Hungary or Austria, where I do not speak the language, McDonald’s represents a welcome escape from wild hand gestures and new customs. Up until this year, I have stubbornly refused to accept the comfort that McDonald’s offers. Being abroad, I have assured myself, is an exercise in embracing discomfort.

It is with great reluctance, therefore, that I reflect upon the fact that I have been to McDonald’s four times in the past two months. Each of these times, I have justified the excursions as being out of necessity. Arriving in a train station at 11pm in Florence, for example, meant no other restaurants were available. In Geneva, living on a student budget means I must cross the border to France for groceries. One particularly misplanned week, I realized I was out of groceries an hour before our evening class. McDonald’s seemed to be the only option.

Geneva is an international city. It is therefore hardly surprising that during my visit to McDonald’s I was surrounded by the usual cacophony of four languages being spoken at once. Particularly impressive, though, were the workers and their abilities to switch with ease between languages. Men in business suits, high schoolers with cellphones, and families with strollers, crammed into the entryway. Sitting in the upstairs booths overlooking the train station, my friend and I discussed Michelin-starred restaurants and the show Chef’s Table over our french fries.

My time in Geneva and experiences at Mcdonald’s have also greatly increased my appreciation for American fast-food prices. While I have overcome my urge to visually grimace as I glance at the cost of my meal (Usually around 15 Francs), I am comforted by the familiarity of options. McFlurry, it turns out, seems to be a universal term (or at least in Western Europe).

Danielle’s photo is from https://us.123rf.com/450wm/TEA/TEA1602/TEA160201311/53272655-geneva-switzerland–november-19-2015-mcdonald-s-restaurant-interior-mcdonald-s-is-the-world-s-larges.jpg

 


Ben Kelsey 

The McDonalds pictured is one on a main street-corner close to a very pretty temple.

From my admittedly little experience with McDonalds in Japan, it seems to be mostly frequented by locals, but the cashiers are quick to pull out English menus for foreigners, so I would guess that tourists frequent them fairly often. The McDonalds nearest me is quite busy for its small size during lunch times. The seating area is perhaps two meters wide, enough to accommodate a two-person table and a narrow passageway, and there is also a counter along the outer wall for single-person seating. There is also a small sealed-off smoking room, but it was empty when I went.

The two most noticeable concessions to Japanese food culture in Japan are the teriyaki burger, which I have not tried, but I have heard that it’s okay, and the presentation of the food. Presentation is extremely important in all areas of consumerism in Japan, and the most striking part of a dining experience at a Japanese McDonalds is, in my opinion, that the burgers that one receives actually look like they do in the pictures on the menu, and they come wrapped in greaseproof paper in a little basket. It’s all very attractive. Of course, the cashiers are also as friendly and cheerful as all service staff are in Japan, and welcome customers as they enter and thank them as they leave. It’s sort of a strange experience, to be eating a fast-food burger in that kind of atmosphere.

I have eaten at a McDonalds here once, as much for the experience as for the food. If I recall correctly, I had a chili burger and an iced oolong tea. It was, I would estimate, better than the average McDonalds food in the U.S., but still far below the very high standard of restaurant food in Japan. It was also more expensive than fast food in the U.S., but still cheap relative to other common lunch options. Overall it was a pleasant experience, but one I would probably not repeat unless pressed for time and unable to make it to a convenience store (or konbini, which have an excellent selection of inexpensive ready-made food items). I am perhaps, however, biased by my Americanized taste, and it is possible that I prefer konbini food because it is more novel to me, and perhaps McDonalds is a more interesting experience for the average Japanese diner. Although, to be fair, I don’t think I’ve eaten at a McDonalds in the U.S. in over 9 years, so maybe I’m not the best judge of equivalencies.


Sabrina Farmer 

I am sad to say that during my time in South Africa, I never made it to a McDonald’s and I honestly cannot recall seeing one. This may be because I was not looking for them or because of the dominance of other restaurant chains in South Africa. The most prominent restaurant chain I saw was Steers, a South African fast food chain which primarily serves burgers and chips. The chain began in the 1960s after a South African man was inspired by his observation of the budding fast food business during a visit to the United States. I visited Steers restaurants on visits to shopping malls and during travel days where they are found in conjunction with highway gas stations. They tend to be busy, have a consistent menu, and are similar to that of a McDonalds. The steers encompass some of the tradition of the famous South African braai. Braai nights were my favorite South African tradition, where families and friends get together each week to cook out, in a similar format as a BBQ but so much more. At Steers, there is a theme of items being flame-grilled and they even offer items such as ribs. The Steers chain has spread across Africa and is continuing to spread, the first one located in a non-African country appeared in 2013.



TBS Abroad Week 5: News

By mkeller on March 16, 2017

Week 5 Prompt: News   

THE NEWS — Each day, The Newseum in Washington, D.C. updates an online digital exhibition featuring some of the most timely front pages from newspapers around the globe. Indeed, as this exhibit is meant to suggest, the “front page” is not merely locational or typographical: it signifies weight and importance and serves as a useful indicator of the issues that matter most to people within a particular geo-political area. But not always. Sometimes, western news—and in particular, national news from the United States—is featured on the front page of ostensibly “local” newspapers and magazines, even though the issues discussed and problems addressed may have only tangential relevance to the locals. This week, think about the “front page” both as a medium and signifier. What stories appear on the front page of newspapers and local news websites today? How does this compare with what ordinary “people-on-the-street” are talking about? For what audience is local news written? Can you reconcile any disjunctions? Provide a photograph of a newsstand, newspaper, magazine rack, or local news website to give us a glimpse of the front page. Then, list the price (in local currency) of the daily newspaper, if one exists.


Sean Corrigan 

In Hong Kong it’s quite difficult to take a break from the news. All the subway trains have TV screens that show news, ads, and updates on the celebrity world. It’s all in Cantonese, so I can’t understand what’s being said. But it’s surprising how much visuals can help. Sometimes it’s fun to guess at what’s on the screen just based on the visuals and the small amount of Chinese that I can read, except when the story is clearly about a firebombing attack in a station that I’m just about to pass through. Everyone else watching was weirdly calm about it, so I figured the situation was under control.

When I first got here in January, most of the news reports seemed to be about Donald Trump. Anything people in the US were talking about was being reported in Hong Kong. There’s not quite as much US news now, but it still takes up a lot of air time. The photo below shows a typical news report on the subway. This story was about the man who scaled the White House fence and was caught by Secret Service, and next to it is an announcement to stop the spread of germs, I think.

Below is the front page of the South China Morning Post’s website. They are one of Hong Kong’s longest-running and most trusted news sources. I was unable to find the print version, but I know it exists out there somewhere. A print subscription with delivery costs HK$17 per week, equal to US$2.19


Ben Kelsey 

In my admittedly limited experience, the source for all things newsworthy in Japan is the NHK, Japan’s national broadcasting network (think PBS). My host mother watches it every morning and some evenings, and I usually catch the weather and a few stories as I eat breakfast. The morning news seems to be a fairly even balance of international and domestic stories. Recently I’ve been seeing a lot of news about North Korea, and there seems to be something about the education system most days. Indeed, these seem to be the issues that are at the front of everyone’s mind here. The public education system is a big part of Japanese society, and I think people like to talk about it. I’m not entirely sure what’s said about North Korea (my Japanese isn’t quite that good), but missiles and a missing or dead uncle seem to figure pretty heavily in it. There’s also a sort of round-table talk show every Saturday morning that’s themed around a new topic of public debate each week, and that seems to bring in a panel to discuss it.

I would speculate that the news reflects what people on the street talk about because many of them source their information from that news. In a way that is perhaps emblematic of the sense (true or not) among Japanese people that their nation is extremely homogenous and that everyone should and does have the same concerns, I think that the news, as represented by the NHK, serves to present topics of national debate to the nation. I’m not suggesting that the government is trying to control public discourse in Japan, but from what I can tell, a lot of Japan gets its news from the same place, and I think that this probably contributes to a sense of confronting things as a nation. It’s entirely possible that young people are starting to get their news elsewhere, such as on the internet, but I can assure you that my 70-year-old host mother is not.

The newspaper that is pictured is a local one from Kyoto. I think the picture is about flowers starting to bloom in spring. The website is the NHK website.

 



TBS Abroad Week 4: Religion

By mkeller on March 8, 2017

Week 4 Prompt: Religion  

RELIGION — “Separation of church and state” is a founding concept in the secular republic known as the United States of America. It was intended, initially, as a way to protect religious sects from government interference, but the concept has in some ways reversed itself. Today, in the USA, the dominant concern is the extent to which religion is allowed to influence the political sphere. Indeed, from 19th-century religious revivals to the Moral Majority, Christianity has played–and continues to play–a large role in politics and public life. Meanwhile, in other Western countries, religion’s impact varies, regardless of whether the nation-state is itself secular. Denmark (officially Christian-Lutheran) prohibits judges from wearing any religious symbol–Christian, Jewish, and otherwise; and the United Kingdom (officially Christian-Church of England) has no national prohibitions of any kind. Meanwhile, France (officially secular) has banned explicit religious expression in public, and attempted to ban implicit expressions as well. This week, pay attention to the role religion plays in public life. Do people commonly express religious devotion in public? Are government officials allowed, or even required, to represent specific religious adherence? Is one religion dominant, or is there a plurality? How does religion manifest on the street—preachers, temples, public prayers?


Sabrina Farmer

I am going to use this prompt to talk about one of the biggest frustrations I had with my program: our lack of interaction with people outside of our study group. Though I think my program was amazing from a biological perspective, it really lacked the cultural experience many people look for from abroad. I did not spend the time studying and learning about people in the way I would have liked to on this program. However, South Africa is a very diverse location with eleven official national languages: AfrikaansEnglishNdebeleNorthern SothoSothoSwaziTsongaTswanaVendaXhosa and Zulu. On our program we were lucky enough to be mentored by a man who spoke all eleven of them. Many of these languages are associated with different tribes which have their own religious ideologies and creation stories. While I was in Cape Town for eight days after my official trip was over, I noticed a few Christian churches built within the city. I also visited the Cape Malay region which us where Islam was first brought to South Africa. The community is marked by vibrant homes (pictured here) and during my time wandering around I witnessed a wedding occur. Overall, religion did not play a large role in my South African experience however the diversity of peoples was very apparent and I wish I could go back and experience it more.

 


Sean Corrigan 

Hong Kong is known for its status as a global city and, as a result, has a fair amount of religious diversity. The approach to religion here seems to be quite open and relaxed. There are sizable Buddhist, Daoist, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh communities, all free to practice as they wish. From reading and from conversations I’ve had it seems that religious life became more open after the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997. British rule, while not as strict here as in other colonies, favored Christianity.

I had the opportunity to speak to one of the directors of a Thai Buddhist Temple, Wat Tai Wo. The director was raised Christian during British colonial rule and has traveled to many parts of the world. Though dissatisfied with the way the Church runs, he maintains his belief in Christian teachings and is also a Buddhist, two beliefs that are surprisingly compatible with each other. During my visit to the temple I was shown many examples of the mixing of various Buddhist traditions. There are statues, figures, and architectural features in Therevada, Mahayana, and Tibetan styles, sometimes mixing together in a single Buddha statue.

I passed by a Christian monastery during a hike and found a pavilion, traditionally part of Chinese palaces and temples, with a cross on top. This was a beautiful example of how two traditions from opposite sides of the world can mix together in a global city like Hong Kong.

Because Hong Kong is a place of religious freedom, much of the conversation about religion here has a lot to do with policies in Mainland China. One particularly active group here is Falun Gong. They are a spiritual movement called many different things by many different people and are very controversial in Hong Kong. They have been banned in the Mainland due to their criticisms of the Communist Party. While they certainly have enemies in Hong Kong, the freedom of religion here means that they cannot be banned as they were in China. However, the Party’s response to Falun Gong and the Party’s control of Christian churches is a warning to religious groups in Hong Kong. China has plans to fully integrate Hong Kong into the People’s Republic in the next few decades, so the future of the separation of church and state is uncertain.


Ben Kelsey 

Religion in Japan is something that feels as though it’s everywhere and yet is oddly subtle. Temples and shrines can be found on most blocks, ranging from small wooded shelves with some ornaments to massive sprawling complexes of buildings and gardens, and Kyoto has some of the very best (in my humble opinion). It’s very common to visit them regularly, either for devotional or just tourist purposes, and the more famous ones are often very crowded with both Japanese and foreign visitors, especially when the weather is pleasant. This past week or two has seen the blooming of plum blossom trees, so a number of shrines and temples have had festivals to celebrate that.
I remember reading somewhere that a survey once found that 90% of Japanese people identify as Shinto, and 90% identify as Buddhist (there’s also a very small percentage of Christian and other religions). That sounds strange, of course, but it really does seem like the two religions coexist peacefully. People go to both shrines and temples to pray, for luck or particular occasions, such as before an exam, and for festivals and other events. Because of this, and because the temples and shrines are such a notable part of the Japanese city environment, it feels as though they are as much a cultural institution as they are a religious one.
Among all the temples and shrines in Japan, my favorite has to be Fushimi Inari, located towards the south-east of Kyoto. It is famous for its many orange torii gates, and lies sprawled out on the side of a hill. Climbing up to the very top is an experience in itself, and the little shrines dotted along the path, as well as the view at the top, are worth the effort.


TBS Abroad Week 3: Color

By mkeller on March 1, 2017

Week 3 Prompt: Color  

COLOR — This week’s prompt was simple: Find and photograph something colorful!


Sabrina Farmer

This is a photo of a rocket-ship cone flower! I took it in the Cederberg region of the Cape. It is the size of an outstretched hand.


Sean Corrigan 

Spectacular sunsets can’t make up for the problems caused by air pollution, but they sure are trying to! Photo taken on Cheung Chau Island.

 


Danielle Norgren 

This is a photo of the most colorful place I have ever been, Chefchaouen!

 


Ben Kelsey 

Here’s a picture of some koi carp at a Buddhist temple in Tokyo.

Quanzhi Guo

Snow-covered red roofs from the Prague Castle.

Red roofs in Porto

Rain-washed red roofs in Florence



Erin Huiting ’17: Volunteering in Uganda with the Women’s Global Empowerment Fund

By Peter Tschirhart on February 24, 2017

Wall from the GWRC

The following post was contributed by Benton Scholar Erin Huiting ’17. She recently utilized Benton Scholars’ “Mini-Grant” funds to complete a volunteer-based research project in Uganda.


I came across the Denver-based non-profit Women’s Global Empowerment Fund (WGEF) as a young, curious student almost seven years ago. However, I still remember meeting the founder, Karen Sugar, with such clarity – her voice was kind and welcoming, yet overcome with raw despair. She spoke of a 23-year long civil war in northern Uganda that led to millions of internally displaced people (IDP), of which women and children were disproportionately affected. Today, even as a recovering post-conflict region, female education levels have remained extremely low and young girls are not actively encouraged to stay in school. This has left many women illiterate, and as a result, both economically and socially disenfranchised. In response, WGEF partnered with a community-based non-profit Volunteer Action Network to provide women of post-conflict northern Uganda with microcredit loans and social programing. After hearing this story, I became WGEF’s first volunteer. Little did I know this was the beginning of one of the most impactful experiences of my life.

Throughout high school, I found myself at several fundraisers, performances, and collaborations emphasizing WGEF’s work. I remained involved with WGEF as I left for college, and during my senior fall, Karen invited me to accompany herself and WGEF to the northern Gulu District of Uganda. After a long day of travel, I found Karen discussing her work in social justice amongst a group of women. One of which was writing an article for Marie Claire magazine about WGEF’s partnership with Urban Decay Cosmetics’ initiative to empower women, while the other women were apart of Urban Decay’s design and communication team. Given that I had personally witnessed the struggles of WGEF starting-up as a non-profit, meeting these women was a moment of both a joy and relief. Their support would enable WGEF to continue providing resources and information for the women of northern Uganda.

The next morning, I hopped on a ‘boda boda’ (motorbike taxi) and met everyone at WGEF’s opening of the Gulu Women’s Resource Center (GWRC). The center provides women a community meeting space, as well as computer and life skill trainings to facilitate conversations and develop solutions to relevant issues. There was a strong sense of pride and excitement as we watched the center open. The same day, I was introduced to one of WGEF’s clients, Akello Grace. I learned that despite spending more than 15 years in IDP camps, she is now an entrepreneur, community leader, and district council representative fiercely advocating for women’s rights. Grace remains one of the most powerful, selfless individuals I have ever met.

Riding on the boda boda, photo by Arnelle Lozado

Cutting the ribbon to the GWRC

From left: WGEF program associate Okumu Kevin, client Aloyojok Prisca, program associate Arena Monica, founder Karen Sugar, and client Akello Grace

The trip coincided with WGEF’s annual drama festival ‘Kikopo Pa Mon’ (creating a voice for women), where women perform dramas, dance, and song in the local Acholi language. Performances have previously focused on the issues of inequality, education inequity, HIV, and violence. Because these issues are sensitive and difficult to address, this unique opportunity allows women to communicate directly with men and community leaders in a stigma-free space. This year, the women chose the theme “Access to reproductive health care is my right.” While all of the women’s stories left me inspired, I was in awe of the younger girls who performed. Two girls in particular stood out – they were from a nearby primary school and chose to recite a dialogue demanding proper access to sanitation and menstrual care in schools. The audience cheered in support.

Photo by Arnelle Lozado

Photo by Keb Doak

On the flight home, I couldn’t help but smile and be overtaken with gratitude. I had the privilege to meet and listen to so many extraordinary women and girls from the Gulu community, and witness a sisterhood that enables women to find their voices. I am forever grateful for these moments and these women. And although there is much left to be done, I know the women of this region will persist and continue to accomplish great things. This is just the beginning.

Flying over Lake Victoria, Uganda


TBS Abroad Week 2: Cars

By mkeller on February 22, 2017

Week 2 Prompt: Cars 

CARS — Cars aren’t just transportation. It’s almost a truism that they signify freedom and individuality in whatever society they’re driven, regardless of what “freedom” or “individuality” means locally. For example: open access to the Nürburgring allows Germans to probe their tolerance for danger and speed; Cuba’s relative economic isolation in the 20th century forced car owners to develop innovative ways to keep their vintage American imports running; even in the Soviet Union, car ownership was permitted but carefully managed in what Lewis Siegelbaum called a “Faustian bargain.” But changes in the culture of cars are now appearing, and definitions of individuality and self-expression face yet further refinement. In the United States, there is growing enthusiasm for driverless cars–suggesting mere occupancy (rather than operation) might now be sufficient to express individuality. Meanwhile, in Europe, fallout from the emissions scandal has prompted Volkswagen to speed-up its development of electric powertrains–good news for global CO2 emissions, but guaranteed to eliminate the rumble and gurgle of gas-powered cars. (Whither “POWER!” as Jeremy Clarkson would yell?) This week, observe and listen to cars. Do people use cars to express some aspect of their individuality, or are they simply a way to get from point-A to point-B? How do people commonly interact with cars–as taxis, rentals, privately-owned consumer goods? Are cars viewed as good for society or a nuisance that must be contained and managed?


Sabrina Farmer

Due to restrictions on walking in many South African National Parks because of the danger of the Big Five, automobile travel is the way that most visitors get to see the parks. If you are going to be driving through a national park, the best mode of safari-style travel is in the back of a game driving vehicle (GDV). GDV’s are essentially a truck with a raised bed that is lined with seats, shaded by a sun roof and enclosed with helpful side panels that keep passengers safely away from any dangerous animals. Instead of being cramped in a van pressing your face (or binoculars!) to the window to try and spot an animal, GDV’s allow you to feel the wind in your hair, the dirt in your mouth, and the sun in your eyes. Do not forget your sunglasses or sunscreen, and maybe a bandana to cover your mouth. Since I associate national parks with outdoors experiences, driving in GDV’s allowed me to feel like I was experiencing the nature of the park more, even though I was not actually walking around in it. However even in GDV’s, automobile traffic could not be avoided. People come to parks like Kruger National Park to see the animals, so naturally when a pride of lions is next to the road the cars flock to it and create a traffic jam. Fortunately, those in GDV’s often have a higher vantage point and these jams do not reduce animal spotting ability. During these jams, I often found myself wondering what impacts the presence of so many cars were having on the animals and their stress levels. As tourism increases even further to Kruger and other similar parks I think that traffic management and limitation will become an even greater issue.


Sean Corrigan 

My biggest lesson in Hong Kong car culture came, unexpectedly, from a lecture in my computer science class. Our professor was explaining “if statements” to us. During his explanation, he said that unlike in the West, people in Hong Kong take a much more practical and economic approach to deciding whether or not to marry someone. In the C programming language, the evaluation looks like this:

if (<He has a car> && <He has an apartment>)

<Marry him>;

else

<Don’t marry him>;

Meaning that if your potential husband has both a car and an apartment, you should marry him. Of course, this block of code was just a light-hearted take on a marriage decision process that showed us how a programming concept works. While it was mostly a joke, it highlighted that in Hong Kong, car ownership is a symbol of being in good enough financial shape to support a family.


Regina Pimentel

The most noticeable thing about cars was the fact that driver’s seat in New Zealand is on the right, and they drive on the left side of the road. This makes crossing roads a slightly stressful situation because you have to look right first, then left. In Dunedin, the city I am currently studying in is home to a large student population; therefore, most of the cars seen around my apartment are gently used or look like older models of cars. As an abroad student, there has been a heap ton (NZ term for “a lot of”) of talk about buying a car for weekend road trips and general adventuring around New Zealand. I hope to buy a car or find a friend with one in order to adventure out during my stay here. Most people seem to have the same relationships with cars. It’s not about the color, model or year of the car but its whether it can take you to the beginning of a hike, or to a beach on the coast etc. Most of the people here look forward to the activities done after you get out of the car, so in a way having a car is having the freedom and access to explore and adventure.

Here is a picture of a hill in Dunedin that I took from a bus on our way to Signal Hill.


Ben Kelsey 

Cars are, in a sense, paradoxical in Japan. Some of the most easily recognized Japanese brands in the US are those of car manufacturers (Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Mazda, to name a few), and I think there’s something of a conception of Japan as a powerhouse of safe, reliable, efficient, and inexpensive cars. Both of the last two cars my parents have owned have been Japanese-made. And yet, cars seem to be much less of a cultural icon in Japan than they are in the U.S. Car ownership is not uncommon, certainly, but it’s not a given, either.

I’ve spent the vast majority of my time in Japan in large cities, with the traffic that inevitably comes along with that. For this reason, my experience may be skewed, but cars are certainly not the main mode of transportation. Subways, buses, and trains are the workhorses of transportation here, and they faithfully, punctually, and efficiently carry their many passengers to and from work every day. The suburban image of driving into work is certainly not the norm, even in the residential area on the outskirts of Kyoto where I’m living.  That being said, every few houses has a car in the driveway, but in the driveway they seem to stay for the most part. In the city, the roads are usually full of cars, but they are still outweighed by the traffic of foot and public transportation.

I’ve been lead to believe that obtaining a driver’s license is a notoriously difficult, time-consuming, and expensive process in Japan, and while I do know at least one person who has one, the rate of 16-18-year-olds who have one seems to be extremely low. And can anyone really blame them? Who wants to learn how to drive and buy and maintain a car when you can ride 200mph trains in comfort instead? Either way, I suspect that many people just don’t want to go to the effort.

Perhaps another reason for the relative lack of car use might be the different conception of space and the destination in Japan in comparison with the U.S. While the suburbanite dreams of taking off on a road trip to see the vast, open, free unknown waiting just beyond the neat edge of their lawn, explorable on their own terms by means of their motor vehicle, might still resonate in the U.S., in Japan it feels much more as if that which is desired hides in some nook or back alley, tucked into a valley next to a river, hidden from view by a sliding door or the delicate branch of a flowering tree. The destination cannot be reached by road, nor does one need to go far away to find what is sought; rather, one should look more deeply into what is already present.

On a more concrete note, the trend of driverless cars is one that might seem particularly suitable to the technologically adept Japan, but I suspect that it will not prove as exciting here as it might in the U.S. My guess is that driverless trains are more likely to catch the attention of discerning passengers and investors, as these serve a much larger portion of the population, and have a much larger market. Driverless buses may, admittedly, be appealing, as well, but I find it hard to imagine Elon Musk pitching driverless cars to a crowd of people whose wallets all contain a Pasmo (“a rechargeable contactless smart card ticketing system for public transport,” according to Wikipedia) but no driver’s license. I assume you would still need a driver’s license to drive a driverless car? Right?

 


TBS Abroad Week 1: Walking (Paths)

By mkeller on February 15, 2017

Week 1 Prompt: Walking (Paths) 

Paths and trails, whether around a city or on a college campus, raise surprising ethical, moral, and practical questions. From an act-utilitarian perspective, almost any pathway is “good”–so long as it is pleasant to traverse or speeds people to their destination. But, from a Kantian perspective, the categorical imperative suggests we should only use paths than anyone can use–e.g., the more people who walk a dirt trail, the more the environment is damaged, and the less likely it is to remain passable. Meanwhile, landmark disability rights legislation, including the ADA in the United States, stipulate that all pathways must be accessible to people with limited mobility–suggesting it is immoral not to construct paths from durable surface materials. This week, pay attention to one of your usual walking paths. Notice its physical, moral, and social dynamics: Where does the path go, and whom does it help connect? Is it accessible to people with limited mobility? Can anyone walk it, or is its use controlled? What is the surface material? Does it take you directly to your destination, or is it a wandering route through a park, designed to maximize pleasure with beautiful views of nature?


Sabrina Farmer

The first half of my program was spent in the South African savanna, primarily on Kruger National Park. Kruger is home to the “Big 5” or the five most dangerous and difficult animals to hunt: lions, leopards, African buffalo, elephants and rhinos. Because of this, you cannot walk around freely within Kruger and instead have to be behind fences at all times. For the research I was assisting in, I got to be among the lucky few who have the opportunity to walk around the park on animal formed game trails, with rifle-armed guards called “game guards” for protection. Pictured here is my game guard Philly as he is directing us to slowly walk away from a territorial bull elephant. Walking within Kruger was a stressful experience while at the same time being pinned behind fences made me feel very cooped up, so my time spent in Kruger was a challenge!


Sean Corrigan 

All Colgate students have a special relationship with the hill. There are a few ways to climb it, including Persson Steps, the path by the library, the stairs behind up to Curtis behind Dana, and a couple others. Some junior and senior students walk up the hill every day for classes, some evade the climb by taking the Cruiser on most days. If you’re anything like me, you leave your room at the last minute and get to class just on time using the most efficient route you know. Any small increase in efficiency gives me an extra couple minutes of sleep, and that is something I value deeply. These extra sources of efficiency include cutting across patches of grass, taking the cruiser when available, and leaving on time

While Colgate’s hill can be a challenge on some mornings, it is quite small and its slope is quite shallow when compared to the hill at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. This sharp difference in hill size and steepness brings with it an interesting set of challenges and opportunities. Their network of pathways, staircases, and elevators is quite impressive. Slopes and sheer cliffs too steep to build a path on can be worked around by taking an elevator up to a walkway. One part of campus includes a series of escalators, similar to the Persson Steps of the future.

These escalators are at the bottom of the giant hill. Their main purpose is to help students overcome the psychological barrier to starting their climbs. Another part of campus boasts a staircase to nowhere, which I found when I thought I outsmarted Google Maps.

The above staircase ended at a cliff, where it was only a 20 to 30 foot drop to my destination. I swallowed my pride and hung my head in shame as I took the extra 10 minutes to go around the hill that had defeated me. The view going around the hill was nice, though.

Like any campus, it takes time to become familiar with the layout and best mode of transport to take: walking, their Cruiser equivalent, or elevators to pedestrian bridges. Building a campus on a hill and planning pathways around steep inclines is always a challenge. Accessibility here and at Colgate are in similar states. It is technically possible for someone with limited mobility to get anywhere on campus, but the physical setting and lack of resources dedicated to this issue make it very difficult. Like Colgate, everyone here has their own relationship to the hill, with some embracing it, and some able to avoid it.


Finstoniburg: Startup Sauna

By mdirkers on February 12, 2017

Finland was the third and final country that the ’19 Bentons visited during our trip abroad in May of 2016. The Republic of Finland is internationally recognized as having very high per capita income, rich quality of life, comprehensive education, ample economic opportunity, opportune social mobility, and ingenious technological innovation. Thus, it was the ideal place to learn about how tech startups begin, develop, and impact the world. By visiting some locations where entrepreneurs gather to discuss and develop their ideas, the ’19 Bentons were able to expand upon many of the concepts learned during our classes Emerging Global Challenges and Innovation in the Digital Age.

Finland, like Estonia, is a nation where the government actively supports citizens who pursue entrepreneurial endeavors. This practice is one reason behind Finland’s high standard of living. Another reason is that Finland has a number of entrepreneurial accelerators, places where innovative thinkers assemble to collaborate on their projects and receive guidance from more experienced individuals in the startup sector. Certain accelerators even have a program where one can apply for unique funding and mentoring, where they will be helped to transform their vision into reality. One such place was Startup Sauna.

05-25-16, Startup Sauna

Pictured both above and below, Startup Sauna offers a variety of workspaces, including cozy work houses (above) and toasty saunas (below) for both public and personal projects.  Originally founded in 2010 as a branch of the University of Helsinki, Startup Sauna advertises that they are a “5-week accelerator program focused on finding the right product-market fit and go-to-market strategy.” (http://startupsauna.com) Their accelerate is unique in that they take no equity and do not charge for their program. Teams can select from either a grant of 1000€ or free accommodation during the program. Their accelerator is the foremost one in the location of the Nordic and Baltic countries, Eastern Europe and Russia. To date, Startup Sauna has received over 4,500 applications and raised over 100 million dollars for their projects.

05-25-16, Startup Sauna2

Some of the skills that Startup Sauna students learn include generating ideas, evaluating market opportunity for those ideas, conducting research to evaluate the user’s needs, prototyping the product, designing its interface, and finally, translating that design into actual program code. From there, designers release the beta-version of the project and gather user data from volunteers, which designers use to innovate further. This seemingly redundant process of collecting data and refining allow for the creation of optimal, user-tailored products with progress with time. But this gradual progression is not the only way innovation occurs.

This incremental innovation is what we see with gradually sharper screen displays, slightly faster processors, somewhat bigger hard drives, and incrementally sleeker designers. However, this type of growth is not what has yielded the most powerful of our time. Indeed such innovations are the result of disruptive innovation, innovation which upsets the status quo, makes old technology obsolete, and permanently changes how business is done. One such example is wireless internet: instead of being restricted by the length of a cable, users anywhere in the wifi field have access to an limited source of information. Another example is the automobile: instead of riding horses or bicycles, the car displaced such technologies and gave rise to an entirely new industry. In more recent history, Tesla Motors has launched the electric car, in hopes to reduce car emissions. What will be next? The overthrow of the gasoline engine though water power, solar power, or wind power? One day, will we be able to transmit energy wireless, or even extract it from space as Nikola Tesla thought was possible? While that has yet to be determined, the key to innovation is not allowing your vision of what is possible to by limited by what is present.


Jenny Lundt ’19: Chess is Global

By Peter Tschirhart on February 2, 2017

Benton Scholar Jenny Lundt ’19 knows chess. She’s also an experienced traveler. So, during the winter of 2017, she combined her interests into a Benton Mini-Grant project. Her proposal took her to South America, where she “backpacked through Peru with a chess board.” Chess, she discovered, isn’t just a game. It’s a way of bringing people together, facilitating communication across cultural and linguistic barriers. What follows is Jenny’s reflection.


I started like I had done a thousand times before.

The usual things. Clothes, shoes, shampoo, trail mix, portable charger: all find a niche in my backpack after a plethora of experience being hauled around the world. But this time was different. This time, I would be traveling with a chess board.

Throughout the course of my world travels, I have found that chess is global. No matter your race, gender, age, or ability, chess is played. For instance, during a visit to Ukraine last summer, I joined a tournament of old men, simply by motioning. This made me realize how a game about war is also connected to peace.

As a Peace and Conflict major at Colgate, this really interested me and made me want to learn more. So, I applied for a Benton Scholars “Mini Grant” and made chess the purpose of a trip. For three weeks during the winter of 2017, I backpacked through Peru with a chess board, setting it up wherever I was and waiting for an opponent. There was no clear plan, other than  to wait and see if anyone wanted to play.

The experience was everything and more I could have hoped for. A few highlights:

  • A game with an English teacher on the beach of Chancay over ceviche and cold chelas. As we played, he told me how desperately he wants to visit the US some day to live “the American dream.”
  • A game with a Peruvian driver with a knack for jokes who told me my Spanish was some of the best he’s heard in a while (still unsure if that was a joke?).
  • A game with my friend Luke, a true “third culture kid” whose father grew up in Mozambique, his mother in Ireland, and he in Peru. We sat as the sun went down over the beach in southern Lima and laughed about the wonders of our life for giving us this moment.
  • A two hour game with the father of my friend,  played on the balcony of his roof. We hadn’t been able to connect before that moment, but those drawn-out seconds in the open, humid air made us steal small, knowing smiles at each other for the rest of our stay. There was a deep mutual respect for each other after that. We had battled our intelligences out in a grueling match.
  • A game with Antwon, a Frenchman in my hostel room, who was coincidentally traveling with another Frenchman named Antoine. We played on the ground and sipped mate and laughed.
  • When I got horrible altitude sickness in Cusco and was bedridden for 24 hours. The Peruvian man working at the hostel came to check on me, bearing a gift of coca leaves. He looked around for something near me to rest them on, as I was too weak to move so he used my chessboard as a table, resting the leaves delicately on top. He joked, “Wow, chess is giving you life right now.” I was too ill to even explain the irony of his statement.
  • During a long bus ride through the country, I listened to an audio book to occupy the time. A main plot line was the progression of how a father and his son would play chess together to bring them closer together.
  • Traveling through in the darkness in the midst of the tallest mountain range in Peru, on an overnight bus, I was trying a little too hard to stretch out my legs and accidentally kicked the top off the chess game, spilling all 32 pieces all over the sticky bus floor. All of the little children scrambled around me trying to literally pick-up the pieces of the game. Their smiles and shrieks made the 12 hour journey so much easier as any nervousness I had about being on windy roads in the mountains that much easier.
  • Waiting for my flight down to Lima from Cusco (my altitude sickness got too severe) with a Danish couple playing their handcrafted chess board, with pieces representing different figures of Incan history and glory. I picked up the king, probably Atahualpa, and admired the intricate carvings and paintings of him dripping in gold.
  • When the flight attendant at the end of my trip confiscated the board because she thought it was a bottle of pisco, Peruvian brandy, then refused to give it back. It was forever lost to Copa Airlines.
  • Spending 5 nights on busses, my chess board and I experienced a lot. Aman sitting next to me on a bus peed in a Coke bottle. I threw up on myself because I was so ill. Oceans, lagoons, deserts, lakes, mountains, volcanoes, villages, metropolises, ruins. The game board was awkward and inconvenient to carry, but it became an additional limb, as I had to figure out how to schlep the tube around.

I confirmed my theory and came away with experiences that I would never have predicted. Whether it was physically playing the game or the physical proximity that the occurrences lead me to, I can say with complete certainty that this adventure brought me to people and stories I wouldn’t have had otherwise had.


The Benton Scholars Abroad: 2017

By Peter Tschirhart on January 31, 2017

Infusing leadership and global themes into the Colgate University experience, the Benton Scholars program cultivates an educational environment that asks students to adopt an informed and critical view of emerging political, cultural, environmental, and economic issues. Just as importantly, scholars are expected to be outwardly focused: to share their insights with people on campus and throughout the global community.

Like many Colgate students, Benton Scholars often choose to study off-campus during their junior year. Unlike others, however, they are expected to stay connected to the program and each other while abroad–sharing their insights, collaborating from different points on the globe–with the goal of bringing different cultural and geo-political perspectives to bear on shared problems.

The Benton Scholars: Abroad blog functions as the locus for this collaboration. Each Monday during the spring semester, students will be sent a brief topic, idea, or problem, one that has resonance throughout the world. Students are then asked to submit a response–preferably a picture, video, or brief essay–which will then be published on this site. Responses need not be obvious: they can be creative, insightful, even clever interpretations of each week’s theme.

Entering its fourth year, we hope The Benton Scholars: Abroad blog will provide unique insight into topics of discussion and issues of concern that we all share in common.

This year’s contributors are immersed in different countries around the world, from New Zealand to Geneva. Their profiles below:


Abe Benghiat

Abe is a Peace and Conflict Studies major and Economics minor from Lexington, Massachusetts studying abroad in Dunedin, New Zealand for the fall 2016 semester. He is an avid hiker and biker and will be doing many treks in the New Zealand wilderness while abroad in rain forests, deserts, alpine zones and avalanche zones.

Sean Corrigan 

 Sean is an Astro-Geophysics major studying abroad in Hong Kong. He comes from Portland, Oregon, and no one who spends any time around me forgets that.

Andrew DeFrank

Andrew is from Washington, D.C. He is studying in Buenos Aires, Argentina with SIT: Human Rights and Social Movements from February to June of 2017. He is a political science major and peace and conflict studies minor. On campus, he is involved with the Student Government Association, Link Staff, the Blue Diamond Society and the Office of Admission. Last summer, he interned at the headquarters of Hillary for America.

Sabrina Farmer 

Sabrina was born and raised in Burlington, Vermont, which is a location known for its rolling green mountains and plentiful maple syrup. Her experience in Vermont inspired her to be an outdoors-woman and environmentalist. At Colgate University, she is a student leader for Colgate Outdoor Education and is often off campus leading trips in the Adirondacks. She is majoring in biology and studied abroad in the fall of 2016 in South Africa on an ecology and conservation research course through the Organization for Tropical Studies, a Duke University program. Her semester was spent traveling to 8 different national parks and nature reserves in South Africa, where she was able to contribute to ongoing research projects and conduct many of my own.

Quanzhi Guo 

Q was born in China, went to school in Singapore for four years, and studied abroad in Wales before going to Geneva this semester. An avid explorer, she is now settled as an International Relations major but not settled in learning about everything.

Ben Kelsey

Ben is a Japanese and French double major studying abroad in Kyoto, Japan. He is most recently from Manlius, New York, but he lived in Belgium for 4 years and Italy for 5. He likes languages, hence is studying abroad. At Colgate, he is involved in (or runs) the majority of gaming-related student groups.

Danielle Norgren

Danielle is a junior at Colgate studying abroad in Geneva. She is an International Relations and French double major. In Geneva, she will have an internship while taking courses at the Graduate Institute. This will be her second semester abroad.

Regina Pimentel

Regina is really bad at starting “brief” bios. She is a Geology major and a Women’s Studies minor and will be studying in Dunedin, New Zealand. She has many places that she considers “home.” On Colgate’s campus, she spends her time being on Link Staff and a rugby player.
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