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“XYZ with Q” 5: Theatre with Jungmin Kang ’16

By Quanzhi Guo on November 30, 2015

In the blog series XYZ with Q, Quanzhi “Q” Guo ’18 visits current and former Benton Scholars to learn about their interests, passions, and accomplishments. In the fifth installment of the series, Q visits Jungmin Kang ’16, a double major in Theatre and Educational Studies, for a scene rehearsal. Besides sharing his passion for theatre, Jungmin also talks about his views on education in Asia.

It was 1am by the time I left my first ever theatre practice. Even by the time I got to bed, I was still pumped-up by emotions evoked during the scene and thoughts on my own educational experience. And it was all thanks to Benton Scholar Jungmin Kang ’16.

Jungmin was rehearsing a scene for his directing class taught by Simona Giurgea. The protagonist, played by Solhee Dein Bae ’17, got off at the wrong train station, encountered rude treatments by other travelers, and was rebuffed when asking for direction—in a country whose language she could hardly speak.

Because the scene was pseudo-interactive, I was free to participate. Taking a more active role in the landscape of play was a novel and engaging experience for me. With only a few lines , the simplicity of the scene left plenty of room for my own interpretation and called up my memories of being a traveller, sojourner, and foreigner.

To take advantage of my nostalgia, I tried out part of the scene, where the girl curled up in a dark corner. Thanks to Jungmin, I managed to express that forlornness—at least in the photo.

Lost my way, my phone died and no one wanted to help me...

Lost my way, my phone died and no one wanted to help me…

Not many Benton Scholars major in Theatre, so I wondered what led Jungmin here. “I was in theatre club in high school and liked it a lot, but I didn’t come to Colgate thinking that I would do theatre,” he said. His first actual production was The Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht during his freshman year. “I played Tiger Brown and the street singer who gets to sing the most famous song in the play: Mac the Knife!”

But the key moment to pursue the major came later.

The following spring, Jungmin took an off-campus study semester at the National Theatre Institute (NTI) in Connecticut, and he continued there as a summer intern. “As much as I enjoy the theatre I have done at Colgate, if it hadn’t been that semester, I won’t be so sure that theatre is something I want to do for my life.”

A conservatory program that includes directing, playwriting, design, acting, movement and voice, the NTI Semester develops students to be a complete artist. “It was the most intensive semester in my life … 7 days a week, 12 hours a day. We were basically putting up a show every week, so you really get a broad range of viewpoints and get trained in all disciplines,“ Jungmin said.

Prior to attending Colgate, Jungmin lived in California for 9 years. But he spent his childhood in South Korea. Looking between cultures, he sees differences and challenges among the educational models—particularly the South Korean model, which he believes values performance on tests rather than knowledge itself.

The suicide rate is through the roof. Students are killing themselves because of grades and not getting to colleges,” he said. “I think prioritizing something over human life is ridiculous.” So, while the world may look to Asia as a model for education—its students get spectacular scores on international education tests—the system is also criticized for spreading a culture of competition, one that encourages students to see academic performance as their only source of validation and self-worth.

Some may see Jungmin’s path as unconventional, but he isn’t bothered. “It is hard when people expect you to do something great. And it is very difficult not to think about it. But ultimately people you care about the most want to see you happy and do what you want,” he said. “In both theatre and education, you are looking at people. But in both fields, we sometimes lose track of that. In theatre, we start to think about all the lights and what is a well-written play … but the most important thing is that you are looking at human nature. That’s what makes theatre so powerful. And in education, we get so wrapped up in scores, what are the best policies, what are the jobs these students get and the statistics, but what you should be trying to do is the personal development of human beings and intellectual growth,” Jungmin said.

To set aside the narrow conviction of success and to humanize deep-set cultures are not easy, but I am glad that we are starting to confront these problems and reflect on what we truly want as human beings.

“XYZ with Q” 4: Baking with Oneida Shushe ’19 and Meghan Byrnes ’19

By Quanzhi Guo on November 9, 2015

In the blog series XYZ with Q, Quanzhi “Q” Guo ’18 visits current and former Benton Scholars to learn about their interests, passions, and accomplishments. In the fourth installment of the series, Q makes pumpkin cream bread with Oneida Shushe ’19 and Meghan Byrnes ’19, who are involved with BreadX, one of the first-ever free online course designed by students for students.

Running the Benton test kitchen

Running the Benton test kitchen

One tablespoon science, one pinch cultural perspective, and two cups current issues yield batches of fun.

BreadX: From Ground to Global, one of the first-ever free online courses designed by students for students, is going live on the edX Edge platform on November 15, 2015. (Registration is open.) To get a taste of the course and preserve some fall flavors, I joined Benton Scholars Meghan Byrnes ’19 and Oneida Shushe ‘19 in the kitchen as they prepared pumpkin cheese bread.

Born in Albania and raised in Albany, NY, Oneida’s all-time favorite food is homemade white bread—the kind with a satisfying chewy crust and a soft texture on the inside. Under her instruction, I poured pumpkin purée into a mixing bowl while Meghan, a club-volleyball player from Syracuse, beat the cream cheese together with flour, sugar, and eggs.

This semester, both of them are enrolled in the Benton Scholars’ first-year seminar called Emerging Global Challenges. Developing the course has been an adventure. Working in five groups, each of the fourteen Benton Scholars has conducted research in a specific topic area, produced videos, and designed questions and activities pitched primarily for middle school-aged students, but appropriate for all ages.

“Before choosing the topic, we gave presentations on global issues we are passionate about, including the poverty cycle, global food supplies, industrial farming, water supplies, gender roles, and global warming. Then we realized that all of these challenges could be explored through the lens of bread,” Oneida said.

The class is primarily project-based. Groups meet twice a week during class seminars to update each other on progress and modify the project’s direction. “I have never taken a class that is so heavily student-run before,” Meghan said as she spooned the cream cheese batter on the pumpkin layer. Her role in the project is to construct the subtopic “Bread Distribution,” which explores bread’s environmental and socio-economic impacts. As a member of the educational structure group, Megan also ensures the logical flow and unity of the course.

BreadX is designed to run for ten days. During each chapter, registered students will conduct their own research and lab experiments at home, do short readings, watch interesting video lectures (many made by the students), complete comprehension questions, and participate in a wide variety of online discussions.

“We want to get students engaged and interested with the material and connected to their fellow students,” Meghan said. “Activities are to get students really work with the material rather than just watching the videos online. We also encourage students to go out and explore the relevance of issues we talk about in their own towns.”

“We are not only spreading knowledge, but also encouraging participants to think about how they can apply what they learn in our course to the real world, which is a very valuable skill.” Oneida said.

As we waited for our bread to rise, I thought about Thoreau, who held a daily ritual of baking over an outdoor fire in Walden: “to affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of the arts.” It seems cool to make and eat bread for a class, but being able to shape an emerging technology and pedagogy, like the edX platform, is even cooler.

Associate Professor of Geology Karen Harpp who teaches the class envisions the course as a community experiment in global online course development. “We are asking everyone who participates (online) to become an active collaborator by giving us feedback about the course, after each lesson. We want to know how we might improve the educational activities and how we can make the experience more dynamic and effective next time around,” she said. “With this highly interactive and student-centered design, we want to push the frontiers of online education both for the students in the classroom and for the participants beyond the institution.”

In the spring of 2015, I took her popular class for students and alumni—the Advent of the Atomic Bomb. Through video presentations (called fireside chats), discussion forums, video conference calls, a Twitter role-play project re-enacting the war in “real time,” and a trip to Japan, we explored the history, science, and ethics behind the decision to drop the A-bomb. Colgate alumni were integrated with the students in the course through online technology on the edX platform.

Rather than replacing the physical classroom, as most MOOCs(Massive Open Online Courses) do, Karen has been using technology to enhance in-person learning. “This course is about getting students to think innovatively, explore how we learn and how we can learn better, figure out how to reach people beyond the classroom, and try to make a positive impact on the world, all of which are made possible by going online,” Karen said.

To spread their aspiration to think globally and act locally, the Benton Scholars are reaching out both to local schools, including the Hamilton Central School, and to schools back home. “Our goal is to make more people aware of the global challenges our world is facing today. We explain what people can do on a local level throughout the course to encourage activism in local communities,” Meghan said.

With a sweet aroma wafting out of the oven, and the course launch date in sight, I asked my baking mates what they’ve learned so far.

“I think it teaches us a lot of skills that we will use later in life, no matter what we do,” Meghan said as she slid out a tray of golden pumpkin-ey loaves.

“The project has definitely made me more appreciative of the arts of video making, graphic design, communication, and teaching,” Oneida added.

From the first unleavened breads around 30,000 years ago, to the loaves of pumpkin bread I was cutting, bread has evolved with human civilization. Despite its various forms and the modern assault on carbs, it has remained the most widely consumed food—a comfort for both heart and soul. Since the emergence of massive online courses in 2012, I have witnessed and experienced many ideas and innovations in higher education. From Minerva, which strips away brick-and-mortar classrooms, to the SPOCs (Small Private Online Courses) Colgate has developed, each model has its own niche and potential. Perhaps we just need the patience and self-assuredness for it to “cook” and “cool”. As I finally devoured my moist and scrumptious bread, I was convinced that BreadX will have a delicious impact.


“XYZ with Q” 3: Dance with Allison Zengilowski ’17

By Quanzhi Guo on October 26, 2015

In the blog series XYZ with Q, Quanzhi “Q” Guo ’18 visits current and former Benton Scholars to learn about their interests, passions, and accomplishments. In the third instalment of the series, Q visits Allison Zengilowski ’17, a Psychology and Peace & Conflict Studies major for a dance rehearsal. Allison shares her passion for dance and talks about her involvement with online education.

To me, dancers have always been creatures of another world. I remember gaping at girls in pink fluffy dresses, envying the way the could do pirouettes so effortlessly and elegantly. So it was with excitement, and hesitation, that I joined Benton Scholar Allison Zengilowski ’17, President of the Colgate Dance Initiative (CDI), during a rehearsal with FUSE (which stands for Fierce, Unusual, Sexy, and Eclectic) Dance Company.

Right now, Allison is co-choreographing a piece for one of Colgate’s most popular events of the year: Dancefest. Despite her ambitious and busy schedule, this extra work nonetheless helps Allison cope with the challenges of student life. “Sometimes I have a hard time expressing what I am feeling or knowing what I need to do to cope with the stress that I sometimes fall victim to. It is incredibly therapeutic to get into the studio after a long day and to focus on creating something with a group of brilliant people,” Allison said.

Before coming to Colgate, Allison actually had 13 years of ballet experience. “In ballet, you are constantly comparing yourself to others, so it is easy to get caught up in the mentality of ‘Why don’t I look like her? Would I get more corrections, better parts if I was skinnier?’ ” While Allison admits that the ballet world is harsh towards dancers’ bodies, and has personally struggled with body issues, she has learnt to focus more on perfecting steps and performance quality thanks to her mom, who pursued a formal ballet program in college. As a result, Allison values her body more as an instrument and a means to communicate.

Allison’s passion for and commitment to dance carries into other parts of her life, too. After taking an online course as part of the Benton Scholars’ 2014 summer project, and later being involved in a symposium about online education, she and four other ’17 Bentons helped Professor Karen Harpp redesign and administer her course, Advent of the Atomic Bomb, offered as a seminar for the Benton Scholars program. Dubbed the “Bomb Squad” (they even have a team t-shirt!), they introduced changes to enhance the interaction and level of engagement between students and alumni. “We cleaned up the edX Edge platform to make it a bit more user friendly, we shortened the video lectures, added comprehension questions, implemented a video presentation (Fireside Chats), created small discussion groups, and incorporated a WordPress blog.”

After the course ended, Allison and Benton Scholar Sid Wadhera ’17 worked with Prof. Harpp to analyze and evaluate those changes. “Students reported a much higher confidence with their understanding of the ethical content surrounding the bomb than the alumni did. I believe this is telling of how ethical content is much more difficult to communicate and to learn through an online platform and without peers with whom to discuss the issues,” she said. Over fall break, she and Sid presented their findings at Learning with MOOCs II, an international conference held at Teachers College, Columbia University. They were the only undergraduate presenters. “It was interesting to see large research institutions patting themselves on the back for trying to model small liberal arts colleges like Colgate,” she mused.

Right now, the “Bomb Squad” is serving as TAs for the first-year seminar, Emerging Global Challenges, where the incoming Benton class is grappling with the future of education and technology by producing their own two-week MOOC, called BreadX. Using bread as a lens, this course will encourage middle school (and older!) students to ask important questions—about poverty, global food supplies, industrial farming, water supplies, gender roles, and global warming.

“Overall, I have been challenged, frustrated, but also rewarded by tackling online education. Being at the forefront of an emerging field…I hope to continue pushing the boundaries of online education while also learning more about how people are interacting with the medium to make it the most effective means … to learn new information,” Allison said. “I initially believed online education to be a fad that had very little merit. However, while working directly on a class, I’ve come to realize that online education can serve as a worthwhile means through which to acquire knowledge. I do not believe we will ever be able to truly replicate a Colgate classroom, but I hope to imbue a bit of Colgate into online education.”

Stretching, kneeling, and attempting the grand jeté will not transform me into a lithe dancer in time for Dance Fest. But will I see you in BreadX?

“XYZ with Q” 2: DJ-ing with Marc Maggiore ’18

By Quanzhi Guo on October 8, 2015

In the blog series XYZ with Q, Quanzhi “Q” Guo ’18 visits current and former Benton Scholars to learn about their interests, passions, and accomplishments. Here, in the second instalment of the series, Q spends time in the WRCU broadcast booth with Benton Scholar and on-air DJ Marc Maggiore ’18—a Bostonian and political science major on the teaching certificate track. Marc explains how his unique personal background and love for music lead him to develop an interesting mixture of skills and passions.

When I stepped into the radio control room in the COOP, I found Marc rhapsodizing about the song “Up Up & Away” by Kid Cudi.

Marc first heard his brother playing this song in his family’s garage when he was in 7th grade. Ever since then, he has loved old-school hip-hop. “Kid Cudi had a huge influence on the new-school hip-hop artists today. His music still serves as an inspiration and foundation,” Marc explained. Every Tuesday from 11am to 1pm, Marc co-hosts Hip Hop and Society along with two other DJs, Andrew Vallejos and Jonathan Burton, on WRCU 90.1 FM. To Marc, talking about the background and significance of the music is as important as playing the song itself.

“I love music and I want to share it with people. I want to let more people know about those good artists. And what is a better place than here?” When Marc said this, his passion was so contagious that even I—a person who has never touched hip-hop—started to take interest.

The old turntable

The old turntable

But what many of Marc’s listeners may not realize is that he was born both blind and deaf.

As much as it sounds like a miracle, Marc’s hearing recovered when the doctors removed excess fluid from his ears. Then the miracle struck again. A loose optical nerve, which transmits visual information to the brain, tightened, and the vision in his left eye recovered. Marc remains legally blind in his right eye.

To me, the inconvenience and physical limitations Marc has overcome are beyond imagination. I notice that, during conversations, Marc tends to tilt his head leftwards to see faces better. “And every time I pour water, I have to ensure that the edges are touching to not spill the water, because I don’t have much depth perception,” he grimaced.

And what’s more remarkable, these limitations never stopped Marc from developing his artistic flair: he played bass and guitar in high school, now sings in an a cappella group, acts with Charred Goosebeak, and is the Production Director and a DJ at WRCU FM 90.1 on campus.

When Marc entered “normal” school during 9th grade, he didn’t find it hard to adjust, as all the teachers in his new school knew about his disability. However, Massachusetts’ Individualized Education Program, a statement about disability and necessary accommodations, “acts like a horoscope. Teachers instinctively associated me with the instructions in the document, always treated me in specific ways regardless of circumstances, and had a set of fixed expectations about what I could do. It felt limiting, or even discriminating,” Marc said.

Nevertheless, his mixed experience made him more sensitive to the disability-friendliness of amenities and facilities at Colgate. Before he pointed it out, I had never realized our shuttles are not wheelchair-friendly. “This can be extremely inconvenient for wheelchair riders, because the campus is hilly and people can’t always rely on campus safety,” Marc said.

A political science major on the teaching certification track, Marc sees himself more as a supporter who helps others thrive. He thinks social problems manifest in the school system; and one thing he wants to do is change special education programs. “While they meet some needs that can’t be met in ‘normal’ schools, they divide and limit the disabled students and make it harder for them to integrate into society.” In the future, he wants to work as an educator and tour schools to help kids with special needs.

It frustrates Marc that people can’t see each other as equals. “Even the word ‘accommodation’ itself connotes some special favors.” While Marc acknowledges it is hard to treat each other like equals, stereotypes can be toxic and have to be challenged. To him, the solution is interaction. “When people experience the truth, their prejudices or wrong beliefs are shaken and will gradually be removed,” he said.

Despite its challenges, Marc enjoys Colgate; to him, it is a microcosm of the larger society. “What happens here tells of the storm brewing outside. In this small, close-knit community, I can get more involved and become more prepared for the change I want to see in the future,” he said.

Marc just got another loyal listener. Thanks Marc, and I will tune-in to your show every Tuesday!


“XYZ with Q”1: Language exchange with DAAD Graduate Scholarship winner Joshua Smeltzer ’12

By Quanzhi Guo on September 22, 2015

In the blog series XYZ with Q, Quanzhi “Q” Guo ’18 visits current and former Benton Scholars to learn about their interests, passions, and accomplishments. In this post, Q did a language exchange and interviewed Benton alumnus Josh Smeltzer ’12, who currently resides in Hamburg, Germany.


Language exchange session with Josh via Skype

Language exchange session with Josh via Skype

Learning a foreign language is hard, and German can be particularly hard with its grammatical gender and winding words, like “Entschuldigung Sie bitte” for “excuse me.” However, my language exchange with Benton Scholar alumnus Joshua Smeltzer ’12 (Josh) over Skype was not as painful as I thought.

It was, to be frank, fun to do some muscle workouts for my mouth, and Josh’s experience as a teacher definitely helped. A former Fulbright fellow, he taught English for nine months at a German high school before he started a Master of Science in Politics, Economics and Philosophy at the University of Hamburg. Recently, he received a DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) Graduate Scholarship, which covered the cost of living and insurance for his master degree.

To me, Germany has always been on my list of “Top 10 Countries to Visit” for its romantic castles, spirit-lifting cultures, and…Rittersport! But Josh’s interest in Germany was not sparked until he was in Colgate’s Freiburg German study group. “It changed my direction. I felt that I wanted to come back to Germany again,” he said.

Now he lives in Hamburg, and he likes it a lot for its greenness and cleanliness, “unlike the odor that never leaves NYC,” we both laughed.

“The government is very welcoming. Even for non-citizens, the tuition is free,” he said. I asked him why Germany could be so open to foreigners. As in the recent refugee crisis, Germany has been a beacon of hope for many desperate refugees and migrants.

“In Germany, immigrants still pay more for the social service they receive than the benefits they gain. The government also needs young people to come and stay, because of the ageing population and the low birth rate,” he said.

Despite having lived in Germany for more than three years, Josh still experiences some culture shock. “The second time I went back, when I ate breakfast with my host family, I was piling up my bread like a sandwich. To them that was totally unbelievable, as they usually stack it with only a piece of cheese,” he chuckled, and I felt appreciative about the make-it-yourself sandwich bar at Frank.

In terms of academics, the class experience is also very different. “There is less sense of community. You go to class, then leave, and there is no extra-curricular activity. At the master level, we have about 35 students in a class, so there is definitely less attention from the professors. The professors are also more lecture-oriented,” he said.

When he looks back, he thinks the most valuable thing he picked up at Colgate is critical thinking. “I notice that people in my program who go to liberal arts colleges tend to be more critical to the texts than people who go through the German system.”

And a walk down the memory lane can never be complete with a piece of advice. Here is what Josh offers: “Try to take advantage of as many opportunities as possible to hear different ideas, from faculty dinners to guest lectures. For me, it is also about being open to new experience. It was not until I was in Moscow with Professor Nancy Ries on our Benton trip to Russia that I started to think about a PCON major. I was asking her about what I should major in, because I wanted to do English but did not quite like it, and she said ‘why don’t you give PCON a try.’ I was really glad I took her advice in my sophomore year and gave it a shot.”

Tschüß and Danke Josh for the fun German-learning and sharing! Good luck for your new adventures through DAAD!

About XYZ with Q, and a spoiler: in the next post, I will be doing DJ with Mark Maggiore’18, so stay tuned!




Introduction: “XYZ with Q”

By Quanzhi Guo on September 10, 2015

A new blog column “XYZ with Q” is now live! Stories from you, with you, for you.

After my first year in the Benton Scholars program, I feel that Benton Scholars are not just good students by common standards. They are a vibrant community of global thinkers and leaders who dare to think outside the box, embrace challenges, and be the change they want to see. Genuinely, I want to know more of them, know more about them, and more importantly, share their rich perspectives and insights with the larger community.

That’s why I am starting a blog column called “XYZ with Q.” Every two weeks, I will meet up with a current Benton Scholar or alumni and do an activity (XYZ) of their choice—along with an interview. From outdoor rock-climbing to DJ-ing, these activities will help me know my interviewees better and provide new angles to their personalities in real life. Through these meaningful interactions and conversations, I hope to use my personal voice and the blog to help scholars incorporate their unique experiences and insights into topics of discussion and issues of concern that we all share in common.

 You can read more about my summer experience here:

I lived with a “cult” for ten days

Quanzhi Guo ’18 reflects on the Benton Scholars’ trip to Japan

Mallory Keller ’17 reflects on her National Youth Leadership Council experience

By Quanzhi Guo on September 8, 2015

Mallory Keller ’17 is a junior at Colgate University studying educational studies and art history. She enjoys traveling, reading, knitting, and watching movies. Her future plans are to work one day in the educational field.  In this blog, she wrote about her experience with the National Youth Leadership Council in the spring semester.

I am standing in a suite on the 10th floor of the Washington Marriott Wardman Park. Participants are going around the circle saying why we came to the National Service-Learning Conference. It has been another year of great service learning, but as it gets closer to my turn, I start to get nervous. Why am I here? Is it because I enjoy going to conferences? Is it because I love to travel?

When my turn came, I just blurted out, “Because I love NYLC.” I realized that I had to elaborate more on my point, so I talked about my experiences with the organization: how service-learning made me care about my education for the first time in middle school, how I felt so inspired by the power of education when I attended my first service-learning conference in 9th grade, how I felt bad for our education system failing over a million students a year. Simply put, NYLC is more than an organization to me, they are a community, they are a family that I have grown up with, and I would not be who I am today without it.

The National Service-Learning Conference is one of its kind. It is a gathering of educators, students, non-profits, NGOs, and policy makers that celebrates the field of service-learning and projects done in diverse communities and discusses the future of our education system as a whole, through workshops, booths in the exhibit hall, the Day of Service, Capitol Hill Day, and plenary speakers. For those of you who do not know, service-learning is when you integrate service into the classroom curriculum to create a meaningful impact to the community. It makes education relevant to the world around the student. This is my fifth year attending the conference, and every year I am more inspired by what students are doing in their communities. During the plenary, I heard from those who are leaders in the field, members of the Department of Education, and most importantly, youth themselves, talking about what service-learning means to them. The overarching theme was that service-learning is a way to change our society and that it embraces as its cornerstone what other educational strategies do not–the youth in schools today.

This focus on youth in school today is the reason why so much work of NYLC’s is concerned with the achievement gap and educational inequity in schools. This issue is so important to the youth that NYLC NYLC launched a new campaign– Youth4Education. Youth4Education recognizes that our education system is failing youth because of systematic inequities, and it encourages students to solve this with service-learning. I could feel the excitement in the plenary as the campaign unveiled and I know I have said this so many times, but it was inspiring to see youth committed for a cause and to know that NYLC supports those of us who want to make that change. The excitement continued when we received a message from a surprise supporter–Kevin Bacon! It was so cool that the work that NYLC is doing is getting recognition from celebrities and that their impact is expanding. If you would like to get more involved and support the #Youth4Ed movement, sign the youth or adult pledge.

I was able to leave the conference this year full of ideas inspired by workshops conversations with other educators and students. The Benton Scholars Program has become a community that I involve myself deeply in because it gives us the support to be who we want to be at Colgate. To me, the Benton Scholars would be the place to implement service-learning. Service-learning is a way to serve your community and to think critically about what you are learning in the classroom, so I think it is exactly something Colgate needs on campus.

I would like to thank all of those who made my journey possible—the Benton Scholars Program at Colgate University, the National Youth Leadership Council, and finally, the support systems I have locally and nationally that continue to inspire me to serve.

Adam Basciano’s visit to “the timeless city”–Istanbul

By Quanzhi Guo on August 30, 2015

Adam Basciano ’16, an International Relations major, studied in Israel in the spring semester and shared with us his trip to Istanbul.

Adam with his family

Istanbul is truly a magnificent city, full of complexities and history that left us with countless ways to spend our six days. I arrived here alongside an American friend from Hebrew University last Sunday. We met up with some of his friends who are studying in Istanbul for the semester, and they helped show us around the city.

Istanbul, a city that straddles both Europe and Asia, offered experiences and sights generally unavailable to us in Jerusalem. For instance, our dinner the first night was at an authentic Persian restaurant. Amongst our dinner party sat young students who each identify as Lebanese, Moroccan,  Persian, Pakistani, Israeli, and well, me from New Jersey. Moments to get to know students from all over the world were abundant throughout the trip. It was both refreshing and informative.

The Turkish culture is alive and vivid in the country’s epicenter in Istanbul. The food was enjoyable and cheap, accessible through nicer restaurants as well as friendly street vendors. Each day brought with it at least two or three trips to a local cafe to relax with Turkish coffee or tea. A fusion of European and Middle Eastern culture could be seen throughout daily life here. At night, bars and dance-clubs light up the upper levels of the day’s shops and restaurants. Young Turks and tourists blend together to provide for a nightlife that reminds you of the secular nature of the Ataturk’s grand vision.

The insides of one of the many mosques in the city

The view from a ferry on the Bosphorus Strait

A visitor to Istanbul can choose to let these comfortable cultural surfaces define his or her trip to this city that is home to over 18 million people.

However, walk one block from the live music at the dance-bar you just spent the evening in, and you are greeted by the dozens upon dozens of Syrian refugees roaming the streets. They are amongst the city’s poorest, and have been continuously flowing into Istanbul and Turkey as a whole since the start of the Syrian Civil War roughly four years ago. Very different to the homeless people in cities like New York or Washington DC, their fate is unknown and the solution seems ungraspable. Ranging from young children to former professionals and academics, the Syrians sell items ranging from tissues to selfie-sticks.

To more fully understand present day Turkish society, one also must make himself aware of the increasingly authoritarian nature of the country’s leadership. Journalists are imprisoned regularly and the internet is carefully watched. It is uncommon to observe Turkish citizens speaking loudly on public transportation or for people to openly criticize President Erdogan in cafes. It only took one day after our arrival for the social media sites Twitter and YouTube to be shut-down by the government. The motives for doing so is believed to be related to the incidents that happened last week when there was a hostage situation in a courthouse that culminated in multiple people dead. While the websites returned to functionality eventually, we were reminded that Turkey is not as Western as it sometimes appears, despite how European the country strives to be.

The popular tourist spot, Taksim Square, at sunset

An appreciation and understanding of Istanbul requires the awareness of the many complexities prevalent, a small sample of which I just described.

Not that you can truly compare Jerusalem to any other place in the world, Istanbul does leave a lasting mark similar to that of the City of Gold. Built on rolling hills and instilled with the histories of powerful empires, both Jerusalem and Istanbul represent convergence points of the world’s great civilizations. Both are also fully immersed in the highly complicated scenario of being cities of religious importance to many while simultaneously catering to the requirements of a secular, modern city. Their identities lie in their complexities and contradictions.

I couldn’t imagine spending my two-week vacation break any better. The plane is now boarding, and the second half of my semester abroad is calling.

You can read more about Adam’s life in Israel on his Hebrew blog:http://adamoshe.tumblr.com/

Quanzhi Guo ’18 reflects on the Benton Scholars’ trip to Japan

By Peter Tschirhart on June 30, 2015

Quanzhi Guo ’18 recently returned from the Benton Scholars’ trip to Japan. In what follows, she reflects on the trip as well as important questions concerning power, warfare, tradition, and the remarkable resilience of the Japanese people.

Under the backdrop of lush green, the flame in the cenotaph flickered in the gentle summer wind. Flocks of school children in uniforms sang a melody of peace. I felt a powerful serenity in the air, weighed by solemnity.

70 years have gone past. As I stood at the epicenter of the dropping of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima, there was no sight of the blinding flash, the suffocating smoke, or the scorched remnants. Behind the beautiful and welcoming city, I felt the pains, saw the scars, and heard the haunting wails that once overwhelmed this site on August 6th, 1945.

Hiroshima tops the list of historic Japanese cities that I had the chance to survey and study this summer through the Benton Scholars Program. Along with 16 other Colgate students, I took the Advent of the Atomic Bomb with Professor Karen Harpp in the spring semester, and visited Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Kyoto from the end of May to the beginning of June.

During class sessions back on campus, we explored the history, science, and ethics behind the decision of dropping the A-bomb, both online with alumni and offline in person. The scale and impact of the attack were confounding; so throughout the trip, I had been trying to see them from Japanese perspectives.

In Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where the atomic bombs were dropped, I visited the atomic bomb museums and parks, and met with the survivors.

From melted lunch boxes to a watch that stopped at the moment of the explosion, the collection of artifacts was a somber and evocative reminder of the destruction and loss suffered. Fountains were built as a symbolic offering where victims died of thirst.

The Atomic Bomb Dome, which is one of the few structures left standing after the bombing, was a chilling symbol of the dark legacy of Hiroshima.

The atomic bomb dome left standing on the peaceful river bank.

The atomic bomb dome left standing on the peaceful river bank.

At Shiroyama Elementary School in Nagasaki, newly constructed buildings stood side by side to the empty damaged ones. Students who were having lunch in the freshly-painted classrooms greeted us enthusiastically as we passed by, shouting “How are you? What’s your name?” When I pictured the same innocent laughter from the damaged building 70 years ago in my head, it was such a depressing juxtaposition.

Both cities, because of their dark legacy, have devoted their human and capital resources to peace and anti-nuclear activism. Emerging from the horrific trauma seven decades ago, they also exude hope and life. Volunteers, many of whom have personal connections to the bombing, offer tours and presentation for visitors. On the riverbank alongside Hiroshima’s Peace Park, school bands performed an open-air concert, while school children in yellow hats hung strings of colorful paper cranes near the Children’s Peace Monument.

Cranes of hope – we folded 1000 and left them at the Monument.

Cranes of hope – we folded 1000 and left them at the Monument.

I think it is courageous that people found hope against all odds. I wondered how they overcame their personal loss, and came together as one again. When I asked a survivor from the Hiroshima bombing how he overcame the psychological trauma, he chuckled, and fell into silence for a while. “Life resumes. It was not good to look back. I had to look forward,” he said slowly and calmly.

It is also remarkable that the devastation of the past never overshadows the vitality of the present. While history has been remembered, people are not stuck in the past, but have moved on. Like the survivor from the Hiroshima bombing said, “history tends to be forgotten. It is important to learn from history and have facilities to tell the young about it. History is our mirror. We should forgive, but never forget.”

In Kyoto, the ancient capital, I saw a richer Japanese culture. In the Manhattan Project, Kyoto was identified as a potential target before the atomic bomb was dropped. However, with its sublime gardens, splendid shrines, and state-of-the-art cuisine, it was no wonder that Henry Stimson, U.S. Secretary of the War, who had been to Kyoto, removed it from the list.

Besides visiting the famous temples, we went to a tea ceremony. While sipping the freshly prepared matcha, I marvelled at the exquisite cup in my hand. The temperature was just right. The taste was fragrantly fresh with a tinge of bitterness. Every movement of the yukata-cladded tea master was full of concentration and composure. It was Zen in a cup!

When I wandered in the Gion district, looking for geisha scurrying to their liaisons, I found brand-name boutiques side-by-side with traditional pastries and Japanese craft. When I strolled in the central shopping district in Shijo, I saw traditional tofu-makers, ceramics masters, and umbrella makers who take so much pride in their original and unique wares. It dawned on me that, had Kyoto been bombed, not just the city’s psyche but the nation’s—rooted in a rich collection of cultural monuments, ascetic discipline, and traditional practices—would have been wiped out.

Wandering lanes in the dusk in Kyoto.

Wandering lanes in the dusk in Kyoto.

We often use science as a solution, but without fail, it generates a slew of new problems. The problems today are never easy, and there might not be an answer. My visit to Japan allowed me to better appreciate the dropping of the atomic bomb from the Japanese perspective and added nuance to my understanding of the power of nuclear weapons—and peace.

I have only scratched the surface of our trip, but this is a good start.

Benton Alumni Update: Viktor Mak ’15 Promotes Education in Cameroon

By Peter Tschirhart on June 12, 2015

The following post was contributed by Benton Scholar alumnus Viktor Mak ’15. Four years after his trip to Uganda with with Benton Scholars program, Viktor decided to spend his first summer as a Colgate graduate in Africa, where he works with an education startup in Cameroon called Open Dreams

Since my full time job after college would not involve any international travel, I knew I had to squeeze in at least one more trip before settling down into the quiet suburbs of Washington D.C.

Just before graduation, I managed to find an opportunity with Open Dreams, a startup NGO focused on extending educational opportunities in the United States to students in Cameroon. During my interview, I spoke about my experiences as a Benton Scholar in Sub-Saharan Africa and the academic work I’ve done related to economic development. So when they extended an offer, I accepted it almost immediately.

I headed out shortly after graduation, spending only enough time at home to convince my parents that neither Ebola nor Boko Haram were a threat. My journey to Open Dreams’ base of operations took almost a week. I left Florida and first traveled to New York City for a brief orientation on the history and mission of the NGO from two of its co-founders, Hans Kullberg and Blaise Buma.

Blaise was born and raised in Bamenda, Cameroon and was an exceptional student. After high school, he was determined to seek a world class education; but instead of continuing on to a university in Cameroon, he spent the next two years navigating the US college application process. Finally, he secured a full scholarship to Washington & Lee University in Virginia. A few years later, he helped his younger sister apply to McGill University in Canada. Blaise realized that he could help other students from his town by coaching them through the application and testing process. Cristina Bernardo and Hans later heard about Blaise’s story, which intersected with their own desire to promote access to education. Open Dreams was born in 2014 and just finished mentoring its first class of eight students!

From left to right: Hans, myself, and Blaise in New York City.

From left to right: Hans, myself, and Blaise in New York City.

After two jam-packed days in New York, I left for Cameroon. I missed my flight in Paris and had to spend 24 hours in the city of baguettes, crepes, cheese and wine—I couldn’t complain. The next day, I arrived in the humid coastal city of Douala, Cameroon, where I met my host James and a small welcome party. We spent the rest of the week traveling from Douala to Bamenda, stopping in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon, both to meet with the Education Advisor at the US Embassy and to make an appearance on national television. It turned out to be the equivalent of the Today Show in the United States, and ever since, people have been coming up to James and me telling us they saw us on TV.

I am now in Bamenda, the third largest city in Cameroon, in the north eastern part of the country near the Nigerian border. For our arrival, James had organized a large welcome party to meet us at the Open Dreams offices. There were speeches made, drinks and toasts.

The view from the Open Dreams Office.

The view from the Open Dreams Office.

In the next five weeks, I will interview the next group of mentees and organize a learning center (where students can study for the SAT and work on college applications) while looking for ways to help Open Dreams generate revenue and become self-sustaining. I look forward to working with the amazing people I have met already, meeting many more amazing Cameroonians, and experiencing everything this country has to offer. I can already tell that I will be sad to go when the time comes!

Welcome party in Bamenda in front of the Open Dreams Office.

Welcome party in Bamenda in front of the Open Dreams Office.