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TBS Abroad Week 2: Airplanes

By Evie Lawson on February 3, 2016


Week 2 Prompt: Airplanes

For some people, flying on airplanes is a fun (albeit expensive) hobby; for others, it’s part of their job — as pilots, flight attendants, or business people traveling for work. But a small number of people rely on aviation as a lifeline: “bush pilots” bring food and supplies to remote areas of the globe, including parts of Alaska. This week, turn your eyes to the sky. Is aviation a novelty or a necessity? Do people travel for fun or only when necessary? Does air transportation have a good reputation, or are people skeptical of its safety, efficiency, and reliability? Take a picture of an airplane, airport, landing strip, or some other aviation-related aspect of the culture surrounding you.

Ryan Hildebrandt ’17, Psychology and Japanese

hildebrandt airplane

Aviation isn’t a huge part of everyday Japanese life. Unless you’re flying between two cities that are very, very far apart within Japan, most airports are used for international travel. The vast majority of domestic travel is done via ferry, car, and especially train. Because of this, most exposure to Japanese airlines comes in getting to and from the country, and isn’t a prominent means of travel once you’re in the country. There isn’t much of a domestic air-travel industry to speak of, or at least what is there isn’t frequented unless you’re traveling clear across the country and need to do it quicker than a train. Instead, the experience of going to an airport with your ticket in hand, checking luggage, finding your terminal, and jumping on a very fast and efficient means of transportation has been largely replaced with the train system and Shinkansen bullet train. As we used this much more than planes while in Japan (one flight in, one out), here’s a fuzzy picture of Mount Fuji from my plane on my way home at the last possible moment.

Mallory Keller ’17, Art History and Educational Studies

When studying abroad, you are encouraged to travel to other countries. Because of how south Italy is in Europe, while traveling by train may be cheaper, air transportation is much more time efficient. I am constantly surrounded by fellow students conversing about planning travel for weekends and which airline is better. I found that Europe is full of budget airlines that makes travel fairly cheap. Some Americans are skeptical of budget airlines, but I have found that if you read the fine print and follow their rules, you will not have any problems. From some very negative experiences with some prominent airlines in America that I will leave unnamed in this post, I would fly European budget airlines over them anyday. My experience in flying from Pisa to London on what is known as a budget airline was awesome. I had none of those terrible horror stories you hear off, it was so efficient, and my flight was only $60 round trip.

Picture courtesy of: http://andreas.scherbaum.la/blog/archives/470-A-sunday-in-Tuscany.html

The one thing I have noticed about many European airports is that they are much smaller than American airports, which I enjoy. While there are some duty free shops, I don’t have to walk through what sometimes seems like malls within American airports. Security was fast, efficient, and I never felt unsafe traveling through the airports. When my roommate and I were booking our taxi to the Florence airport when we were leaving for the semester, my host mom was confused as to why we were calling it two hours before our flight. She said we only needed thirty minutes and she ended up being correct! We sat in the pretty empty Florence airport for an hour and a half before our flight. The one thing I do miss about being abroad is the ease of travel.

Zachary Weaver ’17 

Airplanes are a fact of life in Europe. Since the introduction of the European Union and common currency, more and more businesses have offices and work in different countries. Countries in the European Union have made travel extremely easy for citizens of fellow members, and air travel is no different.

However, aside from international travel, planes aren’t used as much as trains are in the United Kingdom. It is often easier and cheaper to take a train from one end of the country to another rather than planes. This is in large part due to the extensiveness of the train network in the UK, but many areas do have their own airport or airfield.

Cardiff itself is a small city when compared to places such as London or Paris, yet there are quite a few businessmen who use air travel to get to Cardiff on a weekly basis. On my flight from Amsterdam to Cardiff on my way to the country, most of the plane was made of Dutch businessmen who had work in Cardiff that day or week.

Cardiff Airport Departure Gate, the closest airport to Cardiff University, is small and useful for traveling to a handful of locations in Europe. Going to London for longer flights is common. Photo from http://www.southwalesargus.co.uk/news/11769628._Has_Cardiff_Airport_buy_out_been_worth_it___AMs_will_ask_today/

Cardiff Airport Departure Gate, the closest airport to Cardiff University, is small and useful for traveling to a handful of locations in Europe. Going to London for longer flights is common. Photo from http://www.southwalesargus.co.uk/news/11769628._Has_Cardiff_Airport_buy_out_been_worth_it___AMs_will_ask_today/

Air travel itself is quite common amongst students at Cardiff, especially those of us from Colgate who are studying here! The Cardiff Airport is often used as a springboard to bigger airports, from which a flight to most of Europe can be reached. Several people already have plans to fly to mainland Europe at some point in the semester, with Amsterdam, Barcelona, and the Swiss Alps being popular destinations.

Getting to an airport is easy enough from Cardiff. One can either take a taxi to Cardiff Airport, or jump on one of several buses or trains to London and use Heathrow or Gatwick Airports for better service to more areas of Europe.

My time in Cardiff Airport was pretty easy. Being a small airport, the service was much more personable than customs and immigration in some larger airports. Plus, once I made it through all my bags were already on the luggage belt, so I didn’t have to wait at all!

Grace Western

Upon arrival in Cameroon, I looked at the small airport of Yaoundé: the 1970’s style resonating from the structure of the building to the colors, and I knew I was in for a very different (due to my western perception), but just as wonderful, experience. The airport was packed with people with signs and men trying to carry belongings for you to your car. Within the first 10 minutes of stepping into Cameroon, I noticed that many people were friendly and willing to help, despite me standing out as one of the 3 white people in the airport. What was also very interesting is that many people who were waiting past the baggage claim were trying to sell things: it was like another market! After I found the man who represented my organization, we went outside. There was so much dancing, laughing and music happening in the street and it seemed to be a joyous occasion. I thought, “what an incredible way to arrive in a new country!” I asked the man I was with what the occasion was, and he said there was none and it was normal. Clearly within my first moments in Cameroon I had already exerted my bias and failed to check my white, American perception of culture. No doubt, even when I think I am checking my privilege, and myself, I’m sure I am not completely and so I need to continue to be aware of that, especially while writing these blog posts.

TBS Abroad Week 1: Trains

By Evie Lawson on January 27, 2016

Week 1 Prompt: Trains

Prior to the advent of jet travel during the 1960s, and the subsequent deregulation of airline pricing schemes in the 1980s, trains were a common mode of transportation in the United States. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (part of the U.S. Department of Transportation), air travel accounted for 576 million passenger miles in 2012, with intercity trains, including Amtrak, accounting for only about 7 million. By comparison, in 1960, the numbers were much closer: air travel saw 31 million passenger miles, with intercity trains at 17 million — a difference that conceals the greater distances typically traveled by aircraft. But America’s clear preference for aviation is by no means shared globally. In other parts of the world — India, China, and the EU especially — train travel is extremely common, even prevalent. This week, pay attention to trains. Does your current city connect to a rail system? Do people travel by train, subway, streetcar, or commuter service? Where is the nearest station? Take a picture of the station, then comment on the role of train travel in your local community.

Ryan Hildebrandt ’17, Psychology and Japanese

In Kyoto, like most major cities in Japan, trains form the basis of the public transportation system. Since Kyoto isn’t as much of a bustling metropolis as Tokyo or Osaka, there are two main subway lines, one running north-south and one running east-west. Off of these are several private rail lines, which run on a separate ticketing system from the city’s subways. These take you to the more distant regions of the city and into the sprawling suburbs, as well as into the mountains which also surround the city. The network of trains extends well beyond the limits of any individual city, also connecting major and minor cities with the world-famous Shinkansen bullet trains.

A train station in Kyoto, Japan.

Within the cities as well as in between them, trains provide a reliable and extremely affordable means of transport for everyday use. For me, the nearest station was Katsura-eki (Katsura station), about a 10-minute walk from my host family’s home. The station was a hub for taxi-cabs, bus routes, and both the Hankyu Kyoto and Arashiyama lines, one of which connects you to the city centers of both Osaka and Kyoto (about a 40 minute, $4 ride), and the other which takes you into the scenic mountains in the southwest of the city. Trains were integral to getting around during my time in Kyoto, and they are defintely one of my fondest memories of Japan.  

Danielle Norgren ’18, French and International Relations

There are a lot of things in France that take a lot of time. Meals, for example. Dinner is a ritual that starts at 8pm, and can stretch until midnight. Walking through Dijon, one notices the café dwellers, relaxing with magazines or friends. One must signal a waiter for the check, as placing it on the table without request could be interpreted as a gesture of impatience. There is something about french culture that seems  unrushed when compared to that of America. Americans strive for efficiency and productivity, every minute must be maximized. My high school host dad once summed this up in the following phrase: “The French work to live, the Americans live to work.”

Remarkably, however, this comparison does not hold when comparing systems of transportation. In America, particularly in cities, we struggle with congestion; commuting can consume a large majority of one’s time outside of work. In Dijon, however, the problem is virtually nonexistent. An extensive tram network connects the entirety of the city. If the tram does not get close enough to your destination, there are busses. Unlike in my hometown, Seattle, the predicted times of arrival are guaranteed down to the minute. To travel outside of Dijon, there is the TGV: “Le Train à Grande Vitesse.” The TGV is noted as “The world speed record holder, it zips from city to city at up to 322 kph (201 mph).” Thus, a trip to Paris takes only an hour and a half. While Dijon no longer has an airport, it can easily access the rest of the country, and world thanks to this system. France seems to have mastered efficient travel.

A train station in Dijon, France.

A train station in Dijon, France.

Friday, we had a group trip to the Hospices de Beaune. For under 10 euros, we were able to travel over 50 miles. By bus, we would have spent about 80 minutes simply traveling to our destination. By train, however, the trip was cut in half. Knowing french trains operate with ironclad precision, and knowing our group has a tendency to get lost, our professor asked us to arrive at the train station an hour early. In the station, a young man played piano as people rushed to their trains with briefcases. That morning, we were surrounded by businessmen and women, on their way to work in nearby towns. On our return trip, however, we found ourselves in a crowd of high school french students, on their way home for the weekend. They maneuvered the system with ease, reciting the bus schedule from memory. They laughed at our Americanness, noting how we tumbled with even the slightest jolt in the train. In high school, I flew over 70 times. I can make my way through airports at 4am, I know which airlines give the best inflight snacks, and I have the safety manual memorized. Yet, I have no idea where the local bus stop is. I envied these french students, and their ability to roam city to city with ease.

Mallory Keller ’17, Art History and Educational Studies

When preparing for my semester abroad, I thought that I would be traveling by train more than I have had before. I was surprised when I arrived in Florence and found out that Florence does not have a train system that resembles a subway. There is a regional train that few Italians take to Florence, like an hour ride from Pisa and Florence and back that runs several times a day, to commute to work, but I would not say that is common. From what I can determine, the train is used to travel to cities when you do not feel like driving or riding a bus. I have taken regional trains a few times to travel to cities around Italy that are too far to travel in one day on a bus, like Bologna, Venice, Naples and Rome. My trip to Bologna was quite pleasant as it was on a high speed train. The train took only 30 minutes while a bus would have taken close to 3 hours. My ears popped at times during the ride because of how fast the train was moving-300km/hr!

The regional train station near Mallory’s house in Florence, Italy.

Another high speed train company that I took to Naples and Venice was quite comfortable. The seats are larger than most seats I have experienced in the United States and they provided movies for the in car entertainment. The nearest station is 10 minutes from my home stay and it is primarily a regional train station for travel within Italy. If I want to ride a train outside of Italy, I would have to go to the large train station in the city, Santa Maria Nouvella Station, which I can get to by riding the regional train there or a 20 minute walk from my home. My overall opinion of the train system in Italy is that it makes travel fairly painless as long as the trains do not go on strike that day!

Zachary Weaver ’17 

Trains are everywhere in the United Kingdom. They are one of the cheapest and most efficient ways of getting around the country, and almost every town or city has at least one train station. Cardiff is no different.

The main station lies in the center of the city, providing access to the heart of Cardiff and allows many people to live in the suburbs and take the train in to work. In fact, one of the reasons why there is comparatively little traffic in the center of the city is due to the presence of the trains! It is about a 20-minute city walk from the main residences where I live, but it is easy to find because the main line runs along the Cardiff University Campus and into the station. So, just follow that and it’s easy to find the station!

One of the benefits of having the station in the center of town is the access it provides during the busiest days of the year in Cardiff: When the Welsh National Rugby Team is playing a match in Principality Stadium (formerly Millennium Stadium). The train station is right across the street from the stadium, so people who are traveling from every corner of the United Kingdom have easy access to the almost 75,000 person stadium, where the atmosphere is often better than even American Football stadiums!

Likely after a match, people queuing outside of Cardiff Central Train Station. Photo from http://www.arrivatrainswales.co.uk/SpecialEvents/.

Likely after a match, people queuing outside of Cardiff Central Train Station. Photo from http://www.arrivatrainswales.co.uk/SpecialEvents/.

One of the remarkable aspects of trains in Cardiff is how efficient the authorities have made train travel. On match days, when the game is over and everyone is going home, it could be a chaotic mess of people trying to find the right train to get home. However, a quick walk near the station reveals that there are plans in place for these events. Signs are pointing out where to stand for the exact train that is needed. Going home to London? Stand in the big area for Londoners. Heading west to the relatively close by Swansea? That area is marked, too. Almost every city is represented on match days.

The extent and efficiency of trains is not reserved for cities, though. My grandparents live in rural northeast Wales, near the border with England. Even though their community is small, the nearest train station is a 15-minute car ride. Also, because they live in a valley, my grandparents actually live underneath a train viaduct allowing the train to efficiently cross the valley!

Sid Wadhera ’17, Economics and Political Science

Trains are deeply embedded in the ethos of the United Kingdom, and even more so in London. That is not an exaggeration; the Underground system has a long history as the worlds oldest rapid transit system. Some of the most recognizable images of World War II are tube stations used as air-raid shelters during the Battle of Britain. Yet, having spent time exploring the metro-rail systems in Seoul and New York City, I find that the Underground is not very much different than others in its category. The difference and significance of trains in the United Kingdom comes from the fact that they connect every part of the country so well. From Central London one can take a train south for a day trip to the coast; one can take a train north for a weekend in Scotland; one can take a train west to see the famed Welsh hills; perhaps most significantly of all, one can take a train to Paris, and from there to anywhere in Europe.

Ask the average Londoner what they think about trains, and you’re likely to get a confused stare. For most people they are just another part of daily life, but when the Tube workers go on strike it becomes hassle. This speaks to the old adage that goes something like “you don’t appreciate what you have until you lose it.” For Londoners, the Tube and trains have become so ingrained in their daily lives that they do not even notice…that is until the they stop running. Next week, I might make a trip to the London Museum of Transport to see if the train lovers over there have something more interesting to discuss.

The beauty of being in Central London for me is that I’m surrounded by Tube Stations. The three that properly triangulate my position are Russel Square, Holborn, and Tottenham Court Road. The interesting thing about these stations is that they put me on the map for three different tube lines: the Northern, Central, and Piccadilly lines. In essence, these are three major lines that direct me to any location I want in London. That is one significant advantage London has over New York: the lines are not so direct that you cannot connect between them.

Needless to say, I have gotten properly lost quite a few times on the Tube, and it has been an absolute pleasure. From the zone system of fees to oyster cards for payment, the Tube really has expanded my appreciation for the planning used in the implementation of this system and systems like it across the world. Now if only London’s streets were organized as nicely, but that’s a conversation for another day.


The Benton Scholars: Abroad

By Evie Lawson on January 20, 2016

Infusing leadership and global themes into the Colgate University experience, the Benton Scholars program creates 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 third 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 Australia to England. Their profiles below:

Taylor Mooney ’17

Hi, friends!  I am a geology major from a lil’ ol’ town called Lowville in Upstate New York who consistently responds to the nickname “Princess,” and I am so incredibly excited to make memories in Wollongong, Australia this semester.  I’m tremendously grateful to Colgate and my parents for allowing me this mind-blowing opportunity, and I can’t wait to share my experiences with all of you!  An early thank you to all of those who follow this blog… let the shenanigans ensue!


Allison Zengilowski ’17

My name is Allison Zengilowski and I am a double major in Psychology and Peace and Conflict Studies from Hinesburg, Vermont.  I’ll be spending my semester in Wollongong, Australia as part of one of Colgate’s Natural Sciences programs.  While there I’ll have the opportunity to volunteer in a Psychology lab, study Australia’s biodiversity, and see a completely different set of stars (since I’ll be in the southern hemisphere!).



Ryan Hildebrandt ’17

I’m Ryan and I’m from Cape May, New Jersey.  I’m a Junior currently studying Japanese and Psychology, and I studied abroad first semester sophomore year in Kyoto, Japan.  It was a wonderful semester that helped me understand Japanese language and culture in a much deeper way than I was able to before, and I can’t wait to go back to the city I think of as my second home, Kyoto.



Danielle Norgren ’18

My name is Danielle Norgren.  I grew up in Seattle but attended high school in New Hampshire and France. At Colgate, I am a French and International Relations double major.  In my free time, I am on the rowing team and also tutor French at Hamilton Central School. I will be spending my sophomore spring abroad, in Dijon.




Erin Huiting ’17

I consider Evergreen, Colorado home, a small mountain town in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.  However, I love to travel and will be studying biomedical sciences at Oxford (England) this spring, and biomedicine at the National Institute of Health ( Washington, DC) this fall. I’m majoring in Molecular Biology, and I hope to pursue a career in immunogenetics.



Mallory Keller ’17

Hi everyone! My name is Mallory Keller and I am a junior at Colgate University. I’m originally from Kansas City, Missouri and I spent the fall semester of my junior year in Florence, Italy. As an art history and educational studies double major, I spent my entire semester geeking out at pictures on walls and dragging everyone I know to museums and churches. When I was not staring at artwork, I was eating my way through Italy.




Sidhant (Sid) Wadhera ’17

Sid Wadhera, or Sidward as he is affectionately called, will be spending the first 5 months of 2016 not on the North American continent.  The first 13 days will be spent in Chile, climbing up and studying volcanoes with the esteemed professor Karen Harpp.  The rest of his time will be spent in London (mostly) studying Economics with Professor Don Waldman.  Sid thoroughly enjoys blathering incessantly about topics and drawing erroneous conclusions from those topics; he also enjoys tangential ramblings.  Essentially, TBS Abroad project is a perfect match for him.  For more about his travel, visit his blog volcanicteatime.tumblr.com

Grace Western ’17

I am a junior at Colgate with a double major in Women’s Studies and Political Science.  I am very involved with the Student Government Association — my most recent position being Speaker of the Senate.  I am also a Community Leader, a member of FUSE Dance Company, an Illustrator at Admissions, and part of the Association of Critical Collegians.  Last year, I was Assistant Director of the Vagina Monologues and also participated in Spaces Between Us: a movement piece to challenge structural oppression at Colgate.  I am studying abroad in Cameroon with a focus on Social Pluralism and Development.  Specifically we will be critiquing the narratives of development and who is “developed.”  I look forward to interacting with the Benton Community, and the larger Colgate community, through my learning and reflection process abroad!  It’ll be a nice change to escape the winter tundra of Hamilton for warm, 70 degree weather!

Laine Barrand ’17

Laine Barrand, from Southern California, is an Undergraduate student in Junior standing at Colgate University. She is studying International Relations and French. Laine is involved with music on campus and in the community; she plays viola in Colgate University Orchestra and Chamber Players, works for the Music Department and interns at the Hamilton Center for the Arts and the Broad Street Gallery. Laine also works sound equipment during various events on campus and hosts a weekly radio show called Biannual Sunflower Festival, during which she plays a variety of genres including indie, alternative, and psychedelic rock. Laine loves to snowboard and travel.

Quanzhi (Q) Guo ’18

Currently wandering in Wales, originally from China, and shaped by Singapore.  Cold-bloodedly rational yet helplessly whimsical.  Trying to major in something but has never been able to make up my mind.  Interestingly self-contradictory and unexpectedly predictable to similar souls.



“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.