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TBS Abroad Week 6: McDonalds

By mkeller on March 22, 2017

Week 6 Prompt: McDonalds    

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


Danielle Norgren

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

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

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

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

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

 


Ben Kelsey 

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

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

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

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


Sabrina Farmer 

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



TBS Abroad Week 5: News

By mkeller on March 16, 2017

Week 5 Prompt: News   

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


Sean Corrigan 

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

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

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


Ben Kelsey 

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

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

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

 



TBS Abroad Week 4: Religion

By mkeller on March 8, 2017

Week 4 Prompt: Religion  

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


Sabrina Farmer

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

 


Sean Corrigan 

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

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

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

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


Ben Kelsey 

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


TBS Abroad Week 3: Color

By mkeller on March 1, 2017

Week 3 Prompt: Color  

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


Sabrina Farmer

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


Sean Corrigan 

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

 


Danielle Norgren 

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

 


Ben Kelsey 

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

Quanzhi Guo

Snow-covered red roofs from the Prague Castle.

Red roofs in Porto

Rain-washed red roofs in Florence



TBS Abroad Week 2: Cars

By mkeller on February 22, 2017

Week 2 Prompt: Cars 

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


Sabrina Farmer

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


Sean Corrigan 

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

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

<Marry him>;

else

<Don’t marry him>;

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


Regina Pimentel

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

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


Ben Kelsey 

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

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

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

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

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

 


TBS Abroad Week 1: Walking (Paths)

By mkeller on February 15, 2017

Week 1 Prompt: Walking (Paths) 

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


Sabrina Farmer

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


Sean Corrigan 

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

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

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

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

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


Jenny Lundt ’19: Chess is Global

By Peter Tschirhart on February 2, 2017

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


I started like I had done a thousand times before.

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

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

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

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

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

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


XYZ with Q 10: Board Game with Ben Kelsey ‘18

By Quanzhi Guo on December 7, 2016

This is the last post of the series XYZ with Q this year, where Quanzhi “Q” Guo ’18 visits current and former Benton Scholars to learn about their interests, passions, and accomplishments. Q is going to be in Europe next semester and if you are around and wanna meet up, please send her a message! In this post, Q went to play board game with Benton junior Ben Kelsey ‘18.


I don’t usually play games, but I grew up in China, the nation of Gowhich some say is the most ancient and sophisticated board game in the world. I remember walking past public parks, spotting elderly people playing Go on stone tables while onlookers around the battlefields commented and cheered. So it felt nostalgic to join Benton Scholar Ben Kelsey ’18, from Manlius, NY, to play board games. Having lived in Belgium and Italy for 9 years, he speaks English, Dutch, Italian, and French fluently, and he is now a French and Japanese double major.

When I arrived at Multiplayer House on a snowy Friday night, many people were already playing video games in the living room. Each week, the house hosts a Game Night where people just hang-out and play everything: from tabletop roleplaying games to trading card games. As I have almost zero experience with Western board games, we started off with Candy Land. Finding it a bit simplistic, we moved on to Settlers of Catan, a strategy board game about settlement, discovery, and trade. It turned out to be a fine choice.

The sequence of play goes something like this: the board has hexagonal terrain tiles representing different resources, like brick, sheep, stone, wood, and wheat. We, the settlers of Catan Island, rolled dice and gathered resources, which we later traded or used to build roads, settlements, and cities.

  • Friendship first, gaming second...
  • started off with Candy Land
  • Catan!
  • Quote Wall of the Multiplayers' House
  • Preparing for the battlefield
  • Thinking Hard

Ben easily tops the list of nicest people I know. But I tend to be competitive in situations like this. So, as we sat around the table munching on pretzels, I discovered something cool about this game: it is competitive, but it requires cooperation, because players have to engage in trade. Also, while it is simple to learn, you need a strategy to win. And the killer—chance—is always there, too. Whom does the dice favor? What cards might you draw?

Ben has been interested in games for almost his entire life. “I’m not sure how games have changed me, but I think I have learned some patience from them, and I think they’ve helped me to learn to think critically, whether it’s to strategize on how to overcome a difficult part of a game, or to make plans outside of games,” he said. He started playing a Pokemon trading card game at the age of 4 or 5, and his favorite game is The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.

“I think there’s a certain sense of escapism in games for a lot of people. While I don’t think I enjoy them so much to escape ‘real life’, I do think that I enjoy the ability to immerse myself in another world and the social aspect of game,” Ben said.

To Ben, games are just there to be fun, and if you are having fun, you are doing it right. Now the Co-Consul of The Game’s Afoot, Co-President for Trading Card Club, and Vice President of the Colgate Roleplaying Game Society, he sees the niche community he is involved in providing an alternative social scene at Colgate, and he has been trying to spread this fun. For example, he has helped with ‘Gate Night—the late-night programming organization on campus, or trained new Colgate employees by acting like a zombie while they did puzzles, or run a game night at the Earlville Free Library.

“People who are interested in [games] tend to not feel as though they fit in elsewhere. Because of that, I think a large part of our role is to cultivate our own community, [one] that isn’t necessarily cut off from the Colgate community, but offers another alternative,” Ben said.

While the games group is a niche community, it is open, really, to everyone. Ben thinks that making the social scene at Colgate more inclusive, which has always been an issue, requires avoiding strong divisions. “Programming that’s not explicitly anti-alcohol or pro-alcohol would, I think, help to provide a space for a middle-ground, which is what I think a lot of people want and is necessary. Intentionally excluding people who want to drink or party or whatever responsibly only makes them feel unwelcome and pushes them to the fringes,” he said.

To build a diverse community, it is important not to equate being different with being worse. Colgate has a strong student archetype, which makes it hard be who we really are. Ben is low-key and knows how to leave distance. While he described himself as awkward, others describe him as reflective and caring. “Growing up, I think I had an unusual perspective, and that makes me feel different, but it’s not that I’m better than anyone else. I try to let people be and stick to what and whom I like instead of getting upset about them,” Ben said.

For Ben, there are ideas and opinions with which he disagrees and others he might like to change. “However, I know that, in the same way as I have reasons for what I think, others have reasons for what they think. I try to do what I can, but ultimately I think people need to change on their own, and me trying to tell them what to do isn’t going to accomplish much,” Ben said. 

It was really fun to sit at a table and talk while playing board games before final exams, and before I leave for study-abroad. On the Island of Catan, Ben scored 10 victory points first—and won the game. But I was really close. (I had 9!) 


XYZ with Q 9: Cheerleading with Taylor Mooney ‘17

By Quanzhi Guo on November 16, 2016

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 went to cheerleading practice with Benton senior Taylor Mooney ‘17.


I didn’t quite know what to make of cheerleading before attending practice with Benton Scholar Taylor Mooney ‘17. I knew the stereotypes, though, and just couldn’t imagine myself in a skirt, holding fluffy pom-poms, wearing a big smile and performing for other people’s enjoyment. Thus I defied the rule of my own blog (for the first time!) by not participating but observing the activity of my interviewee.

Taylor, a Geology major, Film & Media Studies minor, and proud feminist from Lowville, NY, also experienced conflicting thoughts when she joined cheerleading at Colgate. As a gymnast of 14 years, Taylor hoped to maintain her gymnastics skills and be a part of a community with whom she could share that passion. However, Colgate does not have a gymnastics team, so she turned to cheerleading.

The decision was not easy. “I felt by doing cheerleading, I was perpetuating feminine stereotypes and gender roles,” she confessed.  She ended up deciding to try it, and it has been a really important learning experience for her. “I realized that believing cheerleading to be a one-dimensional sport was very ignorant and rooted in a lack of experience and a lack of knowledge of its history. It’s certainly difficult to reconcile how cheerleaders are perceived and what it actually means for me to be a contemporary cheerleader, but I have grown a lot in terms of being a feminist in the context of cheerleading,” she said.

And cheerleading turns out not really to be the fun-house depicted in pop culture. Taylor’s team practices three times a week with one to three games per week. My heart skipped a beat as the girls threw Taylor in the air. She then sprang into the air, kicked, turned and tumbled into a cradle of arms.  

Cheerleading requires intense trust and cooperation. “Being on the team has given me a really amazing community. Gymnastics is an individual sport. Besides the cheers you get from your teammates, you rely on yourself to do better, athletically. Cheerleading, on the other hand, is team-oriented. As someone who is thrown in the air, I need to have faith that I will be caught by my strong teammates waiting for me on the ground. It requires a lot of encouragement from everyone on the team, despite all the bumps and bruises and mild concussions everyone gets along the way,” Taylor said as she broke into her iconic laughter – loud, genuine and penetrating.   

Just as cheerleading encourages trust, it also encourages inclusivity. “We want everyone to have the chance to experience this community we build. We try to make it as inclusive as possible by encouraging any and all to try-out, including those without experience,” Taylor said. Rather than being just an expression of popularity and desirability as many perceive cheerleading to be, Taylor’s cheerleading team is full of pride, confidence and supportiveness.

Taylor also appreciates how cheerleading helps her develop a different side of herself. I would not have believed that she is a cheerleader if it was not for this interview. Always unassuming, Taylor was in her gray Colgate hoodie during the interview. “When I put my uniform on with my other teammates I can take on a different persona and experience a different part of myself, one that is more colorful and outgoing and confident than I would normally describe myself. We all build our confidence by performing for people and engaging with Colgate Athletics supporters, it’s a really important aspect of being on this team,” she said.

However, sometimes it is frustrating for her because cheerleading is seen as a supplement to the sporting events. “Instead of being considered an individual entity, some view us merely as part of the atmosphere. Cheerleading is actually a rigorous sport and is incredibly athletic, requiring intense strength and endurance, with the added need for uniformity through the sharpness of motions and a grasp of balance and tempo,” she said.

Just as Taylor supports her team and the community through cheerleading, she is a super-accessible and caring senior to everyone around her. For example, after the 2016 presidential election, she sent out GroupMes welcoming people “to talk or eat or lay on the floor” at her apartment as a form of support.

Within academics, Taylor is passionate about science outreach. She wants to help others understand science better, especially through the medium of film. In her summer after sophomore year, she interned in the Visual Productions department at the National Aquarium in Baltimore.  During her sophomore and junior years, she made videos and taught basic video production for the Advent of Atomic Bomb and BreadXclasses at Colgate produced for the edX platform.

“What is most fun about editing videos is that I get to pick out important clips, ensure a narrative, organize them in a coherent manner, and make sure it is understandable. It’s very much like a brainteaser—trying to figure out what works the best within the confines of the scope of the video. Having a final product and taking ownership are very satisfying,” she said.

Over the past summer, Taylor worked in Wisconsin with the Keck Geology Consortium and assessed the remediation efforts for pollution in the Shadow Lakes.

Knowing how the environment works and why things are the way they are is important to understand the complicated relationship between humans and the natural environment. To Taylor, understanding the sciences is not only important in the science research sphere but also the political sphere. “Science tends to become political, despite it being rooted in fact and intensive research. In the media and politics, many times science is skewed to fit a particular agenda, or the person speaking about it doesn’t necessarily have a real understanding of it. They spew out things that are not necessarily true. That’s why I think it’s important to be a science major when pursuing a career in scientific media– I want an understanding of the science before I try to teach it through film. That way, I can more easily create a video or film that accurately depicts and explains the science behind certain issues,” she said.

Coming from a conservative, small and impoverished community where there are more cows than people, Taylor experienced frustration before leaving for Colgate because, as a more liberal-minded person, she could not understand some of the perspectives people had. “But after I left, I started to see my privileges I wasn’t aware of before and appreciate my people so much more. I now realize it’s less about wanting people who disagree with me to see things my way, but more about trying to open up communication, making sure people are heard on both sides and making resources available to learn from each other. That’s where film comes in—film is an attainable and accessible resource that I can use to do that,” she said.

Among all her jumps during cheerleading practice, Taylor once almost fell onto the ground, yet she was laughing loudly when she opened her eyes and got up for the next routine. Taylor is both independent from and dependent on her team and community. When I asked her to describe herself in three words, she thought really hard for a while . Finally she broke into laughter, and I could’t help laughing with her. Isn’t everything as simple and as complex as that?


XYZ with Q 6: Pudge Wars with Caio Brighenti ’20

By Quanzhi Guo on September 15, 2016

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It’s been a long while and XYZ with Q (and Q) is back!

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 played a video game called Pudge Wars with Benton freshman Caio Brighenti ’20.


Almost every guy I know has played Dota or Warcraft at some point of life, and Caio Brighenti ’20 from Brazil is no exception. However, he did not just play it, but also modified it into a full-fledged mod game—Pudge Warsthat has been downloaded for 4,038,232 times.

Caio’s Pudge Wars is a mod of Dota 2 created by Valve Company. A mod is a custom game where new features, monsters, levels can be added to existing game. For example, Dota 2 is a recreation of DoTa by Valve, while DoTa is a mod of the popular Warcraft 3 by Blizzard Entertainment.

During our interview at Caio’s dorm, Caio and I each controlled a team of 5 players on his dual-monitored computer. The two teams are separated by an uncrossable river, and the one who get 50 kills first wins.

In Caio’s game world, Pudges, which are pudgy monsters, fight wars and throw bloody “meat hooks” to the other side of the river and grab enemies to their side. The meat hook, which is the only spell in his game, can also be upgraded in terms of its damage, radius, distance, and speed. Oh, and with a grand slam of totem, the whole earth can be fissured. Isn’t that cool?

But what blew my mind more is that all these designs, interactions, and functions are developed from scratch by non-professional game developers during their free time; and this first-year guy beside me is the core member of those masterminds.

“We didn’t start off thinking that it would be a big project. I love Dota 2, so I wanted to make its mod so that I can play it and other people can play it,” Caio said.

When Caio was little, he always enjoyed playing video games. At 12, he started messing around with his sister’s game by adding different clothes and got really interested in programming.

So when, in December 2013, Caio received a message from another player asking him to join an internet chat group for a potential mod of Dota 2, he didn’t hesitate.

At that time, Dota 2 had not released any mod yet. Players were anxiously waiting, and some started to poke around in programming files. They found some rudimentary source code created by Valve, and ideas about a mod made from scratch soon ran amok. Caio decided to work with a likeminded gamer; and the duo later worked as team for thousands of hours to develop the new game.

As ideas collided and developed, the team also grew. Caio and his partner were project heads, but they had members from all around the world, including countries like Germany and Poland.

“It is all out of passion for the game and the power of community,” Caio said, “everyone was doing it for free using their own time. For example, the icons were custom made by a professional artist. All our source code is also available on the internet.”

Caio did about 40% of the coding for the game. He also handled outreach, like writing blogs, contacting people, and managing project teams. But to develop a game with the scale of Dota 2, there were definitely difficult times. “We started from basically nothing. We just first changed this and that to understand how everything works. Sometimes I would stay up till 5 am to work with the New Zealand guy because of all the different time zones, then sleep till 7 am and go to school,” Caio recalled.

“Many people get frustrated very easily, but I don’t look at difficulties as frustrations. Just motivational challenges,” Caio said.

His efforts paid off. After a year and a half, Pudge Wars was released to players. Caio can still recall the day Valve released its official Dota 2 mod trailer in 2015. “I started screaming when I saw the video because our game was featured,” he said. “It started off as a little fun thing, but got big enough for Valve, a billion dollar company, to make a teaser video about it!”

Today, Pudge Wars is an official mod game on Valve’s website and the most well-known mod. Best of all, it’s free of charge. “Making money, that’s not the whole point of it,” Caio said.

Perhaps Caio’s incredible adaptability and maturity have something to do with his globe-crossing childhood. Originally born in São Paulo, Brazil, he moved to Michigan at age seven. Then it was back to to Santos, Brazil and Buenos Aires, Argentina—before he came to Colgate.

“I’ve been through so many moves, so many goodbyes, so I am not worried about going to new places any more. Because I have done it so many times, I thought new challenges as adventures,” Caio said.

As our mouses clicked fast and keyboards knocked furiously, a new game awaits.

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