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TBS Abroad Week 5: Bicycles

By Emily Weaver on March 7, 2018

Week 5: Bicycles

People use them for exercise, recreational activities, and transport. Bikes can be found all over the US – children ride them around cul-de-sacs and city-dwellers ride them to work. They range in size, color, and design, but they all serve the purpose of transporting someone from one place to another. What is the bike-culture like in the place you’re staying? Are bikes used more regularly than other types of transport? Are there designated bike lanes on the roads or are the bikers mixed in with other traffic? Are there certain places where you are more likely to see bicycles than others? Since you’ve been abroad have you been on any bike rides?


Micah Dirkers

The city of Edinburgh (and my guess is that this would generalize to other UK cities) had a present culture surrounding bikes. As one of the most travel-friendly and bicycle-friendly cities in the UK (though still not on the level of Denmark or the Netherlands), many of the city’s residents and tourists use these two wheels as their preferred mode of transportation—culminating in  Cyclefest, the ten-day Edinburgh Festival of Cycling. One can witness cyclers pretty much everywhere in the city at most times of the day: workers used bikes to travel to work, students cycled to classes, and even Deliveroo employees used bicycles to deliver hot meals from nearby restaurants. Cycling is typically preferred by many, simply because it is much easier and much faster to get around, particularly for shorter distances. Given how Edinburgh is built on many hills, it easy to gain downward momentum that will carry you far, regardless of what type of bike you use. As far as I saw, there was no distinction between mountain bike and city bike, since most of the bikes looked fairly normal. As such, many of the bicycles were standard, rigid, two-wheel devices, which were not allowed indoors or on trains, but a growing number of people also used foldable bikes, which were allowed indoors and on trains. It wouldn’t matter if you did not own a bike, because rentable and loanable bicycles were readily available for a number of companies. Coupled with the environmental awareness that is also present in the UK, the culture around cycling was one of sustainability, mobility, and accessibility.

While there is, indeed, a distinct culture of cycling in Edinburgh, not all people buy into and approve of this culture. While a fair amount of the city has designated cycling lanes, these spaces are not found everywhere; hence, cyclists sometimes compete with motorists for space on the road. This can frustrate motorists, especially if a cycler is traveling slowing or attempting to maneuver dangerously through moving (or paused) traffic. Not only did motorists compete with cyclists, but there were also trams, busses, and trains that would occupy road space, especially as one moved closer to the city center. This was especially true on the cobblestone streets, where cars had a marked advantage, as cycling on cobblestone can be dangerous and rattling. Some cyclers tried to avoid both the traffic and the cobblestone by cycling on the pavement and designated walkways, but such action is illegal, as bicycles were basically treated as cars, and such instances were few and far between. Indeed, cycling is popular, but it is not without its challenges.

During our orientation’s safety section, we learned from a representative from Police Scotland more about these challenges regarding cycling in Edinburgh. We covered how one is basically free to travel on any road by bicycle—even those which are closed to vehicular traffic—but that all roads may not be maintained equally with traffic controls or pavement quality. Thus, all cyclists are encouraged to motion with their hands where they will be turning to provide clear information to other drivers, to wear at least a helmet if not other protective gear, and to be equipped with sufficient reflectors for safety. When storing the bike, t-locks were recommended, as those were the type of locks least prone to being sawed or sliced open. Indeed, cycling, we learned, is not without hazards, as the bike wheels can get stuck in tram or train tracks, resulting in injured riders and crumpled bicycles. Bicycle theft was actually the largest type of crime occurring in the city, according to the Police Scotland officer who conducted the presentation. A bicycle storehouse was situated outside our dorm, and even our residence staff encouraged us to keep our bikes locked safely. Having covered safety, he encouraged us to ride our bikes for ease of travel and accessibility. So while I did not personally use any bicycles to navigate the city, as I relied mainly on walking or riding buses, it was refreshing to see a culture, laws, and funding in support of an active use of bicycles in a modern city—something that is not always visible in many cities in the United States.


Jenny Lundt

Bikes were a huge part of my study abroad experience… but not normal bikes… motorbikes. It is impossible to miss them even upon the first second of leaving the airport. Motorbikes swarm the city like little buzzing insects, darting through the heavily congested streets and clouds of dust. Kathmandu is a city that is dominated by motorbikes through every muddy road, pot hole, and endless construction roadblocks. It is estimated that ¾ motor vehicles on the road are motorbikes. A lot of roads in Nepal do not have lane lines on them, so it is anybody’s guess as to how to navigate them. Death defying feats of motorbikes zooming through lines to pass the traffic were things I witnessed every day.

The bikes were also was a symbol of masculinity for my host brother as he was always gossiping with me about which boy in our neighborhood had which bike with what engine power. There are a large variety of bikes from the small ones that were lovingly referred to as “scooties” to large motor powered Royal Enfields. Tenzin tried to get me to help him at every dinner to convince our Pala that they needed to buy a motorbike for the family. He was the one to take me on my first ride during my semester as he raced my friend Nick and I up and down our street, flying past all of our neighbors.

I even received the opportunity (don’t tell my program please, this was very against the rules) to go on a motorbike trip to the Himalayas. My friend and I started in Pokhara and then drove 7 hours through the mountains to the hot spring village of Tatopani in the Sindhupalchok district. I will never forget the exhilaration of driving through bumpy, dusty roads just barely carved out on the side of a mountain. We drove through the deepest gorge in the world, through forests, through a funeral procession, and through a river where my shoes got absolutely soaked. The roaring sound of the wind and the rev of the engine as we ascended up and up into the clouds was one of the most empowering and freeing moments of my life. For the next few weeks, I had the opportunity to travel to a number of villages on the back of a bike, making so many dreams come true.

I took one pedal bike trip while I was in Nepal and that was in the lake town of Pokhara with 3 of my friends. We biked out of the main city and into the fields and villages surrounding it to watch the sunset. It was truly a wonderful day.

  • Jenny's Homestay Brother, Tenzin


Oneida Shushe

I’m so impressed with Geneva. As I’m writing this, I’m looking out my window and I see cars, motorcycles, pedestrians, buses, and bikers passing by. The city also has trams and, of course, trains, but trains don’t really pass on the same paths as these other modes of transportation. Last weekend, my friends also saw someone skiing down the sidewalk because it snowed a few inches here. In a busy intersection toward the center of Geneva, these modes of transportation come together for nothing short of a miracle in Swiss civil engineering. With clear traffic signals and designated lanes, everything runs mostly smoothly.

While I haven’t done it yet, I look forward to biking along Lac Léman, also known as Lake Geneva, at some point this semester. Because using a bike isn’t built into the road planning or culture of my community back home, I haven’t ridden a bike in a long time. But here in Geneva, bikes are everywhere! There are bike racks in front of super markets, by the train station, and most places if you look for them.

Riding a bike is efficient in a city because most people’s commutes or errand runs are a fitting distance away, but it’s also good for health. The 8th priority in the Shanghai Consensus on Health Cities 2016 is “design our cities to promote sustainable urban mobility” through, for example, “active transport infrastructure” like bike lanes and related planning. In this way, people can exercise without even realizing it! Recognizing the importance of health factors in city planning, I hope that more cities in the US and across the world will promote a healthy bike culture.

Bike rack next to the University of Geneva


TBS Abroad Week 4: Memorials

By Emily Weaver on February 28, 2018

Week 4: Memorials

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is a chilling reminder of the Holocaust . Located in the center of Berlin its towering stone slabs and narrow pathways work to make you feel isolated and disoriented. It’s a reminder of the horrors that have taken place in Germany. It is also a way to never forget.Memory has a way of acting on a community. It makes people feel connected with those in the past or pride in where they’ve come from. We are made to never forget our triumphs, downfalls, or losses. Whatever their purpose memorials and monuments are created to convey a certain collective feeling and memory. Have the monuments you’ve seen since you have been away been chilling and somber or have they conveyed a sense of triumph in your country. Maybe they’ve conveyed a calm sorrow as as the Belgian countryside does, dotted with cemeteries full of soldiers lost in World War I. Each country is unique in how they represent their past. Tell us about the memorials you have seen. How did they make you feel? How did those who came to visit act while they were there. Was remembrance of an event limited to monument or could you feel it reverberating throughout the community, even years after it occurred?

Oneida Shushe

I left my room on a cold, windy Sunday morning to take a picture of the Reformation Wall in the Parc des Bastions for this blog. The wall features four tall men carved into a wall. One of them is John Calvin, the leader of the Protestant Reformation movement in the 16th century. Calvin continued what Martin Luther started with the Reformation. He ruled over Geneva and punished people if their religious beliefs did not match his. I didn’t know that this historical event happened in the very city in which I’m studying, so I’m glad the monument taught me this.

Even though it was still icy-cold, I looked around the park a little bit more. I saw busts of men in suits raised off the ground in columns. Then I remembered that there are busts of men in the same style just inside the University of Geneva next door. There are so many important people Geneva wants to remember—these guys basically had their own mini monuments—and they are all men. There is a statue of a woman in its own section of the park a few steps away: she is sitting on a slab naked. These statues represent the historical and ever-present inequality between men and women. Thankfully, this problem is receiving more and more attention—including at my internship at the World Health Organization, where the Director-General is calling for more representation of women in the organization. Maybe over the years, monuments in Geneva and across the world won’t be just men in suits, religious clothing, and battle gear. Maybe in the future, a young female student will leave Parc des Bastions inspired by statues of other women who came before her, so that enduring the numbing cold on a Sunday morning would be worth it.

  • Reformation Wall, Parc de Bastions (Geneva, Switzerland)
  • Parc de Bastions (Geneva, Switzerland)


Micah Dirkers

When you think about the role that memorials play in honoring history, tradition, or the fallen, you often think of a formally dedicated space or structure that commemorates the aforementioned; yet does a memorial or monument always have to be formally dedicated as such in order to achieve its aim? My answer would be yes and no; here is what I mean:

Yes, in the sense that there does need to be some physical landmark, monument, or memorial that is built, designed, and advertised to be remembered in a historically significant way. This memorial functions as the embodiment of a story, of information, and of people—who was there, what happened, why did it happen. As far as I saw in Scotland, there were very few formal memorials that dedicated a particular space to recount a downfall or triumph; yet there were a few that I did see (and I speculate that there were many more that I did not see). Indeed, they were “memorialified” by surrounding information signs, placards, boundaries of reverence, and tour guides who had learned the history and who would pass it on to spectators. There was always a sense of reverence and mystery about these memorials, as one could not step on or touch certain areas of the memorial. One notable example was Alnwick Castle, famously known for its use as the castle featured in the first two Harry Potter movies. There were information signs and pamphlets detailing the history of the space, as chiefly a residence for a noble family, but the castle also functioned as a stronghold during the War of the Roses. Spectators were forbidden from gaining access to the family’s private spaces, and instead, they were allocated to publicly commemorated spaces. In such commemorated spaces, it seemed as if the spectator is meant to feel some connection to the past, facilitated by the posted information and tour guides, as if they were trying to convey the event that occurred in the past to have effect on the viewer today. Perhaps that experience is easier for citizens of Scotland to have, but as an exchange student, I can say that I did not feel deeply connected to the few formal memorials I witnessed abroad.

Complimenting what I wrote above, I would also respond no, in the sense that there are many nontraditional memorials other than specifically dedicated spaces that you would not think of as memorials. To elaborate, for example, around many locations in Scotland and in Edinburgh, there were “memorials” in the forms of regular churches, contemporary houses, Highland hills, Scottish fields, statues, parts of a city street, and more, but you would not have known that they were memorials just by looking at them. These were the majority of the memorials that I witness abroad, and interestingly, I felt more connected to these memorials than the formal ones, perhaps because I had to use to use my imagination to “memorialify” them for my own experience. I only knew of their historical significance through stories passed on by people (though in a colloquial way, not from a tour guide). For instance, during my homestay with a Scottish family, their small country house which appeared perfectly normal on the exterior was the location where the plan to defame and execute Sir Thomas More was hatched (although there were other locations too). For my experience, that information did not fundamentally change the way that I experienced the homestay; yet without the typical, external information telling me what to remember, I found myself imagining what the space must have been like at the time: what did the conspirators say, what did they have for dinner, was anyone else aware of the meeting, how did the plan hatch, and more. While it was interesting the imagine this, it did not creep me out or negatively impact my stay with the family, but it did remind me of the potential for a “normal” space to function as a memorial, even if not formally commemorated.

In this way, the city of Edinburgh, the nation of Scotland, and everything during my experience abroad were a type of “memorial” which represented a culmination of historical happenings into what we know call the present. While I can not say that the few formal memorials I witnessed impacted me abroad, it was engaging to imagine how many of the not-so-formal memorials conveyed a historical message, without being specifically designated as memorial. Thus, I can say, undoubtedly, that the experience of going abroad is a “memorial” which will reverberate throughout my life as a positive experience even years after it occurred.

Jenny Lundt

Monuments in Nepal are not as how you would think about them in Europe or the US with neat cemeteries lining the countryside or giant metal statues of past rulers. Throughout my journeys in Nepal, I found that the way people pay homage to the past are through temples, monasteries, shrines, tombs, and places of worship. One of our excursions with the program was to Namo Buddha monastery, about 2 hours outside Kathmandu. The monastery sits on top of an elevated hill which provides sweeping panoramic views of the hills in all directions. Though it has captivating views, it is much more than simply a beautiful place. This place is one of the holiest places of Buddhist worship in the world.

According to the creation story, thousands of years ago, a prince stumbled across a tigress and her 5 cubs on the verge of starvation on the fringes of the jungle. Noticing how her cubs were dependent on her for life in the form of the non existent milk, the prince decided to complete a true act of compassion and give his body to the tigress to save her life. As the tigress fed on the sacrifice, she left the prince’s bones which eventually were buried on the hill that later became the holy monument. The sacrifice and pure display of generosity is important because it explained how this trait of the Buddha was exemplified. In 1978, Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche founded a monastery that has grown tremendously. An additional Temple was opened in December of 2008. We stayed in the monastery guest house for 4 days during my semester, which was an incredible experience. We ate every meal in the dining hall alongside hundreds of monks. We were served dhal bhat (rice and lentils) by young men with massive industrial size pots and pans while we sat amongst their peers, shoeless and silent. During the time we were there, we had lots of conversations about what monastic life was like for them, especially in such a holy site of worship. We went on guided tours where all of the symbolism of intricate wall paintings and statues throughout the massive complex of monasteries.

Additionally, I would be remiss in not mentioned Tibetan prayer flags and their role in society as we talk about representation and memory. Most people are probably familiar with the strings of multi color fabric squares, but it is such a ubiquitous part of Buddhist life in Nepal that it is important to talk about their significance. The Tibetan word for prayer flag is Dar Cho. “Dar” is to increase life,fortune, health and wealth and “Cho” translates to “all sentient beings”. Each color stands for a different element- White is air, red is fire, green is water, yellow is earth, and blue is wind. They each have a mantra on them that goes “Om Mani Padme Hum” that is a collection of values that have significance when repeated as a chain. The flags are supposed to be put up with unselfish intentions with general wishes to carry peace and compassion to all living beings. They were ubiquitous parts of my study abroad. In Humla, in Kathmandu, in Mustang, in Namo Buddha. They are an important part of Buddhist culture.

  • Namo Buddha Monastery, Nepal
  • Namo Buddha Monastery, Nepal
  • Namo Buddha Monastery, Nepal
  • Tibetan Prayer Flags
  • Tibetan Prayer Flags

TBS Abroad Week 3: Smart Phones

By Emily Weaver on February 21, 2018

Week 3: Smart Phones

In the United States, it’s not unusual to see smartphones everywhere. Teachers use them for interactive activities, the person you pass by on the street is calling their mom, kids play games on them, and people take breathtaking photos with them. For better or for worse – they’re all around us. As you’ve been abroad and adapted to a new culture, several pieces of your life have inevitably changed. Have you noticed a change in how people use their smartphones? Are they as common in the place you’ve chosen to study as they are in the States? If so, is there a different etiquette when it comes to using smartphones? Are you using your phone more or less than you were at home? Why? Have you taken any pictures with your phone that you think are particularly fascinating? Tell us about your experience with phones since you’ve been away.

Oneida Shushe

Like in the spaces I inhabit in the US, I see smartphones everywhere in Geneva. Smartphones are the only kind of phones here (is there even another kind?) One difference between the spaces I occupy in the US and those here in Geneva is that there are more iPhones in the US. Here, I have seen more non-iPhone smartphones.

One of my favorite functions of smartphones is the camera. On a hike up Mont Salève, we stopped a few times to take pictures. I’ve included a picture I took of a dog, and you can see a classmate had the same idea! The phone stands out from the earthy background because of its perfect shape and shiny surface, but it also blends in as the tree branches are mirrored onto its touchscreen.

Initially, I think that iPhones don’t really belong in nature because going on a hike is a break from the hectic, modern, digital world that smartphones represent. Then, I’m reminded that using these devices the right way can actually enhance an experience in nature. Taking pictures helps me remember, and memory is an important part of who we are, so I’m thankful for this function on my phone. I’m grateful for all the memories I’m making abroad and that I can capture them—in nature and elsewhere—to relive this time in my life once it’s passed.

Picture from Oneida’s hike up Mont Salève


Jenny Lundt

I had a very interesting relationship with phones during my time abroad. As American phone providers lock iphones so foreign sims cannot be entered, my program gave me a water damaged burner phone for the duration of my time. To say flip phone was generous, because it certainly did not flip, and was essentially a fat rectangle with buttons. I also did not have wifi in my homestay and my smartphone (used as an ipod/ camera) was unable to connect to the program house’s wifi. As a result, I remained pretty disconnected with life outside of my immediate circle there. I NEVER  was able to check Snapchat, and only Facebook and Instagram occasionally. However, it allowed me to not have FOMO as I simply didn’t care what was happening at Colgate. Friday nights were passed with peace without being curious to which party or social gathering back in Hamilton I was missing out on. I developed strong relationships with the students on my program and especially my host family. After my 7:30 curfew each night, I came inside to play cards or make silly videos with Tenzin. I went to sleep no later than 9pm and woke up everyday feeling fresh and appreciative of the people and places around me. It was certainly a positive for my mental health, and often find myself wishing for that inner peace that it brought me.

The day of the Las Vegas shooting, we were in rural Humla, the most undeveloped district of Nepal in the upper Western corner of the country. We heard through another person on the program who had received information that there was a shooting in Las Vegas and it was the largest in history. That was all we had. I remember stumbling out of the wood house to sit on a smooth rock outside where I had to remember the long set of numbers to punch in before my mom’s number. I was sitting out there hysterically feeling so disconnected and unable to get more information, even though I was desperate to know if anyone I knew or loved had been affected. Through a lot of rings and the eventual 8 second lag, my mom finally picked up and was able to tell me through extremely spotty coverage that everyone was okay. I ran back to the homestay in the mountains where the family and the 3 other students on my program who were staying there were having dinner. I managed to choke out the news, when a fellow student on the program started having a panic attack. Her sister and her boyfriend were staying in Las Vegas attending the country festival that the shooting happened at. The rest of the night was a blur of emotions. My classmate was unable to reach her family as the service in the area cut out. We all huddled together on the blanket that was laid out for us to sleep and cried softly trying to support our friend and the uncertainty that was rampant in the situation. The next morning, she learned that everyone was okay, thankfully, but I will never forget the emotions of laying together in a shrine room in a village with a population of around 100, unable to reach our loved ones back in the US.

Jenny and her homestay brother Tenzin


Micah Dirkers

“Wherever you go, there you are” is a slogan that has captured many in the field of mindfulness meditation. For this discussion regarding phones, however, I think modifying that quote to something such as, “Wherever you go, there goes your phone also” would be more fitting. People today are taking their phones everywhere—even into places where phones have not traditionally been taken (at the dinner table, underwater, etc). Nevertheless, my phone was with me everywhere during my travels: it served as a resource for personal health data, a vault for payment information, a library for academic information, a navigator to find my way, a photographer to document my travels, and a consultant for safety instruction. It would be an understatement to say that I relied heavily on my phone during my travels, but traveling abroad in Scotland did result in some changes to my phone usage.

Given the above, I can say with certainty that I did not use my phone overall as much as I usually do back in the United States. Perhaps that can be explained by the fact that I was in a different social sphere where I simply was not involved in the activities of which I usually am a part. While I did use my phone to communicate with people in Scotland and back home, the communication was less frequent than it is at home, since I was not around my normal crew. Practically, I was also using a lot of time to see the city of Edinburgh and the nation of Scotland, sample different restaurants, go to the gym, and, of course attend various classes. So even though I was abroad, it is not like my phone habits, or the phone habits of the Scottish people, were significantly different abroad compared to home.

Also with certainty, I can also say that there were, perhaps, two key areas in which I used my phone much more than I would normally, even if—overall—I was using my phone to a lesser degree. The first of those areas was photography: when I was abroad, I wanted to document all my travels with photographic evidence. Given the general ease of classes, I had much time to explore Scotland and build an album of my adventures. One picture from that album is featured below (captured on iPhone SE) which features what was my most pleasant journey to Scotland’s Isle of Skye. The photo was taken around sunset, as we were hiking deep into the mountains where we reached these series of pools of water, referred to as the fairy pools. These are large pools of water are rumored to be a haven for fairies. While I cannot say I witnessed any of those on my trip, I did manage to maneuver into one of the pools without getting wet and capture a rather beautiful picture of the Scottish sunset (featured below).

Fairy Pools at Scotland’s Isle of Skye

The second of those areas in which I used my phone more was navigation: being in a foreign country and traveling to different areas within that country as a foreigner naturally means that you do not know the area. Particularly on trips, I would consult my phone for navigational advice to ensure I knew (basically) where I was going and what I was doing, and in the city of Edinburgh, I would often use a bus app to chart the best route through the city for the best rate. While I had a practical use for my phone, I did not want to rely on my phone so much so that it became a buffer, a mediator, between myself and my abroad experience. So while I did use my phone for photography and navigation much more than I normally would at home, my overall phone usage was less than normal because of a different environment. This change helped me to get a healthy distance from that pocket-sized electronic stimulation dispenser and many other things as well, which going abroad can undoubtedly facilitate in a myriad of ways.

TBS Abroad Week 2: Street Food

By Emily Weaver on February 14, 2018

Week 2: Street Food

Food is an integral part of any culture. It brings people together and can be a defining characteristic within a society. While fancy restaurants are nice, and home cooked meals are even better, there is something satisfying about finding a vendor on the street selling a local delicacy or cuisine from around the world. Most places have street vendors, even Hamilton, NY if you wander around in the summer. Tell us about your experiences with street food while you’ve been away. Did you find any foods that surprised you? Did anything remind you of home? Did you push yourself to try something new that seemed interesting? Where were these vendors that you saw?

Oneida Shushe

Even though it’s winter, I have seen many outdoor markets in the Geneva area in the past month. I’ve shopped at a small, impromptu-looking Saturday morning fruit and vegetable market by the train station. The setup felt “authentic”, with the farmers who come mainly from France standing behind their products. This small farmer’s market and all its colorful produce stood out from the rest of the shops in the area as the only case where the sellers could also be the farmers or producers.

My friends and I also crossed over the border into France for a larger outdoor market selling food and clothes. Though I liked the lunch and produce I bought there, my mindset toward the market changed when my friend pointed out the supermarket stickers on a box of oranges. I think I had previously assumed that whenever food products are sold in an outdoor market, the people selling them must have also grown or made them. The Ferney-Voltaire market taught me that this is not always the case.

At an open public space here in Geneva, there are flea markets and farmers’ markets throughout the week. As I gain more confidence in my French, I hope to start conversations with the sellers. Instead of trying to guess from the other side of our language barrier, I can ask them about the origins of the products they’re selling.

As a side note, when I was younger I thought there were only two variations of cheese: feta, and a hard yellow cheese called kaçkavall. Then, I saw that there were so many other types out there! Since Switzerland is known for its cheese, my goal is to try different regional cheeses and find a new one that I really like. I’ll keep you posted!

Image Captured by Olivia Haskell ’19


Jenny Lundt

I definitely was expecting a lot more street food in Nepal than there actually was. However, there was one noticeable food that I found throughout my travels in Nepal from Pokhara to the Gorkha District to my street in Boudha. All around town are the carts with big glass containers that are filled with round puff looking things. My first experience with it was upon my arrival to my host family’s house. On one of our daily walks around the stupa, my amala and Tenzin took me to a cart where the person making them just kept piling them on a plate. It was a race against time to finish the one snack before the next one was made. It had a surprising taste that was both sweet, spicy, and salty all at the same time. The snack is made from a puri (a hollow fried crisp) and filled with a mix of flavored water, tamarind sauce, chili, potato, onion, chaat masala, and chickpea.

A few days later on another daily walk, I asked Amala when we could get some more “ani oori”. Much to my surprise she yelped loudly and quickly pulled me away where her and Tenzin (my host brother) erupted in laughter. They proceeded to tell me that Ani oori means “the shaved nun”, and I had accidentally just offended the large pack of nuns that were in front of us. Oops.

In Delhi after my program in Nepal ended, I spent the day with a friend from high school where he showed me all of his favorite street food spots in the old part of the city. I don’t think I have ever been as full as I was that day as we navigated through the barreling traffic to altering sweet, salty, and spicy snacks. It could have been the best food day of my life! Thanks Angud for the tour.


Micah Dirkers

Street food? Ay lad, there was really no such thing as street food in Edinburgh (read the preceding statement in traditional Scottish accent, please), especially as winter dawned and the hours of daylight shortened. While I was not in Scotland during the spring and summer, I predict that street vendors would have been much more common there, especially during the Edinburgh festival (as indicated here: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-scotland-business-39860582); yet in the fall and in the chilly winter, impending darkness, northern rains, and snow dustings did not provide a welcoming or profitable environment for most street vendors.

That said, there did exist one location where bustling street vendors gathered and profited—the main campus of the University of Edinburgh at George Square. Naturally, this location was modeled after the shape of a square, with gardens situated in the center and academic buildings lining the periphery. At each corner of this square, two to three vendors situated themselves and employed music, signage, and odor to market their goods to students. Among these vendors were those who served coffee-related drinks (black coffee, cappuccinos, lattes, etc), soup-related appetizers, a variety of sandwiches, and fast-food related “meals,” including hot dogs, burgers, fries, and soft drinks. While these vendors made an effort to entice me, I did not sample any of their products. Thus, this was a similar experience to home in Montana, where seeing a spontaneous street vendor (weekly farmer’s markets aside) was as unlikely as seeing one in the area of Edinburgh that I was in (George Square aside).

While my experience with street food was limited, there were other types of (Scottish) cuisine which I sampled at various restaurants and shops. For example, Indian cuisine has a special place in my diet, so about every week, I ventured into a novel Indian restaurant to sample the food, often ordering a similar dish so I could compare differences in taste, texture, and arrangement. A traditional Scottish delicacy which I had the opportunity to consume was Haggis, a Scottish dish consisting of a sheep’s or calf’s intestine mixed with suet, oatmeal, and seasoning and boiled in a bag, traditionally one made from the animal’s stomach. While the conceptual impression of eating this food at first was foreign, I quickly appreciated the rich flavor and delicate smoothness of this dish.

Finally, there were a number trends I observed between food at the grocery stores in Scotland and cuisine at grocery stores in the United States. For example, stores in the United States typically have more detailed labels; something such as “raisin bread” here would be referred to as “fruit loaf,” leaving the consumer to wonder, “Okay, but what type of fruit is in the loaf?” Furthermore, “Caesar dressing” here was referred to as “table sauce” there, leaving the buyer to ponder, “Okay, but what is the actual flavor of this condiment?” The portions in the marketplaces in Scotland were also noticeable smaller, encouraging people to consume less, reflecting the Scottish and EU values of environmental awareness. This was showcased to a further degree by the practice of most stores to charge for using plastic bags, whereas those very thin but weirdly strong bags here are available without restriction. Thus, while the food storage and labeling practices did differ between the United States and Scotland, most of the food items themselves—whether from a scarce street vendor or a marketplace—were quite similar to what a consumer might find in the United States.

TBS Abroad Week 1: Crowds

By Emily Weaver on February 7, 2018

Week 1: Crowds

We often think of crowds as an indication of busyness, but crowds can also tell us something deeper about the culture that they are in. Celebrations, rallies, tourism and memorials are all situations in which people gather beyond the normal hustle and bustle of everyday life. Tell us about the crowds you’ve seen since you’ve been abroad. Where have you seen people gather? Why are they gathering? How big are the crowds? What is the atmosphere like? Is it different from the crowds you’ve experienced either in your hometown or in Hamilton? Is it the same? Tell us your take on what you’ve experienced.

Oneida Shushe

I have been abroad for about a month. From my home base in Geneva, Switzerland, I’ve traveled to Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. I normally think of crowds gathering outside, but it’s winter, so most gatherings I’ve seen in these cities have been indoors.

In Paris, a crowd swarmed around the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. I asked for directions on how to get to the Mona Lisa (the Louvre is huge, I couldn’t just stumble upon it). As I neared the room in which the painting is displayed, I heard the tourists before I saw them. The crowd was concentrated in front of the painting, with many tourists taking pictures of it, or taking pictures of themselves with it in the background. The acclaim of the work—and a desire to connect to its greatness—drew a crowd.

In Amsterdam, restaurants were so packed at lunchtime that we barely found a place to sit and enjoy a meal. Winter in Amsterdam didn’t feel like winter in Hamilton, NY. Because it was warmer, people gathered outside too. In this picture, you can see a crowd of kids and me (or perhaps more accurately, including me). The woman wearing a scarf—an artist of sorts—was forming bubbles in a busy square. Again, passers-by came closer to experience this childish and pure scene. The simplicity and serenity of watching bubbles float was a welcomed break from the frenzy of a city.

Micah Dirkers

Socialization is a profound human need, recognized famously by Maslow in 1943, and one fundamental way in which people meet this need is through their participation in groups and crowds. While this need is fundamental, the way the individual joins and participates in crowds vary substantially with respect to one’s culture, upbringing, and identity. For myself, crowds at home in the States (and at Colgate) were focal points of collective interest, and one great example of this is the many foreign tourists in Yellowstone National Park who create a vehicular traffic jam at the sight of a moose or grizzly at the side of the road. Indeed, this is a rather rural setting, but during my time abroad in Edinburgh, I witnessed this same basic property of crowds expressed through an urban setting and a different national context.

In Scotland, particularly in the city of Edinburgh, crowds of various sizes congregated at various shops, streets, sites, and monuments, including Princes Street (where all the major retailers have their stores), Arthur’s Seat (a large hill overlooking the city), Saint Giles Cathedral (a religious and historical site). It would be a significant omission not to mention here that probably the most frequent place people gathered were the staggering number of pubs and bars which are situated throughout Edinburgh. They would range in size from three people (three’s a crowd, yeah?) having tea to many tens or hundreds of people touring through the busy city. The atmosphere varied, but it was typically one of enjoyment, and sometimes, curiosity. And this was not fundamentally different from any of the crowds at Colgate or at home, but then again, I was in a predominantly white, western European nation with customs very similar to home, so I suspect I would have encountered more variation had I gone to another part of the world.

Nevertheless, during my time abroad, I also saw crowds with common and differing makeups. Interestingly, these crowds, regardless of location, didn’t always have to be a group of people at one given place at one given time, even though many often are. In other words, I observed that there were crowds composed of many similar individuals who engaged in different activities, such as a group of roommates who would go to school, to the library, and to the bar afterwards. Conversely, there were crowds composed of many unrelated people who came from different places but who all engaged in a common activity. For example, one could observe a gym crowd that exercised on certain days and at specific times, and even though they were not one coherent group who knew each other, they still shared certain behavioral tendencies. Consequently, while there were superficial differences in the crowds that I observed abroad compared to the crowds I have observed at home, each crowd in some way connected the individual to something larger than their individual selves.

Jenny Lundt

First arriving in Kathmandu, I was overwhelmed about the bustle of the city.  We were all wide eyed entering the city after departing our peaceful orientation days in Buddhist Pharping. The ever-present cacophony of car horns, cows blocking the roads, and the hordes of motorbikes swarming our bus was a lot to take in. In our arrival packages, we were given masks and warned about the the amount of dust and general air pollution in the air. As we embarked on this 1.5 hour drive, we were all looking at each other trying to internalize all of these new sights and sounds that we would call home. Our bus came to a sudden stop on a very busy street. We all got out with our backpacks incredibly wide eyed. We shot each other glances like “is this really our new home??”

It wasn’t until we entered an intricately delicate gate off the main street that all of our hearts began to soar with happiness. Inside, was the Boudhanath Stupa, a place that we would call home for the next 3.5 months. Boudha Stupa is an area for a different kind of crowd. This massive mandala is the most important Tibetan Buddhism figure outside of Tibet, and you can feel the importance in the air. Each day starting at 4 am, thousands of pilgrims flock to the stupa to complete koras (the Tibetan word for circumambulation. The air is brimming with the chants of monks and the pungent smell of incense. The stupa would become to be the most important place for the 19 people in my program throughout the program as well. My walk to and from class every morning was walking clockwise with the masses. We spent hours on rooftops watching the thousands of koraers and hearing the sounds of prayer wheels in the air with the Himalayas in the background.

The Benton Scholars Abroad: 2018

By Emily Weaver on January 31, 2018

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 Nepal to Switzerland to Scotland. Their profiles below:

Micah Dirkers

Micah is a Benton from Montana who is majoring in media and communication, with a minor in psychology! During the fall of 2017, he studied abroad at the University of Edinburgh, and now he is back at Colgate with renewed passion. He looks forward to engaging with the TBS: Abroad topics from an innovative and novel perspective!

Jenny Lundt

Jenny Lundt is a junior Peace and Conflict and Middle Eastern Studies double major from Boise, Idaho. However she now lives in Santa Barbara, Southern California where she enjoys long days on the beach, chess, and spending time with her four brothers. She is an avid traveler having been to 71 countries on 6 continents, and is trying to hit all of them before she turns 35. Fall 2017, her travels took her to Nepal with the SIT program where she completed a semester with classes on Tibetan politics and religious change in the Himalayas. During her 3.5 months, she was able to travel to a number of incredible, life changing places that she looks forward to sharing with you! When the semester ended, she put a cherry on top of visiting Delhi, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. This series will most definitely involve a helicopter ride to the Tibetan border, an extravagant Bengali wedding, a Justin Bieber loving host brother named Tenzin, a communist rally, and significant allusions to squat toilets.

Oneida Shushe

Oneida is a junior Molecular Biology major from Albany, NY. She grew up in Albania and loves returning to see the rest of her family there whenever she gets the chance. She wants to become a dentist and promote oral health in the United States and Albania. This spring semester, she will be studying international relations and interning in Geneva, Switzerland. She looks forward to reflecting on her study abroad experiences in this blog!

TBS Abroad Week 10: Favorite Place

By mkeller on April 23, 2017

Week 10 Prompt: Favorite Place 

FAVORITE PLACE — You’ve already spent a few months abroad. This week, take a picture of one place you’ll miss most—a park, a bookshop, a cafe—after you come home. And explain what makes you feel “at home” there. 

Sabrina Farmer 

Pictured is the landscape of the area known as the Cederberg where I did some biodiversity surveying. I enjoyed being surrounded by mountains again after being in the dry and flat savanna for so long. My friends and I would point at mountains in the distance and then hike up them to see what was on the other side. The views were breathtaking. Each night offered a different spectacular sunset. I would love to go back to the Cederberg and get permission to backpack through it. I could have spent the entire four months there exploring!

Ben Kelsey 

This is a picture of the Kamogawa river, between the Shijo shopping area and the historic Gion district in Kyoto. It’s a popular place to hang out when the weather’s nice, and it has been especially busy recently with the cherry blossom season. To me, this place represents a broader part of my experience in Japan, and one that I will definitely miss when I return to the U.S.: the feeling that there’s something exciting and new to be seen or done at any moment, that there might be something just around the corner waiting to be experienced. This is a feeling that I have had elsewhere, too, but the aspect that is unique to Japan is that it’s still with me after 3 months. I still feel as though every restaurant I go to is an exciting new opportunity to try something new, or to have an even better version of something I’ve already had. Of course, there are always more temples and shrines to visit, more museums to explore, and more touristy areas to take advantage of in Kyoto, but for me there’s a real sense here that something interesting could be found in even the most unsuspecting places. Just today, I was walking through a little residential area on my way to lunch, and I turned a corner thinking that I could make a left soon after. It turned out that I was wrong, and I had to walk a good ways down the road before I was able to return to my path, but I’m glad I did, because the road had schools on either side, and was lined with the last of this season’s cherry blossoms that swayed in the slight breeze and dusted with fallen pink petals. It was a cool enough experience that it was worth going out of my way to see it. That’s the kind of thing that feels as though it’s everywhere in Kyoto. The Kamogama river represents this feeling to me because I only recently found out about it, after almost three months in Kyoto, and it just goes to show that there’s always something else to be seen or done. Whether it’s a view, a shop, or a weird beverage, there just seems to be no end to Japan’s ability to serve up novelty.


TBS Abroad Week 9: Learning

By mkeller on April 14, 2017

Week 9 Prompt: Learning

LEARNING — Recent data from the Programme for International Student Assessment find students in China, Korea, and Japan scoring highest on competency assessments in mathematics, reading, and science. These results, and others like them, continue to fuel broad debates about school reform, the importance of education to the global economy, and the need to improve test scores in western countries. Meanwhile, a long line of scholars, theorists, and policy analysts, from Antonio Gramsci to Diane Ravitch, argue that “[t]he more we focus on tests, the more we kill creativity, ingenuity, and the ability to think differently. Students who think differently get lower scores. The more we focus on tests, the more we reward conformity and compliance, getting the right answer.” This week, consider the role education (broadly defined) plays in the culture surrounding you. Where, when, and how do people learn? Is schooling formalized, mandated by law? Are wealthy, “elite” members of society educated alongside the poor, or are they treated differently? Photograph a place you believe typifies learning in the country in which you live: a school building, a classroom, a mosque, a library, a riverbank, a public park, a car repair shop, etc.

Sabrina Farmer 

As most things, education and the definition of education changed in the different locations I travelled to across South Africa. Location one lived in, whether near a city or in a more rural location, completely changed and individual’s access to schools. The three South African women in my study group grew up in the suburbs of Johannesburg and attended WITS University. My South Africa professors attended Universities in either Cape Town or Johannesburg. This more westernized style of education and learning was challenged by the people we met and worked with in many of the national parks. Instead of attending universities, some professors grew up in the area and were experts on how that environment worked. One of our instructors, Philly, was a game guard (one of the people licensed to carry guns so we could walk around in areas with the Big 5 animals) and spoke all eleven South African national languages, was a bird and grass expert, and could tell you everything there was to know about the savanna ecosystem. Many of the formally trained scientists who would come in to the national parks to do research relied on his knowledge to do their work. University education is highly valued and access to it is very dependent on one’s financial capability, but in the fields of conservation the more field skilled individuals were crucial to success. Yet, even though their presence is crucial they do not receive the same benefits.  My time spent studying in South Africa was a combination of these two different learning styles. As a study group, we spent roughly half of our time in the classroom and half of it learning while in the field. Pictured here is my class standing around a tree discussing the dynamics between tree and grass growth in the savanna and Philly watching birds and helping us identify different species for a research project.

Andrew DeFrank 

I see students wherever I go during my days in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Whether blocks from the financial center of downtown, near the Casa Rosada and Plaza de Mayo, on the top floor of a public library near the University of Buenos Aires, or in the working-class neighborhood of Flores after a human rights organization visit, students are ever-present in this dense and well-populated city. 

From what we have learned and observed so far, education is very important in Argentina. Primary and secondary education is formalized and mandatory, and university education is either very cheap or free of charge for Argentines. Our often somewhat young professors for our courses on human rights and social movements care deeply about their academic work. Whenever we have a visiting professor, perhaps recently finished with their graduate school, they are delighted to present their own interests and work to our program.

In my own interpretation, education among young adults has taken such an important place in the minds of present-day Argentines at least in part because of infamous “disappearances” during the final military dictatorship in this country during the 1970s and early 1980s. Over 30,000 people were forcibly “disappeared,” or more specifically tortured and later murdered, by the military dictatorship. Most of these people were young university students or professors, often targeted for their intellectual ideas that ran counter to the conservative and staunchly anti-communist values of the dictatorship. After we visited a former secret detention center, once hidden in the heart of the city, I realized how revolutionary the pursuit of education and intellectual disagreement must be to today’s Argentines. Not 40 years ago, to study and express ideas that ran counter to the government’s preference could have led you to a terrible death.

Argentines also find a source of pride in their generous residency and citizenship laws, which allow a wide variety of people from across the world to study in Argentina for very little money. Argentina’s public undergraduate and graduate educational institutions are well regarded around the world, and so long as you are living in Argentina for an extended period of time, you can enjoy the same low cost of an education as native Argentines.

We’ve also learned quite a bit about the way Argentines view each other through the lens of education and cultural literacy. In the United States, we often equate a person’s social class with their economic means. To be middle class economically implies a certain level of education, of cultural tastes, of social networks, and so on. In Argentina, due to a variety of factors including the economic crises of the 1990s and early 2000s, it is possible for a university-educated, “high-culture” resident of Buenos Aires to not have the economic means typically associated with middle-class life. As a result, education, through fluency in foreign languages, attainment of a college education, and so on, often can replace economic wealth when considering a person’s social class in society. We are only beginning to delve into the way race complicates this dynamic. I look forward to learning quite a bit more these coming weeks about how indigenous populations, Argentines of African or Asian descent, and additional populations, are excluded from this narrative of class and education.

A public library in Buenos Aires where Andrew often does homework alongside Argentine students.

A window in a former “clandestine concentration camp” or detention center, where thousands of Argentine men and women were tortured and killed during the military dictatorship. Their names and faces line the windows of this former naval academy.

A view of La Plaza de Mayo during a worker’s strike in mid-March. Andrew’s class was let out early so they could experience the march and learn from those participating in it. This is also about two blocks from his Spanish-language classes at the Universidad de Buenos Aires.


Ben Kelsey 

Education is a very important part of life and society in Japan. It’s visibly present because of the uniformed schoolchildren who can be seen pretty much everywhere, but it’s also present in current thought about modern Japanese society.

Mandatory education in Japan consists of elementary school and some middle school, but the rate of graduating high school is extremely high. This system is punctuated by graduation ceremonies, which take place whenever students move from one school to the next, and this progression through education is mediated by frequent testing. The best colleges tend to be attended by students who graduated from the best high schools, who in turn graduated from the best middle schools, who in turn graduated from the best elementary schools, in what is referred to in Japan as the “education escalator,” because it is imagined that each school will feed its students into the top of the next level of education, so that they are continually led upward with relatively little effort. Even after high school or college, there exists what is called the “education history society” (学歴社会), in which the top universities feed almost directly into the best jobs, and the connections one makes through one’s educational background are vital to success in employment. This is not merely imagined, either, as top government and business positions are occupied extremely disproportionately by graduates of the top 3 or so public universities (which are the best of the best, even above the top private universities). Thus education is very important for parents, and much pressure is put onto students to ensure that they can board this escalator properly, so to speak.

But what form does this pressure take? Around the late 20th century, Japan was at the pinnacle of global performance in math, science, and pretty much every subject that could be tested through a global standardized test. The economy was booming, Japan was thriving, and everyone was very well-educated. On the other hand, students were not particularly happy. Most students would spend multiple hours a day at “cram schools” after school to boost their learning and increase their chances of passing entrance examinations that were crucial to educational success, and thereby success in life (which has also led to some complaints about lower socio-economic status students having less access to these important opportunities, but it should be noted that the Japanese national public education system is identical for every student, regardless of wealth). Problems with bullying and students refusing to go to school, as well as suicide among young people, were at worrying levels, and it was determined that something had to be done. The national curriculum was re-evaluated to focus less on success in standardized, memorization-based learning, and more on fostering curiosity, critical thought, individualism, and the student’s feelings. Additionally, students were given less work to do outside of class, so that they would have more free time. The effect was as desired: students were generally happier. This effect, however, came at a great cost to standardized test scores. Japan slipped down the rankings, and was soon overtaken my many other East Asian nations and others around the world. It was decided that a compromise had to be arrived at to ensure that students would continue to be motivated to study, but that also ensured that Japan’s workforce would remain competitive. The curricula were once again beefed up somewhat, and that’s pretty much where Japan is today. The phenomenon of “entrance exam hell,” especially when entering universities, is very much still present.

I can’t really speak to what it’s like to go through the Japanese education system, since I never have, but I am lead to believe that it’s quite tough. As I once heard a Japanese college student express it, “In Japan, it’s difficult to get into college, but it’s easy once you get there, whereas in the U.S., it’s easy to get into college, but difficult to graduate.” However you imagine the actual difficulty of college in the U.S., the above is comparatively true in that high school is very much the test of student’s mettle, and college is a significant downgrade in terms of time investment and relative difficulty.

My hunch on the matter is that the best education system is probably just a dream, and it really all depends on what outcomes you want. If you want artists, you get rid of standardized tests and hand students brushes and you’ll get artists. If you want mathematicians, you lock them in a room with a pile of textbooks and a time limit and you get mathematicians. And if you want happy, well-rounded, humans who will become productive members of society but still have their own unique interests, you probably want a mix of the two. The thing to keep in mind is that whatever outcome it is you want, it won’t come easily, and it takes an education system that is well-funded and well-staffed enough that it can meet a nation’s needs. It’s a cliché to say that children are the future, but it’s a true one.


TBS Abroad Week 8: Money

By mkeller on April 5, 2017

Week 8 Prompt: Money  

MONEY —  Harvard history professor Niall Ferguson wrote in The Ascent of Money that “poverty is not the result of rapacious financiers exploiting the poor.” Instead, he argued, it results from “the lack of financial institutions, from the absence of banks, not their presence.” (13) Ferguson’s point here is perhaps counterintuitive—since without financial institutions, and without any money, poverty as such has little frame of reference. Indeed, as these complexities and others like them perhaps suggest, our relationship with money is often strained and difficult, contentious and potentially (self-)destructive. It may be true that money “makes the world go around,” but it also establishes clear lines between the “haves” and “have-nots.” This week, pay attention to money. What is the local currency? How is money accessed? (ATM, brick-and-mortar bank branches, a black market?) How is it most commonly used? (Cash, credit, check, some other means?) Do people have easy access to financial institutions? If not, do people around you consider themselves “poor?” Photograph something related to money, or something you believe embodies the cultural attitude toward it.

Sabrina Farmer 

Reflecting on the four months I spent in South Africa, I primarily used cash as my main way to purchase items. ATMs were somewhat  reliable throughout the locations I traveled to. The currency used is called the South African Rand which is made up of paper dollars as well as coins. The coins go up to 5 rand while the bills start at 10 rand. The exchange rate while I was in South Africa was 12 Rand to 1 USD. Most restaurants and shops accepted credit cards. Unfortunately, in my time there I did not photograph any of the money I possessed. I found that the financial institutions available entirely changed depending on my location. For examples, my weeks in Cape Town and Johannesburg offered many more options in terms of available banks and ways to access money. Meanwhile, in a few of the nature conservancy’s I stayed on we had no access to ATMs or stores for that matter. One of the most expensive things to access in South Africa is cell phone and/or internet data. As a group, we consistently had problems accessing internet for our projects because in more rural areas it is hardly ever offered for free. At one location, wifi was offered 100MB for 150 Rand, which does not go far when powering computers for research projects.

I am going to use this prompt to talk about a brief part of my program, a home stay in the chieftaincy of HaMakuya. I stayed in a village within the chieftaincy for a total of four days and was offered the briefest glimpses into the lives of people who live very differently from how I do. The home stay was a challenging time for me because I did not feel like we as a group offered enough back to the community we lived with. We were welcomed with open arms but this welcome was also wrapped into the financial gain we could bring them and the power and privilege our primarily white group had. Aside from my complicated feelings about being there, I did enjoy the opportunity to experience a different style of life. The people in the chieftaincy, speaking primarily from the women I interacted with, lived a life with television and telephones, yet no running water inside the house. Our presence stepping in, as one of many groups who come into the community, in my opinion helps to perpetuate the idea that people from outside the chieftaincy have more than within. I myself contributed to their own perceptions of being “poor” because, after noticing my small silver ring I always wear, a friend of my host mother commented how she would love to have something so beautiful from her husband. I myself contributed to the perception of the “have and have-nots”. I was grateful to be so welcomed by my family while feeling uncomfortable about the privileged reasons which afforded me welcome.

Sabrina’s host mother surrounded by some of the family’s children cooking. They were helping her to cook the evening meal.


Sabrina with her translator Innocent. He is an amazing soccer player and they bonded through their enjoyment of the sport.


Three daughters of Sabrina’s host mother, the two who were old enough to speak and dream want to be doctors when they are adults.


TBS Abroad Week 7: Trash

By mkeller on April 1, 2017

Week 7 Prompt: Trash    

TRASH — Data published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development highlight startling facts about trash. On average, the United States is responsible for producing 760 kilograms per capita (about 1,675 pounds) of municipal waste. This situates our nation as the fourth largest producer of trash in the world, trailing only Ireland (780 kg/person), Denmark (800 kg/person) and Norway (830 kg/person). On the other end of the scale, the three lowest producers are China (115 kg/person), the Czech Republic (290 kg/person), and Poland (320 kg/person). While these numbers perhaps reflect varying levels of economic development, they might also serve as pointed commentary on our ostensibly failed efforts to “reduce, reuse, and recycle.” Think about trash this week. How much trash do you produce each week? What happens to it? Is it taken to a landfill? Is it burned? Is single-stream recycling available in your area? Is trash picked up once a week from the street curb, is it collected each day, or is there a central collection point somewhere in your city? Consider these questions, then take a picture of trash as it is commonly encountered in your community: in a dumpster, in a gutter, left to decay in a parking lot, etc.

Ben Kelsey 

Trash in Japan, or at least the disposal of it, is a cultural institution. It is easily the most recycling-focused place to which I have ever been. Not only is trash separated into recyclables, compostables, and other, recyclables are separated by type (PET bottles, other plastic, glass, cans, clean paper, other paper and cardboard), and household trash is separated into burnable, non-burnable, and other. These categories are picked up separately a few times per week (by a truck that plays a pleasant jingle as it travels down the road). Large items that don’t fit into one of these categories, such as suitcases, have to be picked up separately for a fee. One of the students on my study group broke a suitcase and had to pay around $10 for it to be taken away. In addition, public trash cans are notoriously difficult to find. They are present in some parks, and outside convenience stores, but that’s about it. Japanese people tend to keep their trash with them when they’re out and about and dispose of it when they return home. As a result, the streets are extremely clean. For this reason, I was unable to find a picture of trash to include with this blog post, because I simply didn’t see any.

This level of diligence in recycling isn’t just wishful thinking, either. Japanese people seem very committed to making sure they dispose of waste properly. Children learn from their parents, and thus the knowledge is passed from generation to generation. As an example, I seem to remember hearing that over 90% of plastic bottles are recycled, and if you’ve ever seen the ubiquity of beverage vending machines in Japan, you’ll know that that’s a whole lot of bottles. There really does seem to be a sense that recycling and reducing waste is the right thing to do, and pretty much everyone is in on it.

Having said that, Japan is certainly not blameless in its production of waste. While it may recycle at high rates, its tendency to use a lot of packaging means that it produces a lot of paper, cardboard, and plastic waste. To illustrate, bags of snack items (such as mini KitKats) usually have each one individually wrapped in plastic, which is very convenient, but seems unnecessary. This pattern continues beyond dessert products and into the famous bento lunch boxes, which often include the plastic box and top, as well as disposable chopsticks in a paper or plastic wrapping, a moist towelette wrapped in plastic, possibly a pack of sauce, and a paper or plastic bag to carry it in. That’s a lot of extra waste. As I say, Japan is famous for its excellent packaging, and it really is both convenient and beautiful, but there are definite downsides to it. I myself, being a foreign student who has to find his own lunch, am guilty of producing a fair amount of trash on days when I don’t eat at a restaurant. I assure you, however, that I always recycle.

Sabrina Farmer 

On my study group, we lived in the relative isolation of different South African National Parks (SAN Parks) and nature reserves. Because of this isolation, we were not able to buy much in our day to day. The large majority of the trash produced by the people in my study group came from food products. Week to week, the students on my group are catered food for every meal by the Aggy Shadow Catering Company. Behind the scenes, our catering company likely produced trash from the packing of food items they purchased. However, once we were served we had no plastic waste and hardly any food leftover. The majority of my personal waste came from buying sweets like candy bars and other junk food at the local gas stations during our days off or travel days. The question of what happened to the trash at each different location varied. In Skukuza, a camp in Kruger National Park where we spent a month of our time, they had just begun a waste separation and recycling system in 2014. The contrast of traveling within the pristine Kruger Park to then driving outside of it where the side of the roads and fields were littered with trash was astounding. The infrastructures in the tourist-centric and tourist-funded SAN Parks were drastically better than the areas surrounding it. While we had running water and toilets in Kruger, we had outhouses with holding tanks in the Hamakuya chieftaincy 6 hours of driving away.