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

By Quanzhi Guo on August 30, 2015

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

Adam with his family

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

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

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

The insides of one of the many mosques in the city

The view from a ferry on the Bosphorus Strait

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

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

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

The popular tourist spot, Taksim Square, at sunset

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

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

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

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


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

By Peter Tschirhart on June 30, 2015

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wandering lanes in the dusk in Kyoto.

Wandering lanes in the dusk in Kyoto.

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

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


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

By Peter Tschirhart on June 12, 2015

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The view from the Open Dreams Office.

The view from the Open Dreams Office.

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

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

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


Mallory Keller ’17: Reflections on Silicon Valley

By Peter Tschirhart on March 30, 2015
The Benton Scholars at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

The Benton Scholars at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

The following post was written by Mallory Keller ’17, who just returned from the Benton Scholars’ spring break trip to Silicon Valley. An aspiring educator, Mallory reflects on the future of higher education and the importance of building community.


I started this trip doubtful about the future of online education. For almost a year, the Benton Scholars program has focused on online education in a university setting; we took online courses ourselves, then hosted speakers who are leaders in the field of online education. We are even designing and participating an online class for Colgate University–working together to see if it is possible for a small, liberal arts university to exist online, and in what capacity. There was a wide range of opinions and experiences with online education across the group of us who went on the trip and, at least for myself, I was hoping this trip would change my opinion.

Our first visit was to Minerva, an online institution that opened this year, that aspires to change the concept of an university. Minerva felt very much like a start-up, which at least for myself, is not something I want to feel from my university. Maybe it is the social construct that has been engraved in my brain since I was young, but I still view a university as a campus with huge, beautiful buildings with students lounging on the quad, throwing a frisbee around. To enroll in a school like Minerva, you have to be able to take risks, and I am not willing to do that with my education. The next day we visited Khan Academy and were able to sit down and talk with Sal Khan, the founder. We all had read his book, The One World Schoolhouse, and we were full of questions to ask him. We discussed the future of online education, and I feel like the conclusion of the discussion was that online education is a supplement to what a student learns in the classroom, but it cannot replace the physical classroom.

The Benton Scholars visit Big Bend Redwood State Park.

The Benton Scholars visit Big Bend Redwood State Park.

While some online spaces may foster this, the one thing that I value most in my education, and the thing that I find missing in online education, is the sense of community that is created on a campus. There is a bond that is formed from being in a physical space with the same people day after day, which I do not think exists online. While you can be logged-on and participating in discussions at the same time as others, you are in different physical spaces, like your home, a coffee shop, or the library. The importance of community was shown through this trip as well. At the end of their freshman year, the Benton Scholars’ freshman class takes a trip together abroad, so I was already pretty close with the other sophomores on this trip. However, there were freshmen and seniors on the trip that I was not as close with, and I enjoyed that we were able to get to know each other more during the four days. While the purpose of this trip was to learn about online education, I think it also helped create a greater sense of community in the Benton Scholar program.


Quanzhi Guo ’18: Reflections on Silicon Valley

By Peter Tschirhart on March 27, 2015
The Benton Scholars meet for a discussion during their trip to San Francisco in March, 2015.

The Benton Scholars meet for a discussion during their trip to San Francisco in March, 2015. (Photo by Karen Harpp.)

Quanzhi Guo ’18 traveled with the Benton Scholars to San Francisco during March, 2015. Their trip explored innovation in the education and technology sectors and included visits to Khan Academy, the Minerva Project, and Tesla–as well as a hike through Big Basin Redwood State Park. In what follows, Quanzhi reflects on this experience, and on the importance of a dynamic and engaging liberal arts education. (A longer version of this blog post is featured at China Personified.)


On the ninth floor overlooking the busy San Francisco downtown, everyone is working on Macs in open-plan stations—the atmosphere feels like any startup in California.

But I am in a school, with no students in sight — Minerva Schools at KGI, a new institution that hopes to shake the whole education sector.

Over spring break, I traveled with an online education-themed Benton trip to San Francisco, where we visited both Minerva and Khan Academy.

The Benton seminar I am taking this semester is called the Advent of Atomic Bomb, which examines the history, science, and ethics behind atomic bomb. My experience had been, so far, bittersweet. While it is interesting and intellectually stimulating to engage with alumni from all age groups and various walks of life online, the workload is heavier. Besides the normal assigned readings and project-based homework offline, we need to watch the lectures online beforehand because class-time is reserved for advanced discussion. So we are expected to master the basics on our own time. This targeted and technology-enhanced blend is challenging and rigorous–it is the way I want to be pushed.

Benton Scholars listen to a presentation at Minerva in downtown San Francisco.

Benton Scholars listen to a presentation at Minerva in downtown San Francisco.

To me, Minerva is exciting. However, while living in six countries (students at Minerva live in a new city each semester) and being one of a select few has allure (last year, the acceptance rate was only 2.8%), I question the real meaning behind it. Does being physically present in a country, spending most of your time taking online classes in dorms, while going shopping and sightseeing on weekends, equate to immersion in a foreign culture? Aren’t existing study-abroad programs, which allow students to take classes in local universities and live in host families, more authentic? For affordability, at least Colgate subsidizes all expenses for students receiving financial aid. Similarly with diversity: Does having a higher number of international students necessarily mean more different perspectives? At Minerva, one can definitely take advantage of urban resources; but how can you truly make use of it in Berlin if you can’t speak German, or Barcelona if you can’t speak Spanish?

Then there was Sal Khan, who sat on an organic-style stool at Khan Academy, talking about how he started making tutorials to improve the accessibility of new information. Thanks to people like Sal Khan, information is becoming more freely accessible, so class time can be reserved for engaged and deeper-level discussions, for skill development and real-life interaction. And I really appreciate how Colgate, too, can offer that–all with classes of size no more than 20.

Benton Scholars meet with Sal Khan to discuss the future of online education.

Benton Scholars meet with Sal Khan to discuss the future of online education.

When we discussed and shared views over a cup of coffee in the afternoon sun, I realized that what I value after nearly a year at Colgate is the sense of connection. Personally, I hate the panic when my computer breaks down and an online submission is due soon. Also, I don’t want to just “like” my classmate’s answer by clicking a button. I want to give him a pat or high-five with a wide grin. Most importantly, I treasure how my professors interact with me, not just in class or office hours, but how they share with me their life stories over home-cooked dinner, after guests’ lectures, and during trips like this one.

I don’t think that brick-and-mortar universities will be obsolete soon, but it can definitely become better. Technology is never a substitute, but a complement to make things better.


TBS Abroad Week 7: Accents

By Jessica Li on March 16, 2015

 

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People who use a local accent or dialect occasionally confront discrimination. According to a recent survey conducted in the United Kingdom, 28% of people reported being treated differently, just because of the way they speak. At the same time, 80% of employers admitted to discriminating against people based on their accent. Of course, neither accents nor dialects are legally-protected categories, so pressure to conform is very real. And while YouTube provides virtual coaching on “The Queen’s English” (called Received Pronunciation), online databases document the remarkable richness of the English language as it can be, and actually is, spoken. This week, listen closely to how both you and the people around you speak. Are you living in a country where English is the dominant language? Whether you are or aren’t, can people tell you are American? Does this make you self-conscious, or are you proud to “sound different?” Alternatively, can you tell where people are from when they speak to you? Among your friends and acquaintances, is there pressure to conform, to use language in a certain way? Are people treated differently based on their willingness (or ability) to conform to a normalized accent?


Ryan Hildebrandt ’17, Psychology & Japanese

The two main, or at least famous, regions in Japan are Kanto and Kansai, the former being home to the current capital, Tokyo, and the latter the old capital, Kyoto, as well as several other major cities. Between these two regions, there’s sort of a rivalry akin to something you would see between New York City and Philadelphia, or Texas and anywhere in the world claiming to be better than Texas. Besides some sports-team loyalties and a few signature foods here and there, the main difference between the two regions is the dialect of Japanese spoken. Kansai, although largely metropolitan, is considered by people within and without to be countryside, made up stereotypically of farmers and people who would be scared by the sight of a skyscraper (I can tell you, this is very, very false). Within Kansai, the dialect spoken, known as Kansai-ben, has become famous in Japan and abroad as being like an entirely different language. It might be the case that if you put a person who lived their entire life in Kanto and only spoke Kanto-ben into conversation with someone speaking the thickest, most heavily laid on version of Kansai-ben ever heard on this earth, there might be some difficulty communicating. The reality is, the differences lie mostly in a few key words and conjugations that, while they do stand out from Kanto-ben, aren’t terribly difficult or troublesome to understand, even to non-native speakers. Even so, the rivalry and dialectic schism continues between the two regions (although as far as I’m concerned, Kansai-ben is more fun).


TBS Abroad Week 5: Drinking Fountains

By Jessica Li on February 26, 2015

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Drinking Fountains: The drinking fountain can be a powerful signifier. Though simple in purpose and function, it stands as a physical manifestation of common biological needs while staking claim to public spaces we all share: parks, streets, airports, libraries. A drinking fountain might well be “read” as an invitation to linger; but as the civil rights struggle in the United States showed, it can also be used to divide society along racial or ethnic lines: to mark social spaces where insidious ideologies oppress, demean, and segregate minorities.

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This week, find and photograph a drinking fountain. Where do you encounter them? Is there any logic to their placement? What message(s) do they communicate? Do drinking fountains bring people together or keep them apart? Take a picture of a drinking fountain you have used. If there are none, speculate as to why.


Ryan Hildebrandt ’17, Psychology & Japanese

Drinking fountains? There aren’t any. Anywhere (or at least it feels like they’re never where you need them when you need them). Not in train stations, not on University campuses, and rarely in parks or other public spaces. This posed a special challenge when walking was my main form of transportation throughout Kyoto, and I had to plan accordingly in order to make sure I didn’t run out mid excursion. Usually my best bet was to leave the house with a full bottle and refill at lunch, making sure to have an extra glass of water at each meal to keep ahead of dehydration throughout the day. Instead, there are beverage vending machines and convenience stores on even the most remote outskirts of the city, so a couple hundred yen water allowance was always a good idea.


 

Katrina Bennett ’16 Neuroscience

Drinking fountains are found fairly commonly in Cape Town, although not nearly as commonly as in many places in the United States. I have seen drinking fountains on the campus of University of Cape Town, on hiking trails up mountains and at the organization where I work. More interesting than the occurrence of water fountains in Cape Town though, is the occurrence of what the water is put into, water bottles. On the first day of one of my lectures my professor remarked, “You know how we can always tell who is American and who isn’t? The Americans always have water bottles out in front of them. Americans are obsessed with hydration!” After my professor said this, I started consciously thinking about this and analyzing this and she was so right! The majority of individuals carrying water bottles around with them were Americans rather than South Africans. The more sparse occurrence of water fountains in Cape Town therefore, must be because hydrating doesn’t seem to be as much of a top priority here as it is in the United States.


TBS Abroad Week 4: Public Parks

By Jessica Li on February 20, 2015

04 - Public Park - Barnes Common

Public Parks: Access to nature is often recognized as a key quality-of-life indicator, and for many people, public parks are the easiest place to find a bit of fresh air. But nature is not always as natural as it might seem. Indeed, the very term “landscaping” implies that something has been altered or reconfigured to fit an ideal — suggesting that, despite appearances, the “wildness” of New York’s Central Park is not so terribly different from the placid beauty of the Gardens at Versailles. This week, pay attention to parks. Is there an arboretum or other “natural” public place where you live? What is it called? Is it actively manicured or left wild? Who maintains it? What do people do there: Sports? Picnics? Protests? Theatre and music? Take a picture of the park and tell us how it’s commonly used.


Ryan Hildebrant ’17, Psychology & Japanese

The main Park in Kyoto serves all the functions one would expect: picnics, public events, sports, and general relaxation in nature. This park, which lies at a central location in the city of Kyoto, also happens to be the former Imperial palace and palace complex. One of my first experiences with the palace/park was a visit to the Palace, which is usually restricted. Having seen the inside, and this isn’t to belittle the beauty of the palace, it’s quite a nice residence, I have to say the outside of the palace and the palace grounds are much more spectacular.

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The main Park in Kyoto

The main palace is surrounded by walls and then an open expanse of gravel on all sides. Beyond that are various paths and miniature parks, with pine, maple, and many other trees overlooking the entirety of the grounds. During fall, the maple and other trees are famous for turning brilliant shades of crimson and bright yellow, and the result is a park cloaked in color for a few weeks or a month of the year. 


Adam Basciano ’16, International Relations

Parks seem to be everywhere here in Jerusalem and Israel. On my daily walk to campus, I pass a large public garden/park that many students take advantage of for studying. On days that I am not running behind on schedule, I can walk through Hebrew University’s own Botanical Gardens which leads right to my day’s classes.

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Gan Sacher Park

Since the weather has been magnificent ever since I have gotten year, each day you can see students relaxing from the stresses of their exam seasons by enjoying a smoke or a bite to eat. Jerusalem as a whole is also home to many large and beautiful public parks that get hundreds of visitors daily. Shabbat is the nation-wide day of rest, and as a result no businesses are open from sundown Friday until Saturday night. This means that on the weekends, Israeli families and visitors flock to public parks to enjoy picnics and time with family and friend. The two pictures shown are from last weekend when I enjoyed a pleasant day at the Gan Sacher park in the Nahalot village of Jerusalem with some Israeli and American friends.

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Jerod Gibson-Faber ’16, History

The first thing I think I noticed about London is probably how the roads are all wrong here. After that though, I couldn’t help but be very impressed at all of the parks and open spaces throughout the city.  I live in housing on 20 Bedford Place, very close to the British Museum.  If you exited my flat, took a left, and kept walking straight, you would end up at Bloomsbury Square Gardens.  I often times cut through here when I’m trying to get to Kingsway and go places.

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It’s not the biggest park, but there is a small playground area that I would love to play in if I were about 17 years younger.  People also walk their dogs around and on the green, which the dogs seem to love – they are all so friendly. Go back to my flat, take a right instead, keep walking straight, and you’d end up at Russell Square.  This space is a bit larger and in addition to dogs and readers on park benches, runners frequent the park on their daily routes.  I’m pretty spoiled with a park on each end of the street I live on, but it seems like little green open spaces like these are not hard to find – especially in central London.  There are a number of larger parks, too, like Regents, Hyde, and St. James’s to name but a few.  As far as the authenticity of the natural environment, it’s tough to say. These places – especially Greenwich – were heavily attacked in WWII.  Some parks were even dug into for shelters from bombing.  It’s a pretty safe bet that however the land recovered after the war, it’d still in that condition – with maintenance of course.

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Katrina Bennett ’16 Neuroscience

Cape Town is an amazingly beautiful place. One of the best places to take advantage of the natural beauty that this city has to offer is Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. This absolutely beautiful area of land is full of amazing flowers, green grass and the start of many treacherous and steep hiking trails up gorgeous mountains. These gardens are a wonderful place to have a picnic or just enjoy a beautiful day, but also are home to many amazing events. My favorite to attend have been the Kirstenbosch Summer Concert series where modern and popular South African bands perform on a beautiful outdoor venue backed by the picturesque mountains and the sky line of the city of Cape Town. Besides these concerts, Kirstenbosch holds outdoor movie screenings on a large screen every week, monthly food and craft fairs, and has a wonderful tea room and art gallery. Kirstenbosch Gardens are without a doubt one of my favorite places in Cape Town and I have spent some of my favorite evenings and afternoons there.


Katrina Bennett ’16 Neuroscience

Cape Town is an amazingly beautiful place. One of the best places to take advantage of the natural beauty that this city has to offer is Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. This absolutely beautiful area of land is full of amazing flowers, green grass and the start of many treacherous and steep hiking trails up gorgeous mountains. These gardens are a wonderful place to have a picnic or just enjoy a beautiful day, but also are home to many amazing events. My favorite to attend have been the Kirstenbosch Summer Concert series where modern and popular South African bands perform on a beautiful outdoor venue backed by the picturesque mountains and the sky line of the city of Cape Town. Besides these concerts, Kirstenbosch holds outdoor movie screenings on a large screen every week, monthly food and craft fairs, and has a wonderful tea room and art gallery. Kirstenbosch Gardens are without a doubt one of my favorite places in Cape Town and I have spent some of my favorite evenings and afternoons there.


 

Peter Tschirhart, Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Scholars Programs

One of my favorite local spots is Thayer Park on the banks of Lake Skaneateles. Visit sometime on a beautiful, sunny day and you’ll find it filled with picnickers with plaid blankets, kids with frisbees, and grownups with books. It’s unquestionably one of the most picturesque places I know, and it reminds me very strongly of the more pretty spots in the Lake District (Cumbria).
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A warm October’s day in Thayer Park, with (from left to right) me, my partner Brian, and my brother Steve

I don’t know much about the history of Thayer Park, though: who designed it or who maintains it. I spent some time researching these questions, but as it turns out, much more information is available about other parks in the area — Shotwell Park, for instance, memorializes local residents killed in foreign conflicts since the First World War. Thayer Park seems to lack a comparable high-minded purpose. From what I can tell, the land for it was set aside in 1874 by a local businessman named Joel Thayer, who made his mark on industries as varied as distilling and carriage works. Today, the park is actively manicured and maintained — I suppose by the Village of Skaneateles — and is used primarily for quiet leisure. Music, arts, entertainment, and, of course, boat tours are kept at Clift Park further down Genessee Street. From the ladder descending into the lake, built directly into the concrete retaining wall, one might assume swimming, too, was once common here.

TBS Abroad Week 3: Libraries

By Jessica Li on February 12, 2015

03 - Libraries

Week 3 Prompt: Libraries

Libraries aren’t just places to store books or sit and think. They link a community to important resources, serving as a hub for information about taxes, voting, and other issues of local concern. Libraries can be big or small, publicly-funded or privately-endowed, grand or humble, focused on research or designed to attract a wide audience. There may be a children’s section, but there may also be other special collections: maps, large-print, computer terminals, or rare and valuable books, to name just a few. This week, take a photograph of your local libraryand tell us about it: Why do people go there? Are there books and computers? Is it usually busy? How is it used — for research, reading, or as a common gathering place? Do people take pride in their local library, or is it largely hidden from view?


Kevin Costello ’16, Philosophy & Political Science

I suppose it would be wrong to do a “libraries” post in DC on something other than the famous Library of Congress. To provide a quick history lesson, the original library, at least in DC location, was established in 1800, tucked away inside the Capitol building. After the British burned the Capitol down during the War of 1812, however, all was lost, and the library needed to start anew. Thomas Jefferson, an avid book collector whose expensive tastes were plunging him into crushing debt, offered to sell his personal library of nearly 6,500 books to the government for the purposes of establishing a new Library of Congress.

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The Main Reading Room of the Library of Congress

Today, the LoC houses over 150,000,000 books, periodicals, and other items and serves the unique role of being both a tourist attraction and a fully functioning public library. The aesthetic of the library’s primary building, the Thomas Jefferson building, combines classical republican architecture, renaissance flair, and other recognizable aspects of Western culture. The building was designed as such in order to make European scholars and intellectuals notice a young America’s cultural and artistic depth. The Main Reading Room, which is perhaps the library’s most recognizable space, is a great example of such design, as the circular room is lined with heroic statues of some of the West’s most valuable contributors, such as Michelangelo, Newton, and Plato. A fun, albeit strange, fact about the Main Reading Room is that all photography is expressly prohibited. Fortunately, though, my dedication to TBS-Abroad knows of no such limitations, and as such, I’m happy to contribute my own illicit photograph of the Library of Congress’s Main Reading Room. If I mysteriously disappear at some point in the coming weeks, at least Colgate will know what’s happened.


Katrina Bennett ’16 Neuroscience

The main library here that I go to is Chancellor Oppenheimer Library at the University of Cape Town. The library is located at the center of the campus and is very similar to the library at Colgate. Interestingly, to get into the library there are gates where students must swipe their student cards to enter and where monitors sit to ensure that absolutely no food or drinks are brought in. Inside, the library is extremely clean and bright, with many windows! There are areas with many computers, big open tables, and many closed cubicles. In addition to sitting spaces, there are many, many books at this library and also many knowledgeable librarians. Everyone in the library is extremely respectful of everyone else and is always very quiet and working very hard. In addition, monitors walk around the library ensuring that no one has food or drink, which probably largely contributes to the fact that everyone follows the rules so closely. The library is so beautiful, modern and bright and definitely one of my favorite places to do work here in Cape Town.


TBS Abroad Week 2: Cigarettes

By Jessica Li on February 4, 2015

02 - Cigarettes

Week 2 Prompt: Cigarettes

Cigarette use is on the decline in the United States. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 24.7% of American adults identified as smokers in 1997. That number fell to 18% in 2012. But Americans account for only a small minority of smokers throughout the world — and on the whole, demand for cigarettes is booming. According to The Tobacco Atlas, people living in the Americas consume just 11% of the world’s cigarettes, with Europe at 24%, and Asia and Australia together accounting for 48%. Put another way: if the average American smokes 3 cigarettes each day, the average Russian smokes 8. This week, pay attention to cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and other forms tobacco. Is smoking common? Where do people smoke? Is it allowed inside cafes? Is it considered “good manners” to smoke outside and “bad manners” to smoke indoors? Do women smoke? Is smoking a guilty pleasure or a source of power and pride? Take a picture of an ashtray or a place where people commonly gather to smoke.


 Ryan Hildebrandt ’17, Psychology & Japanese

Legally: Yes. But not really, unless you want to be that guy, which you don’t.

Smoking in Japan is, like many things, governed more by social convention than law. In Japan, there is no national ban on smoking in any location, any time, although some bans have become more popular in recent years in certain prefectures and metropolitan areas. Cigarette smoking is still allowed and not necessarily looked down upon in the vast majority of Japan, and any restrictions on smoking are much more based in consideration for those around you rather than the law. Although this might be just as much due to the presence in many train stations, public parks, and outside convenience stores of designated and often fully enclosed smoking areas or boxes. These boxes are an especially common sight on the streets of Kyoto, where smoking bans and restrictions have made more legal progress than many other municipalities in Japan. That being said, there is still a large chunk of the smoking population that lights just about anywhere in public, most often walking to and from work on the main streets of Kyoto. So people are encouraged, not so much by the government as a more general sensibility and awareness of the fact that you are one person in a city of millions, to refrain from smoking in inconvenient locations.

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A izakaya bar in Japan, a local spot for food and drinks.

The biggest exception to this rule comes when the sun sinks and the lights of restaurants and bars step out for a night of good business. Kyoto in particular, has a good number of Izakaya (half bar, half restaurant, all delicious and fattening), where businessmen, college students, and all those who find themselves hungry can and do gather for some bonding over food and beer. In many izakaya, smoking is quite common. Many izakaya and bars don’t regulate smoking, and it is much more acceptable to smoke in a bar or izakaya because of the casual and laid back atmosphere that often defines these establishments. So if the table next to yours in the izakaya is smoking, it’s probably best to ignore it (they’re usually pretty well ventilated anyway) and enjoy your pub-grub a la Japan.


Jerod Gibson-Faber ’17, History

Cigarettes are an interesting topic to think about.  My generation grew up learning about tobacco differently than my parents generation – and things are still changing.  As a result of increased knowledge over the years that tobacco usage can be a serious health risk, the ways I’ve interacted with cigarettes have been pretty negative.  I participated in programs in school that were heavily anti-smoking (and drugs) and I continually see ads not only on the television but in magazines and through other mediums that warn of the dangers of smoking.  Something else about cigarettes that I’ve known about is their addictive nature.  Again, through commercials and things in media, I know there are people who are addicted and need medicinal or other help to stop smoking. 

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A e-cigarette shop in Cardiff, a new popular alternative to cigarettes.

Now I haven’t watched too much television here in London, but I have yet to see any sort of advertisement anywhere that deals with the harm of smoking.  I have, however, seen plenty of people outside (such as the one of the guys who works at Subway near the flats) on a smoke-break.  I grew up learning that people smoke because they are addicted and I should never do it – for fear of becoming addicted too! I never really heard about the people who smoke out of habit, but I think there are plenty of the latter.  I think this is evident with the introduction and creation of e-cigarettes.  Now I don’t know too much about them, but I have heard they are quite safer.  People had a habit and wanted it to be safer.


 Katrina Bennett ’16, Neuroscience

Smoking in South Africa is probably less prevalent than it is in the United States. I really have been on the lookout for tobacco products and tobacco smokers during this past week and have been able to spot very few. On an evening out I came across a hookah bar, the bus driver that transported me throughout my tour would grab a cigarette on rest stops and I spotted a student ducking out of a restaurant to smoke a cigarette. These, in all honesty, are the only instances that I have noticed tobacco in South Africa.

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A beautiful view from a patio used for smoking

I expected to notice more smoking when I was out in the evenings as people walk out of clubs, or during the days as people walk down the streets but I definitely have not. Here, smoking seems like a fairly rare action that is not done by any one group and is also not done inside anywhere. Smoking cigarettes seems to be done in normal open spaces and not in large groups, making it not stand out in the slightest. The student I noticed ducking out to smoke at a restaurant went to this beautiful balcony attached to the restaurant where I was dining and got a great view of Cape Town while smoking. Maybe more people here should pick up smoking so that they have an excuse to step outside more often and admire the beautiful sights. 


Peter Tschirhart, Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Scholars Programs

Smoking is not nearly as common in the United States as it used to be. While I’m old enough (!!!) to remember seeing ash trays in airplane armrests — some of which had burned residue inside — it’s comparatively marginal today, kept not just off airplanes, but outside most public buildings. That doesn’t mean smokers are themselves marginalized or powerless, though. Even as the Marlboro Man has ridden-off into the sunset of popular culture, the smoking of fine cigars still carries a certain social caché. For instance, there’s a well-known “Cigar Lounge” in Lufthansa’s First Class Terminal at the Frankfurt Airport. I’ve never visited (obviously), but I can imagine the rich and powerful puffing-away on rare havanas… From what I’ve observed, smoking itself isn’t bad manners — it’s all about how and where it’s done. Having good manners usually means doing it around other (consenting) smokers. Bad manners usually involves subjecting other people to second-hand smoke, fresh from the lungs or not, near hospitals, restaurants, an office, or public park.
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A smoking spot behind McGregory, on campus

While I’m not a smoker — the thought of sucking heated particulate matter into my lungs always lacked appeal — I do envy the social dimensions of it: taking a few drags while discussing the day’s news. My picture this week is of a common smoking spot here at Colgate, just outside McGregory Hall. I often see people chatting there, having a smoke.
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