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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 Trip Documented by Paul Jung ’20

By Lizzy Moore on October 30, 2017

This interview was conducted with Paul Jung, a sophomore in the Benton Scholars Program intending to major intending to major Mathematical Economics and minor in Film and Media Studies. This past summer, Paul made a video documenting the Benton Scholars’ trip to France, Belgium, Germany, and Russia.

What drove you to make a video documenting the Benton trip?
I’ve always been interested in film, but I never had any experience. Before the trip, I got a job at the Digital Learning and Media Center as a media mentor, and I talked with my boss to see if i could possibly borrow a video camera, tripods and equipment. I haven’t really travelled before and I was excited. I wanted to make something for the Bentons so that there’s always something for us to look back on and remember. I also wanted to get some experience in video editing and I thought this would be a great opportunity. This was the first time I’d done something like this, so I felt a little awkward. But I’m glad I did it and I’m pretty proud of it.

What did you learn about videography as a result of this project?
I learned that audio is such an important part- if the sound is bad on a video, you automatically don’t want to watch it. During the interview portion of the video, I had to figure out how to properly place the mic on people so that the audio quality was good. I also learned that video editing was a lot more time intensive than I expected. I probably ended up spending about 50 hours in total on editing the video because I was learning how to use Final Cut Pro as I was editing. The biggest thing I got away from it is how fun it is and I realized that’s something I want to do more of in the future.

At the end of the video, you interview each of the Bentons, asking them about their favorite part of the trip. What was your favorite part of the trip?
Experiencing different cultures, talking with local people, making connections from random conversations- I’ve never been to Europe so this was a new experience. And I just liked spending time with everyone.

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.

Texan Tech – March 13th

By mdirkers on March 26, 2017

Between March 11th and March 17th, a cohort of Benton Scholars from the class years of 2017, 2018, and 2019 traveled with their instructors to Texas to study design, technology, and innovation. Escaping the two-foot plus arctic deluge, we arrived in Texas on Sunday the 12th, and after a long drive to the city of Dallas and much-needed rest that night, we began our exploration of Dallas, Texas, on Monday the 13th. That day, we walked through the city to arrive at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center. Situated in the Dallas Arts District, the Center is an example or artistic and musical excellence, designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect I.M. Pei and internationally-renowned acoustician Russell Johnson. The world-class Dallas Symphony Orchestra, including the Dallas Symphony Chorus and the Dallas Wind Symphony, commands this magnificent stage (pictured below) as their home base.

The interior of the Meyerson Symphony Hall, the Eugene McDermott Concert Hall, featuring a grand stage, adjustable ceiling, and 2062 seats!

The interior of the symphony hall illustrated artistic expression through technology. The roof of the concert hall stage (pictured above) is adjustable, able to be moved up or down, tilted left or right, or angled forwards or backwards, depending on the instruments and the desired audio effect. The interior is designed to facilitate optimum resonance of the sound produced on stage. To control this resonance, the chamber is controlled by concrete doors at the top which can allow greater or lesser air flow. Furthermore, the interior is also equipped with a moisture control system which responds to the humidity outside and the moisture inside, as moisture in the air affects auditory resonance. Assuredly, the Meyerson Symphony Hall was a testimony to the sophistication of technology and the beauty of artistic expression.

Following our visit to the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, we meandered through the city of Dallas, past both skyscrapers and open parks, to investigate more deeply the technological and entrepreneurial aspects of innovation. Our next stop was the DEC, or the Dallas Entrepreneur Center. The DEC is an entrepreneurial accelerator accessible to entrepreneurs in the Dallas area. Here, entrepreneurs can find a space where they can receive training, education, support, mentorship, and even access to capital in order to encourage and equip themselves to grow their businesses.

Will Akins (Left) describes the impact of the DEC to Jacob Feldman ’19 (Right)

The Dallas Entrepreneur Center has had a significant impact on the city of Dallas. They have generated at least 115 million dollars to assist driven entrepreneurs to actualize their ideas, although some reports estimate that figure is even higher. This is beyond simply raising money: new ideas are brought forth, new businesses are formed, new jobs are created, and more people than before are employed. Not only does this make a difference in the employee’s lives, but it also impacts the city of Dallas and the economy of Texas as a whole. Whether you are looking for advice, teammates, or investors, both novice and veteran entrepreneurs can be found in this vibrant, collaborative environment.

While we all pushed the limits of our understanding during this spring break trip in different ways, we returned back to Colgate with a deeper awareness of the artistic aspects of technology, the technological details behind art, and the entrepreneurial and innovative drive that makes both of those possible.

TBS Abroad Week 6: McDonalds

By mkeller on March 22, 2017

Week 6 Prompt: McDonalds    

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

Danielle Norgren

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

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

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

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

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


Ben Kelsey 

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

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

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

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

Sabrina Farmer 

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

TBS Abroad Week 5: News

By mkeller on March 16, 2017

Week 5 Prompt: News   

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

Sean Corrigan 

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

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

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

Ben Kelsey 

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

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

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