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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


07 - Accents

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

05 - drinking fountain 2

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.

05 - drinking fountain 1

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.

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.


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.

2015-02-07 14.35.14-2

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.

2015-02-07 14.00.02


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.


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.


 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).

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.


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.

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.


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. 


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.


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.

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.

TBS Abroad Week 1: Coffee

By Jessica Li on January 28, 2015

01 - CoffeeWeek 1 Prompt: Coffee

Few commodities are as ubiquitous and varied as coffee. Frappuccinos, cappuccinos,  espresso, Turkish coffee, chocolate-covered coffee beans, iced coffee, dehydrated “instant” coffee, a French press, and American-style “drip” coffee: coffee, in one form or another, can be found in almost every part of the world — sometimes with hints of local flavor, or after-tastes of European colonialism. This week, observe how, where, and when people consume coffee. Is it a morning or afternoon beverage? Is it consumed “black” or with copious sugar? What is the most common form of coffee you see? (E.g. Iced, cappuccino, latte, K-cup, etc.) Do people prefer drinking from porcelain, or are take-away cups prevalent? Is coffee considered a luxury or is it essential to daily life? Are there local customs and history that inform how and why people drink coffee? Take at least one picture of a local coffee shop, your morning cup, or a coffee menu at a cafe. Avoid visiting Starbucks, if you can!

Ryan Hildebrandt ’17, Psychology & Japanese

Coffee in Japan is, like many aspects of the island nation, a bit of a dichotomy. Every day on my commute to school, through residential streets and city blocks, there were vending machines everywhere. Actually everywhere. It was a rare day indeed when I didn’t pass at least ten or twenty going about my daily routine, with every one I saw was advertising drinks of all kinds for sale with vibrant colors and celebrity endorsements. That’s where Tommy Lee Jones and his apparent thirst for the Boss Gold Label coffee drink comes in. It wasn’t uncommon to see his face on many of the vending machines selling coffee or coffee based beverages. Strange endorsements are a common sight on the streets of Kyoto, and this is representative of one end of the coffee spectrum available in Japan: the commercialized end.

Tommy Lee Jones on a "Boss" coffee machine in Kyoto.

Tommy Lee Jones on a “Boss” coffee machine in Kyoto.

On the opposite end of the coffee experience scale is the pure, hand processed, rich coffee of the Bonin Islands, one of the few places in Japan where Coffee can grow. I had the experience, along with my fellow students, to pick coffee fruit off the bush (called cherries before they’re processed into the more familiar beans) and taste the flesh of the coffee cherries. They were sweet and somewhat juicy, but the inner coffee bean was bitter and quite unpleasant if you made the mistake of biting into it. After picking the cherries and taking them through the bean separating process, we were treated to a cup of black Ogasawara (the name of the village in which the coffee farm was located) Coffee. I’ll admit, I’m not much of a coffee drinker, and in all honesty the first time I had tried coffee was about a month earlier in a small Japanese department store. But something about this coffee, perhaps the smell, perhaps the richness, perhaps the fact that I knew how it was made and how much effort went into each cup, told me that it was something special, something which was as far from the canned coffee on street corners as we were from the nearest Starbucks (about 600 miles away, imagine that).

Adam Basciano ’16, International Relations

Shalom from the Holy Land! Coffee is indeed an important part of Israeli culture. It comes in many different forms and is enjoyed by many. Tourists from America and other countries rush to kiosks and coffee shops for the delicious iced cafes. Here, an ice cafe is not simply coffee with ice, but rather a delicious and refreshing blended beverage. For native Israelis, also known as “Sabras”, a typical cup of coffee is whipped up quickly using Nescafe, an instant coffee brand. For late afternoon and evening relaxing, it is common for Israelis to enjoy Turkish black coffee. I am not sure where this tradition stems from, but it is hard to find an Israeli of any descent who does not own tiny shot-glass sized cups and the other essentials for making this delicious, awakening drink.

"Aroma" coffee storefront in Israel.

“Aroma” coffee storefront in Israel.

While it is easy to avoid visiting Starbucks while here in Israel, it is nearly impossible to skip out on the “Starbucks of Israel”, a description of the vastly popular “Aroma” (seen bove). Aroma is enjoyed by all, tourists and Sabras alike, as it is the first widely popular coffee chain in Israel.

Kevin Costello ’16, Philosophy & Political Science

When you think of large American cities that double as college towns, Boston is probably what comes to mind. I’d always known that Washington had its fair share of higher learning, but it wasn’t until Tryst that I fully grasped that DC has such a large, vibrant academic community of its own. Tryst, a coffee-shop-and-then-some located in DC’s colorful Adams Morgan neighborhood, enjoys a surprisingly strong draw from seemingly all of Washington’s geographically dispersed colleges and universities. When I first arrived on Sunday afternoon to do some homework, I expected a fairly calm environment, with perhaps a few American University students recharging and preparing for the upcoming week.

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Tryst Coffeehouse in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, DC.

What I found was a mini-metropolis of academic discourse, semi-militant nonconformity, and politically-charged artistic expression. This place was loud, packed, and moving. I sure as hell wasn’t about to find an open table, let alone get any work done in this wonderfully hectic environment, but that didn’t matter as much anymore. I was more than content to grab a latte, squeeze into the back corner, and people watch. I saw Georgetown and American University students fervently discussing President Obama’s most recent State of the Union address, while graduate students bounced ideas for their dissertations off one another. In the back, young professors with flannel shirts and nose rings vigorously engaged students who had decided to come to Sunday office hours. The appropriately-named Counter Culture Coffee wasn’t bad, but far more interesting was this coffee shop’s blend of hipster, chic, and activist. It was exactly what you’d expect from a cosmopolitan coffee shop frequented by students and academics, and yet, there was also a very unique charm to this particular place. I’m not what one might call a coffee shop connoisseur, but if the goal is to simultaneously draw on established bases while simultaneously forging a new, vibrant community with a culture of its own, then Tryst has certainly succeeded.

Peter Tschirhart — Reporting from NYC

Coffee in New York is like a public utility. It might as well flow from the tap. There are coffee shops wherever you turn, and it always surprises me how many are filled to capacity.

Inside Third Rail Coffee

Inside Third Rail Coffee

A few weeks ago, I had the surprise pleasure of taking a coffee tour of the City. We visited a number of different kinds and types of coffeehouses — from corporate chains to European-style cafés — but one in particular stood out. It was called Third Rail Coffee. The menu was completely espresso-based, and there were no fluffy, Starbucks-style drinks at all: no Pumpkin Spice Whatevers or White Chocolate Somethings. “Pure” coffee. There was really no need for all the added sugar anyway, to be honest. The coffee was so good, so sweet, nothing needed to be added. I can easily say it was among the best — if not the best — espresso I’ve ever had.

"Barista as superhero."


"Artisan" coffee at Third Rail Coffee, NYC.

“Artisan” coffee at Third Rail Coffee, NYC.











This was luxury coffee to be sure: expensive, though cash-only, served in unusually small cups, with delicate artisan touches. But it’s interesting to note how little was made of the coffee itself: its origins, the workers who picked and brought it to market, the farmers who grew it. Starbucks makes much more out of these considerations than most independent shops, like Third Rail. The focus here was on the craft of brewing (or “pulling,” in the case of espresso) and serving it — what I call the “barista as superhero” model. Equally interesting was how many customers requested paper cups and how few drank from porcelain. One might expect high-end coffee like this to be served exclusively in high-end tasse à café. But it wasn’t. I attribute the broader dominance of cardboard cups both to Starbucks’ bad influence and to the tendency in NYC to always be rushed — but in this case, the lack of seating may be to blame.

The Benton Scholars: Abroad

By Jessica Li on January 26, 2015

Infusing leadership and global themes into the Colgate University experience, the Benton Scholars program creates an educational environment that asks students to adopt an informed and critical view of emerging political, cultural, environmental, and economic issues. Just as importantly, scholars are expected to be outwardly focused: to share their insights with people on campus and throughout the global community.

Like many Colgate students, Benton Scholars often choose to study off-campus during their junior year. Unlike others, however, they are expected to stay connected to the program and each other while abroad–sharing their insights, collaborating from different points on the globe–with the goal of bringing different cultural and geo-political perspectives to bear on shared problems.

The Benton Scholars: Abroad blog functions as the locus for this collaboration. Each Monday during the spring semester, students will be sent a brief topic, idea, or problem, one that has resonance throughout the world. Students are then asked to submit a response–preferably a picture, video, or brief essay–which will then be published on this site. Responses need not be obvious: they can be creative, insightful, even clever interpretations of each week’s theme.

Entering its second year, we hope The Benton Scholars: Abroad blog will provide unique insight into topics of discussion and issues of concern that we all share in common.

This year’s contributors are immersed in different countries around the world, from Geneva to South Africa. Their profiles below:


Ryan Hildebrandt ’17

My name is Ryan, and I just got back from 4 months in Japan and 3 weeks in Korea before that. I’m from a small beach town in South Jersey called cape may, and I’m majoring in Psychology and Japanese.










Susan Price ’16

I am a Junior studying International Relations and Film & Media Studies. Though originally from Dallas, Texas I will be spending this semester studying abroad with the Colgate Study Group to Geneva, Switzerland. The program also includes a month long, language intensive home stay in Montpellier, France, two group trips through Western and Eastern Europe, and an internship with an NGO during the time in Geneva.





Adam Basciano ’16

My name is Adam Basciano and I am an International Relations major and Economics minor coming from Randolph, New Jersey. I am spending my Spring semester of junior year abroad in Jerusalem where I will be taking a multitude of courses including Hebrew, international relations, and Jewish studies.







Kevin Costello ’16

My name is Kevin Costello, and I am a Junior from Concord, CA (a short 20-30 minute trip from Oakland). I study Philosophy and Political Science at Colgate and hope to attend law school after graduation. While I imagine the Spring of 2016 won’t yield the most exotic stories or photographs, I’m very excited to “study abroad” in Washington, D.C. for the semester! I’m quite the political head, and as someone who has never explored Washington, I’m eager to share my new experiences regarding the movers, shakers, and locals in our nation’s Capitol with TBS-Abroad!



Jerod Gibson-Faber ’16

Hi readers, my name is Jerod Gibson-Faber.  I am currently a junior at Colgate University and am studying history.  I’m writing from London, England, as I’m also currently studying abroad.  During my time abroad I hope to immerse myself in local culture as well as complete my capstone paper for my major.  I love soccer and play on the club level while acting as the student manager for both the men’s and women’s varsity teams at Colgate.  I hope to attend as many games possible while I’m in the UK.

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Katrina Bennett ’16

Katrina is a current junior from Leonardtown, MD, majoring in Neuroscience. Katrina’s main interests include public health, global health, infectious diseases, and small scale community development. At Colgate, Katrina is involved with the Shaw Wellness Institute, the Colgate Global Health Initiative, Oxfam, and other organizations. Katrina is beyond excited to spend a semester in South Africa and hopes to learn much about this fascinating nation.




From “Korea” to “Corea:” Hannah O’Malley and the ’17 Benton trip

By Peter Tschirhart on August 11, 2014

Hannah O’Malley ’17 has created a blog to chronicle, contemplate, and process her experience on the Benton Scholars’ trip to Korea. Apart from explaining why the country’s name might be spelled “Corea” rather than “Korea,” Hannah encourages us to view travel through a self-critical lens. She writes :

I think it easy to notice and criticize flaws in and make generalizations about other systems without really critically looking back at one’s own system. Over the course of the trip, I tried very hard to think about ways in which we pretty much have the same, or worse, flaws in the US and about what the US can learn from Korea.

She also poses a series of questions inspired by Prof. John Palmer‘s FSEM for the Benton Scholars (fall of 2014):

  • In what ways can the US education system learn from the national curriculum that applies to both public and private schools?
  • How would the US benefit from rigor of the cram schools?
  • Given that K-12 education in both South Korea and the US is driven in part by the university systems in both countries, in what ways might colleges be able to manipulate testing or entrance standards to influence the ways in which K-12 students learn?
  • How can both countries make higher education more accessible and a less elite system?
  • Is there corruption, whether manifest or latent, in our educational system? And if so, where?
  • Who does our educational system serve?

You can see and read much more directly on Hannah’s blog by clicking here.

Benton Scholars in Korea: more from Hannah O’Malley ’17

By Peter Tschirhart on July 23, 2014

Hannah O’Malley ’17 recently wrote about her experience visiting a UN safe-site built in the demilitarized zone that separates North from South Korea. She says:

The building was surrounded by tourists lining up to buy souvenirs like shot glasses, jewelry, and snacks from the shops. I was unnerved that the DMZ has been made into a spectacle that distracts more than it educates visitors about North Korea. My disbelief grew as we were taken to three movie theaters where we watched films about the biodiversity and history of the region and military strategies. With all of the distractions, there was very little attention given to the human rights abuses happening nearby that we had learned about through readings and in class.

Hannah traveled to Korea during May-June 2014 as a member of the Benton Scholars program. You can read Hannah’s post in its entirety by clicking here.