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FinStoniBurg: President’s Residence

By mdirkers on August 6, 2016

On the crisp morning of May 19th, 2016, the ’19 Benton Scholars experienced what would be their first full day in the Eastern European country of Estonia. Why where we here, in this small country on the Baltic Sea? How would this trip be meaningfully linked to all the information we had been internalizing for the previous semester? In alignment with the theme of the ’19 Bentons’ second semester class Innovation in the Digital Age, Estonia was an suitable and stimulating destination, considering how the people of Estonia are so tech-savvy and steadfast in their dedication to digital literacy and transparency. This digital literacy is fostered through entrepreneurial endeavors and technical startups. Some of the most notable digital innovations from Estonia are Microsoft’s Skype, the widespread video chatting software, and Estonia’s E-Estonia, software that allows Estonian citizens to file taxes, keep health records, and vote entirely online. Why have these been so successful? One reason is that the Republic of Estonia supports entrepreneurial and technological innovation.

In fact, this government support of new ideas has grown under the current President of Estonia, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who has been in office for nearly ten years. One of his accomplishments has involved being more receptive to citizens. President Ilves lives in the Presidential Palace in the subdistrict of Kadriorg, Estonia, which was constructed in 1938 after the Government decided to build an official residence for the President of the Republic of Estonia. Today, the President is the head of state of the Republic of Estonia, and his powers range from calling meetings of the Estonian parliament to representing Estonia to other nations and the European Union. All of these official duties are balanced with being a stable and accessible public leader.

President's Residence

Residence of the President of Estonia

Even the house of the President was accessible for the citizens of Estonia and had a welcoming atmosphere. To our surprise, there were no fences with steel spikes in the front of the structure, nor was there an abundance of armed guards. Only one armed guard is barely visible in the photo above, if you pay attention to the front porch of the building to observe his shoulder and his shadow. A group of ’19 Bentons (on the left) were able to walk on the stairs of the residence, where some Estonian people were awaiting a meeting indoors. The greeter that came to the door even asked us if we were there for a meeting. This governmental openness even extended beyond this physical residence. Citizens can even contact the President of Estonia (https://www.president.ee/en/contact/index.html) where their electronic messages will be registered with the appropriate department and treated as if they were physical documents. Not only is this innovative, but this also allows the concerns of the public to be heard and addressed, instead of being swept under the rug. These interactive opportunities between the people and the government foster a national rapport and serve as an example for how this degree of accessibility could be implemented by other nations.

Gardens between the President’s Palace and Kadriorg Palace

While the front of the President’s Palace is accessible to guests, the back of the palace, containing a scenic pool and gardens, is secluded from the public via white and yellow walls (above). The public, nevertheless, is still welcome to enjoy the gardens, fountains, and scenery between the barrier and the Kadriorg “pint-sized” Palace (below).

Kadriorg Palace

Previously, the Estonian head of state lived in the almost 300-year-old Kadriorg Palace (above) built in 1718 by Peter the Great for Catherine I of Russia. Today, the Kadriorg Palace has been renovated into the Kadriorg Art Museum, showcasing paintings, sculptures, vases, and other artistic relics from the 16th century forward.

The visit to the President’s Palace demonstrated how a the mindset of free inquiry in the digital world has resulted in a greater degree of openness and interaction between the government and with the constituents in the physical world, evidenced by allowing guests to peruse the grounds and those with appointments to enter in for a meeting. Not only was this display of technological transparency a refreshing and interesting observation, but it also has the potential to serve as a model for a similar system could be implemented in countries abroad to achieve similar results. Overall, the buildings at Kadriorg taught us about the local history, Estonian art and design, technology and innovation, and the support means the government has taken to make sure its citizens’ concerns are received and resolved.

TBS Abroad Week 10: Weather

By Evie Lawson on April 5, 2016

20 - Weather

Week 10 Prompt: Weather

In the film-musical My Fair Lady, Eliza Doolittle’s companions at Ascot were warned to limit their conversation to “the weather and everybody’s health.” While Prof. Higgins had ulterior reasons for making this suggestion, it remains true that the weather often drives small talk and casual chit-chat. Both generic and intangible, the weather unites us with our neighbors in lived experience. We all have something to say about it, because it impacts each of us in our own way: from flooded lawns, to flowers that need watering; from garden vegetables wilting in the heat, to seemingly unshakable winter temperatures. This week, pay attention to the weather — both as a meteorological phenomenon and as an object of common discourse. Take a picture of the sky on (what feels like) a typical day. Then, tell us how people treat the weather. Is it a topic of common conversation? Do people often complain about it, or is the weather loved and celebrated?

Ryan Hildebrandt

The weather in Japan varies widely by region, from the tropical islands in the south to the snowy mountains in the north. But no matter where in Japan you find yourself, the weather plays a very important and perhaps unexpected role. Talking about the weather in Japan is similar to how it’s talked about in the West; small talk, ice breakers, pleasant observations. But in Japan, this is taken a step further, with written letters to anyone often opened and concluded with an inquiry about the weather (more taken as a sign of seasonal change than the particular day). Weather finds itself into all sorts of Japanese poetry, literature, artwork, folk stories, and proverbs. Weather also can be fond in Japanese religion, namely in Shinto, where the weather can be thought of as being in tha hands of the gods as well as out of their control, and sometimes just the work of mischievous spirits. But many days I spent in Kyoto looked like the photo here, clear and sunny with just enough shade to stay comfortable.


Allison Zengilowski

Currently, it is summer in Australia. The weather has been between low 70’s to upper 80’s almost every day, making for an enjoyable beginning to what is typically a rather cold semester.

Australia is a rather outdoor-centric country, thus, the weather is an important aspect of daily life. When speaking with my American friends, the conversations regarding the weather tend to be centered around what we should wear (we’ve never had this warm of weather in February and March!) or how bizarre it is to be sweating just walking outside in what is typically our winter. However, many of my Australian peers are avid surfers, a perk of living in the residence hall with a five-minute walk to the beach. When speaking with them about their days or their surfing endeavors, they will almost always determine a surf to be good or bad based on the weather. Temperature aside, the wind is a strong indicator of how their outings go. For if the wind is too strong, it will make the waves strong and surfing difficult; however, if the wind is weak, the waves will not be large enough to facilitate a good ride.Allison 6

Perhaps due to the fact that I do not participate in sports that are weather-dependent, my main view of meteorology is centered around what I’ll be wearing or what I’ll be doing that day. For many of my friends in Australia, the weather is not just a side note, but rather, it is a key player in their daily activities.

TBS Abroad Week 9: Architecture

By Evie Lawson on April 1, 2016

19 - Architecture

Week 9 Prompt: Architecture

Every city has notable architecture. Global cities, like New York, are made famous by their skyscrapers: the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, or One World Trade Center. Small towns and villages, like Hamilton, NY, have their own notable buildings, just on a much more limited scale: the Colgate chapel or bookstore. Architecture can be famous or notorious, beautiful or ugly. The White House may symbolize global power, while Alcatraz brings to mind the high-profile criminals it once housed. Antoni Gaudí’s La Sagrada Familia is recognizable for its fairy tale-like eccentricity, while Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building exhibits a thoughtful simplicity. This week, observe the architecture in your local community. Are there any memorable buildings? Are any wrapped-up in local history? Why? What’s the story? Take a picture of one notable building, then explain why it stands out.

Ryan Hildebrandt

The architecture of Kanazawa Station (in Kanazawa, Japan) embodies a number of notable features of traditional Japanese architecture and how that tradition has been modernized and incorporated into modern cities. The most notable feature of the entry to the station is the massive torii (Shinto gate). The torii itself is a common structure used in Japanese architecture, and it traditionally marks the entry into a dwelling of the gods, or some holy site. You’ll find these at every Shinto shrine across the nation, and the torii has unsurprisingly become a symbol frequently associated with Japan. The torii that stands over Kanazawa station is at first glance much less traditional than any you are likely to see at a shrine, but it retains several key elements of traditional architecture, such as the reliance on large, continuous timbers, the natural color of the wood, and the balance between the straight lines of the timbers and the curves of the top beam. These elements have been incorporated into a distinctly modern interpretation of the torii. Another architectural element is the building behind the torii, which is the station building itself. The stark contrast between the natural, earthy tones of the torii and the sharp, modern lines of the glass and steel behind it make for another commonly seen Japanese architectural element, which is the balance of seemingly opposing designs into one final composition. Finally, the layout of the courtyard around the torii is very important to the architecture of the entire building. The use of trees and stone also remind one of nature and the interplay of natural structures and man-made buildings, which as a motif can also be seen all over the country.


TBS Abroad Week 8: Flowers

By Evie Lawson on March 23, 2016

15 - Flowers - Field of Bluebonnets with Trees by Julian Onderdonk

Week 8 Prompt: Flowers

Flowers look beautiful and have a wonderful smell, but they have a steep environmental cost. Cut flowers — the kind given at holidays, birthdays, funerals, and dinner parties — are often grown in countries where the climate is warm all year. Kenya sends roses to Europe; Equador supplies them to the United States. At the same time, labor practices can be exploitative, and lax environmental regulations mean flower-bearing plants can be treated with harmful chemicals. In that sense, perhaps the best and most beautiful flowers are those that grow locally: as “weeds,” in flowerpots, on trees, in bushes. This week, as spring begins to bloom in the northern hemisphere, look at the flowers blooming in your area. Are they native? Do they grow on their own, or are they actively cultivated? Take a picture of some flowers, then tell us where they’re grown and who (if anyone) is responsible for them.

Ryan Hildebrandt

Flowers are everywhere in Kyoto, as they are in much of Japan. Flowers are found in many aspects of Japanese culture and have a much stronger symbolism in Japan than they do in America. Most flowers have a strong connotation and symbolism associated with them, and they are accordingly used much more extensively in literature, art, and storytelling than in other cultures. Most of what you’ll see in Kyoto, however, are wildflowers or flowers growing in people’s gardens just next to the sidewalk. Many homes and apartments have small flower gardens or boxes in the front, and throughout my time in Japan I took many many photos of these streetside flowers.

benton ryan flowers

Zachary Weaver

Flowers have special meaning here in Wales. Two of the most well known symbols of Wales are plants – the leek and the daffodil. Naturally, one may ask how leeks and daffodils, two very different flowers, came to represent Wales in addition to the Welsh Dragon. The root of the issue comes in the form of the Welsh Language.

In ancient times, there was a large battle for Wales in which Welsh archers were firing at their enemies from the top of a hill. The plants that covered that hill? The leek – or cenhinen in Welsh. While the authenticity of the story has been called into question, the leek has historically been the main plant of Wales. However, in the 19th century, there was a large push for a more romanticized version of Welsh history, changing the national costume and history to bring a “better” version of Wales to the modern world. A politician named David Lloyd George championed the adoption of a national plant. In a mistranslation (which may or may not have been on purpose), George accidentally translated cenhinen Bedr as the national flower, instead of cenhinen­. In Welsh, cenhinen Bedr stands for St. Peter’s Leek, which is known today as the daffodil.

Next to Cardiff Castle are many beds of flowers, such as this bed, that are grown in the form of another national symbol of Wales: The Welsh Crest.

Next to Cardiff Castle are many beds of flowers, such as this bed, that are grown in the form of another national symbol of Wales: The Welsh Crest.

As such, these two plants are seen growing everywhere in Wales. It is quite common for households to have pots of daffodils growing in pots outside their house or in their garden. Many national buildings and sights, such as Cardiff Castle, grow beds of leeks and daffodils to promote national pride.

However, other flowers are often grown in Wales. Many large estates have very intricate and beautiful gardens filled with flowers both foreign and native to Wales and the United Kingdom as a whole. Going to national gardens in the UK is a favorite pastime of many people, and many residents have their own miniature gardens where tulips and roses are grown in addition to many different forms of vegetables.


TBS Abroad Week 7: Animals

By Evie Lawson on March 17, 2016

Week 7

Week 7 Prompt: Animals

Non-human animals are often deeply integrated into human societies. Cats have guarded our homes for well over 12,000 years; and in many Western societies, dogs are treated like human children (perhaps for good reason). At the same time, the lines we draw to delimit animal-human interactions are uneven when not more simply unconsidered. Pigs, which are more intelligent than dogs, are seldom welcomed into polite society — except on dinner plates; and guinea pigs — a “fine and valuable food” in Central and South America — are popular childhood pets here in North America. This week, pay attention to animals. Which species are commonly kept as pets? Are dogs and cats protectors and companions? How and where do human and non-human animals commonly interact? (Parks? Zoos? Restaurants?) Take a picture of a place (or an animal) you believe is typical for your local area.

Zachary Weaver

Cardiff is similar to most other cities that I have been to in regards to the wildlife commonly seen in the city: pigeons, seagulls, and ravens are common sights flying through the sky (or waking students up early in the morning), while often times someone is walking their dog down the road or in the park.

In actuality, it is very common to see people bringing their dog down to the park for a bit of playtime. Every time I’ve been in a park playing soccer or walking by one on the way to class, there are always people and their dogs throwing balls, running around, or just playing in the mud. The Taff River runs through the center of the main park in the city, and in many places it is accessible from the walking and running trails weaving through the park. So, many people bring their dogs down to wade in the water, or maybe to clean them from all the mud that is present in the city).

Other wildlife in the city is relatively rare, with the exception of the ever-present city rat. However, those mostly stay hidden during the day. I’ve only seen one rat out during the day, and unfortunately that day it decided to dart across the sidewalk where we were walking to class and ended up getting stepped on (but not hurt!) but one of the people on the path.

As for the rest of Wales, the most common animal to see is the Welsh Dragon. Okay, it’s not a real animal, but it is one of few national flags with an animal prominently displayed, and the Welsh flag is everywhere! In actuality, the most common (real) animal to see is much more mundane than a dragon – sheep. Since Wales is a mostly rural country, sheep farming makes up most of the economy. One of my favorite parts of the Welsh countryside is driving through common pastures. Many farmers will collectively own land, so their flocks share large, open pastures. These pastures cross roads, and the entrances to these areas feature grates on the road that have slits that are spaced just far apart enough so that livestock can’t escape. Also, farmers will spray paint parts of the livestock so they can distinguish which livestock belong to which farmer! It makes it fun when you’re just driving along and all of the sudden you have to stop because there are sheep in the middle of the road!

Grace Western

When I tell people that I am in Cameroon, West Africa, many people picture giraffes, lions, and elephants as my everyday scenery. However, I have yet to see any. Yaoundé, where I am currently living, is one of the largest cities in Cameroon with 3 million inhabitants. When we were living in Kribi, a coastal town, we were told that elephants once resided in the neighboring rainforest, but were driven away by development. Yet, Cameroon claims the title “Africa in Miniature” so they do have what many equate with Africa: animals. In the northern region, specifically in the city of Ngaoundéré, there are safaris to see these animals. This is a popular tourist attraction but as of late is not the safest due to Boko Haram. However, there is an animal I did not expect to see nearly as frequently as I do: lizards! They are everywhere and in every color. They are equivalent to mice in the U.S. but evidently are far less terrifying and more beautiful. Plus, you look up at the ceiling and watch them in their rainbow scales walk upside down and you can’t help but be impressed. Children even begin to consider some lizards pets, though not nearly in the same way we do in the U.S. The concept of pets here is quite different. As a self-proclaimed dog lover, I was ecstatic to hear that my host family in Yaoundé had a dog. However, the family dog lives outside and only gets attention at meal time. It seems the purpose of family dogs here is more of a security precaution. Additionally, there are stray dogs that just roam the street with no owners and just keep to themselves. Here, it seems, there are no pets, just animals.

TBS Abroad Week 6: Art

By Evie Lawson on March 2, 2016

16 - Art

Week 6 Prompt: Art

What is art? Must it be beautiful? Does it require basic geometrical considerations, like symmetry and proportion? Does art, by definition, require skill to produce — or can art be made by chance? Can ordinary objects — like a chair or a urinal — be considered art? Can art be virtual: a video game? The answer to each of these questions is likely to be “yes,” depending on whom you ask. Indeed, to the extent “art” exists as a discrete and definable idea, perhaps the most we can say is that it refers to a thing or practice that gives meaning to our lives — or even, as in conceptual art, an idea that challenges us to engage more thoughtfully with the world surrounding us. But there are also times when non-Art is defined explicitly, usually when it doesn’t conform to rigid, ideologically-defined aesthetic standards. In recent years, critics have questioned the value of art that explores controversial subjects, makes use of bodily fluids, depicts the erotic, or that puts dead bodies on display. Which is to say: the cultural and conceptual contours defining art are by no means universal. This week, give some thought to art and how it’s defined in the society surrounding you. Are people open minded about art, or do they stick to the Old Masters? Is artwork publicly accessible? Are there any art museums nearby? Can art be found in public places, like parks? Is there any “functional” art, or even “propaganda” art? Take a picture of an art museum or a work of public art, then talk about art culture as you’ve observed it so far.

Ryan Hildebrandt

Art in Japan is everywhere. From small museums you can find down side streets, to the sprawling public parks, to just about every temple and shrine you can find (and there are a lot of them, trust me), art pervades every aspect of Japanese life and living in Japan. In addition to paintings and sculptures that adorn the walls of shrines and stand in many parks, perhaps the most immersive form of art you can find in Japan is landscape and garden art. Especially in cities like Kyoto, houses on city streets often featured a composed and meticulously composed garden towards the back of the house. Gardens are also prominent in the Imperial Palace, where a large portion of the complex is devoted to mossy gardens with towering pine, maple, and cherry trees. Most of these gardens are designed to be walked through or observed from a deck or bench, and different perspectives on the garden give entirely different experiences for the same space. Other common elements are stone lanterns and bridges, ground-covering moss, ponds with stepping stones, fountains, and sculptures often seated on the surface of the water. For some residential gardens, small tea houses or pavilions are common, often placed in the garden for an ideal view. This picture is from a temple and garden complex in Kobe, Sourakuen.


Mallory Keller

As an art history major, Florence was a dream. There is so much culture crammed into the city and it truly was the heart of the Italian Renaissance, which is centered around the ‘Old Masters’ of art. Three of the four classes I took were centered around art history and architecture and almost every one of my classes entailed a site visit to a museum or church where there were works of art. There is modern art in Italy, but I only went to one modern art museum in Italy, the Peggy Guggenheim museum in Venice. The focus is greater on the Old Masters of art, like da Vinci, Michelangelo, Titian, Raphael, Bellini, Bronzino, Vasari, etc. It makes sense since so many of them have ties to Florence, through the schools they attended or it was the home of their patrons (ex. the Medici family that built Florence), they are ingrained into the culture of the city. But beyond that, it is about the money these works of art bring to the city. Tourists come to Florence to see the great works of art. There are art museums all over and most of them charge admission (on the first Sunday of the month state museums are free, but then you have to fight insane crowds). In every store you can buy almost anything with a reference to a famous work of art. I saw the Mona Lisa on so many things all over the place and it is not even in Italy!

I learned to deal with the commodification of Old Masters work because i was able to see incredible works of art. While you did have to pay to get into museums, the Uffizi is only 8 euros, which is not much considering how many works of art are in there. I went five times and was even able to go to Vasari’s Corridor with my school, which is an incredible collection of artist’s self portraits that is closed to the general public. There are so many free walking tours available online to see awesome works of art that are scattered throughout the city. Many churches are free or accept a small donation and have incredible works of art inside, like the Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari church in Venice. For 3 euros, you can see incredible altarpieces by Titian and Bellini along with other amazing works of art. While I do appreciate modern art, it is incredible to me that artists were able to create these works of art with such skill 500 years ago. I had so much more to say about this post, but decided to keep it relatively short. But if anyone wants to reach out, I am always willing to talk about art.

Danielle Norgren

Often, art is defined as an act of creation. Thus, a work’s value becomes intrinsically linked to its complexity. I myself used to have this perspective, which lends a sort of cynicism towards certain works of modern art. Walking through contemporary art museums I often hear scoffs of, “I could have done this myself.” After spending time exploring art history in France, however, my perspective has greatly changed. My respect for non-conventional works of art has grown immensely.




I think the most striking challenge to arguably conventional perceptions of art come in the form of “readymades,” a movement perfected by Marcel Duchamp. Readymades consist of relatively mundane unaltered subjects, i.e. a bottle rack. Duchamp’s most infamous work is “Fountain,” a urinal signed R.L. Mutt. I was able to view a replica of this piece in Nice. This work finds its fame not necessarily in its construction, but perhaps in its backstory. Duchamp tried to submit his work to the Society of Independent Artists, a society which was bound by its constitution to accept all members’ submissions. However, they took acceptation to Duchamp’s work, deeming it a piece of sanitary ware – and one associated with bodily waste – [which] could not be considered a work of art and furthermore was indecent (presumably, although this was not said, if displayed to women).” Duchamp resigned in protest, frustrated by the board’s attempts to censor an artist. Duchamp was attempting to test the limits of new conceptions of art. Perhaps if he had used his own name to sign the work, the response would have been different as he was a respected and acknowledged artist.

With readymades, it can be argued that there has been no act of creation. As such, they cannot be labeled as art. For me, however, readymade art is particularly poignant. Readymades take every day objects and allow the viewer the chance to view them in a different light. I view art as any work that offers a change in perspective. To force oneself to view an object, a scene, an event, through the eyes of the artist.

Allison Zengilowski

Over Easter weekend, a few friends and I decided to trek to Melbourne (pronounced Melbin) to explore the area. This is a much more populous area than Wollongong, and we ended up staying in a hostel rather close to the National Gallery of Victoria, the Australian Centre of the Moving Image, and several other public art venues. Although the collections housed in the galleries were beautiful, I was most drawn to the art lining the buildings on Hosier Lane. This street has been deemed as a space where street artists can go to display and practice their art. The works ranged from full murals to small phrases, yet it was very easy to see the signature traits of various artists.

Allison 5

While we were meandering through the street, there were three artists working. Seeing the people behind the images while also noting how layered the walls were was a rather memorable experience. The street is constantly changing due to different artists coming in and leaving their mark. Therefore, Hosier Lane will almost certainly never look the same as it did when we were observing it.

Allison 4

Personally, I appreciated how alive the art was. There were no restrictions or limitations to what one could place on the wall, and although most artists use the same materials, their techniques and signatures vary. We were not guided on where to look, rather, it felt like a little scavenger hunt trying to find all of the different images, texts, and tactile pieces interwoven throughout the brick walls.

Allison 3

As of now, I have noted that Australia does have an appreciation for art and has exquisite collections in galleries. However, what I find to be the strongest installations are those that exist outside of the confines of buildings. Street art is most certainly one medium for this, but there are also art installations in public parks, on hikes, woven within architecture in cities, truly, the locations are endless. Melbourne, being located in an urban setting, brings art into any and all spaces it can.

TBS Abroad Week 5: Technology

By Evie Lawson on February 24, 2016

18 - Technology

Week 5 Prompt: Technology

Depending on whom you ask, technology is likely to save society or else hasten its demise. But such black-and-white thinking rarely captures the subtleties of technological decision-making or the philosophical problems inherent to hard determinism. Indeed, while it is clear how technology drives culture — by opening up new ways of being in the world — historians of technology have also argued the reverse: that culture and nature, including non-human actors and scientific forces, necessarily give shape to technology. These ideas have been articulated variously by Trevor Pinch and Wiebe Bijker (Social Construction of Technology), and Bruno Latour, Michel Callon, and John Law (Actor Network Theory). This week, pay attention to technology both in its obvious (digital electronics) and non-obvious (screw drivers, walking canes) forms. Is technology something people openly discuss? Is it something society values? Do students feel pressure to pursue STEM careers? Are people deterministic in their attitudes? (E.g “There’s nothing we can do about it.” “Technology is unstoppable.”) Do people long for an earlier, “simpler” time? Take a picture of a common piece of technology, and explain how and why people use it.

Ryan Hildebrandt


One of the more noticeable uses of technology that stands out for most Americans visiting Japan is the use of automated ordering in Japanese restaurants. For many restaurant chains that specialize in serving the masses of businesspeople and students on their lunch breaks, machines like the ones pictured help to streamline the ordering process for both the kitchen and the customer. Instead of waiting to be seated, then waiting for a menu, then waiting to order, then waiting for your food, then waiting for the check, you simply walk in, place your order on the machine, and then you’ll be seated promptly and your food is already paid for and on the way out in minutes. Each machine allows you to fully customize your order with the full menu, including appetizers, drinks, sides, entrees, and desserts. Most restaurants that use this model offer lunch sets (an entree with rice, soup, and a couple sides) for $7-10 to cater to the lunch rush customers. They change seasonally and with different holidays, featuring different dishes and special sides depending on the time of year. It’s interesting to note that these machines don’t replace the kind of fast food service we’re familiar with, because Japan has plenty of that already. Go into any McDonald’s, KFC, or MossBurger and you’ll feel right at home with people taking your order and getting your food just like they would in the States. This automated ordering system fills a sort of middle-ground niche between fast food and a full sit-down restaurant. You still can sit down and enjoy your mea (which is a thousand times better than any fast food chain) without having to go through the ordering process and delays that come with a usual restaurant. It’s one way out of many that technology finds its way into every day life in Japan.

Danielle Norgren

Last week I spent my vacation in the South of France, in Nice. After a long day of exploring a modern art museum and the local market, my friend and I were desperately craving ice cream. Unfortunately, it was past 9, which meant all the supermarkets were closed. As a last resort, we decided to stop at McDonalds. When we first entered, I was surprised to see that cashiers had been replaced by touchscreens. With these touchscreens, one could customize their meal with ease, merely swiping a credit card when the order was complete. With this technology, all human contact was avoided. In a country that seems to place emphasis on interactions between the customer and the business (it is considered rude to enter a store without greeting the store owner), this seemed bizarre to me.technology 2

This experience immediately reminded me of the summer before my freshman year at Colgate, during which the Bentons were asked to read “The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies” by Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson. As a brief synopsis, this book discusses the ability of machines to transform our economy. Technology can effectively be used to replace tasks which were once given to humans. With these new touch screen machines, the role of the cashier has been rendered inessential.

As I rarely go to McDonalds in America, I cannot be sure that this new technology is unique to France. For the most part, American and French societies seem to benefit from similar implications of technology. However, it is interesting to consider the implications a “technological revolution” would have on the french economy. France currently faces an unemployment rate of 10.31 percent. I wonder how the country could adapt to losing more jobs as a result of enhanced technology


TBS Abroad Week 4: Public Transit

By Evie Lawson on February 17, 2016

14 - Public Transit

Week 4 Prompt: Public Transit

Outside dense, urban cores — New York, Chicago, San Francisco — most American cities require cars to get around. The reason is rooted in ideology as much as history. Especially during the post-WWII period, automobiles emerged both as a convenient mode of transportation and as an expression of individuality: you could travel on your own schedule, at your own pace, in a car of your choice, with your belongings concealed safely in the trunk. Indeed, while the American love affair with cars has spread, many small- and medium-sized cities outside North America offer cheap, reliable, and safe public transit. Though British trains are famously (though perhaps not actually) late, in places like Japan and Germany, train operators are penalized for running even a few seconds behind. Public transit — whether train, bus, or street trolly — has clear advantages over the car: not only is the carbon footprint lower, they allow riders to make better use of their time in-transit, perhaps by reading, knitting, or visiting with friends. But it also has drawbacks: you must carry everything yourself, and transit schedules aren’t always the most convenient. This week, pay attention to public transit. Is there a reliable system where you live? Is it utilized by the people who live nearby? What modes of transit are offered? Street-level trolleys? Subways? Busses? Gondolas? Ferries? Take a picture of the public transit system: a bus, a trolly, or the like. If there isn’t one, take a picture that best illustrates how people get around.

Ryan Hildebrandt

Public transportation is the easiest, cheapest, most efficient, and greenest way to get around in Japan. Trains and busses connect every part of every major and minor city, and even connect the cities to one another. The trains run frequently and on time, and take you farther than anything else for less money. They’ll take you clear across the city in a matter of minutes and even up to the mountains to get away from it all.

Photo courtesy of Ryan Hildebrandt.

Zachary Weaver

We are on a tour of the transportation systems of the world: first trains, then planes, and now public transport! While perhaps trains are first thought of when one thinks of public transport in the United Kingdom, it is really the bus that is the workhorse of the average worker. Trains are great for getting from the outskirts of a big city to the center, or from city to city. However, one of the most efficient ways to get around within a city is by bus.

Busses in the UK are famous, if only for the iconic red double-decker busses found in London. Sure enough, those are no fantasy image: I was in London just the other weekend, and there seemed to be almost as many busses as there were cars! With purposes ranging from designated bus tours of the city to actually transporting people around the various parts of London, the bus system seemed more prevalent than the London Underground.

It is no different in Cardiff, other than the shape of the bus. Not a day goes by when I don’t see at least 3 busses, either going from the outskirts to city center or ferrying students around campus (which is much bigger than Colgate it must be said!). These aren’t Colgate Cruiser style people movers – these are full busses, more reminiscent of Centro busses for those from Central New York.  On my walk to classes I pass between 2 and 5 bus stops every day – they are almost on every street corner or intersection. Designated bus lanes are prevalent even in cities such as Cardiff.

One of the many busses I pass on my way to classes everyday. This particular bus runs from the suburbs to the city center pretty consistently!

One of the many busses I pass on my way to classes everyday. This particular bus runs from the suburbs to the city center pretty consistently!

Busses can also fill the role of trains and planes. Often, it is cheaper to buy a bus ticket to a major hub than a train or plane ticket if one is traveling around the UK. I took a bus to London the other week, and it was a fairly short three and a half hour bus ride through the countryside. Busses also run as far north as Scotland – several people have already planned a bus trip from Cardiff to London, then an overnight bus up to Glasgow or Edinburgh!

Busses are also a fairly cheap method to get around, even over short distances. A bus ride from the Cardiff City Center out to the suburb of Tongwynlais (where another castle – Castle Coch – can be found), and back cast about $6 USD, for a ride lasting about half an hour one-way. We saw numerous people who had come into the city center for shopping leave the bus at their various stops with shopping bags, and use a special prepaid bus pass to get on and off. Should we have to do any more bus travel, getting a bus pass may not be the worst idea!

Mallory Keller

Florence is a small city, with the population just under 400,000 people. While that may seem like a lot of people, the population is much more condensed than American cities. Bus is the only form of public transit in Florence. One of the reasons why Florence does not have a more common system like a subway is that the city is still laid out in medieval fashion so it would be difficult to build a system that follows the layout of the city without destroying historical monuments which are literally on every block. Buses are not even allowed on many streets because they do not fit down them or to preserve the streets. I only rode public transit a handful of times during the semester and I walked everywhere else. Most days I ended up walking around 10 miles. First, everyplace I wanted to go was within a thirty minute walk of where I was at a current moment and walking everywhere is common for Florentine people. To take the public transit in Florence, it would end up taking as much or more time than walking. So I decided to walk almost everywhere. I was getting great exercise and saw so much of the city. It was also known in the city that the transit system is not that reliable. The buses could be on strike, buses will not show up when they are supposed to, they will pass you if you do not flag/wave/jump up and down like a crazy person, and schedules would change on random days. Many Italians rode bikes or scooters around the city. They can swerve around city traffic, are better for the environment, and are much easier to park than a car. Overall, Florence prides themselves as a walking city, and I am glad that walking is the main mode of transportation because I was able to see more of the city than if I was riding a bus all day.

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Mallory attempting to take a selfie while on a bike.

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​The row of scooters that are on every street.


TBS Abroad Week 2: Airplanes

By Evie Lawson on February 3, 2016


Week 2 Prompt: Airplanes

For some people, flying on airplanes is a fun (albeit expensive) hobby; for others, it’s part of their job — as pilots, flight attendants, or business people traveling for work. But a small number of people rely on aviation as a lifeline: “bush pilots” bring food and supplies to remote areas of the globe, including parts of Alaska. This week, turn your eyes to the sky. Is aviation a novelty or a necessity? Do people travel for fun or only when necessary? Does air transportation have a good reputation, or are people skeptical of its safety, efficiency, and reliability? Take a picture of an airplane, airport, landing strip, or some other aviation-related aspect of the culture surrounding you.

Ryan Hildebrandt ’17, Psychology and Japanese

hildebrandt airplane

Aviation isn’t a huge part of everyday Japanese life. Unless you’re flying between two cities that are very, very far apart within Japan, most airports are used for international travel. The vast majority of domestic travel is done via ferry, car, and especially train. Because of this, most exposure to Japanese airlines comes in getting to and from the country, and isn’t a prominent means of travel once you’re in the country. There isn’t much of a domestic air-travel industry to speak of, or at least what is there isn’t frequented unless you’re traveling clear across the country and need to do it quicker than a train. Instead, the experience of going to an airport with your ticket in hand, checking luggage, finding your terminal, and jumping on a very fast and efficient means of transportation has been largely replaced with the train system and Shinkansen bullet train. As we used this much more than planes while in Japan (one flight in, one out), here’s a fuzzy picture of Mount Fuji from my plane on my way home at the last possible moment.

Mallory Keller ’17, Art History and Educational Studies

When studying abroad, you are encouraged to travel to other countries. Because of how south Italy is in Europe, while traveling by train may be cheaper, air transportation is much more time efficient. I am constantly surrounded by fellow students conversing about planning travel for weekends and which airline is better. I found that Europe is full of budget airlines that makes travel fairly cheap. Some Americans are skeptical of budget airlines, but I have found that if you read the fine print and follow their rules, you will not have any problems. From some very negative experiences with some prominent airlines in America that I will leave unnamed in this post, I would fly European budget airlines over them anyday. My experience in flying from Pisa to London on what is known as a budget airline was awesome. I had none of those terrible horror stories you hear off, it was so efficient, and my flight was only $60 round trip.

Picture courtesy of: http://andreas.scherbaum.la/blog/archives/470-A-sunday-in-Tuscany.html

The one thing I have noticed about many European airports is that they are much smaller than American airports, which I enjoy. While there are some duty free shops, I don’t have to walk through what sometimes seems like malls within American airports. Security was fast, efficient, and I never felt unsafe traveling through the airports. When my roommate and I were booking our taxi to the Florence airport when we were leaving for the semester, my host mom was confused as to why we were calling it two hours before our flight. She said we only needed thirty minutes and she ended up being correct! We sat in the pretty empty Florence airport for an hour and a half before our flight. The one thing I do miss about being abroad is the ease of travel.

Zachary Weaver ’17 

Airplanes are a fact of life in Europe. Since the introduction of the European Union and common currency, more and more businesses have offices and work in different countries. Countries in the European Union have made travel extremely easy for citizens of fellow members, and air travel is no different.

However, aside from international travel, planes aren’t used as much as trains are in the United Kingdom. It is often easier and cheaper to take a train from one end of the country to another rather than planes. This is in large part due to the extensiveness of the train network in the UK, but many areas do have their own airport or airfield.

Cardiff itself is a small city when compared to places such as London or Paris, yet there are quite a few businessmen who use air travel to get to Cardiff on a weekly basis. On my flight from Amsterdam to Cardiff on my way to the country, most of the plane was made of Dutch businessmen who had work in Cardiff that day or week.

Cardiff Airport Departure Gate, the closest airport to Cardiff University, is small and useful for traveling to a handful of locations in Europe. Going to London for longer flights is common. Photo from http://www.southwalesargus.co.uk/news/11769628._Has_Cardiff_Airport_buy_out_been_worth_it___AMs_will_ask_today/

Cardiff Airport Departure Gate, the closest airport to Cardiff University, is small and useful for traveling to a handful of locations in Europe. Going to London for longer flights is common. Photo from http://www.southwalesargus.co.uk/news/11769628._Has_Cardiff_Airport_buy_out_been_worth_it___AMs_will_ask_today/

Air travel itself is quite common amongst students at Cardiff, especially those of us from Colgate who are studying here! The Cardiff Airport is often used as a springboard to bigger airports, from which a flight to most of Europe can be reached. Several people already have plans to fly to mainland Europe at some point in the semester, with Amsterdam, Barcelona, and the Swiss Alps being popular destinations.

Getting to an airport is easy enough from Cardiff. One can either take a taxi to Cardiff Airport, or jump on one of several buses or trains to London and use Heathrow or Gatwick Airports for better service to more areas of Europe.

My time in Cardiff Airport was pretty easy. Being a small airport, the service was much more personable than customs and immigration in some larger airports. Plus, once I made it through all my bags were already on the luggage belt, so I didn’t have to wait at all!

Grace Western

Upon arrival in Cameroon, I looked at the small airport of Yaoundé: the 1970’s style resonating from the structure of the building to the colors, and I knew I was in for a very different (due to my western perception), but just as wonderful, experience. The airport was packed with people with signs and men trying to carry belongings for you to your car. Within the first 10 minutes of stepping into Cameroon, I noticed that many people were friendly and willing to help, despite me standing out as one of the 3 white people in the airport. What was also very interesting is that many people who were waiting past the baggage claim were trying to sell things: it was like another market! After I found the man who represented my organization, we went outside. There was so much dancing, laughing and music happening in the street and it seemed to be a joyous occasion. I thought, “what an incredible way to arrive in a new country!” I asked the man I was with what the occasion was, and he said there was none and it was normal. Clearly within my first moments in Cameroon I had already exerted my bias and failed to check my white, American perception of culture. No doubt, even when I think I am checking my privilege, and myself, I’m sure I am not completely and so I need to continue to be aware of that, especially while writing these blog posts.

Allison Zengilowski

Air transportation appears to have a rather good reputation, and traveling, especially within Australia, is extremely efficient. Traveling domestically comes with much more relaxed security procedures and timely boarding and deplaning. When returning from Melbourne, it took my friends and I 15 minutes to land, deplane, and get to the train to take us back to the university. As a student on exchange here, I would say we travel for fun much more frequently than the typical citizen. Although there is a great deal to see and do regionally that can be accessed via car or public transport, Australia is still roughly the size of the United States. Therefore, in order to get to the other coast, it takes about the same amount of time as flying from New York to Los Angeles. So flying can be a necessity, but at least from the tourist perspective, flying is a leisurely adventure.

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TBS Abroad Week 1: Trains

By Evie Lawson on January 27, 2016

Week 1 Prompt: Trains

Prior to the advent of jet travel during the 1960s, and the subsequent deregulation of airline pricing schemes in the 1980s, trains were a common mode of transportation in the United States. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (part of the U.S. Department of Transportation), air travel accounted for 576 million passenger miles in 2012, with intercity trains, including Amtrak, accounting for only about 7 million. By comparison, in 1960, the numbers were much closer: air travel saw 31 million passenger miles, with intercity trains at 17 million — a difference that conceals the greater distances typically traveled by aircraft. But America’s clear preference for aviation is by no means shared globally. In other parts of the world — India, China, and the EU especially — train travel is extremely common, even prevalent. This week, pay attention to trains. Does your current city connect to a rail system? Do people travel by train, subway, streetcar, or commuter service? Where is the nearest station? Take a picture of the station, then comment on the role of train travel in your local community.

Ryan Hildebrandt ’17, Psychology and Japanese

In Kyoto, like most major cities in Japan, trains form the basis of the public transportation system. Since Kyoto isn’t as much of a bustling metropolis as Tokyo or Osaka, there are two main subway lines, one running north-south and one running east-west. Off of these are several private rail lines, which run on a separate ticketing system from the city’s subways. These take you to the more distant regions of the city and into the sprawling suburbs, as well as into the mountains which also surround the city. The network of trains extends well beyond the limits of any individual city, also connecting major and minor cities with the world-famous Shinkansen bullet trains.

A train station in Kyoto, Japan.

Within the cities as well as in between them, trains provide a reliable and extremely affordable means of transport for everyday use. For me, the nearest station was Katsura-eki (Katsura station), about a 10-minute walk from my host family’s home. The station was a hub for taxi-cabs, bus routes, and both the Hankyu Kyoto and Arashiyama lines, one of which connects you to the city centers of both Osaka and Kyoto (about a 40 minute, $4 ride), and the other which takes you into the scenic mountains in the southwest of the city. Trains were integral to getting around during my time in Kyoto, and they are defintely one of my fondest memories of Japan.  

Danielle Norgren ’18, French and International Relations

There are a lot of things in France that take a lot of time. Meals, for example. Dinner is a ritual that starts at 8pm, and can stretch until midnight. Walking through Dijon, one notices the café dwellers, relaxing with magazines or friends. One must signal a waiter for the check, as placing it on the table without request could be interpreted as a gesture of impatience. There is something about french culture that seems  unrushed when compared to that of America. Americans strive for efficiency and productivity, every minute must be maximized. My high school host dad once summed this up in the following phrase: “The French work to live, the Americans live to work.”

Remarkably, however, this comparison does not hold when comparing systems of transportation. In America, particularly in cities, we struggle with congestion; commuting can consume a large majority of one’s time outside of work. In Dijon, however, the problem is virtually nonexistent. An extensive tram network connects the entirety of the city. If the tram does not get close enough to your destination, there are busses. Unlike in my hometown, Seattle, the predicted times of arrival are guaranteed down to the minute. To travel outside of Dijon, there is the TGV: “Le Train à Grande Vitesse.” The TGV is noted as “The world speed record holder, it zips from city to city at up to 322 kph (201 mph).” Thus, a trip to Paris takes only an hour and a half. While Dijon no longer has an airport, it can easily access the rest of the country, and world thanks to this system. France seems to have mastered efficient travel.

A train station in Dijon, France.

A train station in Dijon, France.

Friday, we had a group trip to the Hospices de Beaune. For under 10 euros, we were able to travel over 50 miles. By bus, we would have spent about 80 minutes simply traveling to our destination. By train, however, the trip was cut in half. Knowing french trains operate with ironclad precision, and knowing our group has a tendency to get lost, our professor asked us to arrive at the train station an hour early. In the station, a young man played piano as people rushed to their trains with briefcases. That morning, we were surrounded by businessmen and women, on their way to work in nearby towns. On our return trip, however, we found ourselves in a crowd of high school french students, on their way home for the weekend. They maneuvered the system with ease, reciting the bus schedule from memory. They laughed at our Americanness, noting how we tumbled with even the slightest jolt in the train. In high school, I flew over 70 times. I can make my way through airports at 4am, I know which airlines give the best inflight snacks, and I have the safety manual memorized. Yet, I have no idea where the local bus stop is. I envied these french students, and their ability to roam city to city with ease.

Mallory Keller ’17, Art History and Educational Studies

When preparing for my semester abroad, I thought that I would be traveling by train more than I have had before. I was surprised when I arrived in Florence and found out that Florence does not have a train system that resembles a subway. There is a regional train that few Italians take to Florence, like an hour ride from Pisa and Florence and back that runs several times a day, to commute to work, but I would not say that is common. From what I can determine, the train is used to travel to cities when you do not feel like driving or riding a bus. I have taken regional trains a few times to travel to cities around Italy that are too far to travel in one day on a bus, like Bologna, Venice, Naples and Rome. My trip to Bologna was quite pleasant as it was on a high speed train. The train took only 30 minutes while a bus would have taken close to 3 hours. My ears popped at times during the ride because of how fast the train was moving-300km/hr!

The regional train station near Mallory’s house in Florence, Italy.

Another high speed train company that I took to Naples and Venice was quite comfortable. The seats are larger than most seats I have experienced in the United States and they provided movies for the in car entertainment. The nearest station is 10 minutes from my home stay and it is primarily a regional train station for travel within Italy. If I want to ride a train outside of Italy, I would have to go to the large train station in the city, Santa Maria Nouvella Station, which I can get to by riding the regional train there or a 20 minute walk from my home. My overall opinion of the train system in Italy is that it makes travel fairly painless as long as the trains do not go on strike that day!

Zachary Weaver ’17 

Trains are everywhere in the United Kingdom. They are one of the cheapest and most efficient ways of getting around the country, and almost every town or city has at least one train station. Cardiff is no different.

The main station lies in the center of the city, providing access to the heart of Cardiff and allows many people to live in the suburbs and take the train in to work. In fact, one of the reasons why there is comparatively little traffic in the center of the city is due to the presence of the trains! It is about a 20-minute city walk from the main residences where I live, but it is easy to find because the main line runs along the Cardiff University Campus and into the station. So, just follow that and it’s easy to find the station!

One of the benefits of having the station in the center of town is the access it provides during the busiest days of the year in Cardiff: When the Welsh National Rugby Team is playing a match in Principality Stadium (formerly Millennium Stadium). The train station is right across the street from the stadium, so people who are traveling from every corner of the United Kingdom have easy access to the almost 75,000 person stadium, where the atmosphere is often better than even American Football stadiums!

Likely after a match, people queuing outside of Cardiff Central Train Station. Photo from http://www.arrivatrainswales.co.uk/SpecialEvents/.

Likely after a match, people queuing outside of Cardiff Central Train Station. Photo from http://www.arrivatrainswales.co.uk/SpecialEvents/.

One of the remarkable aspects of trains in Cardiff is how efficient the authorities have made train travel. On match days, when the game is over and everyone is going home, it could be a chaotic mess of people trying to find the right train to get home. However, a quick walk near the station reveals that there are plans in place for these events. Signs are pointing out where to stand for the exact train that is needed. Going home to London? Stand in the big area for Londoners. Heading west to the relatively close by Swansea? That area is marked, too. Almost every city is represented on match days.

The extent and efficiency of trains is not reserved for cities, though. My grandparents live in rural northeast Wales, near the border with England. Even though their community is small, the nearest train station is a 15-minute car ride. Also, because they live in a valley, my grandparents actually live underneath a train viaduct allowing the train to efficiently cross the valley!

Sid Wadhera ’17, Economics and Political Science

Trains are deeply embedded in the ethos of the United Kingdom, and even more so in London. That is not an exaggeration; the Underground system has a long history as the worlds oldest rapid transit system. Some of the most recognizable images of World War II are tube stations used as air-raid shelters during the Battle of Britain. Yet, having spent time exploring the metro-rail systems in Seoul and New York City, I find that the Underground is not very much different than others in its category. The difference and significance of trains in the United Kingdom comes from the fact that they connect every part of the country so well. From Central London one can take a train south for a day trip to the coast; one can take a train north for a weekend in Scotland; one can take a train west to see the famed Welsh hills; perhaps most significantly of all, one can take a train to Paris, and from there to anywhere in Europe.

Ask the average Londoner what they think about trains, and you’re likely to get a confused stare. For most people they are just another part of daily life, but when the Tube workers go on strike it becomes hassle. This speaks to the old adage that goes something like “you don’t appreciate what you have until you lose it.” For Londoners, the Tube and trains have become so ingrained in their daily lives that they do not even notice…that is until the they stop running. Next week, I might make a trip to the London Museum of Transport to see if the train lovers over there have something more interesting to discuss.

The beauty of being in Central London for me is that I’m surrounded by Tube Stations. The three that properly triangulate my position are Russel Square, Holborn, and Tottenham Court Road. The interesting thing about these stations is that they put me on the map for three different tube lines: the Northern, Central, and Piccadilly lines. In essence, these are three major lines that direct me to any location I want in London. That is one significant advantage London has over New York: the lines are not so direct that you cannot connect between them.

Needless to say, I have gotten properly lost quite a few times on the Tube, and it has been an absolute pleasure. From the zone system of fees to oyster cards for payment, the Tube really has expanded my appreciation for the planning used in the implementation of this system and systems like it across the world. Now if only London’s streets were organized as nicely, but that’s a conversation for another day.


Allison Zengilowski ’17

Wollongong does have a rather convenient and user-friendly train system. The nearest train stop to my residence hall is about a ten minute walk. From there, it is about an hour and a half to two hour ride to get up to Sydney. The train runs rather far along the coast, making getting around to various locations in Australia sans car a feasible option. In terms of public transportation, Wollongong has both a bus and train system. Both are frequently used, but specifically in regards to trains, there are a great deal of commuters. I have been on the train both at very early points in the morning and very late in the evening, and there will be individuals coming or going to work, school, or for a quick, leisurely visit. The trains are well maintained, and there are even quiet cars if you would like to sleep, read, or get work done. Overall, it is an efficient and rather cheap way to travel around the New South Wales area.

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