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TBS Abroad Week 8: Money

By mkeller on April 5, 2017

Week 8 Prompt: Money  

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


Sabrina Farmer 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 



TBS Abroad Week 7: Trash

By mkeller on April 1, 2017

Week 7 Prompt: Trash    

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


Ben Kelsey 

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

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

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

Sabrina Farmer 

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



Texan Tech – March 13th

By mdirkers on March 26, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


TBS Abroad Week 6: McDonalds

By mkeller on March 22, 2017

Week 6 Prompt: McDonalds    

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


Danielle Norgren

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

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

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

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

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

 


Ben Kelsey 

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

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

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

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


Sabrina Farmer 

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



TBS Abroad Week 5: News

By mkeller on March 16, 2017

Week 5 Prompt: News   

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


Sean Corrigan 

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

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

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


Ben Kelsey 

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

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

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

 



Erin Huiting ’17: Volunteering in Uganda with the Women’s Global Empowerment Fund

By Peter Tschirhart on February 24, 2017

Wall from the GWRC

The following post was contributed by Benton Scholar Erin Huiting ’17. She recently utilized Benton Scholars’ “Mini-Grant” funds to complete a volunteer-based research project in Uganda.


I came across the Denver-based non-profit Women’s Global Empowerment Fund (WGEF) as a young, curious student almost seven years ago. However, I still remember meeting the founder, Karen Sugar, with such clarity – her voice was kind and welcoming, yet overcome with raw despair. She spoke of a 23-year long civil war in northern Uganda that led to millions of internally displaced people (IDP), of which women and children were disproportionately affected. Today, even as a recovering post-conflict region, female education levels have remained extremely low and young girls are not actively encouraged to stay in school. This has left many women illiterate, and as a result, both economically and socially disenfranchised. In response, WGEF partnered with a community-based non-profit Volunteer Action Network to provide women of post-conflict northern Uganda with microcredit loans and social programing. After hearing this story, I became WGEF’s first volunteer. Little did I know this was the beginning of one of the most impactful experiences of my life.

Throughout high school, I found myself at several fundraisers, performances, and collaborations emphasizing WGEF’s work. I remained involved with WGEF as I left for college, and during my senior fall, Karen invited me to accompany herself and WGEF to the northern Gulu District of Uganda. After a long day of travel, I found Karen discussing her work in social justice amongst a group of women. One of which was writing an article for Marie Claire magazine about WGEF’s partnership with Urban Decay Cosmetics’ initiative to empower women, while the other women were apart of Urban Decay’s design and communication team. Given that I had personally witnessed the struggles of WGEF starting-up as a non-profit, meeting these women was a moment of both a joy and relief. Their support would enable WGEF to continue providing resources and information for the women of northern Uganda.

The next morning, I hopped on a ‘boda boda’ (motorbike taxi) and met everyone at WGEF’s opening of the Gulu Women’s Resource Center (GWRC). The center provides women a community meeting space, as well as computer and life skill trainings to facilitate conversations and develop solutions to relevant issues. There was a strong sense of pride and excitement as we watched the center open. The same day, I was introduced to one of WGEF’s clients, Akello Grace. I learned that despite spending more than 15 years in IDP camps, she is now an entrepreneur, community leader, and district council representative fiercely advocating for women’s rights. Grace remains one of the most powerful, selfless individuals I have ever met.

Riding on the boda boda, photo by Arnelle Lozado

Cutting the ribbon to the GWRC

From left: WGEF program associate Okumu Kevin, client Aloyojok Prisca, program associate Arena Monica, founder Karen Sugar, and client Akello Grace

The trip coincided with WGEF’s annual drama festival ‘Kikopo Pa Mon’ (creating a voice for women), where women perform dramas, dance, and song in the local Acholi language. Performances have previously focused on the issues of inequality, education inequity, HIV, and violence. Because these issues are sensitive and difficult to address, this unique opportunity allows women to communicate directly with men and community leaders in a stigma-free space. This year, the women chose the theme “Access to reproductive health care is my right.” While all of the women’s stories left me inspired, I was in awe of the younger girls who performed. Two girls in particular stood out – they were from a nearby primary school and chose to recite a dialogue demanding proper access to sanitation and menstrual care in schools. The audience cheered in support.

Photo by Arnelle Lozado

Photo by Keb Doak

On the flight home, I couldn’t help but smile and be overtaken with gratitude. I had the privilege to meet and listen to so many extraordinary women and girls from the Gulu community, and witness a sisterhood that enables women to find their voices. I am forever grateful for these moments and these women. And although there is much left to be done, I know the women of this region will persist and continue to accomplish great things. This is just the beginning.

Flying over Lake Victoria, Uganda


Jenny Lundt ’19: Chess is Global

By Peter Tschirhart on February 2, 2017

Benton Scholar Jenny Lundt ’19 knows chess. She’s also an experienced traveler. So, during the winter of 2017, she combined her interests into a Benton Mini-Grant project. Her proposal took her to South America, where she “backpacked through Peru with a chess board.” Chess, she discovered, isn’t just a game. It’s a way of bringing people together, facilitating communication across cultural and linguistic barriers. What follows is Jenny’s reflection.


I started like I had done a thousand times before.

The usual things. Clothes, shoes, shampoo, trail mix, portable charger: all find a niche in my backpack after a plethora of experience being hauled around the world. But this time was different. This time, I would be traveling with a chess board.

Throughout the course of my world travels, I have found that chess is global. No matter your race, gender, age, or ability, chess is played. For instance, during a visit to Ukraine last summer, I joined a tournament of old men, simply by motioning. This made me realize how a game about war is also connected to peace.

As a Peace and Conflict major at Colgate, this really interested me and made me want to learn more. So, I applied for a Benton Scholars “Mini Grant” and made chess the purpose of a trip. For three weeks during the winter of 2017, I backpacked through Peru with a chess board, setting it up wherever I was and waiting for an opponent. There was no clear plan, other than  to wait and see if anyone wanted to play.

The experience was everything and more I could have hoped for. A few highlights:

  • A game with an English teacher on the beach of Chancay over ceviche and cold chelas. As we played, he told me how desperately he wants to visit the US some day to live “the American dream.”
  • A game with a Peruvian driver with a knack for jokes who told me my Spanish was some of the best he’s heard in a while (still unsure if that was a joke?).
  • A game with my friend Luke, a true “third culture kid” whose father grew up in Mozambique, his mother in Ireland, and he in Peru. We sat as the sun went down over the beach in southern Lima and laughed about the wonders of our life for giving us this moment.
  • A two hour game with the father of my friend,  played on the balcony of his roof. We hadn’t been able to connect before that moment, but those drawn-out seconds in the open, humid air made us steal small, knowing smiles at each other for the rest of our stay. There was a deep mutual respect for each other after that. We had battled our intelligences out in a grueling match.
  • A game with Antwon, a Frenchman in my hostel room, who was coincidentally traveling with another Frenchman named Antoine. We played on the ground and sipped mate and laughed.
  • When I got horrible altitude sickness in Cusco and was bedridden for 24 hours. The Peruvian man working at the hostel came to check on me, bearing a gift of coca leaves. He looked around for something near me to rest them on, as I was too weak to move so he used my chessboard as a table, resting the leaves delicately on top. He joked, “Wow, chess is giving you life right now.” I was too ill to even explain the irony of his statement.
  • During a long bus ride through the country, I listened to an audio book to occupy the time. A main plot line was the progression of how a father and his son would play chess together to bring them closer together.
  • Traveling through in the darkness in the midst of the tallest mountain range in Peru, on an overnight bus, I was trying a little too hard to stretch out my legs and accidentally kicked the top off the chess game, spilling all 32 pieces all over the sticky bus floor. All of the little children scrambled around me trying to literally pick-up the pieces of the game. Their smiles and shrieks made the 12 hour journey so much easier as any nervousness I had about being on windy roads in the mountains that much easier.
  • Waiting for my flight down to Lima from Cusco (my altitude sickness got too severe) with a Danish couple playing their handcrafted chess board, with pieces representing different figures of Incan history and glory. I picked up the king, probably Atahualpa, and admired the intricate carvings and paintings of him dripping in gold.
  • When the flight attendant at the end of my trip confiscated the board because she thought it was a bottle of pisco, Peruvian brandy, then refused to give it back. It was forever lost to Copa Airlines.
  • Spending 5 nights on busses, my chess board and I experienced a lot. Aman sitting next to me on a bus peed in a Coke bottle. I threw up on myself because I was so ill. Oceans, lagoons, deserts, lakes, mountains, volcanoes, villages, metropolises, ruins. The game board was awkward and inconvenient to carry, but it became an additional limb, as I had to figure out how to schlep the tube around.

I confirmed my theory and came away with experiences that I would never have predicted. Whether it was physically playing the game or the physical proximity that the occurrences lead me to, I can say with complete certainty that this adventure brought me to people and stories I wouldn’t have had otherwise had.


From Northeast to Southwest: A Coast-to-Coast Journey with Benton Scholar Quanzhi Guo ’18

By Peter Tschirhart on January 24, 2017

During the winter of 2017, Benton Scholar Quanzhi Guo ’18 received a Mini-Grant to complete her version of the great American road trip. By driving from New York to California with her suite mate, Evie Lawson ’18, Q traversed an incredible variety of terrain: from snow-covered fields in the mid west, to the orange and red rock of Antelope Canyon.

She writes:

I am also reaffirmed by this simple yet profound fact that we are small and insignificant in the universe … The mind-blowing scale of gigantic rock mountains meandering for miles at the Zion National Park left me with an unspeakable finiteness, and all my concerns seemed inconsequential to [their] indifferent nature. By this realization of insignificance, I am not contending for despair or the futility of life. Rather, the larger-than-self context deflates one’s conceits and makes one in awe by the unknown.

You can read more about Q’s travels at the Huffington Post.


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.

ryan


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.

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