The Last One

Now that I’ve been at home for more than two months and it’s already time to attend the orientation for my Master’s in Critical Gender Studies at CEU from tomorrow, I finally decided to write this long-overdue post about my adventures after leaving Trinity. If you know me, you’ve already heard probably way too many stories about Maui, and you’ve seen dozens of pictures of me acting like a five-year-old at Universal Studios Hollywood. In this post, I’ll try to be brief and focus on the highlights so that you don’t have to read five chapters worth of “how amazing is the Grand Canyon” or “yes, I got addicted to fish tacos”.
Chapter 1 – Three weeks in paradise
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As you already know from my previous blog post and the introduction to this one, after leaving Trinity I spent three weeks on the Hawaiian island of Maui. Here, I volunteered through Workaway – a website through which you can find hosts in need of some help all over the world –, mostly doing gardening five hours a day, five days a week at my host’s house in the lovely village of Kula in Upcountry Maui. Even though the work was often tiring, it was really worth it: from the house’s balcony I had a view of the Pacific while enjoying my morning coffee, and I met actual, real chameleons while working in the garden. As my host organizes weddings on the island, I could accompany her to several while I was staying with her, so I could attend actual Hawaiian beach weddings – barefoot in the sand, sunset in the background and everything else you have in mind if you read the words “Hawaiian beach wedding”. We had several other programs with my host: she took me to an exhibition opening at a gallery in the nearby village Makawao, we went to see a beautiful lavender farm together, but the highlight was of course going to the farmer’s market on Saturdays: the taste of those mangos, papayas and coconuts is something I probably won’t ever forget.

 


The best thing in staying in Upcountry Maui with a local host for such a long time was of course the fact that I could get to know the island and its culture much better than I could have if I simply stayed at a hotel on my own. However, while there, I obviously wanted to see all the “must see” touristy places, all the cool beaches, and some of the best hiking routes Maui has to offer. So, since public transportation is practically non-existent in this part of the world, I decided to be brave enough to rent a car. I’m still really proud of myself that I only managed to make a tiny scratch on that rental car in the 10 days I had it especially because those 10 days included me driving the Road to Hana all the way from Paia to Hamoa Beach and back in a single day. If you haven’t heard about this highway yet, do a Google search and definitely put the place on your bucket list: it’s a long road full of scary curves and one-lane bridges through the rainforest with amazing sights at every mile. I’ve seen cool waterfalls, beautiful beaches – with the highlight of the whole day being the black sand beach at Wai`anapanapa State Park –, and I couldn’t miss eating banana bread at the Halfway to Hana stand, getting fish tacos (did I mention I got addicted?) for lunch on my way back, or trying the best smoothie I ever had.

 

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I had to include this picture to show you the fish tacos I got addicted to.

Even though driving the Road to Hana was without a doubt the highlight of my stay on Maui, I’ve seen other amazing stuff too: I’ve hiked the Waihe’e Valley Ridge Trail and been to Iao Valley, both times feeling like in a real life Jurrasic Park. I also hiked on a dormant volcano at Haleakala Crater, descending all the way down to the bottom of the crater than hiking back out. I saw so many beautiful beaches I can’t even count with Charlie Young Beach and Kamaole Beach Park being my favorites. Meanwhile, I probably took more pictures of Maui sunsets than anyone else ever, and got a serious sunburn on the very first day I went to the beach. And if all this wouldn’t be enough, when going to Ho’okipa Beach one night simply to see surfers, I saw actual, real, beautiful sea turtles climbing out of the water to spend the night in the sand, which was probably one of the best experiences I ever had in my life.

 


Overall, those three weeks on Maui were probably the best of my life so far – I literally spent that time in paradise, while seriously considering staying there forever to open a mango farm.
Chapter 2 – San Francisco, Sunnyvale, and redwoods
After Hawaii, I flew back to the mainland to spend some time in San Francisco, or more precisely, in Sunnyvale, California, at the heart of Silicon Valley. Here I stayed with the loveliest family where both parents are graduates of my high school. Even though I didn’t know them in person before visiting them, they were the best hosts one could wish for, especially because I got to spend time with their two wonderful daughters. Staying with this family I not only got to explore San Francisco – with a few days there before Maui as well, I had four days in total in the city –, but I went with them hiking and saw some really old redwood trees, we went to the beach at Santa Cruz, I again could further deepen my fish taco addiction, and even visited the headquarters of Yahoo.

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Amazing redwoods

Of course, once in the area, I had to visit all the places one has to visit when in San Francisco: I walked across the Golden Gate Bridge and took way too many pictures of it from every possible angle, I saw the sea lions sunbathing at Pier 39, I walked around at Pacific Heights and saw the houses nicknamed the “Painted Ladies”, I explored the city’s Chinatown and obviously ate some amazing noodles, I ventured into the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood where the hippie movement all started (I even saw the houses of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin), I had clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl, and I climbed a ridiculous amount of steps to have an amazing view of the city on the windiest hilltop. Even though I liked the city a lot, considering all the hype that surrounds it, I honestly expected a lot more from it, but it was definitely worth a visit – especially because this way, I got to see a really cool exhibition at San Francisco MoMA: it was an exhibition of the works of one of my favorite artists ever, René Magritte.

 


Chapter 3 – Four days in a movie set
After the week spent with my amazing host family where I really felt at home, it felt quite weird to get on a dirty Greyhound bus at San José to ride for more than seven hours to get to Los Angeles, but a movie fan like me simply couldn’t leave the United States without visiting at least a few studios in Hollywood so I tried to cram as much as I could into those four days I had in that weirdo of a city. The places I simply HAD to go to were Universal Studios and Warner Brothers Studios. Reason? Mostly Harry Potter. Since Universal Studios has a gigantic theme park in Hollywood, they are the ones featuring a whole section dedicated to J.K. Rowling’s word, even though the movies were made by Warner Bros. Since I don’t want to bore the non-Potterheads reading this blog post, I’ll try to calm my inner child now. The main thing is, I spent almost 12 hourse at Universal, and most of that was spent at the village of Hogsmeade, where I could not only ride the coolest rollercoaster inside Hogwarts Castle, but I could try butterbeer, finally get my own wand eleven years after one is supposed to do that, and visit all the shops you read about in the books – while trying to resist the temptation to buy every overpriced merchandise item.

 


While the visit to Universal Studios also included a studio tour besides all the attractions and rides, nothing can beat the studio tour of Warner Brothers Hollywood. Here, I participated in a three-hour guided tour where they took us to such iconic places as the window Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart look out from in Casablanca, the fire escape where Tobey McGuire as Spiderman kisses his girlfriend, and we saw actual sets from my favorite shows ever, Friends and Gilmore Girls. The highlight of this visit couldn’t be anything else than when during the last exhibition visited, I could sit inside the Central Perk set of Friends, on the actual couch they used during the show. If for nothing else, it was worth it to go to LA just for that picture, but of course, it wasn’t bad to see real props from the Harry Potter movies, Oscars won by movies of the studio, or all the Batmobiles from all the Batman movies.

 


Obviously, a visit to Los Angeles wouldn’t be complete without walking the Hollywood Walk of Fame – which takes a lot longer than you would expect –, without checking out the Hollywood Sign on a hike, or without visiting the iconic Griffith Observatory and the Dolby Theatre where the Oscars are given out every year. On my last day, I even had time to go to Santa Monica Pier and to Venice Beach.

 


Even though I enjoyed my time in LA very much, the city itself is definitely not going to be my favorite.
Chapter 4 – Surviving 45 Celsius
Before heading back to the East Coast, I really wanted to cross “visiting the Grand Canyon” from my bucket list, so I headed to Las Vegas to participate in a guided tour to the South Rim of the Canyon. I usually hate guided tours like that, and this tour didn’t make me like them any better but as I didn’t want to drive all those many hundreds of miles from and back to Vegas and had limited time, this was still my best option. I don’t really have words to describe the splendor of the Grand Canyon, especially because I got to see the sunset there – but I definitely have to return for a long hike down to the Colorado River, so my bucket list just got longer with this visit.
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On our way to the Canyon, the tour stopped at Seligman, Arizona for a brief visit – this little town is significant because it inspired the movie Cars, and it’s right on the historic Route 66, so I finally got to at least walk on the route, even if I have to return to drive the highway, so again, one more item added to my bucket list.
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After the tour, I had a day and a half to spend in Las Vegas until my flight back to New York. This would’ve been awful, as I seriously think that Vegas is the worst place ever, and also, the official temperature was 45 Celsius, which means it was too hot to even walk 15 minutes to a grocery store, but fortunately I met a friend here, so I could spend my time actually gambling – and winning some – and wondering that places like The Venetian with its fake Doge palace, and Caesar’s Palace with its golden statues actually can exist.
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Chapter 5 – Saying goodbye to the Big Apple
After spending so much time on the West Coast, it honestly felt like returning home when I arrived to New York City, even though it was the first time I stayed in Brooklyn. By the way, I immediately fell in love with Brooklyn, and spent quite a lot of time just wondering around its streets, spending my last dollars on delicious burgers, pad thais and falafels to enjoy the foods the Big Apple has to offer for one last time. As there was a Downton Abbey exhibition in the city at the time, I of course had to go there to admire the sets and beautiful costumes, and I also returned to MoMA for another visit after my last one back in last September. Overall, I said goodbye to the City and to the country with some amazing and emotional days, including a picnic with one of my best friends from Trinity at Central Park, and watching the sunset over the Manhattan skyline on my very last night.

 


My Kellner year then ended after seven weeks of traveling on JFK, where I met up with Juli and we boarded our flight to Europe. Now I’m sitting in my room, my walls are decorated with all the postcards I brought back from the United States and I’m preparing to start the next chapter of my life tomorrow with starting my Masters. It is so crazy to think that one year ago this time, my Trinity classes hadn’t even started yet, but I was already done with hiking four days on the Appalachian trail. I know it sounds incredibly cheesy, but I’m forever grateful for this last year: I learned a lot, I definitely changed a lot, I had an academically challenging and exciting year, I traveled to places I never imagined actually visiting – I’m looking at you, Maui and Death Valley –, and I met some amazing people I hope to see again soon. With this, thanks for everyone who has been reading about my adventures this year, I do hope you enjoyed my stories.

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The last sunset I saw in the States 

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A Kellner Year in Retrospect

So let’s see the “hard facts” for those who are interested in applying for this scholarship in the future. What did the Kellner Scholarship bring to my life? Well, it basically changed it.

Being away from my regular life at home, I started to evaluate my studies, my human relations, my plans about the future with a very different eye. It gave me a perspective which I would not have been able to have without it.

Coming to a new country and learning about the way of life here made me ask questions about my own system of beliefs: is the way how I generally do things correct/effective/good? What can I, or we as a society in Hungary learn from how people live in the United States? I find the way how people perceive life and how they work to be very different here. I see more possibilities, and in some spheres more freedom too, which opens up new, creative thoughts about the future.

My Semester in New York City: The Bard Globalization and International Affairs Program

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On top of the Rockefeller Center (PC: Zsófi Veér)

I spent my first semester at the Bard Globalization and International Affairs Program in New York City. My international relations courses were much more practise-oriented than in Hungary and I learned more about the American perspective on the world. I also interned with UNICEF USA, which was the most useful professional experience I have had so far in my life. Understanding the institutional culture of such an organization and learning from professionals from different fields was a true benefit of this internship. I was working with the Corporate Partnerships team at UNICEF USA, but I was also interested in what my colleagues from other departments of the organization were doing. Everyone was very open to share their knowledge and experiences with me and as they saw my interest they involved me in various projects. By the end of my internship I developed a wide professional network which I consider to be invaluable for my future career.

A swift, but pleasant change: Bard College in the Middle of the Beautiful Nature of Upstate New York

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Resting at Montgomery Place, the beautiful mansion which is now part of Bard’s campus (PC: Sona Badalyan)

At Bard College I had the chance to learn things which I could never learn in an academic setting before. The way of teaching was very different than what I experienced in the previous institutions I attended. Students have exposure to a wide range of primary sources (e.g. we are reading Buddhist sutras, or the great Indian epic, the Mahabharata) and not just the opinion of other scholars of a text we ourselves have never actually read. Though the latter is of great importance too, the former makes free thinking and opinion-forming about these texts possible, moreover it is highly encouraged in class. The emphasis is not on memorizing every single detail, but rather on finding certain aspects in the readings which spark your interest. These explorations are largely supported by classroom discussions, and then you have the chance to dig deeper in that topic by writing a paper.

This is another thing I find extremely helpful at Bard: while in Hungary we have exams and we have to answer short questions about mostly facts, here they are interested in your opinion too, teach you how to phrase arguments and how to express yourself in front of your peers and in writing. This is a practical skill which would benefit anyone from any field, and I am personally very grateful for it, as I missed this from my Hungarian education.

Teachers at Bard are also very open and available to students. They largely help and support your explorations and if you participate at their classes prepared and with a healthy amount of interest you will make the most out of it. As the classes are usually pretty small (around 10-15 people) they have a chance to pay attention to everyone individually. They will ask why you are interested in that class and will help you advance on your path if you are planning to continue your studies or work in that field.

Apart from the academics, Bard is an ideal place to form meaningful friendships with people from very different disciplines and from different countries, which broadens your horizons. And in my opinion, this is exactly why it is worth to go to a liberal arts college: the exposure you get here will make you open towards and interested in many different fields and your social network becomes more diverse.

How all these experiences might change my future?

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Explorations on campus – yes, this is practically still part of Bard (PC: Sona Badalyan)

In my future career I would like to implement some of the workplace culture and work-morale I experienced here. I liked the professionalism and efficiency with which workplace tasks are carried out.

At Bard College I was also reconnected with my passion for the arts (especially dance and music) which I would like to further pursue. The environment of the college made it clear for me that for a healthy work-life balance one should always cultivate her creative side.

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At the Hudson Valley Tango Festival in Kingston, with my friends from the Tango Club at Bard

I am also considering another graduate program or a PhD in South Asian studies, which was clearly inspired by my Hindu Epics course at Bard and our great teacher, Richard Davis (to whom I will always be grateful for helping us develop our writing skills with his feedback and for inspiring our thinking with the way how he lead classroom discussions).

 

In a nutshell: if you are considering to apply for the Kellner Scholarship I would highly encourage that, no matter which field you are coming from. It will help you grow both personally and professionally and will be an experience for a lifetime!

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Last weeks as a Bantam

nyitokepAloha from the amazing paradise that is the island of Maui!

Even though I left Trinity more than three weeks ago – which feels like two days and two months at the same time – this post won’t be about my incredible adventures since then: I’ll dedicate a whole blog post (probably with the length of Anna Karenina) to tell you all about these wonderful weeks I’m spending in Hawaii and all the other places I’ll still visit in the weeks to come, until June 27, when I’ll board my flight to go back to Budapest. So, instead of now describing how a fresh coconut tastes like, here is what happened in the last one month of my Trinity life.

It’s really weird to think about these last experiences I had in Hartford, because while I already miss these people so much – some things, like Mather food not so much – I don’t think I have grasped that I’m not going back to Summit South 414 anymore, as I’m still in the US, my mind just thinks this whole traveling for six weeks thing is just a break from writing papers and shifting books in the Watkinson. Of course, the last few weeks weren’t only for tearful goodbyes: some of the biggest events of the semester took place on the last weekends, like Spring Weekend or Green Fest on Earth Day – an event promoting sustainability organized by Green Campus Club. It was also a time of some sunshine and actual spring weather, when I could reclaim my favorite study spot in front of Peter B’s, even if only for a couple of days. One of the coolest things in the whole year happened on our very last Trinity weekend: the Trinity Film Festival took place at Cinestudio, where young filmmakers from all over the US and the world could nominate their short films. The selected ones were then presented on this Saturday afternoon, everyone dressed up, took pictures on the red carpet like movie starts, and there was even a reception with unlimited food and drinks:

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Trinity Film Festival

The most fun events of course always have to happen when you have the most studying to do. In the last approximately two weeks I spent at Trinity, I had two exams and had to finish four papers, but I didn’t really mind, as I could research really interesting topics: for my Global Feminism class, I wrote about the commodification of Frida Kahlo’s image, about how this process not only simplifies the artist’s complex identity, but how it also contributes to the construction of a certain image of Latinidad. Then, for my Contemporary Art class, I wrote a review on the exhibition I visited back in April and wrote about in my previous post. For my Philosophy of Human Rights class, I had to come up with my own philosophical argument about human rights, and I decided to write about environmental rights and how we should understand them as planetary rights. The essay I enjoyed the most working on, however, was for my Educational Reform class. To write this essay, I spent endless hours in the Watkinson to research a survey that was conducted with Trinity graduate women in the first twenty years of coeducation – yes, however crazy that sounds, Trinity only went coeducated in 1969, before that it was an all-male institution. If you are interested in what these women had to say about their experiences with classroom discrimination and sexual assault, you can even read my paper online here.

As I was postponing my trip to the only place I really wanted to visit in Connecticut before I leave – Yale University – until it was finally nice weather, I decided I can’t procrastinate any longer, and went to visit the university just like a week before the semester ended. I took a guided tour and I didn’t regret it: our guide could take us into residential colleges that are otherwise not open to the public, and I heard countless cool stories of Yale’s history and campus life. For the Gilmore Girls fan me the highlight of my visit was of course meeting Handsome Dan, Yale’s mascot and to be inside Branford College (the very own residential college of Rory Gilmore), while the more sophisticated me was the happiest when entering the Beinecke Rare Books Library, where I won’t lie, I almost cried, especially when seeing an actual, original Guttenberg Bible.

 

Even though I had a lot of fun times at Trinity, and I grew close to quite a few people, I didn’t think that saying goodbye to this place is going to be this depressing. Of course, friends who give you goodbye cards and take you to your Uber for a last hug don’t make not crying your eyes out any easier, but even without all that, the last couple of days were quite sentimental. Everything we did was a “last”: one last midnight stroll to the Cave for a sandwich and fries, one last Mather meal, one last shift at the Watkinson, one last movie at Cinestudio, one last trip to the liquor store – which has to be mentioned, as we almost made the liquor store owner cry when we said goodbye. Packing up my beloved room was also quite emotional: when you have to sell your fridge and take off posters you looked at for nine whole months is rough, I’m telling you. Then, after boarding my flight to San Francisco at Bradley, I stopped being so emotional, and started enjoying my travels a lot. I guess crying my eyes out is going to need a second episode at some point between JFK and Charles de Gaulle.

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The best colleagues at the Watkinson.

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Beloved Summit South 414.

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Second home.

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A last trip to the best Indian restaurant.

This is all for now on my last weeks as a Bantam – keep an eye out for my last post, it won’t be boring, I can promise you that.

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Trips and concerts

This past month the international office organized many trips for the exchange students. They make sure that we do not leave without properly exploring the area. Apart from the trips I attended some interesting concerts as well.

At the beginning of April, we visited the Opus 40, which is a large environmental sculpture in Saugerties, New York, closed to Bard, just on the other side of the Hudson River. It was created by sculptor and quarryman Harvey Fite, who was also a teacher at Bard. It comprises of a series of dry-stone ramps, pedestals and platforms. He planned it as an exhibition park where he could display his works, but later realized that the work in itself is a piece of art.
We had a nice time walking around and we even found the place where the sculptor has supposedly fell and died in his own opus.

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After the Opus 40 we visited a Tibetan monastery in Woodstock, where we had the chance to listen to the teaching which was going on. Later we also had free time to walk around in the town of Woodstock. To our disappointment, we had to find out that the famous Woodstock Festival did not take place there, as the authorities denied permission, but some 100 miles North from there. It is still a nice artistic town though, with countless numbers of vintage/artsy/hipster/Buddhist shops, cafés and exhibition spaces.

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We have been waiting for spring to come here in Annandale for the past month, but the snowing, the wind and the rain did not seem to stop. We had luck with the timing of our next trip: on the first sunny day of April we visited the Poet’s walk, which is a scenic hiking route with beautiful views to the Hudson River. It came just in time – we could finally charge up our Vitamin D storage. :)

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And just yesterday we traveled to Poughkeepsie to hike through the Walkway over the Hudson and the Music Bridge. The latter is Joseph Bertolozzi’s public art project, which is a unique sound-art installation featuring the Mid Hudson Bridge as the instrument itself. Launched during the 400th anniversary celebrations in 2009 of Henry Hudson’s voyage up the Hudson River, Bridge Music was created by recording the sounds of the bridge’s surfaces, making the Mid Hudson Bridge the largest percussion instrument in the world. There are listening stations throughout the bridge, and one can listen to hours of percussion music there. The same artist has also made a similar project on the Eiffel Tower.

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Apart from the trips, I have gone to many concerts as well this month. Bard is a great place to explore music, as there are concerts literally almost every day. There are many Hungarians in the Conservatory here, and I have gone to a string concert where 2 out of the 3 main artists were first-year Hungarian music students. I have also listened to two other friends during the course of this month: a singer and a clarinet player. And I got to see the President of Bard, Leon Botstein conducting again (the first one being in the Carnegie Hall during my BGIA semester). He played with The Orchestra Now, which is an orchestra in residence at Bard’s Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, performing only Stravinsky pieces.

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I feel that I got to see a lot this month and I am happy that even though our stay here is not too long, I get to explore the area. I truly feel home here, and I hope that one day I will return and see these things again.

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We only have a little bit more than a month left here, so watch out for our last adventures, memories and experiences. ;)

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A spring with elections, alligators, and no actual spring weather

This post is arriving a bit late because of the simple reason of some rather hectic weeks lately. This last one week since the elections at home actually felt like a lifetime, while even though my body was here in Hartford, in my soul I was at home, discussing the results with my friends over a beer and protesting on Kossuth square for our democracy.

 
Talking about Hungarian elections: on its weekend, we of course went into New York to vote on the Hungarian Consulate because we felt that it is extremely important that we exercise our rights and express our opinions. Of course, many other Hungarians gathered in 52nd Street, which meant experiencing one of the weirdest things ever: we were sitting in an Irish pub across the Consulate’s building, in the middle of Manhattan, surrounded only by Hungarians and some confused waiters, even bumping into an ex-Kellner Scholar.


Since we had to go into New York anyway, we decided to have some fun as well, so we stayed for the whole weekend, finally checking out the greatest urbanistic idea ever, the High Line, crossing out “bottomless mimosa brunch” from our New York City bucket list, walking up from Soho to finally look at the weirdo that is the Flatiron Building, and even going to the Museum of Sex, one of the strangest museum experiences ever.


While in the City, I had to visit the Triennial exhibition called “Songs for Sabotage” in the New Museum to write an essay about it for my Contemporary Art class. Although I do not know yet what I will write in my review exactly, it was certainly an interesting and thought-provoking experience. There is a lot of postcolonial, sometimes postcolonial feminist, radical art in the Triennial, which shows the works of only young artists from the past three years from all around the world, mostly focusing on the structures of colonialism and institutionalized racism that produce global inequalities. If you are in Manhattan until the end of May, I definitely recommend checking the show out – here are some of my favorite works:


Otherwise, even though it’s already the middle of April, you wouldn’t know it’s spring if you only looked at the weather of New England. As I’m writing this, it is -1 Celsius outside, and it’s of course snowing again – hopefully, for the last time. This means that the only actual spring I have seen this semester, was during our amazing Spring Break – which seems like ages ago now, but I still need to tell you all about our adventures in New Orleans.

 
Spring Break in New Orleans was without a doubt the best part of this semester. Not only because the city is amazing – although totally different from what I expected – and because of all the food we ate, but because we stayed at the coolest hostel ever, India House. If you are up to sleeping with like 15 other people in one room, in exchange for meeting wonderful and interesting people from all over the world, this would be your hostel as well. Then, as for the food, we tried to have everything the South had to offer us, from loaded fries and mac and cheese to jambalaya, alligator sausage, muffuletta sandwich, boiled crawfish and of course, several servings of beignets from Café du Monde. We had five full days to explore New Orleans and its surroundings, so we had time for more than just the French Quarter, which is however, the most photogenic – and most touristy – part of the city. We also visited some of the cemeteries of the city, which totally reminded me of the Pére Lachaise in Paris. We looked for the Singing Oak in City Park, went to see a white alligator and a Comodo dragon in the most beautiful zoo ever, and decided where to move in if we get rich in Garden District.


We also decided to visit two of the plantations close to New Orleans, and even though I have objections to the tour company that took us there, I learned a lot during the visits, especially at the Laura Plantation, where our tour guide did a really good job in telling us about all the sides of plantation life. The tour at Oak Alley was not as informative, but it also definitely worth a visit, if for only the oaks leading to the house. (Bonus: from the window of the bus, we could even get a glimpse of the house they used for the outside shots of Candyland in Tarantino’s Django Unchained.)
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Even though the whole week was amazing, the very best experience was without a question our visit to the swamps of the Barataria Preserve in Jean Lafitte National Park. This was my first time ever encountering any kind of swamp, so I was enthusiastic as a child, especially after meeting our first alligator – 12 more followed, as well as a deer from up close, an armadillo, and different types of birds I couldn’t identify. Being only a few centimeters away from a real, live alligator was definitely a one-of-a-kind experience, but the whole place was so beautiful, I never wanted to leave.


Now, however crazy that sounds, it’s less than one month until I leave Trinity – actually, one month from now I will already be in Maui, enjoying everything Hawaii has to offer. Until then of course, it is final papers and exams, and later, goodbyes I really don’t want to think about just yet.

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I ate alligator meat, y’all

I spent my spring break in New Orleans, and it was awesome. I won’t, however, tell stories about it (Zsófi and Trixi will do that in the upcoming posts), instead, here is a quick survival guide for the city (and a bunch of pictures).

I’m not the biggest foodie there is, but New Orleans turned me into a monster with a bottomless stomach. Make sure you try beignets in Cafe du Monde. The lines are crazy, but it worth it. Also, be brave and eat alligator sausage. It sounds cool and it also tastes good.

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Stay at India Hostel. If you don’t have a lot of money, hostels are perfect, and this was one of the bests I came across during my travels. Awesome people, a pool, cozy couches and an old fat cat. What more is there to ask for?

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Don’t hope for anything authentic if you go to Bourbon Street. Once filled with smoky jazz bars, the most famous street is now covered in trash, drunk tourists and clubs. I mean, it can be fun, and there’s something absurdly beautiful in looking at people from all around the world partying between the historical buildings of the French Quarter, but make sure that you’re prepared (soul and body).

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Death has never looked this nice. Morbid, I know, but NOLA has the most beautiful and weirdest cemeteries. We didn’t get to see it, but Nicolas Cage already has a huge crypt made for himself in one of them. It’s just waiting for him to die. Brr.

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Go to the swamps. The Barataria National Preserve is just an Uber ride away, and there are actual alligators all around. We saw 13, although Zsófi was convinced that it was the same one swimming around, tricking us. Besides the super-cool ‘gators, there are raccoons and deer and armadillos and snakes and frogs and much else. It is the perfect adventure.

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Botstein’s thoughts on life, optimism and human potential

I’ve been thinking for quite a while about what I could possibly share here, as life at Bard seems to be very repetitive. You wake up, you go to classes, you eat meals with your friends, you do your homeworks and then you repeat. But while browsing through the photos on my phone I realized that the beauty of being a Bardian lies in those small things you encounter in-between: seeing a badger for the first time in your life, walking the forest hiking route in snow, dropping into random people’s recitals in the Conservatory, or getting to know new and interesting people almost every day. And then there is the day when you get invited to the President’s house for a tea.

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Every semester Bard College President Leon Botstein invites the visiting students to his home, which is located at the center of the campus. When I arrived at his front door on that sunny late-February afternoon I was quite surprised that it was open – you could just walk in. All the international students were there, along with our coordinators, talking and eating snacks in the living room. Soon President Botstein arrived and he was there with us for 1.5 hours, asking and answering questions. He is a very good speaker and it was nice to listen to him.

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He shared many things with us, e.g. what does he think distinguishes Bard graduates and how does he fundraise money for Bard. In one of his answers he mentioned that he is a positive person. This caught my attention so I asked what makes him an optimist and where does he get the strength from in times of difficulty. His response was very interesting.

He said that part of the answer is very personal. Being from a European Jewish family, his father was the only survivor of Holocaust from a whole family and his mother only survived with two other family members. He has seen how they rebuilt their lives, against great odds. Because of this he sees the problems of life in a greater perspective and does not feel entitled to anything, but knows that you have to work hard if you want to achieve something.
He also lost his 8-year-old daughter many years ago and that always reminds him what a great gift and how precious life is and how grateful we should be simply for living.

Another reason for his optimism is that through making music and being in contact with young people he always sees opportunities in humans. Opportunities for creative achievement, for making something beautiful, for progress. According to him doing this creative work with other people plays an important part in his optimism.

And this thought can be generalized about Bard: if you take the time to see what people around you are doing on campus you get very hopeful. People engage in arts, debate, starting initiatives and getting exposure to so many different things, simply by taking advantage of what this liberal arts college has to offer. It is a unique place: I would have never thought that I will explore connections between my Hindu epics, my Buddhism, my Modern Dance and my Alexander Technique classes. But thoughts and ideas cross academic disciplines, and this is exactly why it is worth to go to Bard – the exposure you get here will make you open towards and interested in many different spheres of life. And in my opinion it is an invaluable gift.

 

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Where did my February go?

Time goes by in an extremely weird speed at Trinity: at the same time when I am wondering where did February go, and how is it possible that I will have to leave the campus in just two months, I also feel like I have been back for this semester for at least a year, wondering how it is only March. Also, it doesn’t really feel like March: we had a crazy blizzard a couple of days ago, so the whole campus is covered in snow right now. Fortunately, it is now officially spring break, and on Sunday morning we are flying out to New Orleans, to hopefully enjoy some sun and warmth for a week.

 
I have to admit, February wasn’t the most eventful month since I am in the States, but there were of course some fun events to attend and interesting things to do. My birthday, for example, was during Trinity days, so I could celebrate it with some – but thanks to the incredible amount of studying to do, not much – rest, and some delicious Indian food in Wethersfield. As Juli’s last post tells you, we finally got to visit the Mark Twain House, which is, in my opinion, the coolest place in Hartford (although, let’s be honest, there are not too many cool places in Hartford to visit). The house, where he wrote all his famous novels, was built at the end of the 19th-century, and it is truly beautiful, with original Tiffany lamps and the most amazing library in it. Thanks to our tour guide, we got to know a lot of fun facts about Mark Twain, and since Harriet Beecher Stowe (author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin) was a neighbor of the author, we saw her house as well. A few minutes from these two historic houses, down the road, there is a diner that was built in the 1940s and was abandoned for a long time – to see this building was also a cool addition to that day, since I only saw diners like this in movies so far.


I also finally found some time to visit the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Downtown Hartford, an art museum that has a very rich collection. Although I was most interested in the contemporary art section of the museum, I enjoyed the whole place, especially because it has some paintings we have studied about in the Contemporary Art class that I am taking this semester: it was really cool to see Newman’s Onement II or De Kooning’s Standing Man up close, right after I wrote a midterm about them.


Of course, Trinity’s campus also offered some interesting events in the last couple of weeks. For example, Green Campus Club brought us the documentary, Wasted, a movie about food waste – it shows the issue in a rather unconventional way. WGRAC organized The Vagina Monologues, which is a play made up of stories told by women from different walks of lives. It was performed by Trinity students, and the income from the tickets went to a battered women’s shelter in Hartford. The Arts Center featured an exhibition of Deborah Buck’s pictures – although I didn’t know the Trinity graduate painter before, I really enjoyed looking at her paintings, trying to figure out their meaning.

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The Vagina Monologues

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One of Deborah Buck’s paintings

Lately, just before the midterms, I felt quite homesick for a while, which is of course totally natural when you live somewhere for a whole academic year. Fortunately, my classes kept me busy, so I didn’t have too much time to think about how much I miss my family and my city. I am taking four classes this semester. I mentioned above that I enrolled in an art history class, Contemporary Art, because I have been interested in it for a very long time, but I never had the chance to learn about it more in depth. Now I finally learn about Jackson Pollock, Willem De Kooning and Arshile Gorky, from an amazing professor who constantly tells us stories about the times when he made an interview with Jasper Johns, or when he met Andy Warhol in a club in NYC. I am also taking Global Feminism, a class in which we analyze issues of transnational feminism with an intersectional lens; Philosophy of Human Rights, where I can finally get an academic basis for my interest in human rights; but the class I think I enjoy the most is Educational Reform, where we learn about the past and present of educational reform in the United States, always connecting what we read about past thinkers to current debates. In this class, we even had to go to an event related to education policies in Hartford, and write a journalism piece about it – this way, we could connect our learning to things that happen in the real world, outside the classroom. This is how I got to a parents’ information night in one of the public schools that is going to be closed from September, due to a reorganization plan.

 
Now, we are finally done with midterms, and New Orleans is waiting for us – keep an eye out for a number of posts about our Louisiana adventures.

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Live from the middle of a snowstorm

Well, here we are, exactly 9 days before spring break begins, and I’m writing this from the shelter of my room looking out over Bard’s central campus, listening to the sounds of snow plowing trucks as they’re battling with Mother Nature. That’s right, Dutchess County was hit today by the second “nor’easter” within a week – which, according to the Weather Channel, is “a strong area of low pressure along the East Coast of the United States that typically features winds from the northeast off the Atlantic Ocean, most often associated with strong winter storms crawling up the Northeast coast”. In less scientific terms, this means that we got approx. 15 cms of snow this afternoon, and it keeps accumulating, which has led to road closures in the County due to hazardous conditions as well as a couple of services shutting down on campus. Basically, this is the perfect time to catch up on some reading and essays as midterms crawl in – that is, until the wifi and/or the power goes out, which, we’ve been told, is entirely possible. But hey, it’s sooo pretty!!!

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Speaking of readings, essays, and midterms – yes, they’re inevitably approaching me as well. I’m taking 4 classes here at Bard, and since I’ve already graduated back home, I decided to use this time to fill in some gaps from my Bachelors and also to do something fun and different. The ‘fun and different’ part is mainly fulfilled by the introductory Painting class that I’m taking – though which, quite unexpectedly, is almost as much if not more work as each of my academic classes. It’s great and challenging as the class has people with widely differing backgrounds in studio arts, so everybody brings very different approaches to each project, which makes class crit (evaluating each other’s work) super interesting.

This doesn’t mean that my academic classes are less fun. I decided to take a Middle East history course as I never really studied much about the region, which I felt was a huge disadvantage last semester when my internship at Oxford Analytica required me to work a lot with Middle Eastern countries. Well, I’m filling in that gap now! Another one, which I decided to take along a similar logic, is one called “China’s Environment”, and it’s exactly what it sounds like – we’re studying the development of China’s environmental policies from the imperial period up until today, so it incorporates a lot of geography, political ecology, but also study of the social landscape of China in addition to policy studies, which I feel is a very unique lens to look at an issue area which is so-so important in the 21st century. Finally, I’m taking a course on Free Speech, which is my favorite out of all them. We’re studying philosophical approaches to the issues around freedom of expression as well as specific case studies on controversial speech that were nevertheless protected by the First Amendment. I feel like a lot of the issues we talk about really make us question our prejudices and beliefs, and I’m honestly curious by if and how my perspective is going to shift by the end of the semester, and if it brings me any closer to figuring out my own answer to the question of whether it’s freedom or security that’s more important.

Quite related to my Free Speech course, we’ve recently had Chelsea Manning speak on campus to the largest student turnout maybe ever at the Fisher Center – some 900 seats were sold out in I believe less than a day. Her invitation also brought to the forefront issues around free speech on campus – should a convicted felon with a clear anti-government agenda be allowed to speak at an educational institution? For those not familiar with Chelsea, she’s a former intelligence analyst of the U.S. Army who served in Iraq, a position in which she had access to classified military and diplomatic documents which she decided to leak through WikiLeaks in 2010, resulting in multiple criminal charges for which she was sentenced to 35 years in prison. President Obama commuted her sentence to 7 years and she was released last year, and now earns a living as a public speaker and has recently announced that she will run for a seat in the Senate in Maryland. She completed her gender transition in prison and is now an activist for queer and transgender rights along with issues surrounding government surveillance, among others. In her talk at Bard, she mainly spoke about these, with a focus on political protest and dissidence, advocating a need to work outside government structures power structures to make progress against the system. She was also challenged on the ethical considerations of her decision to leak the sensitive documents. I have to admit, I was really unsatisfied by a lot of her answer and arguments, and walked away quite upset after the talk, but I’m definitely glad I had this opportunity to listen to her in person.

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Yes, I did in fact take this picture with a potato

Also, weather permitting, we continue the exploration of the Hudson Valley through trips organised by the PIE office. Recently, we went to roam the streets of Kingston, the historic town which was the first capital of the State of New York and accordingly has a lot of Dutch history to show for it. Even though I did make fun of Kingston’s own version of Wall Street (pictured below) which is a bit less prominent than the one in the city, but it really is an adorable little town very Dutch architecture and some impressive street art that I was fangirling over, as well as home to lots of cute coffee places and shops, like Rough Draft Bar & Books, which we took shelter in for a bit, only to discover that this was the cafe that went viral a couple of weeks ago by setting up a stand of books under the label of ‘Writers from sh*thole countries’ – a reference to Donald Trump’s infamous remarks. If anyone ever finds themselves in Kingston, I definitely recommend this place (they have great beer)!

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Leaving my room is painful

We’ve arrived to that time of the year when the winter break adventures are already over, and it is yet too early to write about the spring break. It’s just passed February which is known to be the most boring and ugliest month of the year. There is no snow, it’s raining today, and I have three papers to finish by the end of next week. This is going to be a weird blog post.

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The second semester begun pretty suddenly, and trampled over me right on the first week. My classes, although I love every single one of them, are much more difficult than last semester – and trust me, I wasn’t bored back then either. I have two literature classes,  so I’m reading a bunch of novels, which might sound nice, but when you have 150 pages to finish for each class, and then, of course, there are the academic texts too, sleep is something you might as well forget. Recently I’ve started taking short, afternoon power-naps;  they make me feel really old, but also, they help a lot.

With all the studying and the disgusting weather outside, one must really force herself to do anything, besides curling up in a bed with a nice Spivak text. (Just kidding, there’s no such thing as a nice Spivak text.) Luckily, I have Zsofi here, who can get me to do things outside my room sometimes. That’s how we ended up visiting the Mark Twain House last week.

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To be honest, there’s not many things in Hartford to see. When we arrived here, I remember, we went downtown all excited, and it looked like something after a zombie apocalypse. We saw a couple of confused tourists, that’s all. A century ago, however, Hartford was a writer’s paradise, that’s what drove Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain) here. His house, on which he’d spent a quarter-million dollars (just imagine how much money is that today), is open for visitors. And if any of you would find him/herself in Hartford for some unexplainable reason, don’t miss it. It’s simply amazing.

If I ever get through next week, there’s only one more week to go until the spring break. We’re going to New Orleans, and I cannot wait for the sun. One thing is sure though; I’m not bringing any books with me.

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