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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Winter break, transition and my great classes here

As Trixi and Julcsi have already expressed in previous posts, these last 2 months have been like a weird dream. One day you are discussing the crazy traffic of the Upper East side in Manhattan with a taxi driver and the next day you are doing grocery shopping with your parents in a small town in Hungary. Many times I felt that our minds have just not yet evolved to cope with these very abrupt changes in our environment, even though modern transportation has enabled us to do these huge and fast shifts in space.

Just like Trixi and Zsófi, I also traveled home for 3 weeks in the winter break, but before that I visited Buffalo and the Niagara Falls for Christmas. It was one of the most dream-like places I have seen so far: like a winter wonderland, no other color than white.

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Being at home after New York City felt very peaceful and warm, as compared to the hustle-bustle and sometimes even inhumanity of big city life. In some sense it was a good preparation for what awaited me at the campus of Bard, which is in the middle of nature, just next to the Hudson River.

 

Photo by Jacques Luiggi

Photo by Jacques Luiggi

Having finished the third week of classes I can conclude that I love being here so far. You have time to get to know people while you are eating your meals in the dining hall, you have time to hear your own thoughts and no day is passing by without an uplifting experience, either about the beauty of the place, or the countless opportunities which are available here (and as opposed to NYC, you actually have time to make use of them).

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I am taking 5 classes here: a French language course, Hinduism in the Epics, Buddhism, Alexander Technique and Modern Dance. Even though I was an international relations and human rights major at my home institution, I decided to explore things which always interested me, but I never had the opportunity to study academically. My favorite classes so far are the Hindu epics and the modern dance classes.

At the previous one we are reading two Indian epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. Even though they are set in a far-away land, thousands of years ago, while reading you slowly realize that human beings have not changed much, regardless of time and space. We possess the same desires, strengths and weaknesses, we just phrase them in different ways. I wish there would be more exposure in Western education to ideas from other parts of the world, with teachers who are good enough to present the subjects in ways that do not scare or deter students but show that people from all parts of the world have valuable things to say.

At the modern dance class we have a lot of creative tasks. Rather than focusing on movement combinations, we are supposed to get to know better the functioning of our bodies and the space around us. One task, for example, is to choose a body part and experiment with how you can move it (in what directions, angles, rhythms, etc.). Sometimes we need to do movements which look a bit crazy from the outside (and also feel crazy from the inside), in order to relax ourselves and let go of our fears regarding movement/dance. So the classes are creative and fun.

And there is another strange, but good thing about Bard: even though you have a lot of coursework to do, which sometimes seems impossible (e.g. reading 300 pages from Monday to Wednesday, while you are having classes both days from the morning till the evening), you can still manage a balance, as simply walking from one class to another is a relaxing experience.

By the way, talking about coursework: I could talk much more about life here, but I have to finish an essay, so see you in my next post! :)

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The One after the Super Bowl – on my trip to Death Valley

No, this post is not going to be about how the Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New England Patriots last weekend in the very first Super Bowl I’ve ever watched (although it was a pretty cool experience – when you finally understand what’s going on in the field, and you even have some chicken wings, American football can be quite an exciting sport), but I couldn’t miss the Friends reference when choosing a title. Instead, I’m going to tell you about the best experience I’ve had in the U.S. so far: after I came back from Hungary, I spent the last week of the winter break hiking and exploring in Death Valley National Park with nine fellow Trinity students, and the amazing people from the Recreation Office who organized it for us.

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Leaving behind the snow and cold of New England, we arrived to the – I assume – always sunny Las Vegas, a place where you can even gamble on the airport, waiting for your flight. We spent our first two days in Red Rocks Canyon, near Vegas, getting to know each other while hiking Mount Wilson. Red Rocks Canyon has amazing colors and plants, and we had the best view here when waking up in our tents, overlooking red mountains – that view made even the worst oatmeal amazing in the morning. Before leaving to Death Valley, we even drove through the Las Vegas Strip, which was honestly enough Las Vegas for a lifetime: too much unnecessary light (yes, I’m talking about that pyramid at Luxor; yes, its light could be seen even from our campground), and too much fake Paris and New York.


The next morning, we got into our beloved van, and drove to Death Valley through landscapes and towns I’ve only before seen in Westerns, but it was how I imagined it to be: here, you can drive for hours without encountering places where people live, nothing is in front of you, but the road, and you can get a sense of why people are so nostalgic about the idea of the West, why it is so important in American popular culture. Then, we entered Death Valley, which meant no phone service or internet for six days, but it also meant amazing views, campfires, a bunch of Boy Scouts, tasty chilis cooked in the evenings, countless group pictures, and so much more. We started with checking out the most famous sites of the park (after taking photos with the Death Valley sign of course): we saw Zabriskie Point, which inspired a – not too good, in my opinion – 70s movie; Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America, 86m below sea level; Devil’s Golf Course; the amazing colors of Artist’s Palette; and a Natural Bridge. We hiked on sand dunes, which was, thinking back, one of the most memorable hikes and places in Death Valley, and we hiked in the beautiful Golden Canyon.


The part of the trip I was most excited and a tiny bit afraid about was the three days we spent backpacking, hiking the Cottonwood-Marble Canyon Loop. I would lie if I said it was an easy hike, and that I enjoyed every second of it, but even with aching muscles and some blood blisters, it was totally worth it. Everyone on the trip was supportive, we pushed each other through our lowest points, and eventually we summited, even though we were running out of cheese. During these three days, we encountered no people, but saw some totally different landscapes, as well as a tiny rattlesnake, the skull of a wild horse, and the corpse of a dead ram (we were in a desert called Death Valley for a reason, after all). By the end, we became masters in quickly putting up and taking down a tent, cooking on camping stoves, going on after only eating a tortilla for lunch, and going to bed at 8 pm, as we really had nothing else to do, besides looking at the stars.

After getting back to the “civilization” of our campsite at Furnace Creek, we even had the chance to finally shower after a week, and get into a pool, which was totally unnecessary in the middle of the desert. On our last day, we said goodbye to Death Valley with looking down on it from Dante’s View, the most amazing lookout point from where you can basically see the whole national park – when you don’t get blown off by the wind of course.
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As we still had a whole afternoon left, the group decided that we want to check out Hoover Dam, a wonder made by humans, and not by nature, as a way to close our trip. Because of this, I can officially say that I had lunch in Arizona, as we ate out of our white buckets in the parking lot of the Dam’s Arizona side – we got some weird looks, I have to admit. The Hoover Dam was amazing, but of course, it couldn’t beat the sand dunes or Zabriskie Point in my heart.


As this sole week in Death Valley and Red Rocks felt like at least a month, it was a shock to come back to campus, and start classes a day later. I especially miss the weather (shorts and a t-shirt in January?), the disconnectedness, those meals we cooked, the conversations on and off the trail, and the unbelievable nature that surrounded us. Now, it’s back to classes, assignments, work, and lazy weekends – but I’m going to tell you all about that in my next post.

(Some of the pictures in this post are not mine, so some photo credits go to the coolest people I went on this trip with: Kyle, Devin, Emily, Giles, Sarah, Leigh, Elizabeth, Kevin, Jami, Milosz, Rachael. Also, thank you for the memories, guys.)

 

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