Highlights of my first month at Bard

It’s been a month since I moved to Bard at the end of January. Studying on campus is a very different experience compared to BGIA. My days are definitely less stressful and more relaxing even though I have to read more for my classes. The campus is beautiful, I love that we are surrounded by woods. I’m not saying I don’t miss at least a little bit the hustle-bustle of New York but it’s good to hear birds singing and see the stars at night.

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I took four human rights classes: ‘Problems in Human Rights’ where we talk about different human rights campaigns from the British antislavery campaign to the landmines campaign. We have to read not just human rights literature but a lot of anthropological studies and books which I found very useful to understand better these issues. My other course is ‘Child Survival and Human Rights’ which is basically a children’s rights class with a focus on child health and wellbeing. I like my ‘Rights/Space/Politics: Refugee camps’ class because it’s very unique. The two professors who teach this class are architects and the founders of the Campus in Camps Initiative in Palestine. It’s fascinating to listen them talking about their work and to discuss with them topics like ‘normalization’, ‘participation’ and ‘sustainability’ in relation to refugee camps. My fourth course has a very catchy title ‘Donald Trump and his antecedents’ so it’s not a surprise that there are around 50 students in that class. We read about the history of populist leaders in the U.S. and in other countries and thus we try to understand the historical and present context of Trump’s presidency. We have guest lecturers from time to time which are great opportunities to discuss specific issues in more detail from different point of views.

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Besides class, there are many student activities every day from panel discussions to film screenings, so you can always find something to do in your free time. I’ve been to for example a potluck party organized by the Draft, a human rights student publication, a Lantern Festival celebrating the Chinese New Year, and the Academy Awards viewing party (where I literally jumped into the air when ‘Mindenki’ (Sing) won the Best Live Action Short Film category).

   

 

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The original Winnie the Pooh and friends

Also Katarina, the PIE program wonderful program assistant, has organized trips for us at the weekends. We went to New York a few weeks ago where I realized how much I missed the city. It was good to be back even for a day. It was a cloudy day but when we went to the One World Observatory at the afternoon the sky slowly brightened and I saw Manhattan as I had never seen it before. It was kind of magical… We also visited the FDR Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park. It’s a huge property where FDR’s house and grave are located. The house and also the museum are incredibly interesting. I wish we could have stayed there for a little longer. This weekend we’re going to another historic sight, Kingston, which was New York’s first capital. So maybe I’m not in New York anymore, but I’m definitely not bored, I’m enjoying living on campus.

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How I Watched Bisons Instead of the Golden Gate Bridge

I’ve spent the last week of my winter break in San Francisco. I’m not as familiar with the West Coast and I kept hearing that SF is worth seeing. My only experience with the Western side of the US so far was Los Angeles. As a huge movie fan I was really looking forward to it but I have to say I was less impressed than I expected. The beach area is really nice but there is not much to see in the city itself. I realized that I was looking for something European in it and well, LA is everything but European (whatever it means). I guess that’s why I prefer the East Coast.

San Francisco was indeed very different from LA. Yes, it had a certain ‘Europeanness’ to it but also  it cannot be compared to anything I’ve seen here on the East Coast. Undoubtedly, I’ve chosen an interesting time to visit: San Francisco has a Mediterranean climate so the summers are nice, warm and dry but the winters are wet, although pretty mild. So, it was raining almost constantly. I usually walk a lot when I’m travelling (especially when I am in a city because the best way to explore a new place is to go everywhere on foot) so I got soaked practically every day but that couldn’t keep me.

San Francisco is a very walkable city (except for the very steep streets) although if you are a bit lazier it has a wide variety of public transportation options that are reliable and well-organized (if you live or have ever lived in Hartford you know what I mean). Although the city itself is one of the most expensive in the US public transportation is still relatively affordable (2.50 dollars/ride). You won’t regret walking though for the city shows a different face all the time, each of its districts has a unique atmosphere. What I usually do before sightseeing is consulting this site: http://www.atlasobscura.com/. It lists hidden, weird and funny places at popular tourist destinations – if you aim for the less touristy sights, it’s your best bet. Of course, you usually end up visiting a bunch of ‘touristy’ things anyway but it’s totally fine. But Atlas Obscura showed me a Japanese Tea Garden hidden among the trees of the Golden Gate Park, a relocated piece of a mansion destroyed in the 1906 earthquake (it sits next to an artificial lake), a giant Celtic cross hidden in the woods that commemorates the first Anglican services read in the new world, bisons living in the middle of San Francisco in the Golden Gate Park (they are lovely but a bit passive) and a Dutch windmill also in the Golden Gate Park (it’s a really surreal sight: entirely functionless, standing on the shore of the ocean, surrounded by tulips).20170120_110649

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Sorry this was the closest I could get to a bison

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I’m a bit ashamed to admit that I’ve only seen the Golden Gate Bridge from the distance (when I wanted to go there was a huge thunder so going along it didn’t seem like a tempting idea – or probably I’m just weak). Also I didn’t visit the Alcatraz Island (although a company offers enchanting night tours but you have to book several weeks in advance – I forgot to do that). What I did see was the legendary LGBT-district, the Castro which is warm, busy, full of dogs, shops with names containing sexual innuendos (like beauty salons called Hand Job and restaurants called Sausage Party) and countless fancy barber shops. Also along the sidewalk you can see plaques of famous LGBT-people. If you ever go there, go at night – it’s much more fun.20170117_181723

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Even the crosswalks are rainbow-colored

Even if it’s very mainstream you should definitely walk along the piers of San Francisco – do it at least for the adorable sea lions. They bark, they play and wiggle their little bodies as if they were performing just for the audience. You can grab some lovely seafood and at Pier 39 just for 5 dollars you can try a really psychedelic labyrinth called Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze (upon entering I imagined myself starving to death in there but actually I got out about 10 minutes later).20170117_121117

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The maze

I have this weird hobby of visiting Chinatowns whenever I get to a city that has one (I’ve seen the New York and the Manchester ones so far). Well, San Francisco is definitely the place to go if you are into Chinatowns. It’s huge, richly ornamented, busy and smells really nice. Modest, old Chinese ladies doing shopping (be prepared to move really slowly) and vendors running around with all kinds of exotic stuff. It’s like a city of its own: banks, insurance companies, churches exclusively for Chinese people and as you pass the Dragon’s Gate you can only see Chinese folks.20170117_112239

If you are in San Francisco you should definitely see the Ghirardelli chocolate factory: you can buy chocolate in every shape and form. It also tastes like European chocolate which I really miss. Americans just cannot produce decent sweets (okay, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are nice but in a guilty pleasure way). Lombard Street is also worth a trip: it’s a crisscross-shaped street with kitschy flowerbeds and fancy houses. Oh, and don’t forget to take a ride on the famous cable cars that run through the city.

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A fountain in the Ghirardelli Square: after the mermaid and the merman introducing the merbaby

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Lombard Street

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Cable cars

 

Despite all these adventures one of my most memorable experiences was a tiny British specialty shop called You Say Tomato. The owner is a native Brit who used to live in New York. The shop offers chocolates, jams, teas and biscuits (so mostly edibles) and is decorated with adorable vintage Doctor Who memorabilia and a real Doctor Who pinball machine (actually those caught my eye from the street). As I was the only customer we started talking and ended up finding a lot of common, relatable experiences as Europeans living in the US (actually the kind of vague identity category of ‘European’ made perfect sense in our conversation). I left with a bar of Cadbury chocolate. Mr. Kidd, the owner seemed very proud of it but honestly, I prefer Belgian chocolate but as I took a bite nostalgia and homesickness struck me unexpectedly: it was the first European thing that I ate in a while.

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Best of BGIA and Colorado

After a five-week winter break which I spent in Colorado with my relatives, I moved to Bard last week and today the spring semester has officially started. But in this post I’d like to write mostly about the whole BGIA experience, as I promised in my previous blog post.

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I have mentioned it a few times previously but I repeat it again: BGIA (just like the Kellner Scholarship) is an amazing opportunity which has so much to offer (internship, classes, friends, New York City), but it’s up to you whether you grab this opportunity and use your time effectively.

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My three classes were great, I learned a lot from my professors in so many levels. Their support guaranteed that we would do our best in every assignment and during class as well. It wasn’t always easy to stay in the dorm and study at the weekends when outside the door was the most amazing city of all but if you’re clever enough and learn how to manage your time effectively, you’ll always can make time for exploring and having fun. And what is essential for having fun? Friends, of course. I was lucky and met some really amazing people during BGIA who made my semester even better. Although I don’t mind wandering around a city alone (sometimes it makes things so much easier), the best memories are the days I spent with my new friends.

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The most amazing part of my BGIA experience (besides living in NYC) was my internship at Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict. To be honest, this small but very influential organization wasn’t my first choice when I was looking for intern positions. However, I realized soon that I couldn’t have wished for a better place to be an intern and the four months I spent there had a big impact on me and on my future career plans. My field of interest is children’s rights and child protection, and Watchlist gave me the opportunity to learn more about a specific topic which I hadn’t known much about before. Since I was a communication intern one of my daily tasks was doing media monitoring which helped me a lot in the first few weeks to learn more about the children and armed conflict agenda. Among the many reasons I loved interning at Watchlist was my colleagues who I consider friends now. It’s a small office, so I got to know everybody soon and after the first month I really felt that I had become part of the team. I was encouraged to share my opinions and suggestions from the very beginning, and not just about communication-related issues.

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The big project I was working on throughout the semester was Watchlist’s brand new website: http://watchlist.org/ I helped selecting pictures, brainstorming on the design and structure and in the last two weeks testing the website. It was exciting taking part of this process since the new, more modern website definitely helps Watchlist to reach more people who want to know more about the children and armed conflict agenda.

Every once in a while I helped the advocacy officer as well. I wrote briefing notes on Security Council meetings I watched online, one time I went to an inter-NGO meeting where the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for Myanmar was there to discuss the current human right violations in the country. However, the best special event I attended was Watchlist’s workshop, ‘Priorities for the UN’s Children and Armed Conflict Agenda, 2017-2018’, at Princeton University in December. This two-day long workshop was the highlight of my internship and it also was a perfect example of how NGOs and the UN work together. Among the participants were experts from NGOs and representatives from incoming members of the UN Security Council’s Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict. During the sessions the participants not only discussed theoretically the agenda, but their priority was on practical issues. I found the Workshop a truly fascinating event which was also a perfect ending of my fall semester.

Colorado

A few days before Christmas, I flew to Denver, Colorado where my relatives live. Colorado is probably my favorite US state with its amazing mountains, beautiful rivers and huge red rocks. I spent a month there five years ago during the summer, so I was happy to visit it again, this time in the winter break. Through five weeks while I was there we went to many amazing places, up to the mountains, a stock show, museums, parks, and so on. Instead of giving a detailed (and probably boring) description of every fun thing we did, here are some pictures of my favorite memories (hover over the pictures to see descritption):

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Denver downtown 20170101_121239 Highlands Ranch Mansion Evergreen, Colorado Garden of the Gods Garden of the Gods Red Rocks Amphitheatre National Western Stock Show Horsetooth Reservoir Cheyenne Mountain Zoo Women's March on Denver Denver Capitol Building

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‘Tis the season of snowmen and mono

Ever since I arrived at Trinity, I had this funny feeling that somehow I ended up in the PG-13 edited version of a Game of Thrones episode, with considerably less bloodshed and nudity. The Trinity equivalents of the noble houses could be the Greek houses, and although the campus is inarguably short of dragons, perhaps the occasionally appearing hawks could pass as local winged celebrities.  I must admit that we lack armies too (not counting campus safety), but maybe we could recruit a bunch of squirrels (I bet they would be fearful animals when triggered).

Before I get too carried away, I should add that the main reason for the birth of this metaphor is the constant reminder we’ve been hearing: winter is coming. Since the very first day of orientation, the orientation leaders and our mentors made sure that we understood that New England winters can be tough, and went out of their way to prepare the international students for the inevitable cold weather. When approximately half of the attendees raised their hands at an orientation session when asked who has never seen snow before, I started to realize that wearing boots and winter coat in January is not trivial for everyone. After that I wasn’t even surprised when two months ago an entire info session was dedicated to coping with winter at Trinity, where the participants got invaluable pieces of advice on what kind of clothing they need for the winter months, and how to stay in good health when winter comes.

And so it came. Seeing my Facebook feed being slowly filled up with photos of the snow-covered campus and the excited posts of the international students was priceless. I’m not a fan of winter, however, so when my Hawaiian and Trinidadian friends invited me for a snowball fight when waking up to find the campus covered in 10 inches of snow, I could easily resist the temptation to join them. After that week, winter retreated and has kept a low profile with the temperature occasionally reaching as high as 14 degrees. Winter is a bit moody over here, I would say.

One of the perks of the cold season is the appearance of ice skating rinks. Early December my friends and I headed to NYC to polish our skating skills in Central Park. It was amazing. I hadn’t been on a rink or a lake for 10 years, and it certainly did not make it easier that the Manhattan skyline and the Central Park were competing for my attention, which made it pretty hard to focus. I did manage to stay on my feet, however, and had a great time. We spent some time in the park too, and checked out the Rockefeller Center and Trump Tower on our way down Fifth Avenue before boarding a bus to return to the reality of the upcoming exams.

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In retrospect, I had probably complained too much of my classes not being very demanding, so Karma gave me mono to spice up the revision period and finals week for me. Spending 10 days in bed, losing 12 pounds, and taking an awful lot of pills (including steroids) is the best way to close any semester, I must say. Although my illness prevented me from completing a take-home exam, which hurt my grade in one of my classes, I finished the others with great results. And I recovered just in time for hot cocoa nights with friends before the winter break!

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Winter at Bard and in Michigan

Winter finally came to Bard in the first weeks of December, and we saw some serious snow out there! The campus of course did not disappoint in terms of photogenic scenery, so enjoy these shots of unashamed upstate winter kitsch! The lake at the Parliament of Reality is especially gorgeous in this season.

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The end of the semester was pretty brutal because of all the essays and projects that were due around the same day, but eventually I managed to finish everything in time, which left me roughly 12 hours to pack up my stuff and leave my dorm. Residence Life had warned us well before that no-one could stay on campus after 3 PM December 17, so I locked my room at 2:55 and dragged my suitcase down to the bus stop to catch the last bus out.

My first stop was Poughkeepsie, where I couchsurfed for a couple of days at some friendly meteorologists’ place. I enjoyed it a lot, because my hosts showed me their favorite local places, we went hiking together, and even found the time to make some Hungarian dishes! I taught them how to make palacsinta (Hungarian pancakes), rakott krumpli (stacked potatoes), and túrókrém (a ricotta – sour cream dessert), among other things. They in turn took me up to Beacon hill and showed me the frozen reservoir and the beautiful view from the top of the hill. We had a great time together and I have already made arrangements to stay with them again in January, so probably you will see some more hiking pictures out of Duchess County!

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After a couple of days in Poughkeepsie, I continued my journey and flew out to Michigan to visit my distant family members living in Detroit. They have been incredibly welcoming and kind to me, and I have already seen a great many places with them.

We visited the Detroit Zoo with my second cousin and her family at night, and it was fully decorated with Christmas lights. We also visited Greenfield Village, an outdoor museum created by Henry Ford. He assembled a collection of historical buildings, such as the lab where Thomas Edison had invented the light bulb, the garage where the Wright brothers had built their airplane, and the building where Lincoln had practiced law. It was an incredible collection, but the chilly weather made it a little difficult to enjoy after a couple of hours. Luckily, we could have some marshmallow vodka hot chocolate, which definitely helped with enduring the wind and cold.

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Ever since then, we have pretty much spent our time celebrating Christmas and visiting other families of relations. The best thing about preparing for the holidays with my family has been our joint cooking and baking, which I have missed doing very much at Bard. We made all kinds of traditional Hungarian dishes together, for example gesztenyepüré (chestnut puré), and will probably continue to do a lot more of them. We also experimented some with mixing Hungarian and Lebanese cuisine, as the other side of the family is from Lebanon, with surprisingly good results.

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More Politics Please: We’re College Students

In my last post I mentioned how Hungarians tend to shy away from discussing politics. In the aftermath of the election, the significance of discussing politics, the debates about the meaning and form of political action and deep-rooted conflicts have become more visible on campus. A lot of students at Trinity felt that this is the time to organize a group, to raise their voices, to protest because they are afraid that their rights and their future might be threatened by the plans of President-elect Trump. A relatively small group of students – which mainly consists of people of color, members of the LGBT-community etc. – decided to form an organization called ACT (Action Coalition of Trinity College). They march, they talk, they confront, they make lists of demands – they do what student protesters do. And they are being criticized by students and teachers alike.

I have always been too shy and cowardly to step up and actively express my dissatisfaction but I have seen something like that in my Hungarian college years. My department was one of the centers of the student demonstrations in 2013. Many students who felt that the government’s educational policy is going in the wrong direction joined a group called Hallgatói Hálózat (Student Network): they marched, published manifestoes, occupied a lecture hall. “Why all the fuss? How all this solves things?” – a lot of people (including students) asked. Their actions revealed the deep ideological chasms between students, teachers and departments. Some saw it as mere whining, a good pastime that one does instead of studying. Others (including me) saw them as harbingers of change, people who actually say and do things that other people barely dare to think about.

I was an observer then and I am an observer now. But being at Trinity as an exchange student helps me see some things differently, although not necessarily in a detached way. As I spend more and more time here it has become obvious to me that Trinity College is known as a conservative institution. It is seen as a pillar of an elitist, upper class group (some call them waspy – white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant) where the next generation of rich, white New Englanders is trained. President Joanne Berger-Sweeney made it a priority to change that image of Trinity. But all the multicultural affairs offices and cultural houses cannot change the fact that the majority of students are white, rich and so are the members of the alumni association who mostly support the college financially. Many of them may not agree with the efforts of the recent administration to make the campus more diverse and inclusive.

The members of ACT are mostly those students who represent this diversity at Trinity, those who are targeted by the statements of Donald Trump who is supported by many students at Trinity. There are tensions and deep chasms under the quiet surface of the campus that could be masked by the praiseworthy efforts of President Berger-Sweeney before the time of Trump. But the election revealed that the time may have come for the hidden tensions to burst. The ACT released a controversial set of demands that is an indirect reaction to Berger-Sweeney’s more diplomatic and symbolic measures (permitting to establish cultural houses, admitting more ethnically diverse students, changing Trinity’s mission statement). The kids in ACT will be the first diverse alumni members who will hopefully have the financial means to support the cause of diversity at Trinity. Until then President Berger-Sweeney is torn between her best intentions and the resources provided by the (mainly) conservative alumni donors. She has to be diplomatic. The ACT aimed for more radical demands like expanded financial support (for students of color among others), J-term grants, environmental changes on campus, the release of transparent financial statements. But these were mixed with other issues that seemed “too minor”, “whiny” and “unnecessarily pushy” even for some supporters: gender-neutral bathrooms, diversification of faculty and administration or a full-time staff member for the Queer Resource Center. “This is why people hate liberals”. “We have more pressing issues than these”. Also, the demands were criticized for not being elaborate, not offering a plan for fixing things. They are just words.

Well, this is the point of manifestoes. They point out the problems. Solution comes afterwards by joint efforts. After being placed all over the campus, everybody started talking about the list. Heated debates in the dining hall and on Facebook. Things were said that have not been said before. Unnecessary hatred but constructive criticism too. Hidden ideological conflicts between students were revealed. The ‘WASPy’ crowd and the ‘multicultural’ kids sit separately in the dining hall, they avoid each other, there is no dialogue between the two groups so there is no opportunity to address the sexism, racism, xenophobia, transphobia and homophobia lurking on campus (not just at Trinity). The list of demands is a start of a conversation: it may not be perfect or complete. It gives you some food for thought. It could be improved, it will make some people angry, some may feel left out. It addresses a bunch of things: issues that concern a lot of people (financial demands) and fewer people (LGBT-issues). But nevertheless all points reveal a problem or a group that has been neglected in one way or another. Of course they will not be solved by posting some papers around the campus. But it is a sign that we should start having some long and painful conversations.

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I could only find this totally unrelated picture, but at least it’s Christmasy: a campus mistletoe

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Because there’s life outside New York City, too

The end of the semester is coming rapidly. It’s hard to believe that only two weeks left. Of course, final papers and presentations are good reminders so I have no other option than to accept the facts, sit down and do my best. That’s why I’m glad that I’m writing this post now. It’s good to look back to some of my favorite days of the semester. In my previous post I wrote about why I love New York so much. Now, it’s time to share my adventures outside the city.

Montauk (NY)

Montauk is a small place at the very end of Long Island. It takes more than three hours by train from New York to get there. It’s a beautiful beach resort and one of the favorite holiday destinations for many New Yorkers during the summer. It’s famous of its lighthouse, Montauk Point Lighthouse, which is the fourth oldest active lighthouse in the United States. I saw a picture of the lighthouse somewhere in September and I instantly decided that I had to see it. So my friend, Taylor and I went to Montauk on a cloudy Saturday in October. Well, as it turned out, the weather in Montauk wasn’t that cloudy. It was tempestuous. There were wind gusts of more than 100km/h. Okay, actually I’m not sure about the wind gusts, but I literally couldn’t move because of the wind. And I didn’t see too much either as the rain was pouring. Despite the weather, it was an amazing day. The lighthouse is indeed beautiful, and it has an interesting history as well. We walked along a coast a little bit and after we got soaked enough, we went to find a place to get lunch. We were recommended to go to the harbor because that’s where we would find the best sea food restaurant. It was true. The view from the restaurant was nice and the food was delicious. We missed our train at the evening, so we had to wait an hour in the rain, but we both agreed that it had been a great adventure. Ultimately, how many people can say that they went to Montauk, one of the best beach resorts in the State of New York, in the middle of a huge storm in October?

Boston (MA)

Boston has been on the top of my ‘I want to visit these places in the fall’ list since I came here. Since I love American history, it was great to see the city where a ‘tea party’ started something that we call today the United States of America. Fortunately, my best travel partner, Taylor has a friend who lives in Boston so we could sleep at his place. We spent two days there. We walked along the Freedom Trail which leads tourists to the most important historic sites of Boston. We looked around the campus of Harvard University and the campus of MIT where Taylor’s friend studies. Harvard definitely looks nicer, but the MIT campus is super fun (especially its interactive museum) and is full of weird buildings. The best place to eat is Quincy Market which is also a historic site but it was transformed into a small and little bit crowded heaven for anyone who likes delicious food. We were lucky also because it was the best time to see the beautiful fall colors of New England.

Washington D.C.

The trip to D.C. was organized by Bard. Every fall semester they organize a daylong networking and career developing event called ‘BardWorks’. There were panels on politics, non-profits, international development and working with the government. The panelists (mostly Bard alumni) shared their experiences in their fields and then we had the opportunity to talk to them individually. It was a great networking event. At the evening I went to walk around the city. Friday evening in D.C. is not as busy as in New York, especially not in the Capitol Hill. However, the Capitol, the White House, the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument are undeniably beautiful as the lights turn on. The most memorable moment was when I was walking from the Capitol to the Washington Monument and I was totally alone in the park. The lights led the way and I just enjoyed this breathtaking view. It was a pretty special thirty minutes. Next day I woke up early and went to Georgetown, to the Arlington National Cemetery, the White House, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument (I know I was there the previous night but I had to see them in daylight, too), I checked out the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights in the National Archive, then I rushed to the Capitol building, the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court because a storm was coming. Washington looks like a great city to live in, so I hope I will able to come back someday, especially because it’s full of amazing museums which I couldn’t visit this time. Maybe in the spring when the cherry trees will be blooming…

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To Do List for Mundane Fall Days

  • With heart pounding hard, screaming my lungs out on the world’s biggest roller coasters and admiring the Massachusetts fall scenery from the world’s tallest swing ride at Six Flags: check.
  • Walking around in haunted houses wishing that I had read fewer Stephen King books: check.
  • Dressing up as a dead raccoon Jesus and a sleepwalking guy on Halloween weekend, and going to amazing costume parties with amazing people: check. Witnessing tipsy students losing their minds when a truck full of sweets driven by the campus safety appears, and getting my hand on as many snacks as possible: double check.
  • Driving to the ocean through the beautiful Connecticut woods, trying to forget how many scary movies are set in the area: check.
  • Reevaluating my initial plan to go to D.C. for the inauguration in January: check. Buying a newspaper with the first female president on the cover: pending.
  • Spending an amazing weekend with the Kellner Scholars in Toronto, watching a beautiful sunset over Lake Ontario with eyes wide open, munching on pancakes drowned in maple syrup, and going to a Canadian bar to hear a great bar pianist: check, check, check and check. Roaming Ward’s Island, discovering a bonfire built by kids, musing at the sharp contrast between city and nature: check. Concluding that Toronto is one of the best cities in the world and making a promise to self to come back in the summertime: check.

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  • Going to New York with Kata to get a personal tour from Marta, a former Kellner Scholar at Columbia: check. Treating ourselves to the yummiest cakes in a Hungarian pastry shop, and trying Rigo Jancsi for the first time ever: check. Falling in love with the High Line, and gazing at the most amazing sunset over Jersey City: check. Finally getting a pic with the bull, a must for all Economics majors: check.
  • Going to Miami for Thanksgiving break and getting the worst sunburn ever: check. Holding a baby alligator and its somewhat larger kin in hands in Everglades: check. Drawing the conclusion that Miami must be the trashiest place in the States, and making a note to self to never come back: check.

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  • Grabbing a turkey sandwich at the airport and spending Thanksgiving night on a Hartford bound bus: check.
  • Continuing to get only A-s on my exams: check.
  • Being introduced to bubble tea by Tina, the number one Taiwanese fan of Kellner Scholars: check. Finding out that Chipotle has sour crème in its selection that tastes just like what I’m used to in Hungary: check.
  • Making plans to go ice skating in New York at the weekend: check.
  • Feeling like I finally fully adjusted to campus life and genuinely enjoying every day at Trinity: check.
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New York and the pre-Thanksgiving essay spurt

Like Zsófi, I’ve also been uncertain whether to mention the election at all in my post. The one thing that seems worthwhile to note, for me, concerns the resilience of people. Similarly to the Trinity campus, students have been overwhelmingly devastated here right after the election results came out. Most of them were first-time voters, and some of them possibly too eager to consider an outcome that seemed ludicrous to them. By what I could tell, the first couple of days were pretty much horrible for everyone. A completely tangential result was that I’ve never felt such an outsider before as during those days. But even the short time that has passed since then has demonstrated that people have a capacity to go on and continue under circumstances that they consider less than ideal. I am truly amazed by fast people made it a priority to include foreign students in the discussions concerning the election.

On a completely unrelated note, two weeks ago I had the pleasure of spending the weekend in New York with my cousin, and it was one of the nicest and most interesting trips that I’ve ever been on. We spent the whole time walking and exploring, besides of course comparing the quality of New York Dunkin’ Donuts shops to the Red Hook one. We started out in the area around Grand Central and Central Park, where we went turtle-watching and scenery-hunting in Belvedere Castle.

After that, we had a look at the Opera and spent some time at Columbus Circle, both of us sufficiently dumbstruck that we have the opportunity to casually people watch there. On  our way to our next stop, the High Line, we stopped at the James A. Farley Post Office Building, which had a surprisingly heroic inscription on it: Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds. As I’ve learned, this is actually from Herodotus, who wrote it about Persian postmen. Almost.

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The High Line, built on an old railroad spurt, was really the most fantastic part of our first day. You can walk over from the Javits Center to the Whitney, and have odd little moments due to creativity of the people living in the area, some of whom arrange funny window installations. I’m going to include my favorite window piece down below. Also, as it was nearing sunset when we got to the Southern end of the Line, we had an awesome view of the Statue of Liberty from a convenient turn in the Line.

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We ended the day by visiting Battery Park and admiring New York Harbor in the rapidly growing dusk. Our adventures were not over though, because we still had to take a water taxi to the Ikea in Brooklyn to buy an extra comforter and also just for the experience of taking a water taxi at night and looking at all the lights of the city.

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The next day, we visited Columbia University and my cousin showed me the lab he works at, which was really fun, and just something that otherwise I would definitely not have the opportunity of seeing.

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That day seemed to run along even faster than the first, we saw Washington Square, Little Italy and Chinatown, the New York Supreme Court (which had an oddly up-to-date fallout shelter sign), and Manhattan Borough Hall. I kept seeing the same seal everywhere, and realized it was New York City’s. It has a windmill and beavers on it, so I guess that must be related to the Dutch history of the city. I could not resist taking explicit shots of the beavers.

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After that, we walked across Brooklyn Bridge, which was something that I’ve been very much looking forward to. We celebrated by going to the Shake Shack on the Brooklyn side and trying something called cheese fries. They were vastly superior to what I had expected.

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As for the future, I’m curious about Thanksgiving and what it’s going to be like,  and especially happy that I will be able to spend it with a family in Saratoga, courtesy to Trish Fleming from Study Abroad. I will hopefully be able to write about a cheerful Thanksgiving and a long and soothing break next time.

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No Politics Please: We’re Hungarian

I was wondering whether to write about the election or not but I decided to handle this topic in way that I’ve seen here at Trinity. We all know the outcome – I will not try to explain or analyze it. A lot of articles and essays (written by more well-informed and educated authors than me) attempted to do it. I will just describe how Trinity students talk about it. Sometimes I still catch myself giving in to my old impulses and not talking about politics – like it was some kind of an embarrassing family secret that should not be brought up at the table. If we ignore it, it will go away. I could do it, since I am a middle class(ish) student with a scholarship but without a permanent job and a family or home of my own. Moreover, I am a foreigner.

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A poster on campus after the election

Although college campuses in general tend to be more involved in political discussions, according to my experience it’s not always the case in Hungarian universities. But at Trinity students are especially interested and involved in ‘politics’. I think the reason for this is that they can detach politics from institutions, the government and political parties. My favorite definition of politics comes from one of my elementary school teachers: “Politics is dealing with the matters of the state”. I love the vagueness of it – it can include a lot of things. Dealing with environmental issues, economy, minorities, healthcare, education and so on. Politics is everything and you just cannot cut yourself away from it. You can be silent about it, but it still affects you. Politics is home, family, sex, school and job.

For a lot of Trinity students this intertwining of everyday life and politcs come naturally: they volunteer to NGOs, help out at the local community garden, give out food for the poor or do tiny, seemingly insignificant things like bottle-feeding ferrets at the animal shelter. They form associations based on their heritage, gender, sexual orientation, hobbies or pressing need to save the world. As I see it one of the roots of this social and political awareness can be found in the American education system.

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Another poster

When I arrived here I felt that the academic and intellectual ‘equipment’ of the American students was different from mine. Maybe I even felt a bit superior: (I thought) I was familiar with a lot of concepts (that I considered ‘elementary’), I was well-equipped with theories and facts (at least in my own discipline). Then I realized that they have a huge advantage: most of them could easily form coherent arguments and use the new things they learned creatively. They are good at challenging, questioning and seeing things from new perspectives. I only started to learn these things in college and sometimes I still struggle with them. They start asking questions and having multiple-perspective discussions at elementary school.

And they start discussing ‘politics’ in elementary school. They talk about the constitution, do mock trials with famous historical figures, deconstruct and reconstruct ‘basic’ historical facts – they look at the other side of things. Teachers don’t campaign for politicians (ideally) and kids don’t declare their political affiliations – they just learn how to argue, how to disagree, how to see everything as an object of analysis and discourse. It’s the integral part of democracy and they are socialized into it.

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Cinestudio – a cinema located on campus – left the rainbow flag out

And they continue it in college as well. It was not unusual to see posters around the time of the election that encouraged people to vote and some students even actively campaigned for the candidates (okay, mostly for Hillary Clinton). Students discussed the election in the dining hall and flocked together to watch the debates. Mediated politics suddenly became real-time and immediate: people were laughing, commenting and discussing what they heard. They also watched the election together: they were commenting it real-time in person, on Facebook, on Twitter, on Tumblr…

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Just for the sake of balanced representation: Trinity also has Trump-voters

I’m not going to lie, the day after the election was a miserable one for most Trinity students. But again, discourse offered some solace. Most of them used the tools of their discipline to understand the outcome, students and teachers came together next to a coffee or a meal and talked for hours, someone printed ‘Love not hate’ posters, others drew and wrote with chalk on the ground. My history teacher dedicated the whole class for discussing the election and it was not a waste of time. We used the things we had learned in class to make sense of the whole affair. After that he said that he is quite happy because he is in a room full of young people who are willing to critically discuss their own past (and then there was me, the Hungarian exchange student). He made quite a speech in the end. I just put it here: “If you are a Muslim, don’t be afraid, I’ve got your back. If you are member of the LGBT-community, don’t be afraid, I’ve got your back. If you are an immigrant, don’t be afraid, I’ve got your back. If you are a member of an ethnic minority, don’t be afraid, I’ve got your back. If I left somebody out, don’t be afraid, I’ve got your back”.

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The view from my dorm room. It’s kinda good to wake up to this.

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