Comics, alligators and butterflies

Conferences and their attendants represent a distinct subculture. Awkward small talk before the events, cold coffee, cheap snacks, white socks peeking out of the too short legs of trousers, elbow patches, hopeless battles with projectors and people developing scholarly crushes on each other. Now imagine a conference on a subculture (comics): elbow patches combined with geeky t-shirts, obscure fan-references in the presentations, fangirling over the latest issues of superhero comics and tv shows in the breaks and a lot of cool visual additions on the slides.20170408_074015

Last week the University of Florida held a conference on comics and adaptations. UF has one of the biggest comics studies programs in the US, so a small group of enthusiastic PhD students organize a conference about comics every year in Gainesville. A few months ago I submitted a paper for this conference and it got selected so I flew to Florida.


Every campus would be better with palm trees

April in Florida is nothing like April in New England. While I left Hartford in a coat, I was walking around in Gainesville in a t-shirt and shorts. The city itself is relatively small and most of it is taken up by the enormous campus of UF. Although the university has a beautiful botanical garden and a butterfly conservatory (where the little beasts fly around freely and even land on if you wear attractive colors) the ‘regular’ campus also looks like a botanical garden with its wild vegetation. Palm trees and exotic (for someone who is used to New England) flowers grow in every corner and I would swear that I have seen some hummingbirds and wild parrots. While at Trinity wearing shorts in the winter seems like a masculine feat for boys, in Gainesville there is no need for such boasting, shorts are the uniform for everyone. When you arrive in Florida the first thing you notice is the almost irrational obsession with alligators: Florida Gators football team, Alligator Nails beauty salon or the several restaurants named Swamp. Thankfully, I did not have to leave without seeing a live specimen in the artificial lake of the university(!). I couldn’t decide if he/she was the resident of the lake or walked there from somewhere else but the basin had an open slope which left open the rather unnerving possibility of a medium-sized alligator strutting around on the campus.


At Trinity we have a statue of a tiny mechanical bantam chicken (our mascot), at UF they have this awesomeness


At Trinity we don’t have real bantams but at UF they have real alligators

By simply looking at the schedule of the conference it seems like a gleeful gathering of people that media scholar Henry Jenkins would define as ‘aca-fans’: professional fans who are so deeply in love with a certain segment of popular culture that they write, teach and lecture about it. Other scholars do not really take them seriously, especially those who tend to think of research as noble suffering. What is great about comics scholars is their non-competitive, inclusive attitude: Q&As lack the passive-aggressive tones of older, more established disciplines, most scholars are genuinely curious and helpful and the subjects of research and the methods are flexible, fresh and inventive. Critique of capitalism, black feminism, queer studies, Jewish studies, classical art history and literary criticism merge with each other and offer diverse perspectives on the medium of comics – and vice versa comics offer new perspectives on art history, capitalism, Quranic and Biblical texts or history. A Korean presenter explained how Korean graphic novels grapple with traumatic history or how the form and language of graphic narratives is a suitable medium to express the liminality of migration. A presenter from the University of Virginia talked about the ways a rather conventional superhero tv show (Luke Cage) manages to mix Biblical and Quranic narratives and the contemporary discourse of terrorism and counter-terrorism. A graduate student from the University of Florida revealed the connections between the Cubist works of Picasso and the seemingly simple but deeply existential Krazy Kat comic strips. In her keynote lecture historian Nina Caputo showed the practical and pedagogical challenges of adapting a medieval religious debate between a Rabbi and a Christian monk to comics. Comics studies conferences are great because they are places where three different groups of a subculture meet and have a dialogue: fans, scholars (the two often overlap) and artists.


A student chilling on campus

While I was in Gainesville listening to these young people in this young discipline that did not have the time to ossify and grow narrow-minded at home something else is brewing. While we are discussing how comics can address political and social issues, at home the government makes education into a political and ideological question marking some universities acceptable and others unwanted. To be honest, I feel powerless, useless even. I want to be in the crowd that floods the streets for the CEU but at the same time I am a bit relieved that I am away from all this. It is hard to love my home when people here keep asking about this curious Hungarian practice of closing universities.

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Spring break in New Orleans

One week before the spring break the weather was terrible at Bard (as you could see in our previous snow storm post), so I couldn’t wait to get out of the campus and travel to a warmer place. Fortunately, I had a ticket to New Orleans where the temperature was between 25 and 30° Celsius and I finally could wear shorts and t-shirts.

New Orleans has always been on my ‘must-see cities in the US’ list, so I was very happy when a few weeks before spring break I finally found relatively cheap tickets to the Big Easy. I was lucky also because Taylor, my great friend from BGIA, joined me in literally the last minute (she bought her ticket less than 24 hours before our departure).

We arrived to New Orleans Tuesday afternoon and left the city Friday afternoon, so we had approx. 2 and a half days there. I wanted to see/taste/hear as many sights/food/kinds of music as possible. New Orleans is not a big a city at all. We used street car only when we got extremely tired, otherwise we walked our feet off. But we didn’t mind this because the best way to get to know New Orleans (and actually every city) is walking around.

The most famous neighborhood of the city is the historic French quarter. It’s full of boutiques, bars, art galleries and beautiful colorful buildings with iron balconies. The palm tree lined Canal Street, which is basically the main street of the city, is just like Miami. The Bywater neighborhood is also a place worth to visit where there is lot of smaller but evenly colorful houses. One day we crossed the Mississippi River by the ferry and discovered another historic, but less visited neighborhood, the Algiers.  Wherever you are (even at the airport), but especially in the French quarter, you can hear music in the background all the time. New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz, but it’s not the only kind of music you can hear when you walk through the (in)famous Bourbon Street.


New Orleans also offers a wide variety of great food. Fortunately, Taylor was familiar with the cuisine of the Southern US, so she recommended me the best and most delicious meals like jambalaya, gumbo, crawfish, bread pudding and alligator. We also tried some of New Orleans’ most famous specialties, the beignet (fried dough covered with tons of powdered sugar) at Café Du Monde and the Muffuletta sandwich at the Central Grocery Store.

Besides the amazing weather, the beautiful neighborhoods, the great music and the delicious food, what made New Orleans my second most favorite US city is the people who live there. Honestly, I was surprised how welcoming and friendly people were there. They were always ready to help, to have a conversation or to offer a glass of wine while you were looking around in their gallery.

This was my first visit to the South and hopefully it wasn’t the last one. I couldn’t have spent my spring break in a better place.

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Here and there

I have not written here for a while, so here are my adventures since November, with a lot of pictures.

In November with Kata, Zsófi and István we spent a long weekend in Toronto which was quite awesome. Our main programs were doing tourist stuff in Toronto and Niagara, about that the others have written. It was really funny to have metric system for a couple of days. For me this was the first time that I drove longer distance in the US, I was quite surprised about the driving culture in a good way. Additionally I was previously invited and managed to visit a geophysical instrument manufacturer near Toronto, which was a huge thing for me hence I had spent a lot of time measuring with their equipment and I had a very fruitful chat with the leading engineer.


More pictures from our Toronto trip:

As part of Outdoor Leadership course, we spent a rather short two days on the Appalachian Trail, hiking up and down from Mt Greylock.

More pictures from about this trip:

By the end of the first semester I really got used to Trinity and adopted to the feeling being in the US. To be honest, it took way more time than I had expected from myself. Though the courses were very good, I think I learned more from the structure of the education, especially the workflow of the courses. I really believe that once when I will be (hopefully) teaching I will be able to fuse this way of learning and teaching with the methods I used to at home. Even more, I am taking now some  courses from different departments with even more awesome hints for the future.

More pictures from Hartford:

On my birthday in December I went to visit New York again (I did an other tour in November). Though those days were only enough to have a brief insight how big The City is, it was a very nice experience to be in a big city again. This day was even more special hence my old mathematician friend from Hungary, Kristóf (with whom we organized camps for secondary school students) had a conference near Boston so he travelled down to NYC and we spent the day together and in the evening Zsuzsi joined us as well and friends of Kristóf and we visited a real small Chinese restaurant in the border of Little Italy and Chinatown, called Spicy Village, which I would recommend for everybody who likes really spicy original Henan-Chinese food.

New York is huge, I cannot really put it in another way. I had planned a couple of things to visit, but only a few I managed. Obviously I started with the „must see” tourist stuff like Times Square, Empire State Building but what was really outstanding moment for me to visit the USS Intrepid (an aircraft carrier ship used as a museum on the Hudson River). Since I was a little boy I had an interest in planes and machines so truly a boy’s dream came true when I entered the ship. Though the historical exhibitions on the lower decks are very interesting, the really interesting things were the planes exhibited on the main deck for sure. Amongst many others, there are exhibited a Grumman F-14 „Tomcat”, a really iconic aircraft of the Cold War, mostly known from the movie Top Gun, a SR-71 Blackbird, a very famous reconnaissance airplane, which is one of the fastest manned planes with numerous brilliant technical solutions for high-speed high altitude flying. Also the NASA’s SS Enterprise is present, which is the only space shuttle that has not been in the space, hence it was only built for atmospheric tests. Besides the planes, it was quite a feeling to walk around on an aircraft carrier, considering her size and dignity, the beauty and elegance of such fine pieces of human work.

More pictures from New York:

I spent the Holidays at home with my family, I just managed to leave before the airport was closed, though it was quite an adventure to get to the airport in NYC, hence during six hours it snowed like 8 inches but I got lucky. Moreover I saw the Northern Light for the first time in my life, so I was compensated by the nature for the weather.

Before the second semester I attended to the Outdoor Club’s adventure in Texas. As a nature-lover guy who has never been to a desert, it was an awesome experience.

We started from El Paso. Hence I arrived one day earlier I had to chance to hike with Jamie in the Franklin Mts NP and sleep under the stars. In the first evening together we gazed the first of some awesome sunsets we experienced. That night the wind blew so strong that I had to pull back into the tent because I was almost blown away. After we headed to the Big Bend National Park (the ride was fine, with some spectacular geological moments), and we stayed in the various points of Chisos basin for a few days. We hiked there, had a wonderful time in an isolated ring of mountains, reaching the highest point of the region, Emory Peak (2387 m). Hence Big Bend is in the Chihuahuan Desert, we had a spectacular view on the desert from our position (the Chisos Basin is in an elevated position, feels like an island in the sea of desert). For the second half of our trip we descended to the Rio Grande River, which is the border between the US and Mexico, and we canoed down a few tens of miles from Rio Grande Village. The water level was almost 3-4 times higher (and faster) than the usual, therefore we had a nice job to manoeuvre our ship along the river. Also we landed in Mexico for a short amount time (it is legal in the flood-basin) and it reminded me of the Lord of the Rings when we entered the canyon, with its huge white limestone walls. On the last day of this part we slept on an island between the US and Mexico, which is quite an odd thing to do, but it was amazing and we had time to enjoy it. (Due to the rapidness of the river besides the first day when we had enormous wind, we advanced way faster than planned.)

Spending time in the desert is an amazing thing. The feeling, the silence, the stars in the sky during night, the wind, the cacti, the bonding,  the colours, the hikes are the rewards for getting your stuff really dusty. When we had the Emory Peak hike, in the morning it was freezing, halfway around it was almost 20°C, before the top we were hit by a hailstorm (we had a beautiful double rainbow), and an hour later it was almost 25°C.

All in all it was an amazing trip, with an outstanding group of people, it had almost as big impact on me as my first hike in Retyezát (Transylvania). The feeling of the trip might come through on the pictures. Moreover a short article was written about us to the College’s webpage featuring my pics:

More pictures from the Big Bend NP Trip:

Since then, the second semester started, I am having amazing lectures and this time I tried to select my courses from broader range, so I am taking Darkroom Photography, Earth Systems, Sci-fi and Society, Fluid Mechanics, NMR Spectroscopy.

Sci-fi and Society is kind of strange for me because I thought I had read a lot of sci-fi but I was totally unaware of the US Sci-fi (not counting Isaac Asimov and Frank Herbert books) novels and its variety. The “eastern-european” and “US” sci-fi are totally different in the way of storytelling and for me the level of scientific fiction descriptions. On the other hand the sci-fis here are way more openly system-critical. However, I found very interesting that the students here are not familiar with the sci-fi at home, only the most famous, like the Solaris (Stanisław Lem), or the Stalker (though that is the Tarkovsky movie based on A & B Strugatsky’s Roadside Picnic which is different than their short novel named Stalker). Obviously I have not known a lot sci-fi from here, but I am not a literature major so I have a huge disadvantage. It is also interesting, that as a European I have found a lot references about Europe, which was obvious for me and I had to share some thoughts about them (like the feudalism, or the structure of society in the beginning of the XIX. century). There are some lectures left, I hope I will have a more solid and clearer opinion about this.

The other courses are not that much has special aspects for me, the Fluid Mechanics is terrific how it includes individual and group work and also I got really pushed into the deepwater about the US/metric system which is nice. The NMR has been pretty awesome, this professor was the first lecturer who introduced NMR from this certain viewpoint which I really like. (It really does not make a big difference, but still.) Earth Systems is just fine, I missed this kind of course from my Hungarian curriculum, with this very puritan approach and with some programming. Darkroom photography has been a dream of mine, since when I was small boy my father took a lot of photos with an old Praktika, and here I had the opportunity to learn the process of the developing.

For spring break I had planned a little trip to Cuba, but unfortunately here was a state-wide travel ban for just the exact same day when my plane was, so I could not get out of Hartford. I got stranded here for the break, so I successfully reduced my pile of “to do” stuff, but I hope I will be able to go to Cuba before I leave. This is the other face of Storm Stella that brought a cold winter wonderland to here as well.

And a short comment as a sport fan, there was the Super Bowl LI, in the beginning of February, which was quite a thing here since large portion of the students come from MA and New England. However I was rather with the Falcons, the New England Patriots won in an incredible game against the Atlanta Falcons. The campus was quite loud from the shouts.

Also we had a gig from a little band formed by Trinity College teachers, the Gear Mama in the local pub, the Tap. They played adaptations of mainly ’70s and ’80s rock music.

More pictures from the gig:

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Breaking snow post

Zsuzsi and me decided to venture outside in the blizzard to take photos of the winter wonderland that Stella brought to Bard. This is without doubt the most snow that we’ve seen here so far! All classes got canceled and everyone’s holed up in the dorms. Enjoy our arctic pictures!



Zsuzsi’s room without a view


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Spring semester afoot

So many things happened since my last post, I barely know where to begin! I would like to apologize for not posting earlier, but the beginning of this semester was, again, off to a crazy start for me. I’ve spent most of January, after my return from Detroit, working at the IILE Office here on campus, who oversee most of Bard’s international and exchange programs. If any Kellner scholar in the future would consider doing office work at Bard, I can only recommend this one. My tasks were, for the most part, varied and meaningful, and I feel like I am going to benefit from this experience in the future. My final task was organizing a nation-wide outreach to the current Fulbright scholars staying in the US from Hungary, and we already got some positive responses from potential future partners of Bard.

I was almost sorry when January was over and I had to leave the office, but that feeling soon faded into a pleasant sense of nostalgia as my courses brought me back to studying. My favorite class that I’m taking this semester is called The Book Before Print, and it’s really amazing. We are reading a digitized manuscript from the 1330s, the Auchinleck Manuscript from Scotland, and even though Middle English can be challenging at times, the insane texts in the collection make it all worth it. Right now I’m studying one of the shorter texts, “The Alphabetical Praise of Women”, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. Magical. My other classes include an intro course to literary theory, a course about the anthropological and literary texts connected to extinction, and a class on renaissance poetry. I feel like my plate is kind of full, but I’m enjoying it very much. And just because it’s so pretty to look at, I’m going to insert here a few pics about the Auchinleck Manuscript.


But plenty of things have been happening outside of academics, too! In February, Zsuzsi and I went to NYC together with the rest of the PIE students and were lucky enough to have some sunshine as we were taking pictures from the top of the One World Trade Center! It was all in all a great visit, we went to my favorite place in the city, the Morgan Library and Museum, where I could probably go every weekend and not get tired of it. We also went back to some of our other dear places, the Public Library and the Strand, and took the opportunity to have some exceptionally good hot dogs. Below are some of the pictures from this trip, be advised that a lot of them are going to be from the Morgan, where we had the chance to see a Gutenberg Bible and some of Back’s original music sheets.


view from the One World Trade Center

Another trip that the PIE program coordinators organized for us was to Kingston, NY, where we went last weekend. We mostly looked at the old town area and the waterfront, and despite the chilly wind, we had a great time looking around. The trip was cut a little short by another activity that the PIE office was organizing on campus for the evening, so Zsuzsi and I decided that we would try and go back to Kingston again later. One of the best sights we saw was the Old Dutch Church, with its letter from Washington and window lighting done by Edison himself. The second best thing to see were four pre-Revolutionary stone houses, and some of the lingering red goats of Kingston that are part of much more recent history.



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How I Became an Elementary School Student Again

Over the Trinity Days I visited Washington D.C. I managed to choose Presidents’ Day to go so the whole town was full of elementary school groups and children who were going through the ritual of becoming a self-conscious US citizens. I remember my own rites of passage as a Hungarian citizen: visiting the Petőfi-statue in Debrecen and then going to Budapest to see the Parliament. In Washington I felt like an elementary school student again but this time – weirdly enough – I was told the narrative of another nation’s glory.


The Capitol

The city itself looks very functional: it was clearly designed to be an administrative center. It’s very clean, very quiet and very safe – and maybe a bit sterile, too. The inner districts look more or less the same and the whole city seems to be inhabited by civil servants and army officers. I had trouble finding a simple convenience store because the downtown area is filled with fancy restaurants and designer clothes boutiques.


This was the closest I could get to the White House. Sorry.


The Martin Luther King Memorial


And yay, Washington also has a Chinatown

Obviously, people don’t go to Washington for its colorful downtown but for absorbing the grand narrative of the United States: observing how this narrative is created and maintained (as tourists) and reflecting on being a US citizen (as locals). The central point of remembrance, a vast green memorial site stretches from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol with the White House in the middle. Along the site visitors can find memorials of victories and traumas alike. Museums telling the stories of diverse groups of Americans (the Smithsonian National Museum of American History focuses mostly on European Americans while the Museum of African American History and Culture and the National Museum of the American Indian reveals the other side of the coin, the often silenced narratives of marginalized groups). Traumas suffered and traumas caused are both represented in Washington: slavery, the Korean war, the decimation of Native Americans, the Vietnam war, World War II and the Holocaust. Of course, this narrative can always be expanded and it’s still full of silences, distortions and omissions (the acquisition and native peoples of certain island, the so-called ‘unincorporated territories’ or the justification of wars) but it still amazed me how consciously they address painful spots and how willing they are to reshape their history again and again.


The Washington Monument with the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool


The Lincoln Memorial


It may not be your first guess but Washington D.C. has a gorgeous botanical garden


A depressing (or cheerful) board in front of the IRS building (I believe) that shows the tax dollars paid by the locals

I devoted a whole day for visiting a few museums (you’d need at least a week to see all of them and I only had three days). I was planning to go to the Museum of African American History but it’s so crowded all the time that visitors have to book a ticket in advance (well, it’s not an actual ticket since admission is free to every museum in Washington). But I definitely wanted to visit the Holocaust Memorial Museum. I’ve always been interested in how narratives of collective memory are created and where do politics and remembrance meet – well, this museum is the perfect site for such investigations. The structure and content of the museum follows the well-known imperative regarding the Holocaust (‘never again’) and the main aim is to educate the visitor but the whole atmosphere is rather contemplative than shocking. Every visitor gets an identification card at the entrance which contains the short biography of a Jewish person who was taken to a concentration camp. As we walk along the exhibition his or her life story unravels – by the end we get to know if he or she survived or died. Visitors can listen to sound recordings and see short films of survivors, walk through a wagon cut in half and see drawings of Jewish children who were evacuated to Western European countries. The self-representation of the US in this narrative is not a flattering one: for a long time the government didn’t believe that mass killings of Jewish people were actually happening and then it was reluctant to help and accept refugees. Still, the saddest thing was a glass window with all the European cities whose Jewish populations were completely destroyed – including my own hometown (and most rural cities of Hungary).20170220_110132

And in the end, newsflash:

On March 2, 3 and 4 a magnificent play was performed in Austin Arts Center called Disintegration Loops part III. The director was Mitchell Polin, a professor at Trinity and the cast consisted entirely of Trinity students. The experimental piece lacked a coherent story, it rather explored the nature of time and the power of storytelling. Still, it managed to be funny (excerpts from popular movies were inserted in the dialogues and there were some really wild props including a rubber dinosaur mask) and emotionally engaging. The play utilized a wide variety of media from drawing to live music and the audience was placed directly in the beautiful, unconventional set. It was amazing.

Here are some photos from the performance:

And an article:

Also, for the first time in my life I bought some girl scout cookies – one of my old dreams came true. The tiny members of the South Windsor division flooded Mather Hall in full armor and were very proud when they managed to arrange a transaction (by buying cookies you can support the Hartford Children’s Hospital).

Also, the Chapel Singers of the Trinity College Chapel are planning to go on a tour to Venice in May. These babies are currently in the process of raising money so if you are a former member or just find their cause noble and want to help them, you can:

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Exploring New England

The second semester has kicked off at Trinity as well (actually we’re almost halfway through, next week is midterms already). The classes I’m taking are simply amazing. I decided to enroll in four of them; in American National Government, we learn about the constitutional system of the U.S. and the three branches of government. I do believe that there has never been a more exciting time to study American government, and the reading list reassured my belief. The assigned articles of the first two weeks all focused on Trump’s path to the Oval Office, and the emphasis on contemporary events in the syllabus requires us to be up to date with the news on the Hill and to watch a weekly political show, Washington Week, on which we have frequent quizzes. Even though I’m the only international student in the class, it’s quite an experience, and finally I literally get credit for one of my favorite activities, reading Politico!

I’m also taking Modern Islamist Movements, possibly the single most interesting course I’ve ever taken. Learning about the modern history of Egypt, Iran, Iraq, and other Muslim-majority countries, and the role of the different Islamist movements in these countries really makes it worth ordering double espressos at 11 pm in the library’s coffee shop. In class, we get to analyze the writings of such influential figures as Ayatollah Khomeini, Zawahiri, or bin Laden.

Monday and Wednesday nights are spent in my Interpersonal Relationships class, a course dedicated to the study of empirical findings in the realm of intimate relationships. My teacher is a visiting professor from Yale (the perks of the proximity of New Haven) who studied in Kecskemét for a semester! She always delivers great classes, occasionally drawing examples from How I Met Your Mother, which I greatly appreciate.

Unfortunately, the only economics class I registered for, Applied Econometrics, got cancelled due to low enrollment. I had two days to find another one, and in the end, I settled for Introduction to Classical & Biblical Greek. My love for foreign languages still holds, although I’m starting to think that dead languages don’t really float my boat. Motivational problems set aside, the classes are still great, especially that our teacher could easily pass as a stand-up comedian, I’m just not sure that I will have the chance to order a chai latte in ancient Greek anytime soon.

fullsizeoutput_339When I’m not in class or in the library, I’m in the student activities office, where I got a student position this semester. I work there 10 hours a week, so my schedule is pretty tight. I can’t complain though, I still find time to travel every now and then. Two weeks ago, my friends and I decided to go up to Boston and spend the weekend there, and we also made plans to check out Salem and Providence. Our Airbnb was in Cambridge, only five minutes away from Harvard. Such an amazing town! Cambridge has a very European look and a great many students in Harvard sweaters. We went on a tour in Harvard (5-level underground library!), tried some chowder in Quincy Market, and went to the famous Dick’s Resort for dinner. I first read about the place a year ago, and instantly decided that I must go there once I get across the pond. The restaurant’s charm is the impoliteness of the staff (hence the name). Sadly, our waiter was way too friendly, so instead of offending us he ended up polishing our fake Boston accent.



The next day we took the train to Salem, Massachusetts, and enjoyed the 16 degrees weather in the small town. Mostly we were just walking around, although we did visit the witch museum, the cemetery, and the memorial of the witch trials. The next day we headed south to Rhode Island, and spent the last day of our trip in Providence. Besides visiting the Brown campus and taking in the street art of the city, we also had the most amazing seafood I’ve ever had. I really should get more out of the east coast experience in terms of culinary joys.



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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).




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: 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


Sorry this was the closest I could get to a bison


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


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


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.


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


Lombard Street


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.

Macy's Thanksgiving Parade Metropolitan Museum

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.

Wall Street Grand Central Terminal

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.

Central Park Central Park

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.

Princeton University Princeton University

The big project I was working on throughout the semester was Watchlist’s brand new website: 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.


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):

20161221_113005 Vail, Colorado 20161225_161738 20170106_114428

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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