New You Resolutions

While having brunch on New Years Day with friends, we ventured on to the topic of New Year’s resolutions. Everyone was very quick to say that they do not make resolutions, including me.  I thought it quite odd that no one gave a reason why they don’t make resolutions, just that they don’t make them. Thinking about this the past few days had me pondering the tradition of New Year resolutions, and why that tradition continues.

A quick Internet search suggests that the tradition of resolutions has several sources – Howard Bennet credits Julius Ceasar because he switched the beginning of the calendar to January in 49 AD, the History Channel (and others) credits the “ancient Babylonians, who made promises in order to earn the favor of the gods and start the year off on the right foot,” about 3500 years ago, and Gary Ryan Blair credits Janus, the mythical king of early Rome who lends his name to the month of January. Janus had two faces – one that could look to the past and one to the future – and became the god of beginnings.

Despite how they started, resolutions have become a tradition for many people. But what exactly is  a New Year’s resolution? I found my favorite official definition in the Collins English Dictionary:

a promise to yourself or decision to do something, especially to improve one’s behaviour or lifestyle in some way, during the year ahead.

I like the detail of Wikipedia‘s definition even more:

a commitment that a person makes to one or more personal goals, projects, or the reforming of a habit. A key element to a New Year’s resolution that sets it apart from other resolutions is that it is made in anticipation of the New Year and new beginnings. People committing themselves to a New Year’s resolution generally plan to do so for the whole following year. This lifestyle change is generally interpreted as advantageous.

I hold a philosophy that one should constantly strive to better oneself in many different areas of life – intellectually, physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally, inter-personally, etc. The beginning of some element of time, like the beginning of a new year, is a good time to reflect on the past, evaluate what has happened, and make decisions about what you would like the future to bring. But why does it have to be on a yearly basis? Why not focus on improving yourself on a monthly, weekly, or even daily basis?

The time I spend improving myself now always pays bigger dividends later. Self-improvement is an investment of time and energy instead of an investment of money, but both pay excellent returns. It can improve your health, your emotions, your career, and your financial state. -Trent, The Simple Dollar

So this year, I vow not to make New Year’s resolutions, but instead focus on New You Resolutions. I will continue to use beginnings to reflect on my progress but I won’t set a time frame on resolutions. I will constantly improve myself every day, every month, every year, every decade. I will be better today than I was yesterday.

The self is not something ready-made, but something in continuous formation through choice of action. – John Dewey


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International Relations More Broadly

In a recent Chronicle of Higher Education commentary, How Scholars Can Improve International Relations, Robert Gallucci calls for academics and policy makers to work together to better understand ideas and circumstances of each others fields in an effort to improve work on the global scale in “real world” situations, such as the Arab Spring and complicated internal politics in Pakistan. He re-iterates recommendations from Alexander George and adds a few of his own:

  • Interdisciplinary work – not just saying you want it but actually doing it
  • Second-best theory – make decisions in real time not based on some grand, unusable, theory
  • Mutual Accountability – each others views and ideas should be taken seriously
  • Embrace regional studies
  • Rigorous, policy-relevant theory and analysis should be requirements for hiring and tenure in academia

I agree with Mr. Gallucci in part but disagree with him on his narrow definition of international relations.

In my own studies and experiences I have come to the conclusion that there are way too many silos in our world, particularly in relation to theorists and practitioners. At risk of over-generalizing, many theorists like to develop grand theories of the way the world works without knowing how these abstract ideas actually relate to every day life. In contrast, many practitioners go to work on a daily basis and never stop to think about the bigger picture. Like Mr.Gallucci, I think we should reach across the town-gown gap that seems to exist between the two and work together to help address very complicated, real world issues in our world.

Where I think Mr. Gallucci does a disservice in his commentary is in his strict focus on international relations. Real world, global issues are complicated situations that involve many different people from a variety of disciplines. By only focusing on international relations, Mr. Gallucci is restricting the impact of Mr. George’s interdisciplinary recommendation. IR as a whole is inherently interdisciplinary but this commentary seems to leave out academics and practitioners who do great work on global issues but wouldn’t necessarily consider themselves international relations scholars/workers. I would recommend that the interdisciplinary recommendation be more broad and include everyone who is working on a global scale – engineers, philosophers, policy-makers, military analysts, peace-makers, history scholars, economists, etc, etc.

Another reason that I liked this commentary is that it reminds me of the work we’re trying to do in PGS. We purposely are bringing students from different disciplines together to look at real world, regional and global, issues. We are also looking at the issues through a variety of lens – ancient and current-day, science and discourse, reflection and analysis – to help the students not only learn about these issues but also how they as a single person can make a difference in the world.


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Una Cena Ogni Settimana

La maggior parte degli studenti desidera parlare con la popolazione locale mentre viviamo in Riva. Ma la maggior parte degli studenti (e anch’io!) hanno paura di sbaligarsi quando si parlano. Così, quando siamo in Riva, vogliamo parlare solo in italiano ad una cena ogni settimana. Le prime settimane sarà difficile, ma speriamo nel tempo che diventiamo più comodo nella nostra seconda lingua! Vedremo!

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Gratitude Improves Attitude

Written on an announcement sign outside a church near my house is Gratitude Improves Attitude. While this little saying may seem quite trite, it is something I truly believe.

I’ve seen first hand the power of mind over matter, or in this case mind over mind. Whenever I’m feeling down or my day just isn’t going right, I try to think of the good things that have gone right that day and usually I do perk up a bit. Every time I step into my running shoes for my long run of the week, I have to will myself to stay the course through the pain, reminding myself that I am healthy and many people can’t do what I am doing. Every November, I write a daily thanks – 30 Days of Thankfulness – to help me better appreciate how truly blessed I am. When I think of the good things in my life – family, friends, health, work, shelter, food – I realize that I do have a good life.

Looking back at PGS last semester, I am struck by how many times I complained: I’m sick of Italian food, I’m so tired, I can’t believe the trains are on strike again, why is the internet so slow, blah, blah, blah. WHAT!?! This is one of the most amazing experiences that myself and my students can embark on! What am I complaining about? I love my job! I am thankful to work with some pretty amazing faculty and students!

Next semester, instead of focusing on the small, meaningless things of everyday life, I choose instead to think about this fabulous opportunity that we are given to live and travel around Europe. I will focus on the awesomeness that is PGS, which in turn will help me look at the silver lining when standing on a train platform waiting for a train that won’t come for another 24 hours.

The most fortunate are those who have a wonderful capacity to appreciate again and again, freshly and naively, the basic goods of life, with awe, pleasure, wonder, and even ecstasy –Abraham Maslow

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Getting Away with It – PGS Style

Ever since I was a little girl I have had a rebellious tendency – I hate being told that I had to or that I couldn’t do something. To me these words had the complete opposite effect, encouraging me to prove to others that I could do whatever I wanted. It usually involved me trying to talk my way into doing what I really wanted to do. I didn’t want to read what my English teacher told me I had to read; instead I negotiated with my teacher to read another book. When I was told I had to practice my flute, I quit and instead worked with a group of friends to start a color guard, a group that didn’t already exist in my high school. In college, at all levels, I didn’t let an adviser or degree check sheet limit my academic experience. I took classes that I found interesting and worked with faculty to ensure that my studies were interrelated and enhanced one another, leading to four degrees and six minors.

In turn, I’ve had consequences, some I would change but many I would not. I haven’t read many of the classic books that others were forced to read in English classes, but I have immersed myself in literary worlds that were beyond my wildest imagination, which in turn inspired my real world. Being the co-captain of a new extra-curricular group nudged me toward my career in leadership and program development. Having four degrees and six minors is nice but the real treat is learning about all sorts of things others didn’t take time to learn, which in turn helps me to make connections that others cannot. These consequences, and many others, I would never change!

Recently I heard a story on This American Life – Getting Away with It. I love this story!

By getting away with things, the people in the story learn valuable lessons, specifically how one can overcome the odds stacked against you to experience life in a different way. To better understand the world around you which in turn helps you better understand yourself and what you may accomplish in it.

My goal for PGS is that each of us go against the norm, go against our tendency to conform, go against our past experiences in traditional classrooms, to be invested in getting away with it – minus the cheating on school assignment parts :-).

Consequently, we will truly experience life in a world outside of the United States that will in turn help us better understand all that goes on around us, better understand how we view that world, and hopefully better understand how we can make a difference in it.


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La mia seconda blog in italiano – Il Successo… finalmente!

Per alcune settimane ho provato communicare in italiano quando vado ai negozii. Abitualmente sono stato immobila ma ho la fortuna che i negozianti parlano l’inglese. Ma la scorsa settimana sono andata all’ufficio postale. La donna  che ci lavora ha detto “buongiorno.” Poi ha indicato a la negozianta vicina e ha detto “English.” Ho detto “No, ho bisogno dei francobolli per questa lettera.” Ha detto, “Francobollo?” Ho detto, “Si!” Il resto della conversazione rechiede che molti gesti, ma ha ottenuto il lavoro bene! E mi penso eravamo entrambi felici di colmare la barriera della lingua! Adesso ho bisogno di lavorare sul resto della conversazione…

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la distanza

da Blacksburg a Christiansburg                                   12.3919 kilometers

Deutsche Bahn / SBB-CFF-FFS / TILO


From Riva San Vitale to Mendrisio                            2.98258 miles

Blacksburg Transit / Hooptie Ride / Megabus


da Blacksburg a Richmond                                            350.836 kilometers

GM Suisse / Isdera / Leblanc / Monteverdi / Orca Engineering


From Riva San Vitale to Bellinzona                            27.5888 miles

Cadillac / Chevrolet / Chrysler / Dodge / Ford / General Motors


da Blacksburg a Washington, D.C.                             432.913 kilometers

AMI / Allegro / Biona / Caironi / Cilo / Condor / Goldia / Imholtz / Juvela / Micro /Mondia / Quantya / Sieber / Tebag / Tigra / Vrone / Wolf


From Riva San Vitale to Bern                                       180.819 miles

Aegis / Go-Ped / Klein / LeMond /Merlin / NYCeWheels / Planet Earth / Serotta / Specialized / Ultralight / Zap!

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World Economic Forum – General Impressions

Every January, the World Economic Forum hosts an annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. Since it is only about 3 ½ hours away, a group of students and I decided to head up for the day to make observations. We have heard so many interesting comments about WEF, many very negative, that we wanted to check things out for ourselves. Before going we knew that there were massive amounts of security and that we wouldn’t be allowed in the main forum discussions. We just hoped that we could catch a glimpse of what was going on by walking around, sitting in cafes, and participating in the open forums.

Generally the atmosphere of Davos seemed exactly what we thought it would be. There were massive amounts of security, including police dogs and sharp shooters on every major hotel roof in the area. The area we were allowed to walk around was the main shopping district of Davos. We mostly saw reporters scooting off to interviews (“I have to go interview the pregnant president now…” – I can’t figure out who this could be) and men in very expensive suits smoking cigars, smoke billowing from hands in all directions. Usually the men walking around were deep in discussion about some topic or another – some conversations on cell phones, others to fellow male companions dressed in very dark suits also.

There were an untold number of very expensive, nondescript black cars driving around everywhere.  Each chauffer also had on a black suit and a cell phone Bluetooth in his ear – and yes, most of the drivers were white males. Besides being in and around the main area of WEF, the only identifying marker that they belonged to world leaders was by the cars’ parking stickers in the front windshields which had words like “INDIA” printed on them.

Almost never did we see anyone in the back seat of these cars, except one. We spotted Sean Parker of Napster and Facebook talking on his cell phone. After unsuccessfully trying to get a “smugshot” of us with this guy who’s estimated worth is $2.1 billion (that’s billion with a B), his driver quickly shooed us away as if we were merely dust on his Italian leather shoes. I guess that’s probably accurate if you compare my net worth to his…

Our group spent a total of 15 hours in Davos sitting in cafes, participating in two (or three) open forums, walking around the town, eating dinner, and even visiting Camp IglooOccupy Switzerland’s headquarters that was so far removed from Davos-Klosters it was as if they were outlaws, almost certainly second class citizens.

After all that time, seeing many different people – the wealthy (a la Mr. Parker), the non-wealthy (aka Occupiers), members of nonprofit organizations invited to participate in the Forum (e.g., The Value Web), and concerned citizens of Davos and beyond – my general impression over the entire day was that everyone was genuinely concerned about the overall state of our world. I’m sure there were some people who worry for selfish reasons but the people that I talked to throughout the day genuinely want to change the negative path that our world is currently continuing down. I was energized by the discussions that I both overheard while walking along the main street as well as participated in one-on-one and in the open forums. My hope is that these discussions weren’t left in Davos-Klosters but brought back to countries and organizations for concerned global citizens to pursue for greater change.


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La mia posta prima nel’italiano

Tuan and io decidevamo che scriviamo una posta per la settimana nel’italiano essere esercizio nostro italiano. Faciamo i errori – prego sopportano questi errori!

La mia posta prima punta sulla mia cucina quando abito in Riva San Vitale. Ho uno fornello piccolo nella mia cucina – non ci sono forno a microonde e  forno. Mi piace mangiare sano e a buon mercato quindi la mia soluzione migliore è compare la cucina al negozio di alimentare e cucinare.

La mia cucina è limitata ma cucinavo il petto di pollo con la salsa di funghi, d’aglio, e di vino bianco. E anche la minestra di il pepe satollo. Ci sono deliziosi!

A settimana prossima… Buon Appetito!!


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Cultural Differences…?

Before traveling to Riva San Vitale to begin our semester abroad, a friend and I took a week to visit Vienna, Austria (or Wein) and Prague, Czech Republic (or Praha). We had a lovely time visiting all the major tourist attractions –

The Hapsburg Dynasty’s imperial palace, treasury, and apartments; Vienna Boys Choir; concert of the Vienna State Opera; Prague Castle; Astronomical Clock; and each of the four quarters of Prague.

In seven days, I was in six countries and heard an unknown number of languages between all the tourists and local residents. I am always intrigued by people and their cultures, so when traveling I thoroughly enjoy watching people and all that they do. Some differences that stood out to me include:

  • language – usually I can figure some items out on maps or menus but not in Czech!
  • PDA – it seemed that Europeans are more affectionate in public, including couples as well as parents with their children
  • clothing – Europeans, in general, seem to really be into their looks and clothing. Everyone looked fantastic all the time!
  • architecture – these cities are so old and have such history!
  • all the dogs, including the very small ones, are so trained! And people bring them into restaurants and other stores

What I found quite intriguing this week is that despite all our differences in language, values, beliefs, food, and culture, we as human beings are alike in many ways. Here are a few of my observations of people being people despite where we come from:

  • babies cry on airplanes
  • toddlers throw temper tantrums
  • young children are curious about things around them
  • mothers typically are the ones who take care of the babies and toddlers
  • fathers typically are the ones who teach their 8-year olds about some interesting phenomenon around them
  • almost everyone wants their photo taken in front of major tourist sites
  • most people want to follow traditions but many people are embarrassed to follow that tradition when it involves certain taboos

Although we have different traditions and experiences, this trip helped me realize that we aren’t so different after all!


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