Final Reflection

Pre-Course Meeting #3

Goals for the program:

  • Meet students and teachers from outside my field and learn as much as I can from them
  • Explore what my goals are for a career and determine the more global context into which they fit
  • Have good conversations
  • Explore

Wish list:

  • Take an overnight train
  • To know enough about Europe that I can hold an intelligent conversation about the major cities
  • See Berlin
  •  Study different cultures’ perceptions of science (especially agriculture) and how they shape policy
  • Visit a castle
  • See places I’ve read about


When I wrote my goals for the program, I already had built a good picture in my head of what the semester in Riva would be like, even from the distant vantage point of last October. There are only so many ways a semester spent in the close company of thirty or so relatively intelligent and enthusiastic people can turn out and, having had the experience of living with some of my PGS classmates in the setting of the HRC, I knew I would be having interesting conversations late into the night and discussing things like the crystallization of polymers and the geological timescale over dinner. So two of my goals would be easily met: have good conversations, learn from students and teachers outside my field. From there, exploring life and my options for a career would come naturally. I suppose I took the advice of my fourth grade teacher and set achievable goals.

The “wish list” was a bit more intangible. I had never been to Europe before, and therefore was drawing only from my imagination and from stories I had been told. I wanted to ride an overnight train mostly because my mother remembered the experience from her time studying in France. I wanted to see Berlin because my roommate had visited the city a few summers past and said it was one of the best places she had ever been. The wish to study different cultures’ perceptions of science was something that had been planted in me by another class; regardless of my own individual interest in the subject, this course of study was a necessary part of a project I was to begin in the summer. The desire to visit a castle could have fallen into the same category as “see places I’ve read about,” and, incidentally, was fulfilled within three days of coming to Riva. The last wish, and the one which I think shows the most inexperience, was my desire to know enough about Europe to hold an intelligent conversation about its major cities. In some ways it is an admirable ambition and, in some ways, was achieved—I suppose it depends on what type of conversation I would be expected to participate in. However, the depth of knowledge necessary to truly discuss the complex layers of the goings-on in Europe is simply impossible to gain in one semester, even if I had devoted all of my time to studying European politics and history. In a way, I did learn enough about Europe to say “It’s complicated,” which is a phrase that belongs in any intelligent conversation of the subject.

I found that as the semester continued, my real “wishes” were simpler and closer to home. It no longer mattered whether I ever got the opportunity to ride an overnight train or see distant places I had read about. These were goals I had set for myself in an imagined alternate universe without any knowledge of what I would be experiencing in Riva. I was happy, instead, to ride the train to Mendrisio to develop my film at Migros or to stand on the balcony to watch the Good Friday procession I had been told about. I was satisfied to focus my study of agriculture on farming in Ticino, which, in itself, is complicated and fascinating and unexpected enough to take me another whole year to unravel. The castles in Bellinzona, which we explored during the first snowstorm of the semester, will remain among my strongest memories of Riva. And nothing, not even Berlin, can compare to spending a warm afternoon reading in the garden of the Villa, or walking to the gelato shop around a blind corner on a one-lane two-way road, or bringing stale bread to the lake and watching the swans bully their way to the largest pieces while the ducks and the awkward little coots drift around the edges of the armada, waiting for something to float their way.

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